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NXT TakeOver WarGames preview: Love is like War

NXT TakeOver WarGames

The Internet is nothing if not a supremely safe space -- one that is warm, accepting, and even encouraging of all viewpoints.

Such a safe space means I can comfortably unburden myself by admitting WarGames is my least favorite NXT TakeOver every year. Don’t get me wrong: the matches are consistently good. It's just that I enjoy matches with higher stakes. I love popcorn matches as much as anyone, but we all have our preferences.

It's also why I think the Survivor Series matches should be launched into the sun. Brand supremacy is not something anyone even pretends to care about. It’s not a thing! Wearing a blue SmackDown t-shirt is the equivalent of Rob Lowe wearing an NFL hat. Modern Survivor Series stinks, but at least WarGames matches are wildly entertaining.

The point of those matches aren’t to serve any substantive storylines. Sure, there are stories that got us to this point, but that’s not the real appeal. The appeal comes from the spots and the movez. What the matches can accomplish are two things: kicking off major storylines (Dakota Kai turning heel last year) and giving the wrestlers signature moments for their video packages (Ricochet’s double moonsault off the top of the cage). Those needs are always going to exist, so WarGames is gonna keep on keepin’ on.

WarGames also provides a way to get more wrestlers on the card; something that we all love to see. And, what a card this is. This is the best of the best of the current era of NXT; a nice blend of established stars and newer faces.

So for the last time in 2020, let’s run down the card and make some terrible predictions! 

Tommaso Ciampa vs. Timothy Thatcher

Thatcher is a droplet from God and for some reason, he remains slept on. The old argument that he doesn't have a personality is lazy and weak. Sometimes, I think those critics are only remembering his long, intentionally boring EVOLVE title run and just assume there isn’t much there. I’ll repeat for the people in the back: my man intentionally wrestled as boring as possible to make his character more unlikable. What a maneuver. What a beautifully meta maneuver.

However, I think an unfortunate outcome of that is people thinking that is only what he is: boring and slow. In reality, it was just a conscious choice. Rarely does the grinding and grappling style invite the casual viewer, but Big Tim makes stretching someone entertaining as hell. He’s been so good for so long, and, with the exception of flips, there isn’t much he can’t do in the ring.

I'm not quite sure what’s going on with Tom Champ, though. When he came back with a cool jacket and vest, it was clear he was a bad dude. He put a big-time beatdown on Jake Atlas after a match and everything! But then, he cut a sunshine day-esque promo after NXT went off the air which means he cut a 'thank you NXT Universe' promo to...his coworkers? All of a sudden, he was then a good guy?

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

This week, he showed up to interrupt Thatcher’s class which is just plain rude. We all know that the number one quality WWE looks for in a babyface is rudeness. 95% of what I write is a joke or sarcastic, but that fact is actually true. Rudeness and terrible senses of humor are the starting point for every WWE face.

Ciampa is at the same point as Johnny Gargano is where wins and losses don’t matter. He can get reheated whenever they need a challenger for a belt and can withstand a bunch of losses. Thatcher is far less established, and needs the win. Thatcher is also better so he’s going to get that win.

Strap match: Dexter Lumis vs. Cameron Grimes

My working title for this column was "The Greatest Love Story NXT has ever told" which is a not at all subtle way to introduce my theory that these two are, you guessed it, very much in love. When I think about why this feud is still going on, I can only conclude they are two soulmates wrestling (no pun intended) with their own realizations of this. Unwilling to deal with these feelings, they resort to combat. Or, you know, it’s just another wrestling feud. (No, I haven’t been outside in nine months. Why do you ask?)

I personally love Grimes more than I love most things, so I get it. I’m into Lumis slightly less, but I get the appeal. My affection aside, and possibly theirs, this feud has to end.

A quick recap of this program so far:

  • Haunted House of Terror match in October
  • Blindfold match in November
  • Strap match in December

The only logical end to this is a casket match on Valentines Day with a video package soundtracked by Alkaline Trio. The world hasn’t exactly been set on fire by this program, yet it soldiers on. Lumis and Grimes, much like death, is a slow march into the sea. 

Even though Grimes got a hat over, it seems like NXT has bigger plans for Lumis. He was poised to get a midcard run before getting injured. He plays his character really well and has a dope theme song ripped right out of Tron: Legacy. Lumis gets the win here.

NXT North American Champion Leon Ruff vs. Johnny Gargano vs. Damian Priest

One of the things I loved about NXT was that there was always something new and different happening. With wrestlers constantly being moved up to the main roster and new signings, the roster always churned. It was great to write about because there was always something to say or a different story to explore. When I previewed the last TakeOver, I wrote about the audience needing to realize this isn’t the old NXT anymore. Wrestlers are going to stay for a lot longer and, sometimes, forever.

I realized that I was actually talking to myself which happens a lot. My expectations need to change as well. I can’t keep recycling variants of "Wouldn’t be a TakeOver without a Johnny Gargano match included, lol." NXT is the only brand that some of these wrestlers will perform on and it’s time to talk and think about it from that perspective. God bless anyone who previews the main roster shows.

