NXT TAKEOVER 31 HITS & MISSES 10/4: O’Reilly vs. Balor, Shirai vs. LaRae, “Mystery Biker”


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-Announcement of the Capital Wrestling Center

At the beginning of the preshow, Scott Stanford announced that the show would take place in the new state of the art Capital Wrestling Center. The name, nod to the history of the company. Vince McMahon’s grandfather founded the company as the Capitol Wrestling Corporation.

It sounded like a huge upgrade from Full Sail, where they have been filming up until now. They even showed a video package to kick off the show proper that took a look at Jess Mc.Mahon’s company.

When they cut to the actual arena, I have to admit that I was rather impressed. There is only so much that you can do with the space they have in the Performance Center, the actual home of the Capitol Wrestling Center. They did a good job giving it a facelift and making it look closer to the Thunder Dome. The 100 fans don’t look socially distanced to me either. I still think the building is way too small to have 100 people in it, regardless of the plexiglass. There isn’t a roof on the plexiglass area that I could see and the fans kept taking their masks off. Sorry, science doesn’t stop for wrestling shows.

Verdict: Visually, a HIT. Scientifically and statistically a MISS. 50/50.

-NXT North American Championship – Damian Priest vs. Johnny Gargano

This was the first match in front of actual WWE fans since mid March. Strictly as a wrestling fan, it was so refreshing to hear a live crowd. Sure, I’ve heard a live audience out of AEW shows. But, NXT is my favorite promotion.

However, I couldn’t even really enjoy the match. I kept thinking about all the people in the building together at the same time. I hate to keep making this about COVID. But if something was to go wrong, it could be very bad.

Once I was able to get into the match, I appreciated the David vs Goliath story that they were trying to tell. Gargano continued to work the legs of the big man, which repeatedly gave him opportunities to get the upper hand. Given the size difference, Gargano had to show off his prowess and speed to keep Priest on his toes. He played up his heel persona often, even using the tried and true “low blow” for some extra heat.

When the time was right, however, Priest played “Goliath” very well. Not is he able to pull off powerful moves, he’s able to fly through the air when needed. There were a few times where it seemed a little dubious that Gargano was able to overcome the larger man, but considering where Gargano slots in on the roster, it’s a little more forgivable that the smaller man could dish out so much punishment to a larger opponent.

I was leaning towards a Priest win here, but would not have been shocked if Gargano took the gold. I figured that either he or LaRae would win at least one of their matches going into the show. But Priest’s reign is too new and too strong for him to lose it just yet.

Verdict: HIT

-Kushida vs. Velveteen Dream

My excitement level was split down the middle, 50/50, for this one. On one hand, I’m glad to see Kushida in a prominent spot with a new fire lit under him as of late. On the other, I’m still not comfortable with Dream being given the same spotlight without the real life allegations surrounding him being further expanded upon.

Dream entered the arena first, dressed as Doc Brown from Kushida’s beloved Back to the Future. Kushida didn’t even wait until Dream finished his entrance, he after Dream entered the ring. Kudos, Kushida. How dare Dream sully the name of one of my all time favorite movie characters?!

I like this new Kushida we’ve been getting the last month or so. But I would have loved to see him in control throughout more of the match. Partly because of my feelings about Dream. But with how much he was selling for Dream, it almost took the wind out of the sails of the reclamation project known as Kushida.

Yes, Kushida eventually fought back and won the match. But, the vibe I’ve gotten out of Kushida over the last few weeks was “I’m unstoppable!”. The vibe I got from Kushida tonight was more of the same vibe I got out of 1-2-3 Kid vs. Scott Hall years ago; the underdog overcoming the odds.

The match itself was still great. I just felt like it detracted from the story that they’ve been trying to tell with Kushida as of late. His attack on Dream after the match certainly helped, but a bit more offense in my opinion would have helped to cement him as a crazed force a tad more.

Verdict: HIT

-Halloween Havoc is BACK!

Not much to say about this, other than it looks like we’re going to be getting another Takeover-Style show very soon. While I’m not overly jazzed about that and wish we were back to 5 big shows per year, I’m excited about the name returning.

I wasn’t ever a massive WCW fan, but Halloween Havoc was always a major show for that brand. The iconic pumpkin stage is still beloved and talked about fondly by fans today. I’m not going to include it in the “Official” Hits & Misses, but I was excited enough about the name that I wanted to mention it.

-NXT Cruiserweight Championship – Santos Escobar vs. Isaiah “Swerve” Scott

For the first time ever, the Cruiserweight Championship was featured on a Takeover event. I cannot think of two men who would have put on a better match to mark this occasion than these two.

