With the biggest weekend of the wrasslin’ year almost upon us, Around the Loop is heading to New York to take a look at the card that I am most excited for: NXT TakeOver!
While the eyes of the wrestling world turn to the first ever women’s main event in WrestleMania history, the stories I am most interested in are the ones that will be told by the men and women of NXT.
While the Mania card is a chance for everyone to get their “WrestleMania moment,” TakeOver events are always a tight, crisply booked affair featuring only the best that the black and yellow brand has to offer. The calibre of matches aside, I expect the crowd packed inside the Barclay Center to be loud, enthusiastic, and appreciative. They will also be less squirmy than the Mania crowd after seven hours, but that’s another piece.
Let’s break this thing down starting with…
War Raiders vs Aleister Black & Ricochet (Tag Team Championship match)
Of all the matches on the card, I am the least excited about this one. That isn’t a knock, as I do expect it to be really fun to watch, but I’m really not into the War Raiders and their Viking thing at this point. They haven’t had much of a chance to shine since winning the belts and facing two guys in Black and Ricochet that are main roster bound (and challenging for the SmackDown Live tag belts at Mania) suggests a Raiders win, taking some of the intrigue out of things.
That said, how cool would it be to see Black and Ricochet enter Mania with the NXT tag belts? This match is likely the farewell outing for the pair, so I expect them to put in a really good show with the oversized, but amazing athletic, War Raiders.
Velveteen Dream vs Matt Riddle (North American Championship)
Are there two more unique characters anywhere on the massive WWE roster right now? I really can’t predict a winner for this one, though the history of the North American title suggests another quick change of hands with a Riddle win.
This match should showcase the charisma, athleticism, and potential of these two future main eventers. I can see either talent benefiting from the win and not really being damaged by the loss, so a feast of riches for the future of WWE is really on display here.
Shayna Baszler vs Bianca Belair vs Io Shirai vs Kairi Sane (Women’s Championship)
While it is fair to say that some steam has been lost by the NXT women’s division in terms of solid challengers to the reign of Shayna Baszler, I look forward to being impressed by this matchup. All the women involved are really talented and capable of being big main roster stars. The build has highlighted just how much of a badass Shayna Baszler really is.
It’s a bit of a dice roll, but I predict Io Sharai taking this one, setting up a battle of the Sky Pirates for the next TakeOver.
Pete Dunne vs WALTER (UK Championship)
At nearly 700 days, Pete Dunne’s run with the NXT UK Championship will go down in the history books as one of the longest title reigns of all time. Dunne has carried the belt through numerous challenges in both NXT and NXT UK events, always delivering hard-hitting matches and those excruciating finger-twisting spots. In WALTER, Dunne faces a much larger challenger known for lighting up his opponents’ chests with thunderous chops.
This match might take a few minutes to really get rolling but I anticipate an extremely physical contest, with lock-ups that will send shivers down your spine, and WALTER being the man to finally end the Bruiserweight’s reign as champion.
Johnny Gargano vs Adam Cole (for the vacant NXT Championship, two out of three falls)
Put aside the notion that this match was meant to be the big finale to the best-told story in wrestling, the war between Gargano and Tomasso Ciampa. If this match isn’t the match of the entire WrestleMania weekend, I will be shocked.
Adam Cole is a guy who, if not for his size, would be The Guy going forward for the WWE. He is a true heel that is loved by fans, sells merch, can cut a promo, and works his ass off. Backed by the rest of the Undisputed Era, Cole has money printed all over him. The question is whether the WWE decides to cash that cheque with him becoming NXT champion or by elevating him and his team to the main roster. Cole carries himself like a champion and has a cocky swagger that would make ’97 Shawn Michaels do a double take. If this is his crowning moment on the black and yellow, fantastic. However, if his role here is to provide a suitable foil for Johnny Wrestling before shocking the system on RAW or SmackDown Live, I expect him to play the part perfectly.
For Johnny Wrestling, this moment is everything his fanbase, of which I count myself a member, have waited for since he emerged as a breakout talent on NXT. I wish I could say I followed him from his gym and bingo hall days. Since I first took note of Johnny in his classic Cruiserweight match with Tomasso Ciampa, he has been my favorite. I was lucky enough to see DIY vs The Revival in Toronto, a title win that felt so real to be a part of, I can’t really do it justice with words. Johnny is Mr. TakeOver. He’s an undersized guy, not that good looking, but he has provided a backbone and central storyline for NXT fans to follow since his split with Ciampa two years ago. This night really is his night. Although it would have been sweeter with Ciampa on the bottom end of the three-count, I foresee Johnny Wrestling holding up the NXT championship with an explosive crowd behind him to end this year’s Mania weekend TakeOver event.
With all that said, I really believe that the NXT TakeOver formula of five matches and no filler is the best possible serving of wrestling on hand this weekend. All the performers will work like they have something to prove, like they want to steal the show, and the crowd will eat it up.
For all the pageantry, spectacle, pyrotechnics, and ballyhoo that is WrestleMania, NXT TakeOver will be a pure wrestling event made by and for wrestling, not sports entertainment, but wrestling fans.
We are NXT, and I’ll see you marks around the loop.