I have seen far too much wrestling over my illustrious 35 years on this planet that is delicately perched on a turtle’s back. I have forgotten more matches than I remember but I will never forget March 15, 2019, in Melrose, MA, for EVOLVE 123.

On that unusually warm winter evening, I witnessed Ruff take the worst in-ring beating I can ever remember. Anthony Henry and JD Drake (The Workhorsemen if you’re a real one) chopped the absolute life out of him to the point it was uncomfortable. Just to make sure I wasn’t misremembering, I texted one of my friends who was at the show with me. He instantly responded and said, "It was like watching an assault. I was actually uncomfortable." If any of you are feeling particularly masochistic, take this match out for a spin.

Seeing Ruff go from that to being the North American champion is borderline unbelievable. From getting the living hell beaten out of him in a crappy auditorium to being an absolute delight on NXT, here’s to you, Leon. Here’s to you.

This story has been such a fun and welcome surprise. I don’t think anyone thinks Ruff is in for a long run with the belt, but it would be incredible if that was the case. Johnny G has some spooky guys, Damien Priest has some mesh shirts, but Leon Ruff has the belt and will somehow keep it on Sunday.

WarGames: Undisputed ERA (Adam Cole, Kyle O’Reilly, Roderick Strong & Bobby Fish) vs. Pat McAfee, Pete Dunne, Tag Team Champions Oney Lorcan & Danny Burch 

2020 continues to be very much on its bullshit, but even in this decade-long feeling hell year, who saw "Pat McAfee is the biggest star in NXT" coming? That might sound hot takey, but is it?

He just gets this. He is #good at this. He strolled into the company as a fully-formed mega heel, one that is capable of cutting groan-inducing promos, GIFable moments, and actually doing some work in the ring. And, in what can only be a sign of the existence of God, he made Burch and Lorcan matter. Going from opening shows to the top of the card is good work if you can get it. I’m not entirely sure Dunne needs to be a part of this as he just doesn’t really fit this style of stable. Him leading British Strong Style was one thing, but this is a different animal. Still, I don’t think anyone is ever going to complain about more Peter on their TVs.

Undisputed Era being the "good guys" while still acting pretty much the same as they always have is really fun. They aren’t doing a ton different as lot of it is subtle and speaks to the versatility of Cole and O’Reilly. Cole has kept the same promo delivery, but just redirects his disdain and dislike from "you people" to Pat Mac and his pals. KOR has toned down the cartoonish goofiness but is still wildly entertaining with his promo ahead of his match with Finn Balor as a perfect example of this. Rod Strong, well, he’s not doing much at all which is kind of the perfect use of Rod Strong. And, full offense, but we are super not talking about Bobby Fish when he is *checks notes* out here supporting Q-Anon conspiracy theories.

Like I said at the beginning, WarGames doesn’t matter but that doesn’t mean this match won’t absolutely rip. Still, it’s hard to really get my dander up about the UE bros getting revenge on McAfee when they have been largely terrible to everyone for years. I don’t think McAfee came to NXT to lose twice in a row, so he and his boys take this one home.

WarGames: Candice LeRae, Toni Storm, Dakota Kai & Raquel González vs. Women's Champion Io Shirai, Shotzi Blackheart, Ember Moon & Rhea Ripley

The real star power in NXT is on the women’s side. Just look at this staggering amount of talent:

  • Ripley: Already wrestled a marquee WrestleMania match. 
  • Shirai: A transcendent champion. Please slowly run me over with an Oldsmobile.
  • Blackheart: Hosted Halloween Havoc. Has a cool lil’ tank.
  • Storm: Won the 2018 Mae Young Classic. 
  • Moon: Best finisher in wrestling. 
  • LeRae: Still the most underappreciated worker in the world. 
  • Kai: Really good!
  • Gonzalez: She gets her own section below!

It’s all good. Make this match the main event and let the women shine. I wonder if this is where they officially, officially pull the trigger on Gonzalez as it's been close to happening for a minute now.  Her move up the card has been a deliberate one and she’s proved she’s ready for more. According to the indisputable Cagematch, she hasn’t even wrestled 200 career matches yet, so there’s plenty of room to grow. While we’re here, shoutout to Cagematch for being a valuable and absolutely insane resource for me when I write. It’s especially great, because where else can you find a comprehensive list of every wrestling match ever AND see that Austin Ares has a higher match rating than both Ric Flair and Randy Savage? The people who categorize and catalog this content are even wilder than people who update Wikipedia pages regularly. I love the internet so, so much.

Any team that has Ripley and Shirai on it is never losing. The other side could have the Four Horsewomen and I would still think they would win. Shirai had the big spot last year and I think this time, it’s all Blackheart. She’s clearly not afraid to die in the ring, so she gets to have the moment people are going to text their friends about. But I just can’t help but think that it’s Raquel’s time. She made her debut at the first TakeOver of the year in Portland, OR, (remember that?) and bookends the year with a W.  Big Mami Cool holds it down for the bad girls.

Mike DellaCamera refuses to log off. Be his friend or tell him how wrong he is here on Twitter.