Going into the match, Santos Escobar remained undefeated within the WWE ecosystem. Well, almost undefeated. Before shedding his mask and the El Hijo del Fantasma persona, Escobar was pinned exactly once. By Isaiah Scott. Swerve aimed to beat him for a second time and capture his first taste of WWE gold.

Escobar has embraced his character brilliantly. From his heelish facials to jawing off when the time is exactly perfect, the former Fantasma has brought more prestige to the title than any former champion. Swerve has also proven during his time on the indies as Shane Strickland and his time in NXT that he is something special.

So it almost goes without saying that I expected this to be a great match. It absolutely delivered and for the first time made the Cruiserweight title feel like a top prize, not a mid-card title.

Ashante Adonis came to Swerve’s aid when Escobar’s goons interfered on his behalf, which could be an interesting pairing if they decide to explore that further.

While I am all for a continued Escobar title reign, I’m not sure where Swerve goes from here. Tagging with Adonis seems like a step backwards. Going for a higher title doesn’t make sense since he couldn’t get the job done here.

Verdict: HIT

-NXT Women’s Championship – Io Shirai vs. Candice LaRae

Shirai & LaRae last faced off on a Takeover stage a little over a year ago in Toronto, and how have times have changed since then. Shirai was a clear heel, LaRae the white meatiest of babyfaces. If memory serves, the two had a stellar match that night in Canada. Unfortuantely, the match was largely overlooked due to the underwhelming booking.

Tonight they stole the show and did it right in front of our faces. The build to this has been great and they delivered in this matchup.

Some of my favorite matches have a very slow build to them. It gives time for the heel to build the babyface sympathy and time for the face to use that sympathy to get the audience on their side. This match was nothing like their match in Toronto. Back then they took the fifteen minutes they had and put on a fast-paced matchup filled with high spots. It made sense then, as they were fighting for every second they had on the card.

Here, with an even more relaxed atmosphere for women’s wrestling than in Toronto, they took their time to build to those spots. They made each spot mean more, and in turn were able to evoke more emotion while doing less in the ring. While that may sound like they were phoning it in to a casual fan, it’s smart to do in a business where you put your body on the line week in and week out.

While I expected this to be a bit more fast paced, given that being more of NXT’s style, I loved every second of this matchup. Where LaRae technically pinned Shirai for more than a three count while the referee was knocked down, it gives them a reason to continue the feud. Shirai may have won, but LaRae can make the argument that she is the rightful champ.

I’m also excited to see Toni Storm back, even if my PWT Talks NXT cohost, Tom Stoup, isn’t as high on her as I am. I think she can bring a lot to the table and add some depth to an already deep division.

Ember Moon returning as the mystery “biker” was also super satisfying, and not just because we called it on the show either. As far as I’m concerned, Moon was criminally underused on the main roster and her talents should be utilized much better back in NXT.

Why would they bring back two talents in the same segment? Completely disjointed from one another to boot. Strange.

Verdict: HIT

-NXT Championship – Finn Balor vs. Kyle O’Reilly

I was looking forward to this matchup all week. For a contest with just a bit more than two weeks of build, I don’t think they could have done a better job hyping me up. The best part? They didn’t even have to try hard. They just had to tell a compelling and relatable story.

KOR and Balor have never faced one another, yet have been on each other’s bucket lists for nearly a decade. On the media conference call earlier this week, HHH confirmed rumors that they have been clamoring to face each other for years.

While I didn’t think KOR had much of a chance to best Balor, I wholeheartedly believed he was deserving of the spot. He’s proven in ROH and PWG that he can be a singles competitor and he’s had his moments where he’s outshined his other Undisputed Era members over the years. Stealing a line from one of my favorite children’s movies, Aladdin (the cartoon, clearly), KOR is a ‘diamond in the rough’. Overlooked by most as a tag team guy, this was his time to shine on his own.

Shine he did. Balor spent the majority of the match in control. KOR was using every last bit of strength to try and stay in the game. Blood was inadvertently smeared across KOR’s cheek at one point, akin to the Joker from Batman. While it was unintentional and didn’t signify that KOR was a deranged psycho like the Joker, it accidentally added to the match. The bloodied KOR looked like he had been through a war but continued to battle on.

I really appreciated how KOR almost started to wrestle “sloppy” and tired-like towards the end of the match. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a more lackadaisical, yet pristine brainbuster in my life. He was in control of the move the entire time, yet to the average fan he looked absolutely exhausted.

This was a huge moment for KOR. He may have lost, but he showed that he can hang the NXT Champion on his own.

Ridge Holland showing up with a battered Adam Cole was an intriguing idea. I didn’t expect Holland to dance with the main event this quickly. If at all. However, he may find himself thrust into the middle of a the main event with Finn Balor and the Undisputed Era.

Verdict: HIT

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