Editor's Note: The following is an opinion-based preview and reflects that of the writer.
The Wednesday night war was over before it really began, but don’t tell that to NXT.
After announcing their obvious AEW driven move to Tuesday nights, NXT is putting on their biggest and most ambitious TakeOver card to date with ten matches over two nights, all on a new live streaming service. It’s almost like they are trying to run a card so big it distracts from being "bullied" out of "their" time slot! Curious!
This is not a results focused column (even though I predict the result of every match), but if the results lead to ten midweek bangers that set up the next few months of NXT, I’m willing to slightly overlook the process.
With the move to Peacock, it’s fair to wonder if this is the end for a lot of the current NXT mainstays. With the Undisputed Era breaking up, is this Adam Cole’s last "Bay Bay" at the Performance Center? Is Karrion Kross, a main roster act masquerading as an NXT one, moving up already? That doesn’t even mention Io Shirai, who warrants her own full section, possibly being ready to move on. Or, do the new Peacock overlords want established stars at the top? Who knows? Let’s find out! If it’s time for some mainstays to move on, I’m with it. I’ll be as proud as Jaime Escalante was after his students passed that calculus test.
Kushida vs. Pete Dunne
A crazy thing: this match might open night one meaning arguably the two best pure wrestlers in NXT are gonna jerk the damn curtain. I refuse to sell this match, because everyone should already be at full blood flow just thinking about it. I am frothing at the mouth for it. As soon as Dunne made the claim to being the best technical wrestler in the world, my brain, and just about everyone’s brain, went to Kushida. I’m just glad to be right for once.
Two guys who are great at this getting the chance to be great at this together is a beautiful thing. Dunne’s last TakeOver match with Finn Balor was great, but Kushida’s last TakeOver match was even better. It was easily his best match since he came to NXT and it’s curious that they haven’t pulled the trigger with him yet. Maybe they never will. Who knows? Wrestling is weird!
Kushida’s momentum has been stopped and started so many times that I can’t let myself get excited for another aborted push. He’s yet to get that defining win that really spurns him forward and he isn’t getting it Wednesday. Dunne takes this one.
MSK vs. Grizzled Young Veterans vs. Legado Del Fantasma triple threat for the vacant NXT Tag Team titles
God, this is going to be so good.
Unfortunate injury notwithstanding, the rollout of MSK (Wes Lee and Nash Carter) in NXT has been a masterclass in how to rocket an exciting new team to the top of the card. They were an established brand prior to NXT and once there, they didn’t get a weird rebrand; they kept their identity in and out of the ring. Legado Del Fantasma (Raul Mendoza and Joaquin Wilde) is a bit slept on, but you can absolutely count on them to show out when they get time in the ring. Wilde has been doing this for a long time and Mendoza is one of the more underrated talents in NXT.
Both these teams go a thousand miles an hour at all times and Grizzled Young Veterans (James Drake and Zack Gibson) are the perfect foils for them. In any triple threat, there always needs to be one person or team that holds everything together and that’s exactly what GYV is great at doing. They will gladly let the other four ping pong around the ring while they keep the action grounded.
AEW has done a lot in a year, but no one does tag matches like NXT. Whether it's multi-team sprints or a standard tag affair, NXT is the gold standard in pro wrestling. The list of tag champs is a veritable who’s who in tag team wrestling over the past eight years or so: The Wyatt Family, The Undisputed Era, DIY, The Revival, I could go on forever, baby. All three of these teams have the skills and bonafides that wouldn’t be out of place on that list.
This will be the spotfest of the first night. In all likelihood, MSK was winning the belts right after the Dusty Cup, but Lee’s injury delayed those plans. Their coronation happens during WrestleMania week.
