Sadly, WWE is not giving away a house this weekend. Happily, NXT is back with their first proper TakeOver since February and, well, a lot has changed since that time.
Remember going places and doing things? Hopefully, Sunday can once again provide a meaningless escape, much like AEW did last weekend. Double or Nothing was the most fun I’ve had watching wrestling since that February TakeOver and the In Your House card is even better than that was.
Not many of these feuds have a ton of juice due largely to the environment around us. It’s harder to get invested in the show when there are so many other things worth getting invested in. Not every performer is around regularly and all of their absences are felt, some more strongly than others. The only person who has consistently and constantly been around has been ol' Johnny Wrestling and that might not be a good thing.
Still, in a vacuum, there’s some quality content here. Karrion Kross’ first proper match in NXT, a triple threat for the women’s title that could be historically great, Johnny Gargano getting his chest caved in and both plenty to look forward to and want to see. Now like we always do at this time, let’s preview the card.
Tommaso Ciampa vs. Karrion Kross (w/Scarlett)
Welcome to the end, Tommaso Ciampa.
This feels like the end, right? Ciampa himself has talked about having a short shelf life because of his neck. All of his ends (Gargano) have been tied up and he's wrestling a guy whose signature move is a Doomsday neck drop and who might be the apocalypse in human form. What better way for Ciampa to go out then this? It would immediately establish Kross as more than the standard chaos agent, because he’s more than that. Or, at least it feels that way.
A good way to tell how invested someone is in something is to look at their time commitment. When you’re in a relationship that matters, you put in the time. If you’re invested in your job, you work more hours and you spend more time there because it matters. NXT isn’t giving Kross and Scarlett a massive performative entrance like they have if they aren’t all in and if they don’t see the money in them.
It was immediately clear that these two are different. Kross is taller than Keith Lee and Scarlett has the look to go with him. The only problem with investing so much into them is that they might not be long for NXT.
Kross has to win here, clean and fast with no Scarlett interference or 20 minute struggle. I would love for this to open the show and have Kross win as decisively as possible.
Mia Yim, Shotzi Blackheart and Tegan Nox vs. Candice LeRae, Dakota Kai and Raquel González
In what I continue to take as a personal attack on me and my free time, yet another wrestling company added a match after I had already written 90% of my preview. AEW did it with the terrible Shawn Spears, so at least this one has good talent in it. Soem quick reactions to each person in this match:
- Blackheart: Very cool and possibly immortal because of how her neck didn't break last week. Also, she has a sweet tank.
- Nox: She seems great and they are clearly high on her. She's still attached to Dakota Kai. The Lady Kane gimmick is great and there was a predictably bad Reddit thread about how she shouldn’t do it because her chokeslam isn’t good enough. My eyes rolled out of my head just typing that.
- Kai: Still attached to Tegan Nox and shockingly great as a heel considering how pure of a babyface she is.
- LeRae: Legitimately incredible. I can’t believe how good she is as a bad girl. She is long overdue for a title run.
- Gonzalez: Also seems good! She and Dakota really work even if her debut was a bit awkward.
- Yim: She is in this match. I kid: She’s fine.
Everyone in this match is good and this match will be good but it was thrown together out of nowhere. I’m excited for the inevitable tower of doom spot and to see what feuds this will set up moving forward. Right now, it’s more important that LeRae, Gonzalez, and Kai look good and stay strong so they take this one.
Finn Bálor vs. Damian Priest
Seriously, what is the deal with this angle? Imagine going from a program with WALTER for the NXT UK title to...whatever this is? What has our Prince done to deserve this treatment? Why is he slumming with Priest? Talk about being outclassed in every single meaningful way. There is nothing Priest does better than Bálor in any meaningful way other than being taller.
Part of my frustration is that I just don’t get the point of Priest. There are other guys his size that move better, look better, talk better, wrestle better, and who are just, well, better. There is nothing remarkable and certainly nothing special here. I wonder how much of this is a combination of stubbornness to try and get something with Priest to work and Finn needing something to do while he waits for the world to return to whatever normal actually is.
This doesn’t warrant a lot of virtual space and it sure doesn’t deserve a lot of time on Sunday. I hope Finn double stomps Priest through the mat and off NXT TV for a bit.
NXT North American Champion Keith Lee vs. Johnny Gargano
If NXT is really operating more like a third brand as opposed to developmental, how can they avoid giving the fans fatigue that is so prevalent in WWE? People have been complaining about Gargano (and Ciampa to a slightly lesser extent) for some time now. What happens if they never leave? What happens if The Undisputed Era stays in NXT forever?
It’s easier to spread the talent out on Raw and Smackdown, but NXT only has so many spots available at any given time. Think about it: each TakeOver typically only has five matches. If 40% of those matches involve the same guys who have been wrestling at TakeOvers for years, how can NXT avoid becoming stale?
