NXT TAKEOVER PHOENIX PREVIEW: Aleister Black vs. Ciampa, Gargano vs. Ricochet, Baszler vs. Belair, Undisputed Era vs. War Raiders, Ohno vs. Riddle

By Kelly Wells, PWTorch Specialist


NXT gave out their yearly awards a few weeks ago, and it drove home – if you hadn’t actively noticed – how impressive a year it was for the brand. Feuds across the board were strong, and NXT seems largely immune to depressions in their talent pool, as a large pocketbook coupled with consistent and logical presentation of that talent means that we’re seeing a strong week of TV even if the ten biggest stars on the brand aren’t working.

We now have a situation, like the main roster, where we’re not trying to jam in halfway-decent matches to a major show, but are leaving valuable pieces off of them because timing isn’t right. Velveteen Dream and Adam Cole aren’t on this show; while I think there’s a very good chance this means they’re in the Royal Rumble match, it’s hard to believe NXT has gotten to a point where cuts like this can be made with no obvious sacrifice to the impending TakeOver show.

This has been a somewhat bizarre build, perhaps akin to Steve Austin’s run on top; while the midcard feuds were working on TV and producing a lot of satisfying undercards, all the same, they were presented last-minute as the hype was almost entirely focused at the top. With that in mind…

Tommaso Ciampa vs. Aleister Black – NXT Championship

The #DIY feud is a great anomaly in the age of overexposure and too much TV time – it continues to grow, change and captivate even after a year of burn. Naturally it wouldn’t remain fresh without other pieces getting involved, and Aleister Black has been the beneficiary of being in the company and being the right character at the right time to add sizzle to the feud while remaining over himself

Black has been given a lot more mic time of late to transform him from a silent killer to a more main roster-ready character who can do his part to sell a PPV match; with the heavy amount of tweaking that’s been done here, and the difference in build for his matches, I think he’s all but done with his time in NXT. For his part, Ciampa continues to have the greatest championship reign in NXT history and is by all accounts an extremely valuable locker room presence.

This one feels like a layup; I’ve been surprised before, but I think Aleister is living in a different world because he is indeed about to do just that. Prediction: Ciampa retains and Black is in the Rumble match on Sunday.

Ricochet vs. Johnny Gargano – NXT North American Championship

On the PWT Talks NXT podcast on Wednesday night, I concurred with Justin James and Tom Stoup, saying I believed the Ciampa-Gargano feud will be paid off on Wrestlemania weekend. What gave me pause, and continues to, is the heavy storyline focus on “wins and titles,” things that have almost completely eluded Gargano on TakeOver, given his 2-9 record at the shows.

This feud has been built parallel to the NXT Championship match; Ricochet has performed well in his role of meat-and-potatoes babyface while the true focus is Gargano, his intentions, and what truly lies within him. Though these two matches are going to be gold, the show has been built less around the matches and more around the single question of who Johnny Gargano wants to be.

With Candice LeRae throwing a bucket of cold water on Johnny at the end of Wednesday’s NXT, we expect she’ll figure into the story in an important way either at or immediately following TakeOver; while Justin, Tom and I predicted Ricochet retains here to finally get to Johnny’s NXT Championship Win, PWT Talks NXT regular contributor Harley Pageot thinks Gargano goes over here, setting up a modern day Two Man Power Trip and gets started with the establishment of a group that will eventually face a babyface Undisputed Era at WarGames. While I find his take intriguing, WarGames is a long way off, and I can’t buy in just yet. All the same, if Gargano-Ciampa is saved for summer with both men holding the gold at the time, I wouldn’t be overly shocked.

Shayna Baszler vs. Bianca Belair – NXT Women’s Championship

On the podcast I favored a sports entertainment finish: Shayna retains via DQ, allowing Belair to remain undefeated so she use that part of her catchphrase on the main roster for a while. Still, of the entire card, this match feels like the toughest to call. Both are main roster material as soon as WWE feels like calling them up, and I predicted both would be in the Royal Rumble match no matter who walks out with the title. This was a split call on the podcast, as it feels like the Women’s Championship has been a bit of a hot potato and could use some stability, but we’re also past the young stage of NXT where long reigns were a given.

