Feel that warm breeze in the air? That must mean it’s time for the first NXT Takeover of the year. I didn’t enjoy the 2020 lineup of Takeovers as much as previous years, but absence makes the heart grow fonder, and I’m coming into 2021 ready to fall back in love with the yellow brand like I was in 2017/18/19. I seem to have picked a good show to fall in love with as well because this card is full of matches that I’m very excited to see and promises to be a top-notch night of action, but who’s going to win. I’ll tell you who, which a roughly 60% accuracy rate.
MSK vs Grizzled Young Veterans
(Men’s Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic Finals)
The NXT tag titles have been in a bit of a weird situation since the pandemic started. Travel restrictions prevented one-half of current champs, Pete Dunne, from making it into the country to defend the title. So then Riddle teamed with Timothy Thatcher, then they IMMEDIATELY lost the titles to Imperium. Then Imperium…didn’t defend the titles for most of their reign. Then they lost the titles to Breezango in a reign so inconsequential I honestly forgot it happened until I checked Wikipedia, and now Burch & Lorcan have the titles and are yet to do anything of note with them.
It’s not been a great year for the tag division at large in NXT, despite having plenty of talent on hand. However, this Dusty Classic definitely feels like it’s revitalized the scene a bunch. Even the teams that felt a bit thrown together for this tournament impressed, and the competitors that have risen to the top are a great reminder of the depth of talent NXT can pull from.
Personally, I thought Ciampa & Tatcher were going all the way, as I’ve loved their rivalry turned partnership, but Grizzled Young Veterans beating them this Wednesday threw a lot of confusion in the mix as to who I think is going to win. I knew very little about MSK (formerly The Rascalz) before joining NXT, but they definitely fit right in with all the other great teams in NXT right now. They seem like the favourites to win, but I’m not entirely sure. Grizzled Young Veterans were last year’s runners up, and it would seem weird for them to come second place again. Plus, it’s not like it’d hurt MSK too much as I’m sure the match will be great.
It’s a tough call, but I’m going with MSK, they have all the momentum right now, and although I don’t think they’ll win the titles, it’s the perfect way to establish them as main-stays in the division.
Ember Moon & Shotzi Blackheart vs Dakota Kai & Raquel Gonzalez
(Women’s Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic Finals)
While the women’s tournament was smaller, it was by no means any less stacked, and I think it’d been an extremely enjoyable tournament this past month, and one that’s been quite hard to predict as well.
Dakota Kai had a bit of a cooling-off period towards the end of last year, but I’m glad NXT is still interested in investing in her because she absolutely deserves it. Moon & Blackheart meanwhile feel like they’re on top of the world. Blackheart is the next big thing in the division and Moon feels so different to her 2016/17 run in NXT in a good way. Everything about how they’ve been treated together has made them into quite the package, and one I want to see more of past the end of this tournament.
I think there’s no question that this one will be great. Raquel Gonzalez has absolutely proved she can be in the top spot of the NXT women’s division with talents like the rest in the match and it’s going to make for one hell of a match. I wouldn’t be surprised if this one descended into chaos quite quickly and held a fast pace for the majority of it’s run time.
As for picking a winner, I’m a bit torn. Gonzalez has been getting many big wins like that at Wargames, and against Rhea Ripley, so it would certainly make sense to keep that going. Dakota Kai could also do with a big win like this after her cooling-off period last year. I know she was also in that Wargames match, but she didn’t really feature in it very heavily in my opinion. That said, Shotzi & Moon fell like they also need a big win, as while they have undeniably been presented as big stars, they haven’t got many wins as of late.
Then there’s the additional factor of the winners getting a shot at the women’s tag titles (which they won’t win), and I think WWE would rather showcase two of their top faces to a bigger stage than the heels. Plus, Baszler & Nia Jax are the current champions, and heel vs heel doesn’t really work. Considering all of that, I think it’s got to be Ember Moon & Shotzi Blackheart in a move that will hopefully launch one or both of them into the title scene.
Johnny Gargano(c) vs Kushida
(North American Championship)
Much like Keith Lee when he first signed with the brand, it feels like we’ve been waiting for ages for NXT to actually do something with Kushida. You could argue it’s a positive thing that they don’t shove stars into the limelight until they’re actually ready to go somewhere with them, but it does feel odd to have these stars on the back burner for ages. Either way, that’s changed now, and Kushida is ready to take off.
