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NXT TakeOver XXV preview: Gargano vs. Cole, Baszler vs. Shirai

Welcome cats and kittens to yet another NXT TakeOver preview. Saturday's show comes to us LIVE from the beautiful, scenic, city of Bridgeport, Connecticut: a locale so beautiful and so picturesque that it’s not even in the title of the event.

Things are just a bit rushed this time. Part of that is because there was less time between events, part of it has to do with some unexpected roster changes, and part of it is because this is a standalone event, one not attached to a massive PPV weekend. Tickets didn’t even go on sale for this until the second week of May when TakeOver during SummerSlam weekend already has tickets on sale.

While it feels rushed, that isn’t to say the quality is going to be bad or that the card isn't strong. NXT has proven that they produce the consistently strongest live specials of any brand under the WWE umbrella.

Every title is on the line, a returning hero comes back to NXT, plus Johnny Gargano and Adam Cole have another chance to make magic in the main event. There is tons to look forward to as always, but there just hasn’t been as much time to be excited for the card as others. So, like we always do at this time, let's run through the main card.

Matt Riddle vs. Roderick Strong

I am, admittedly, probably a bit too excited for this match, even though it’s nothing but filler; incredibly well-wrestled filler, but still filler nonetheless. Roddy is not everyone’s cup of tea personally, or in the ring, but I don’t think anyone can argue with his ability as a worker. His matches might not resonate, but he can really, really go in there. If this opens the show, it should look a lot like a 12 minute PWG sprint, and in no way is that a bad thing.

The story for the match is there, but it’s flimsy and kind of doesn’t matter. This is just going to be a showcase for Riddle to look great, Roddy to look great losing, and to allow for Matt to move on to a feud for the big boy belt. It doesn’t matter who comes home with the title in the main event, because Riddle can easily feud with either. If Cole wins, Riddle can continue his feud with the Undisputed Era and come for the belt. If Gargano retains, Riddle's right there to be a more aggressive Bro and challenge him.

That’s what makes him so great. He plays such a neutral characte  that it doesn’t take a large switch in character to fit into either the face or heel dynamic. Small tweaks in aggressiveness, word choice, and tonality let him exist on either side of the aisle. There doesn’t seem much reason to keep him down in NXT. Heck, he might not need an NXT title run before he tries to retire Brock.

Ladder Match for the Vacant NXT Tag Team Championship: Undisputed Era vs. The Street Profits vs. The Forgotten Sons vs. Oney Lorcan & Danny Burch

This is definitely a match that was planned out far in advance and is in no way of scrambling after the Viking Experience/Raiders/Whatever got called up to Raw in order to not be used on Raw. Great. Awesome. Cool ‘sport’ I’m following over here. Things like that make it so much harder to invest in these characters only to see them fall by the wayside once they leave the safe space of NXT.

The main roster really is the Sunken Place of WWE, which is really unfortunate considering it is 90% of WWE. It’s becoming harder and harder to get really invested in NXT talents if they are going to go up to the main roster to just do nothing. It’s the equivalent of watching Judd Apatow movies. Most of them are really good for the first two acts, but when the third act comes around, they lose the audience and kind of meander.

That’s what happens when wrestlers go to the main roster. They just kind of do nothing. They might exist, but they have no purpose, and it’s actually sad.

Ladder matches always rule and this one will rule. Three out of the four teams in the match absolutely rule, and the other team is the absolute dirt worst. I enjoy lists more than any well adjusted 33-year old man should, so here is my super official rankings of how much I enjoy the teams in this match with some hard hitting analysis:

  • The Undisputed Era: Perfect assh*les, incredible workers, an absolute delight.
  • Street Profits: Montez Ford is incredible, more on him below.
  • Lorcan and Burch: Two great performers with undeniable energy.
  • Forgotten Sons: How are they actually this bad?

This is a great opportunity to reset the tag division to set up the rest of 2019, and I can’t think of a better team to lead that division than the Street Profits. Ford is a SUPERSTAR in all capital letters, and is someone who the company should be planning to build around. He and Bianca Belair is an unfairly beautiful and talented couple. He has everything you want out of a modern wrestler. He has the look, personality in spades, and is still getting better. What more could you actually want? He is a fantastic example of the relationship between NXT and EVOLVE working together. He got to work a whole bunch of different matches and styles in EVOLVE and that really shows in his performances. Angelo Dawkins is there too.

The first three teams listed above all have a case to take the belts. The Sons are the rare example of an NXT misstep happening at the top of the card. If they actually hopped on a rocket destined for the sun, I don’t think anyone would even notice or care. I like the Profits to take this one and look forward to the Montez Ford Experience getting bigger and better every week.

NXT North American Champion Velveteen Dream vs. Tyler Breeze

Honesty and transparency is paramount in any relationship, but none more important than the one between an Internet columnist and his audience. Here is my honest confession: Tyler Breeze has never been my bag, baby. It’s one of those situations where you can recognize something is good, but just fundamentally not for you. A good example of this outside of wrestling is Forrest Gump. Forrest Gump, objectively, is a very good movie. A great movie, even. It won six oscars! And, I absolutely hate it. It’s not for me and is not for my brain. My brain is not wired to truly enjoy something like that.

Not everything is for everyone and, like I find myself frequently saying, that is okay. Not everyone likes the same things, nor should they. It’s the differences that allow for individual types of fandom to exist, and without those we would be in a society where everyone thinks, feels, and wants the same things. That is not ideal. Me being super excited about Matt Riddle and Roddy more than this is my personal preference, one that is admittedly a bit odd, but still my preference. I was just never invested in the story of the Breeze character and performer, all the while respecting and appreciating the story of Breeze, the character and the performer.

