Hello again, friends. Allow me to be the first to welcome you and all your loved ones to WrestleMania week 2019. It was, as always, a long and torturous road to getting here, but Mama, we made it.
When the WWE lists ‘card subject to change’ on all their tickets, this TakeOver is an example of why. The disappointment of losing Tommaso Ciampa to a neck injury for god knows how long is very, very real. Capping off the biggest TakeOver over the year with the biggest match in NXT history would have been really special, but sometimes even the toughest necks need surgery, and I only hope we see that beautiful bald bastard in a WWE ring, of any form, sooner rather than later.
As always, this is an excellent card. I’m personally excited for Pete Dunne and WALTER to get introduced to a broader audience. NXT fans are the smartest fans in WWE, but there is still a large subset of them who might not be as familiar with those two. Lets face it: there is too much wrestling every week to watch everything. Even I, a professional wrestling writer, don't have enough time to watch it all. But fret not because I always make time for NXT so I can crank out *checks word count* 2,700+ words before each TakeOver. It is a labor of love and one I take very seriously.
Since this is the unofficial season finale, I’m going to try out a new thing called ‘Where do we go from here’ in which I predict the future of the guys/girls involved in the matches. Since I was the genius who predicted Kenny Omega would stay in NJPW, these should be considered unimpeachable predictions and not just ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
For those keep track at home, the answer is yes, I do try to shoehorn the shrugging man into as many columns as possible.
So like we always do at this time, let us run through the card and try to figure out what’s going to happen this Friday in Brooklyn.
NXT Tag Team Champions The War Raiders vs. Ricochet/Aleister Black
Man. I am just having a real hard time caring about this match. I’ve said in multiple columns that the War Raiders don’t really do it for me, and they still don’t. Their match at the last TakeOver was really, really good, but I’m inclined to give more credit to The Undisputed Era guys than Rowe and Hanson. They just don’t connect with me. Maybe it’s because I don’t buy a lot of Hanson’s offense. Sure, it’s cool that a big dude can do a handspring and a (slow) cartwheel, but it would be a whole lot cooler if we didn’t see someone do them better. Jeff Cobb can do a standing shooting star press! I can’t do that on a trampoline! As I’m writing this, I realize that maybe it’s just Hanson that doesn’t do it for me, because I think Rowe could be a legit singles star if given the chance.
It’s always kind of hard to put words to digital paper when you feel this way about someone. I think of it like Radiohead. They are incredibly talented musicians and it's clear how technically proficient they are, but they just don’t do it for me. I even like some of their songs and would probably see them in concert, but they aren’t a band I would wait in line to see. What I’m saying is Ray Rowe is Thom Yorke and Hanson is...the other dudes in Radiohead. I just really hope they don’t have a 20 minute entrance like they did last TakeOver.
Something else that’s not connecting with me (that’s what we in the biz call a transition) is the team of Ricochet and Your Pal Aleister Black. Never has a tag team felt more like ‘two dudes wrestling together’ than these guys. Individually, they are incredible performers. Together they are…incredible performers who don’t perform together. They don’t work as a cohesive unit. There is no teamwork, no tandem offense, nothing that makes tag team wrestling the best form of wrestling on the planet.
I understand the reason for this, and I understand that they might want to give these two a proper sendoff from NXT on the TakeOver stage. All of it makes sense, and I just can’t seem to make myself care about it. Giving them the titles makes less than zero sense. At this point, both of them are established main roster stars, and putting the belts on them would be a stroke of insanity.
WDWGFH (where do we go from here): This one is pretty obvious, really. Ricochet and Black are clearly main roster bound. Could the War Raiders join them? Sure, but the Magic 8-Ball that is my brain says ‘highly unlikely’. Someone has to anchor the tag division in NXT, and my personal bias aside, they will do a great job in that role. Besides, we all know they’re just keeping the belts warm until the Forgotten Sons get their title shot. Just kidding, those guys are the dirt worst. I’m convinced they are some kind of inside joke NXT has where they are convinced they can get absolutely anyone over.
NXT UK Champion Pete Dunne vs. WALTER
Woooooo brother, is this match going to slap. If it wasn’t for the next match in this column, this would be what I’m looking forward most the entire Mania week. Admittedly, I am not caught up on NXT UK, but I don’t think that matters and even if it does, I don’t care. Dunne, for all his considerable gifts and charisma, is not a physically imposing man. This really kind of hit home when he was in the Royal Rumble back in January; he’s just not that big of a dude!
