On Saturday, the NXT gang heads north of the border to Toronto for their first TakeOver in almost three months. Each TakeOver seems bigger than the last with this iteration being no exception. It is an absolutely stacked card with the Dusty Rhodes Classic tourney up for grabs, along with all three titles on the line.
Let’s run down the card and see what we can expect from the future of WWE moving forward.
Dusty Classic Finals: TM61 vs. Authors of Pain (Paul Ellering in a cage above the ring)
This is the best stipulation since the 'Judy Bagwell on a pole' match, and how we got here is hilarious. TM61 basically says "Look at this cool toy cage from WWE" and William Regal responds, "Hey Paul, you interfere in matches, so you’re going in a cage over the ring." This makes for the most NXT stipulation of all time.
I’m very torn on TM61. If you’ve seen anything of their pre-WWE days, it feels like a different tag team. Obviously there is the natural adjustment to the WWE style, but more and more, NXT is trending away from a less formulaic style and moving towards something more dynamic.
That said, TM61 clearly hasn’t resonated as much as WWE would have liked. Just look at their reaction compared to the one Austin Aries and Roderick Strong got for their Dusty quarterfinal match. Granted, it probably wasn’t the best idea to expect Roddy to get anything but a great reaction in California, but the difference is stark.
Part of me feels like the reason their matches don’t fully get ‘there’ is because they use Nick Miller, who shows zero personality and is the template for a create-a-wrestler from WCW/NWO World Tour, as the hot tag. It is clear that Shane Thorne kind of has ‘it’ to a certain extent as he's weirdly charismatic and actually gets a reaction from a live crowd.
How this match plays out impacts how the NXT Tag Titles match goes down. If TM61 wins, does that means the Revival retains and sets up a new face/heel pairing for the foreseeable future? Likewise if Occam’s Razor retains, wouldn't that signal a DIY victory? The simple answer is usually the easiest, so with the way they’ve been kind of, sort of, maybe pushing TM61, it's reasonable to expect they go over here.
Bobby Roode vs. Tye Dillinger
Bobby Roode is very good. His theme song is very good. But, are people more interested in singing along with his song than caring for his actual character? I guess the same is true about Dillinger on a smaller scale. Roode has had at least some character development, and is supposed to be the heel in this situation. But what have they done for Dillinger to establish his character as opposed to his gimmick?
Audiences, and especially NXT audiences, love to chant and love offbeat or silly gimmicks (see Breeze, Tyler). The difference between Breeze and Dillinger is that Breeze cultivated a character through his gimmick. That’s what made him popular, and Dillinger just, well, he just kind of hasn’t. His character is just his gimmick and short of "doing it for Dusty", there hasn’t been anything to make us care about him. Shouldn’t a ‘Perfect 10’ actually win a match?
The crowd will pop and cheer for both Canadian boys (as they should), but Roode’s will be louder and more resounding. It sounds cold to say, but he’s the one with the clear path to a big future: one that could involve the NXT championship.
NXT Women's Champion Asuka vs. Mickie James
I’m going to describe a wrestler: a wrestler so physically and psychologically dominating that all of their matches are must see; a wrestler who very, very rarely speaks, but is so massively popular because of the exciting and stiff style they work that is unlike any other wrestler on the entire WWE roster; a wrestler who is so lacking for competition, their matches are most often special attractions with people not on the active roster.
Now, did I just describe Brock Lesnar or did I just describe Asuka? She is the female Brock Lesnar of WWE, and is deservedly treated as such.
So when I heard about this match, I couldn’t help but smile: not in the scary way Asuka did when she heard about the match, but in a ‘This is gonna be gooooooood’ way. They treat Asuka like the monster she is, and there isn’t a soul in the NXT women’s division that is even close to her...and they know it. What’s the point of feeding Liv Morgan, Billie Kay, or Peyton Royce to her if none of them are ready, or able, to put on a remotely competitive match with her?
Having someone with the name recognition and in ring acumen like James is just perfect. It gives the other women time to work their way up. Rather, it gives Ember Moon time to establish herself as a viable threat to Asuka’s belt come 2017. Asuka’s matches are all excellent. Mickie James is excellent. This match will most likely be excellent. Mickie James gonna die.
NXT Tag Team Champions The Revival vs. DIY (2 out of 3 falls)
This could be the best tag match of the year, regardless of promotion. If The Revival aren’t the best tag team on the planet, then they’re certainly 1a. They are the best in NXT, the best in the company on either brand, and heck, maybe even ‘The Best In The World’ (™ Phil Brooks).
They remind us how a tag team can wrestle if they are an actual team instead of two guys thrown together, something WWE loves to do. These guys are big time wrestlers, top guys, whatever you want to call them, and they deliver.
But, DIY is the perfect foil to Dash and Dawson. Johnny Gargano has all the babyface charisma you could ever want, and paired with Ciampa’s hard, stiff style they make up a team that is just plain good. I had reservations when they came into NXT and whether what made them successful on the indies would carry over, but it absolutely has. Their match at NXT Brooklyn II was the match of the night, and I see no reason for this to be any different.
Especially in NXT, a stipulation like this typically signifies the end of a feud. With TM61, Authors of Pain, SAnitY, Aries/Roddy all legitimate forces in the tag division, it’s worth asking whether this is the end of The Revival’s run at NXT. Put them on Smackdown (the show that actually can book wrestlers), build them up with American Alpha, and let that division be low-key fantastic.
Or, put them on RAW and have them wrestle The Golden Truth and I'lll send out a Tout of me crying on my couch.
NXT Champion Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Samoa Joe
Look, we know this match should be the main event of a main roster PPV. These are two of the best in the game, performing at the top of that game, in a match that has had an exceptional build. Joe has been just incredible throughout this whole program, maniacally coming to take back his title at all costs. I would argue he can cut the best ‘angry’ promo of anyone currently signed to a WWE contract. He was great as the champion, but has been even better as the enraged monster chasing it.
That’s to say nothing of Nakamura’s growth over the past few months as well. He slowly added wrinkles to his character, showing aggression, showing fight, and showing a willingness to take everything seriously. Before he was more of a showman, and to a large extent he still is (in addition to being an incredible wrestler, which goes without saying). Now, he is showing fire, showing he cares, and showing that he wants to get his hands on Joe as much as Joe does him.
Shinsuke has an unstoppable air to him. He truly is the ideal representation of a sports entertainer: someone who can wrestle as well as anyone in the world while doing so in a completely unique and fascinating way. There is really no one like him.
So what’s going to happen aside from this match being great and stiff as all hell? I feel like Nakamura retains and goes on to have a series of great matches with Roode, Aries, Hideo Itami (when he’s healthy), and Roddy. His matches don’t need builds like others do as he is the build and the attraction. Noam Dar can call himself ‘Champagne Supernova’ all he wants, but Shinsuke is the entire goddamn galaxy. It makes sense for him to keep the belt until NXT has someone else capable of main eventing a TakeOver.
As for Joe, it’s time to move on and move up to the main roster. With as stale as RAW has been, bring him in and let him feud with Roman Reigns or Chris Jericho or whoever.
It’s always fun to think of the future, but around 9:30 on Saturday night, we should all be very thankful for the present.
You can watch NXT TakeOver on WWE Network Saturday starting at 8 PM EST. We'll also have a live recap going on the site you can follow along with.