If Breeze was ever going to come back to NXT, there isn’t a more tailor-made opponent than Velveteen Dream. Two of, if not the most, NXT characters in the history of the brand: a male model consumed with being better than everyone and a Prince impersonator that wrestles like it’s 1989 all over again. In a vacuum, it’s perfect. Breeze is one of the first larger than life characters NXT ever had, and Dream is arguably the most over the top character they’ve had. Trying to accurately define or even describe him is truly a challenging task. It says something when Dream can make the ‘hillbilly swamp cult leader’ gimmick look relatively normal by comparison, but that’s wrestling in 2019. What a time to be alive.

Since it’s WWE, it’s not immediately clear what Breeze’s status actually is. Is he full-time in NXT? Is he only down for this match? Is he only down for a few months? It would be cool if he came back down and stayed, but doesn’t that kind of defeat the whole purpose of this being developmental? Not to be a wrestling fan on the Internet, but isn’t he ‘taking the spot’ of one of the many guys they have just waiting to start? (Editor's note: HHH said this week Breeze is full-time with NXT.)

My personal preferences aside, this story is good and they’ve done a great job making me care. The video package that ran on this week’s NXT was wonderful, as they so often are. It would make a ton of sense to have Breeze win and give a sense of legitimacy in his return to NXT. It would establish that returning stars are exactly that, returning stars. I just don’t think it’s time for the Dream to be over, so the Dream needs to go over.

NXT Women's Champion Shayna Baszler vs. Io Shirai

I’m pretty confident saying that we have reached critical mass when it comes to Baszler and her run at the top of NXT. As much as I love her and as great as she’s been in NXT, it’s high time for her to move on. She has dominated the women’s division since she debuted at the end of 2017. That’s like 18 months of the same person at the top of a division without a long standing rivalry. Sure, John Gargs and Tommy Champs were at the top of NXT for what feels like the past decade, but that is the exception rather than the rule.

I get the idea of keeping Baszler around to try and to establish Marina Shafir and Jessamyn Duke. That would make sense...if it had worked. But those two are, unfortunately, completely devoid of heat and still, quite clearly, green in the ring. I also get the idea of keeping her around if there was a big babyface to build up who would eventually beat her and ascend to the top of NXT. But they haven’t done that either. Did they not think anyone was ready? There’s just no way that’s true, not with all the female talent on the roster. I guess I’m a bit confused about the why of things in this case. None of this is to say the decision was wrong, but I couldn’t get this out of my head when I was writing this preview.

Io Shirai is ready. She was ready before she came to NXT, and certainly doesn’t need a dude on the Internet to say that. But it was an easy transition sentence so here we are. She needed no grand introduction to the NXT audience and no extra pomp and circumstance. She arrived as a fully formed final boss. The genius of the sky deserves every accolade she’s garnered over the course of her career, and then some. She can usher in the next generation of women in NXT and bring them to new heights.

It’s been time for Shayna Two Time to be done with NXT. There is a shocking lack of female heels on the main roster, and if she’s not going to slide into one of those spots now, when will she ever? I’m kind of sick of writing that last sentence as it seems like I’ve written it ad nauseum in just about every TakeOver preview that she was a part of. If she doesn’t drop the belt here, when will she ever drop it? It’s time and it’s been time for awhile now.

NXT Champion Johnny Gargano vs. Adam Cole

I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I’m not exactly over the moon excited for this title match. It feels weird to say that, especially with how great their match at the last TakeOver was, but maybe I can get there by typing a whole bunch of words into this Google doc? Sound good? Okay, great. Let’s go.

A lot of the problem is ‘Johnny Champion’. I’m not used to seeing him on top. For his entire NXT career, he’s been chasing: a roster spot, chasing a title, chasing Tomasso, chasing something. This is a new version of Gargano where he doesn’t have to chase anything, because all the somethings are chasing him. He’s the king of the NXT mountain (shout out Jeff Jarrett). He’s the top guy and everyone has to come for him.

Let’s be real about something. The chase is always the best part. It’s ingrained in our nature to crave the chase, to want the challenge. It’s why we change jobs, change relationships, and root for the underdog. It’s the allure of something new and exciting. We don’t want to see Johnny keep the belt, we want to see him chase the belt. As I type that out, I’m realizing that’s what my issue with this match is. I’ve been so used to seeing Gargano fight from the bottom that I don’t know how to see him at the top. Wow. That felt good. Thank you all for being a participant in my therapeutic process.

Cole has been a consistent top of the card presence since he debuted last year. He has always felt like more of a star than any of his actual achievements. Sure, he won the first North American championship but it feels like more, doesn’t it? Part of that is because of how present The Undisputed Era has been all over the card, and part of that is because of how much Cole carries himself like an absolute star. He was born to play this type of heel, this type of over the top jerk. He was dropped into NXT fully formed in this role and has excelled in it. Giving him the title won’t validate him, because he doesn’t need it, but it sure will give him something else to gloat about.

Does it make sense for Gargano to lose his title in his first defense? Probably not. But if Cole doesn’t win here in his second consecutive title match, what does he do? If Undisputed Era is really coming for all the belts, shouldn’t it start with their leader? Shouldn’t he be the one to lead them on their quest for every NXT title? Maybe. Probably. I don’t know. Hot potatoing the title is something NXT has done a good job avoiding in the past, and having three different champions to close out the last three TakeOvers probably isn’t the best idea. Look for Gargano to retain in another 25 minute near classic.

Mike DellaCamera is a sometimes writer, frequent technology consultant, and always hungry. You can find him on the Internet, tweeting infrequently @_DellaCamera