You know what he is? An incredibly talented wrestler. Someone who just gets wrestling. It’s actually a bit scary how well he gets it considering he somehow is only 25 years old. He knows how to tell a story and how to structure a match. I can’t tell you one bad match I have seen him in and it might actually be impossible. His size isn’t a detriment for a couple reasons. The first, obviously, is that he’s just so damn good. The second is that pretty much everyone in NXT UK is Mike DellaCamera sized, which, for the record, is not large. You know who is large? WALTER. WALTER is large.
He feels like the final boss of Europe. On the rare occasions where he loses, it feels like a huge deal. Jordan Devlin beat him a little while ago in OTT and the reaction was as loud as I’ve ever heard at an indie show. Part of that was because it was Devlin’s hometown promotion, and part of it was because, well, WALTER lost. Part of me is actually surprised he is in WWE because of just the brutal style of matches he works, but I’m certainly not going to complain about it.
I don’t mean to keep waxing on about why and how WALTER is so incredible, but I’m absolutely going to continue doing just that. He’s big, he can move, and his chops sound like gunshots. His physical imposition is so striking and so unique that even people who haven’t seen wrestling before understand that they are seeing someone who is a big deal. I showed someone the clip of him chopping Zack Sabre Jr. recently and after they were done squirming, they asked "Is he alive?"
How many other people in wrestling elicit that kind of reaction? One? None? WALTER is a singuarly unique force in wrestling. This really seems like a good time to take the belt off of Pete. He’s had it for so long that it only makes sense to see what it’s like having him someone to chase after. He’s always felt more important than anyone one else on NXT UK...until now.
WDWGFH: Neither of these guys are going anywhere. These are the two dudes who are going to make NXT UK.
NXT North American Champion Velveteen Dream vs. Matt Riddle
It is April 2019. The world has been around for a long time (and is also round) and never in its long and illustrious history has it ever produced something more perfect or more beautiful than this: a match for a secondary title between an MMA stoner Bro and, for lack of a better description, a Prince impersonator. This sounds like something that would be at one of the GCW shows running this weekend, not at one of the biggest WWE shows of the year.
To take it a step further, this is a match between someone who appears to not care about anything to someone who cares so much about everything.
Riddle dropped into pro wrestling as an almost fully formed character. It helps that he is essentially just himself on screen, but he is someone who is as close to a natural as there is. Even from his earliest matches, it was clear that his time on the independents was going to be short lived. Compare that to Dream’s path. He started out as Patrick Clark, a contestant on Tough Enough, a "competition" he didn’t even win. For him to achieve success meant he had to completely destroy Clark in order to become the Velveteen Dream. He has even disavowed him on television.
When he was asked about his past, he said, "The Dream has no recollection of this." Patrick died so Dream could live. All of that has created this incredible juxtaposition of two characters, ene who has succeeded because of his own authentic self, and the other by creating a persona so unique and so powerful that it has become his true self.
The build to this match produced the greatest tweet in the history of the internet when Dream posted ‘UR Not A BRO UR A HO’. I need that tattooed on my back yesterday. The build to this match also produced the best moment in NXT history when Dream came out on a couch to watch Riddle’s match last week. Imagine not liking this. It would be like not liking bikes or pizza or something else that is just so clearly great. This will be, like all of Dream’s matches, an experience. Riddle has been incredibly protected in NXT, so would he really lose here?. Then again, would Dream really lose in his first TakeOver title defense? Something has to give and I think it’s everyone’s favorite Bro.
WDWGFH: This one is actually a bit tricky. If there really is a plan for Riddle to retire Brock (and please believe that is something very real and not just a social media gimmick), his time in NXT should be short. I don’t think now is the time for a call up, but it’s not that far off. Dream is an even weirder case in that he could get called up tomorrow, or stay in NXT forever. I truly think it would be a shame if he doesn’t get a title run at some point, and I think he’s down there for the foreseeable future.
NXT Women's Champion Shayna Baszler vs. Bianca Belair vs. Io Shirai vs. Kairi Sane
On one hand, it’s so great that there are four women wrestling on a TakeOver special. One the other hand, couldn’t there just have been, you know, two women’s matches on the card? I’m never going to complain about seeing 2/3 of the Black Lotus Triad wrestle Shayna Two Time and the EST of NXT, but it’s still fair to wonder.
