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NXT TakeOver Stand and Deliver night two preview: The end of an Era

Editor's Note: The following is an opinion-based preview and reflects that of the writer. This is the second part of a two part preview of both nights of NXT TakeOver: Stand and Deliver. Check out Mike's look at night one.

NXT Women's Tag Team Champions Shotzi Blackheart & Ember Moon vs. The Way's Candice LeRae and Indi Hartwell

This is fine, I guess. Against all odds, The Way have endeared themselves to me...except Austin Theory. He’s real bad! Seemingly every week, LeRae adds bigger wings to her entrance gear and I’m fully expecting her to actually fly to the ring come SummerSlam. She’s a perfect partner for someone like Hartwell who is clearly talented but still very green in the ring. You can see her getting more and more comfortable by the week and that’s not a coincidence. Being paired with someone as talented and experienced as LeRae will do wonders for her career. (Can we please give her a title at some point soon?)

Blackheart and Moon continue to not do it for me. It’s clear they are both having the time of their lives, but the high school drama class levels of camp in their characters is a bit too much for me. They’re both good, but it’s just not clicking all the way. My feelings aside, it’s obvious NXT has big plans for Blackheart provided she doesn’t, you know, kill herself in the ring. Kota Ibushi watched that and even he thought that was too much. I’m begging every wrestler that reads this to please stop taking unnecessary neck bumps because it makes my tum-tum take up permanent residence in my throat.

I would say it’s too soon for a title change here, but the first NXT Women’s Tag Team title reign lasted all of an hour. Still, this match didn’t have enough build to warrant a title change so Blackheart and Moon retain.

North American Champion Johnny Gargano vs. the winner of the gauntlet eliminator match from night one

It’s finally happened. I’m a full-on Johnny Gargano fan and I just hope my friends, girlfriend, and you, my dear readers, will still love me. Since I’m writing this before night one of Stand and Deliver, I think that Dexter Lumis should win the battle royal and the title here. He should win the battle royal because he’s the only one that makes sense. He’s been around the North American title scene for a while and probably would have already won it if he didn’t get hurt a few months back. His story with Gargano and The Way has gone on long enough and deserves a proper blowoff here. Plus, it would be interesting to have a guy who never speaks carry a mid-card title. Let’s do it. Let’s strap up Lumis one time.

Cruiserweight Champion Jordan Devlin vs. Interim Cruiserweight Champion Santos Escobar title unification match

One of these guys is a bilingual luchador crime boss and the other is just an Irish guy with the biggest head on the planet and abuse accusations. One of these guys has something we can connect with and appreciate and the other is Jordan Devlin. Tough choice. Escobar is just so smooth. He looks great, he talks great, and he wrestles great. He is everything the company should be looking for in a Latino superstar. But then again, so was Andrade.

Has anyone really missed Devlin? Was anyone out there clamoring for his return? Sure, he’s fine at wrestling but there are 1000 guys that are good at wrestling and he could be replaced by, like, four dudes in NXT UK and no one would notice.

All of this is to say Escobar should, and will, become the undisputed cruiserweight champion on Thursday night. His legacy continues.

Adam Cole vs. Kyle O’Reilly in an unsanctioned match

This is the real main event for NXT Wrestlemania week. For a long time, The Undisputed Era was what people thought about when they thought about NXT. They are synonymous with the brand. From the second Cole debuted at TakeOver: Brooklyn III, Cole and O’Reilly were linked. Their individual identities mixed with the identity of the group, one spearheaded and dominated by Cole. They supported each other, they held each other up, and became the most successful group in NXT history.

It’s fitting that Cole’s ego and insatiable drive for individual success is what broke them up. As soon as O’Reilly stepped up and as soon as Cole’s ego was even somewhat threatened, he snapped and brought the whole Era down.

This is a history that spans Ring of Honor, New Japan, PWG, and now, NXT. 10+ years of history, 10+ years of Cole always being just that much better than O’Reilly and knowing it. Cole was the celebrated signing, he was in Bullet Club when it was still cool, he was the marquee. No matter how much we love Kyle, and we really, really love Kyle, he was always outshined. These two are forever linked, forever tied, forever destined to do this forever (full apologies to Kevin Steen and El Generico). Just watch the prime target video package NXT released. It’s an absolutely incredible video and does a better job setting this up than I ever could.

He might have been cast as one, but O’Reilly is no sidekick. From bell to bell, he’s as good as it gets. This is really the last story for The Undisputed Era to tell in NXT and I wonder if it is Cole’s last as well. Like Io Shirai, he’s done it all. Is it time for him to move on and how fitting it would be for O’Reilly to end his run in NXT? This is the match of WrestleMania week and one that sees Kyle O’’Reilly come out on top.

NXT Champion Finn Balor vs. Karrion Kross

Sorry for the very obvious pun, but the clock on Kross’ time in NXT has been ticking ever since he debuted. A big, muscular dude that wrestles a slow, deliberate style is a Vince McMahon dream and pairing someone like him with someone like Scarlett is a Vince McMahon wet dream. It’s surprising that they aren’t already on the main roster and the only explanation has to be that Vince doesn’t watch his own product. (And why would he?) He simply can’t resist a boring big man with a good look.

His entrance is a spectacle and the music is great, but that’s kind of it. He and Scarlett look outrageously good, but man, is he all caps BORING bell-to-bell. Ok, maybe he's not that boring, but he just happens to wrestle a slower, less dynamic style than just about everyone else, so he stands out and not in a good way. 

Finn, however, does stand out and is exciting. He remains one of the best things going in wrestling today. He is, without a doubt, the Wednesday night MVP of the Pandemic Era and has a case for MVP of the whole company. The only three people with better cases are Bayley, Sasha Banks and Asuka. He carried NXT for the better part of a year while continuing to get better week after week. The confidence, the charisma, and the quality of his matches really make you wonder how all Vince saw in this guy was "big time smiles." The men’s division is somewhat lacking in star power, but that’s not something their champion lacks.

Balor is still too good to take the title off of him now. He’s elevated everyone he’s been in the ring with and should carry the title until the next generation of top stars is ready. Kross takes the loss and moves on while The Prince leads the gold brand to Tuesday nights.