This year's NXT TakeOver: WarGames is when I learned to stop worrying and just love the spectacle of the whole thing.
It’s an adjustment to go from a product that is entirely storyline driven to something that is much less so, but that’s what WarGames presents every year. It’s the one time a year where NXT puts slightly less emphasis on the story, and really focuses on the spectacle...because that’s what it is.
The WarGames matches are balls to the wall fun and insanity; a testament to NXT’s ability to tell cohesive stories even when they aren’t trying to that really shows the difference between the black and gold brand and Raw/SmackDown. Where the "main roster" Survivor Series matches lack, well, anything resembling a story or heat, NXT’s storylines are full of them. Characters stay true to who they are, and while they might be putting aside personal differences for one night, or even just 40 minutes, the personal issues still very much exist.
Who has ever cared about brand supremacy? Has anyone actually cared more about Raw than SmackDown? Is there one person, alive or dead, that will insist that they are only a SmackDown fan? It’s so strange that for this four week stretch, fans are supposed to buy into the idea that not only do the wrestlers care, but that they care this damn much. Even for WWE standards, it's nonsense.
Anyway, WarGames is here again and should be a ton of fun. These are always the cards that stack the most talent simply because of the sheer numbers involved in a WarGames match. And brother, I am here for it. Now like we always do at this time, let’s run down this four match TakeOver card.
NXT Championship No. 1 contender match: Pete Dunne vs. Killian Dane vs. Damian Priest
For a match with such high stakes, this really doesn’t feel like a big deal. The reasonable explanation is because they made this match on Tuesday when not many people were paying attention. If the company simply wants the NXT title defended on Sunday, this match makes much more sense. Everyone in the men’s WarGames match has a better claim to the title than these three, but if this exists as a one-off showcase, by all means have this match and give these guys the platform.
My lack of caring about this match is through no fault of the perfect Pete Dunne, who continues to be excellent whenever he’s in the ring, but more on the shoulders of his two dance partners. Killian Dane needs more. He needs more character and more substance before he can really matter. Right now, he’s best defined by his hair and the chaos he causes. That’s certainly something, but it’s not much and nowhere near championship match level.
NXT really, really wants us to like Damian Priest. I get that, but isn’t he just another generic big man who can move? His matches have been wholly unremarkable with the exception of the ones with Dunne and he really hasn’t done anything to pop other than just be tall. His cyclone kick is kind of cool, but his finisher is the dirt worst. A dude who is a legit 6’5” using Roll The Dice as a finisher is some create-a-wrestler bullsh*t.
Like I said before, this is just a match to get the NXT title defended on Survivor Series with no future implications. The pieces are here for something fun and exciting, and that’s exactly what this should be. Since this is most likely is just a one time thing, let Peter win this one so he and Cole can tear the house down on Sunday.
Finn Balor vs. Matt Riddle
The Prince who was promised has finally, finally, finally, arrived. This is the good stuff and what wrestling dreams are made of. The level to which this dude’s natural charisma was stifled is both shocking and laughable. Getting the chance to press reset on pretty much his entire career post-NXT is wildly exciting.
What is even better is how easy it is to book Finn’s return to NXT because, well, all the guys he could wrestle range from good to drool-on-your-keyboard great. I want to see him wrestle literally every person involved in the men’s WarGames match. Dunne, Lio Rush, Angel Garza, little Moe with the gimpy leg, I could go on forever, baby. This is great. This is new and exciting, two things Prince Goddamn Devitt hasn’t been in or experienced in a long time.
With all the well deserved attention Balor has been getting, it’s important not to lose sight of one thing: Matt Riddle is the best male wrestler in NXT. The Undisputed Era have the belts, Johnny Gargano’s matches get the love, Tomasso is great, but Matt is the best. He has the best combination of look and in-ring skills of them all. He also wrestles such a unique style that fits his personality perfectly. It is all undeniably him. It is natural, organic, and it works.
There really isn’t anyone like the King of Bros. The only real, and admittedly fair, complaint with him is the mic work. He’s not suited for the meandering show opening promos that plague Raw and Smackdown, but lucky for us, NXT is neither of those things. This is just another example of letting a performer play to his tremendous strengths while masking the relative weakness.