The build for the match has been light, to say the least. Bianca won a qualifying match to get into a four-woman match that felt like a foregone conclusion, particularly with the knowledge that Lacey Evans was moving north; we got a strong segment two Wednesdays age with Bianca booked carefully as a sympathetic figure who could easily pivot back to heel after the match if that’s what the company wants. This past Wednesday, we got a very strong video package to hype the match that belied what a small build there was.

Despite the short build, this will likely be a match worth remembering, though I’ll watch with interest to see if it’s stashed as a comedown match between the two men’s singles title matches.


In this episode, Kelly Wells, Justin James, and Tom Stoup make TakeOver predictions, discuss whether another Riddle-Ohno match is a necessary way to go, twenty minutes’ worth of action in a five-minute tag match, and more.


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Undisputed Era vs. The War Raiders – NXT Tag Team Championship

This is no doubt the match that was always going to be on this show, but the build has been underwhelming to say the least. Injuries set back the Raiders to a point where I think they would have been better served to delay their title shot and return to TV to better make a case for the match. Instead, NXT made a rare production blunder, electing to announce this match by posting a tweet by William Regal before the Raiders actually even returned at the end of the episode, which killed the moment for those of us at home.

Harley is predicting the Raiders win here, leaving the Undisputed Era with no gold after months of claiming they’d all hold gold together in 2019, and leading to soul-searching that results in a face turn. While I think a face turn is certainly possible for the group (as long as some more heels are created), I have a hard time accepting the idea of a title change here after a build that consisted of a run-in followed by a wild fireside promo by the Raiders that came off as a little cheesy, as neither Raider is strong enough on the mic to commit.

Based on my travels online, it’s an uphill battle for the Raiders after that segment, but if they have a great match here I doubt people will care. All the same, win or lose, there has to be a strong follow-up to this. I’m not sure what other team makes sense for a title shot on Wrestlemania weekend, so I have to think this match is repeated then. While acknowledging this means either team could win, I prefer UE winning via nefarious means to set up a rematch, perhaps with a stipulation.

Matt Riddle vs. Kassius Ohno

Two podcasts ago, Justin and I were obsessing over what could be the non-title match on this show. We ran through the potential pool of players and did indeed mention these two, but hoped for something fresh. I get it, of course; Riddle is a big-time part of NXT’s future so you don’t want to burn all his money matches early and therefore need him to have longer feuds. And, since you have to present him as a meaningful star, you can’t solve the problem by leaving him off TakeOver entirely.

This feud is as simple as it gets; the babyface has dominated the heel and the heel doesn’t like it. I’m not sure what outcome makes this match worth running again; either Riddle does what he’s already done twice or Ohno gets a win that, while it would help him, extends the overlong feud and does no favors to Riddle. If Ohno is being primed for a run higher up the card, then all of this makes sense, but I don’t see that happening and I think most would agree at this point.

On the podcast I suggested Keith Lee, at ringside, helps Ohno win either intentionally or not, leading to a Lee turn on a show that needs strong singles heels, which also would justify the match’s placement at TakeOver, but it’s probably a long shot.

Royal Rumble Match?

I don’t think I’m stepping too far outside of convention when I say I think Black and Dream will appear, and Adam Cole feels a safe bet since he isn’t booked on Saturday and also worked the Rumble match last year. My deeper cut on the podcast was Dominik Dijakovic. He’s already everything you could ask for in the ring (I’d love to see “feast your eyes” go away, but WWE gonna catchphrase) and there’s no room for him at the top of the card in NXT right now, so better to move him up as a monster with some mystique rather than have him obliterate a couple of jobbers and then have some low-level feuds for months before a spot opens up against a champion Gargano or something. If there’s some doubt over whether the crowd will be cognizant of who this guy is, have him draw #5 and get the Diesel push, tossing out Curt Hawkins, Xavier Woods, an Uso or two and the like before he’s eliminated by a cadre of heels.

There you have it. I was excited for this weekend, and after writing this find myself moreso. We’ll be recording PWT Talks NXT immediately following Takeover for the VIP site, so check us out there if you’re so inclined. Cheers!

RECOMMENDED: 1/23 NXT TV REPORT: Final Takeover developments with Ricochet-Gargano, Velveteen Dream vs. Bobby Fish, Kairi & Shirai vs. Nova & Brooks, Lorcan & Burch vs. European Union

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