Gargano’s heel run has had me going back and forth. On the one hand, I’ve never really felt all that convinced by it. He’s such a natural babyface, and he didn’t take that much of a different angle like Sami Zayn did when he turned. That said, he’s still very skilled in the ring and on the mic. I thought his segment on NXT this past Wednesday was excellent and balanced the comedy and drama really well, but it’s not all been like that. Conversely, Kushida hasn’t had that much to sink his teeth into in terms of story. Not every story needs to be wildly complicated, but I was hoping this story would have a bit more to it than Gargano being a bit of a jerk.
That said, it’s still two of the best technical wrestlers on the planet clashing with each other in what is sure to be a match of the year contender very early on in 2021. I feel reasonably confident with picking Kushida to win the title here. My main thought being that, if he’s not going to win the title, then what on Earth is he going to do? However, Gargano does seem to keep winning that title when I don’t think he will, so I can’t entirely rule out the possibility he retains. Ultimately, Kushida having the title is far better for him that it would be for Gargano to retain. His reign wouldn’t even have to be all that long as long as he got a bunch of high-quality defences in there.
Io Shirai(c) vs Toni Storm vs Mercedes Martinez
(NXT Women’s Championship)
Let’s see here, we’ve got one of the coolest female superstars currently in WWE with Io Shirai. A powerful heel character in Toni Storm with an in-ring style to match. And finally, an in-ring veteran in Mercedes Martinez, who is looking to re-establish herself as a force to be reckoned with. Yup, that definitely checks all of my ‘match of the year’ boxes.
Much like the Gargano/Kushida storyline, this one has been relatively simple, but unlike the Gargano/Kushida storyline, I don’t think it needs to be much more. It’s three women with an incredible amount of in-ring talent, who all really want the title and don’t like each other very much. What more could you ask for? Any combination of these women in singles matches would be amazing, but the triple threat nature should hopefully kick it up a notch into a non-stop fast-paced affair to blow us all away, much like the triple threat match where Shirai won the title.
As for a winner, I think the odds lie with Io Shirai. While Toni Storm would be a great choice for champion, I don’t feel like she’s been built enough and her winning the championship now would feel quite sudden. That’s not to say I wouldn’t enjoy it, I’m just saying it’s not the most sensible move. I actually think there’s an outside chance Martinez could win this. I think there’s a good story to be told in her jumping back to NXT and immediately winning the title. Plus, I think she could straddle the tweener line very well as opponents like Shotzi Blackheart, Ember Moon & Raquel Gonzalez sit on the horizon.
As I said though, Io Shirai makes the most sense. This really doesn’t feel like there’s going to be a title change, and it would be a rather sudden end to Shirai’s excellent reign as champion. I think this is just going to boost her stock as champion moving into her next big singles feud.
Finn Balor(c) vs Pete Dunne
Now here’s the match I’m the most excited for. I’ve always loved Dunne, and I’ve said it many times over the years, but he makes the more grounded, mat-based style his own in a way I don’t think anyone else can right now. As for Balor, while I’m often critical of him, I can’t deny that his current run as NXT champion has been bloody brilliant. His matches with O’Reilly were both barn-burners and the intensity with which he carries himself has made him feel like such an unbelievably colossal star. He’s an entirely different person from who he was in his first reign as champion, and I think that’s brilliant.
I’ll be interested to see how these two mesh their styles here. I’m expecting it to be a much slower, hard-hitting affair than what we’re used to for NXT main events, but I’m hoping that will be in a good way. While Balor’s style has always been more flashy & fast, his recent work has definitely focused on the impact of his moves, rather than how they look, and I think it’s improved his in-ring work significantly. Alternatively, if they instead go the other way, and Dunne accelerates his style, I still think we’ll be in for a hell of a ride. Of course, the truth is almost always in the middle when it comes to these things, and I’m excited about it.
Picking a winner has been a tricky affair. I was initially wondering what Kross was going to do when he came back, but now it’s become clear he’s going for the Cruiserweight title, that’s out of the picture. So with no other outside factors like that to consider, I think there’s a genuine chance we could see a title change. Dunne has had such a head of steam since returning, and while Balor has been an excellent champion, I feel like it’s Dunne’s time. Granted, I’m not entirely sure what Balor will do if he drops the title now, but I could say the same for Dunne. Dunne’s been in NXT for ages, and if he’s not going to move upwards in the brand anytime soon, then why is he still here?
I think I’ve talked myself into it. I’m going with Pete Dunne to win the title.
And there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this post. Please, let me know who you think is going to win on Sunday, either in the comments below or on Twitter @SStyleSmark. Finally, make sure to come back here this time on Monday, where I’ll be reviewing the show, and next Saturday, where I’ll be running through my favourite board games!