This was supposed to be Balor vs. Gargano which is the only match that would have had a lower combined body fat percentage than this one. That match can still happen and will be great when it does, but this should be fantastic. I really hope this gets 20 minutes, so we can see Balor open up the engine. Finn has to win his first match back so this one is easy. Welcome back, Prince.
Women's WarGames: Shayna Baszler, Bianca Belair, Io Shirai, Kay Lee Ray vs. Rhea Ripley, Candice LeRae, Tegan Nox and Mia Yim
If you are finally going to run an all women’s WarGames, this is a great time to do it. What better way to showcase eight of NXT’s most talented? That said, there is talent and then, there is talent. The heel team in this match is the latter. How can anyone truly expect the babyface team to win? Who would even want that team to win? Just look at it:
- The person with more days as champion than anyone in NXT
- A future champion who should already be at the top of the card
- A Scottish lady who could kill me
- The goddamn genius of the sky
These four would stomp out the entire Undisputed Era in the time it takes them to make their convoluted hand taunt. Did you know they were making a U and an E with their hands? I had no idea. I love this team so much and i would let every single one of them open multiple lines of credit in my name and ruin my life.
The other team in this match is also very good, but they just can’t possibly compare. In the interest of creating a parallel structure in this preview, here are some bullets about the other team:
- Frightening Hot Topic lady who is way too young to be this good
- The best pure babyface in NXT if they let her show it
- An excellent wrestler with two knee braces and a great crowd connection
- Mia Yim
They are all talented, but the team just isn’t at the same level as the others. That might sound like an insult, but it really isn’t. More than anything, this shows the incredible depth and talent of the NXT women’s division. That’s a common refrain in these columns for the past year or so, but that doesn’t make it any less true. The talent is staggering. I think it is almost an inarguable fact that this is the most female talent that has ever been in NXT. If you want to make the argument that the Four Horsewomen-era of NXT had more top-end talent, I’ll certainly listen. But top to bottom, there is just an obscene amount of talent and they are only getting better.
One would think that Dakota Kai comes into play during this match, either as a replacement for Mia Yim if she can’t go or somehow foiling outside interference from the heel side. The popular Internet idea that I would love to see happen is Yim turn on her team and join Baszler/Shafir/Duke. It would be great if someone else in that crew besides Shayna could, you know, wrestle. Heels take it. Io forever.
Men's WarGames: The Undisputed Era (Adam Cole, Roderick Strong, Kyle O’Reilly, Bobby Fish) vs. Tommaso Ciampa, Keith Lee, Dominik Dijakovic and ?
I’m trusting NXT to not push the overwhelmingly easy narrative of "Four of these guys are a unit and the others don’t get along." That is beyond played out and boring. It is super apparent that the Undisputed Era are a complete unit, even to the uninitiated. The matching t-shirts and entrances kind of give it away. What I really hope is that this match to sets up future title matches for all involved. Ciampa has an easy and obvious claim to the NXT title. While Lee and Dijakovic have already wrestled for the North American championship and even though it’s played out, I wouldn’t mind seeing them team up to go after the tag team belts. Any combination of wrestlers in this match can’t go wrong.
The real intrigue is in who the fourth member of Team Ciampa will be. Papa Hunter said it’s going to be a surprise and probably a good one. The only lame selection I can think of is Johnny Gargano. The other answer would have been a returning Finn Balor, but obviously, he has already returned. Since it has been established that NXT character alignments don’t matter all that much on Raw and Smackdown, is the opposite true? If so, the best person is Sami Zayn. Imagine that pop for a minute.
His music hits and the roof blows off the Allstate Arena. He was the perfect NXT champion, and in my opinion, the best NXT wrestler full stop. You can argue that Balor brought NXT to where it is now, but Zayn poured the foundation for what became the NXT castle. If not him, who else? Who else really makes an impact? Would they really let Kevin Owens or Seth Rollins pull double duty? A returning Samoa Joe would be almost as beautiful as Sami if only so he could turn on his team. The more I write about it, the more I want it. I need it. I need Sami Zayn back in NXT even if it’s only for one night.
I don’t really care who wins this match. Rather, I just care about how it sets up the next few weeks of NXT. Since the Undisputed Era won the ladder match to gain an advantage in the match, let’s say that Ciampa and the "good guys" take this one. Just please give me Sami Zayn if only for one night, una noche.
Mike DellaCamera’s favorite day of the week is now Wednesday and he loves leftovers. Find him on Twitter.