Leon Ruff vs. Isaiah "Swerve" Scott vs. Bronson Reed vs. Cameron Grimes vs. Dexter Lumis vs. LA Knight: Six-man gauntlet eliminator match to determine who challenges NXT North American Champion Johnny Gargano on night two
I’m all for getting as many people on the card as possible, but there had to have been a less convoluted way to get here. I needed some Alex Jones recommended brain supplements to make sense of Wednesday’s qualifying match. (Please don’t buy those or even try to Google them. Oh god, why did I leave this lame joke in wow I really didn’t have much to say here!)
I have like 4000 words to write so I’m dropping some bullets here. People who I would like to see win this match, ranked:
- Cameron Grimes: One day we'll all wake up and Cameron Grimes will rule the world.
- Swerve Scott: The new character is working and the in-ring has always worked. His time is coming.
- Dexter Lumis: Makes all the storyline sense in the world. Been floating around the North American title scene for awhile now.
- Leon Ruff: No real strong feelings here.
- LA Knight: Him yelling ‘Yeah’ always pops me. Him in the ring never pops me.
- Bronson Reed: Nope!
As much as I want Grimes to win this and every match, sadly, I don’t see it happening. The only real story with meat on its bones involves Lumis. Not having Lumis win here would just be weird. He’s been involved with the Garaganos for months now and will move on to night two.
NXT UK Champion WALTER vs. Tommaso Ciampa
There will be nothing pretty about this: a giant baby vs. the oldest looking 35-year-old in history. It’s gonna be painful and it’s gonna be kind of gross, but all of WALTER's matches are kind of gross. They are all these beautifully violent spectacles that are entirely his own. WWE is a whole bunch of (largely terrible) things, but they are becoming more and more homogenous by the day.
Who is truly unique? Who stands out for having their own individual style? The answer, folks, is not many of them. Even in NXT, every color is a similar shade. WALTER is one of the unique ones -- a stark contrast to the Diet-PWG style of NXT as a whole. And, WALTER's gonna kill you.
When Ciampa looks at WALTER, he sees himself. He sees himself as the biggest, toughest dog in the yard; the man who intimidates everyone. That’s fine, I guess, but there is a big ol' reality check coming, one with frying pan hands. This should be disgustingly hard hitting. I’m not anticipating it being at the level of WALTER's match with Ilja Dragunov, but there's a decent chance it’s in the same ballpark. Very few matches even approach that level of brutality. If you haven’t yet, find it on the Network and just push play.
I would take it as a betrayal if Ciampa actually beat WALTER for the belt here, a personal affront that I simply could not stand for. It would make no sense. WALTER's reign continues and should last for as long as he wants it to.
NXT Women's Champion Io Shirai vs. Raquel Gonzalez
I have written about every match Shirai has ever had at a TakeOver. Part of that is because I will never log off, but a bigger reason is her transcendence. She’s one of my favorite wrestlers and is, in my opinion, one of the two or three best wrestlers in the world. She’s also the best non-Asuka Women’s champion in the history of the company.
I write a lot about how the most important thing for a wrestler to do is matter, how we should feel something when they are on the screen, how they should leave an impression on us, and how they should require our attention. For almost three years, Shirai has demanded our attention. She is a flawless, peerless performer -- one that came in with high expectations and has exceeded them. Whatever we have done to deserve her, surely it isn’t enough.
There’s never a bad time to be effusive with praise for Shirai, but I’m doing it here because I think this is the end of her run on NXT. She’s done it all time and again and with WrestleMania kind of being the unofficial season finale in WWE, it would make total sense for her to drop the belt and move on. It doesn’t matter which brand she moves to as stars that bright shine regardless.
Raquel Gonzalez is ready now to be at the top of the women’s division for as long as she wants. It’s the first time where it really feels right for someone to take the belt. If this really is Shirai's last match in NXT, you know she’s going to do everything she can to make it memorable.
If she does move on, the women’s division is in more than capable hands with Gonzalez. She can be the dominant champ that a very talented, very capable women’s division can come after. It’s time for Big Mami Cool to get a run at the top.
Watch for the night two preview Wednesday.