There is just an incredible amount of female talent in this match. The greatness of Shirai and Sane is apparent, even to a novice fan. They just wrestle and move differently like it’s ingrained in their DNA. My thoughts on Bianca were exhaustively documented before the last TakeOver, but the TL;DR version of it is that I think she is incredible with a Charlotte Flair ceiling.
Everyone remembers the Four Horsewomen era of NXT as a transformative time for women’s wrestling, as they absolute should. I would argue that these four have just as much talent as the horsewomen did back in their day, not to mention better resumes at this point in their careers. With these four plus Candice LeRae, Deonna Purrazzo, Mia Yim, plus the rehabbing combo of Dakota Kai/Tegan Knox, the future of the NXT women’s division is the brightest one in the entire company.
This is the match that I’m having the hardest time wrapping my head around from an outcome perspective, because it can really go anywhere. It’s easy to write a story where Shayna keeps the belt and continues running through NXT. It’s just as easy to write when where she doesn’t get pinned, loses the title…and continues running through NXT. Selfishly, I never want her to drop the title. She is one of my favorite NXT talents of recent memory, but it’s time for her to do more. If there really is a large Ronda Rousey sized hole on the main roster, what better choice to fill it? Being on the older side means there are fewer opportunities to take advantage of Baszler’s substantial gifts. It makes sense to drop the title to either Io or Kairi, and I’m going to say Io because she hasn’t had the title and has the best nickname in wrestling.
WDWGFH: As much as it pains me to predict Shayna loses her title, it’s time for her to go. With the women’s division on the main roster in flux with the constant switching of brands, now is the perfect time to establish her as an immediate main event level threat. This allows Io/Kairi/Bianca to lead the next wave of women in NXT, and what a wave it is.
Vacant NXT Championship: Adam Cole vs. Johnny Gargano (2/3 falls match)
Apparently, they have been running a version of this match on the house show circuit and the results have been incredible. My super official sources (Twitter, the Internet) have provided nothing but glowing reviews which is kind of crazy because everyone on the Internet is miserable and hates everything.
I have no doubt that these two can live up to any and all expectations attached to this match. Both are proven, main event caliber wrestlers and talkers…but does that matter? Will anyone really care about a Gargano coronation if it comes against Cole? Will anyone really care about a Gargano coronation if it comes against anyone not named Tomasso Ciampa? This was supposed to be the last chapter of the best planned out story the WWE has told in years, and it’s so, so unfortunate that Ciampa’s neck isn’t allowing that, but this is as fine an alternative as we could rationally expect.
More than any other match on this card, this match is about the future. This maps out the next generation of NXT. Does Johnny get to stick around for another year waiting for Ciampa to come back or is this the time to send him off? They can’t really just re-run the underdog story scraping to the top again, can they? Is there really such a burning desire to see him finally win the NXT title? He has been in the main event scene for such a long time that the risk of burnout is absolutely real. There is actually a section of fans that doesn’t like the Gargano/Ciampa feud, and to that I say get over yourself. That mindset is the reason we don’t deserve nice things. People criticize the main roster endlessly for not telling coherent, cohesive stories. When NXT tells a story that has stretched on for years, is layered, well written, dynamic, and is as close to complete as can be, people want to complain about it. Complaining is fun, I get it. But come on, guys.
Adam Cole was born for this. He really has it all: the look, the music, the stable, the microphone skills, the wrestling ability, all of it. There is nothing he can’t do well in the world of pro wrestling. He has held major titles in every just about company he’s ever worked for, so why should NXT be different? He is a proven main event level heel that is more than ready to carry the post Gargano/Ciampa/Black/Ricochet version of NXT. Gargano has had more than enough time in NXT, and if his time there doesn’t end with a title reign, I don’t think it’s a bad thing.
It makes all the sense in the world to put the belt on Cole for a while and let someone like Dream come get it. So yeah, let’s go with that! Oh, and if you don’t do the ‘Boom’ point during Cole’s music, you are an actual coward.
WDWGFH: The era of Johnny Gargano in NXT ends (please don’t put him on 205 Live), and the reign of the Undisputed Era officially begins.