All I know is that if i CTRL+F ‘Johnny’ and ‘Ciampa’, they show up more than any other names combined. Even as I was writing this column, I found myself typing their names in matches that they aren’t part of. That’s how ingrained they are in the fabric of NXT. They’ve been great, but it’s time for a change.
Once again, Lee is too big for this. I know Gargano is supposed to be the foundation of NXT or whatever lame gimmick they’re running him out there with, but Lee is so much more. Him even still being in NXT is wild to me. Did Domanik Dijakovic really get the call up before him? Is that a thing that happened? Inexcusable is the word that immediately comes to mind. Sometimes, you just have to shrug and realize that WWE is just doing what they always do.
Imagine if Gargano actually wins here. Imagine if me-sized Johnny Gargano, wrestling as a heel no less, beats Keith Lee on Sunday. I don’t think there are enough coffin emojis in the world to describe my desire to instantly perish if that happens. Even if Lee is leaving NXT, there’s no way in the world he should lose. Our pal John is in for a rough time this weekend.
NXT Women's Champion Charlotte Flair vs. Rhea Ripley vs. Io Shirai
This is easily the best match on the card which is fitting because Flair is the biggest star in the company.
She is a transcendent talent and proof that the developmental system (and genetic superiority) works. This is what it would be like if Randy Orton, you know, gave a sh*t. She is a galactic, world destroying force. Her gravitational pull sucks everything in and that’s a problem. As big of a star as she is, she might be too big for this. If Lee is too big for a feud with Gargano, Charlotte is too big for NXT as a whole.
Who, exactly, is this match supposed to be helping other than Charlotte? It has done no favors for the women’s division in NXT which has been nothing but fodder for our Queen. Mia Yim? Chewed up. Ruby Riott? Gone. Even Rhea Ripley, who has a ceiling approaching that of Charlotte’s, was no match. We already knew Charlotte was great; we don’t need constant reminders and sacrifices.
When I think of this match, I think of Charlotte and Shirai first with Ripley as almost an afterthought -- a wild thing because she has everything. The look, the persona, the charisma, the in-ring skill, it’s all there. If this sounds like me recycling my old "Bianca Belair is the best thing going” take, that’s because it is and it doesn’t make it any less true. Using a corny cliche like "maybe the bloom is off the rose" does a disservice to her and her talent and is also flat wrong. It’s just that right now, she’s a star right next to two supernovas.
I’m begging for this to be Shirai’s time. Shie is a spectacular performer with chaotic charisma, an athletic marvel, an ace. They brought her to NXT specifically for this moment. A woman who is constantly in the discussion for best in the world is someone worth hitching your wagon to. She and Ripley are the present and future of NXT and the chemistry they have shown during their time in the ring together hints at what could be an incredible long term rivalry.
The genius of the sky pins Ripley, sends Charlotte back to Raw and SmackDown and sets NXT back on the course they were on pre-WrestleMania season.
NXT Champion Adam Cole vs. Velveteen Dream
The stipulation here is that if Dream loses, he can't challenge Cole for the NXT title as long as he's champion. It's also the least excited I have been about a Velveteen Dream TakeOver match and the least excited I have been about an Adam Cole TakeOver match.
Dream is helped by the crowd more than any other NXT wrestler. He relies on crowd interaction and is such a character and charisma-based wrestler. Take those away and there’s a bunch of axe handles, elbows, and abs. Think about how hot Dream was a few months ago and compare it to now. Of course, the circumstances couldn’t be more different, but that just shows the impact a crowd can have on a performer and how they are perceived to those watching at home.
Cole has done all the heavy lifting with this build. He remains, and will remain, perfectly cast as the smarmy heel who can actually back it up. Sure, the rest of the Undisputed Era gets involved sometimes, but Cole has been a fighting champion and has actually won some of his matches. Compare that to the main roster where a heel rarely even has a finish to their matches, let alone wins them.
The closest thing I can compare this run to is when AJ Styles was a heel but was still winning matches via the dubious tactic of being better at wrestling than everyone else. What I’m saying is that Cole is real good sh*t.
The fractured nature of the builds combined with no crowds makes every NXT show feel the same. Everything just kind of runs together. Part of me wants to say Dream wins here, but he has no heat and no momentum. The stipulation does make you think, though. Cole possibly not having a contract past Augustreally makes you think.
If Dream loses, is he done on NXT? If so, how fast would he die on the main roster? Over/under is 2.5 weeks. I’m torn here, but let’s say that the purple reign finally comes to NXT and the show ends with Dream on top.
Mike DellaCamera finished a jar of peanut butter (chunky, obviously) while writing this. Yell at him on twitter.