NXT Takeover: Vengeance Day: Predictions & Analysis

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
(NXT Championship)

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!

NXT Takeover 31: Every Match Ranked

I knew I was right to not give up on Takeovers just yet, this was a lot more in line with what we liked them for! As it happens, I don’t think this show will be remembered all that much in the years to come, purely because there wasn’t any major story or event that stood out in the whole thing. Every champion retained, and the two big surprises will live or die on how they’re followed up on, so there’s not much to look back on in a year’s time. However, it was still a damn good night of wrestling, so let’s break it down.

5 – Damian Priest(c) def. Johnny Gargano
(North American Championship)

This is one of those cases where I have to specify that, even though it’s last, I still really liked this match. It’s just that all the other matches were even better.

After having a key role in the ladder match at Takeover 30, this was the first match where I’ve felt really impressed by what Priest has to offer. He’s had plenty of good matches up until now, of course, but this was the match where I got the feeling that he could properly hang with the best of the best in NXT. Gargano has finally settled into a style that captures the right balance between his heel & face styles. He’s still able to slow the pace, and make nastier moves, but without sacrificing the excitement of the match.

Priest winning was definitely the right decision. I’m a little confused as to why the referee seemed so concerned about the random security guys who were standing in a stupid position. Still, nevertheless, it gave Gargano an opening to do his thing. My only real concern is where Gargano goes from here. There’s no room for him in the NXT title scene at the moment, and he can’t keep hanging around the North American title like he has been most of the year. Personally, I’d think the best creative decision would be to leave him off TV for a while, so we can get excited about him when he’s back. However, I know that’s not realistic, so I just hope they’ve got a good non-title feud on the horizon for him.

Damian Priest, meanwhile, could fight just about anyone. He’s technically a heel, but this feud proved that doesn’t matter too much, and as long as it’s someone he gels well with, I’m sure the final product will be great.

4 – Io Shirai(c) def. Candice LaRae
(NXT Women’s Championship)

I didn’t expect this to seem like it was closing the book on the past year of NXT’s women’s division, but that’s the feeling I got coming out of it.

As expected, these two had all the chemistry you could want in the ring after all the times they’ve competed before. I will say that I don’t think it was either woman’s best work, but it was still an utter joy to watch. Io’s persona has shifted into a face a lot better than I thought it would, and her in-ring style has kept a definite edge to it that makes her feel different to what she was like a couple of years back. Candice, meanwhile, knows exactly what she’s doing, and exactly how to do it. I’d say she’s far better at working heel than her husband, which is a bit surprising considering how lovable she was as a face.

The headlines here though are about what happened after the match. First of all, Toni Storm kicked the door down and declared she’s coming for Io. This is brilliant, I’ve been waiting for Storm to break free of NXT UK and spread her wings here, so we should finally be getting to see her at her peak. The big surprise though was Ember Moon’s return. I honestly wasn’t sure if she’d ever wrestle again after the news of her various injuries, but now she’s back, and we’re going to get to see her fight Io, which is terrific. I think her underwhelming run with the title in 2017 made people forget just how amazing Moon can be, so hopefully, this will be a reminder.

3 – Kushia vs Velveteen Dream

This definitely wasn’t the match I was expecting from these two, so maybe that’s why I liked it so much.

Given Kushia & Dreams styles, I was expecting a highly technical affair. Both men have shown countless times that they can make mat-wrestling look very exciting, so I was settling in for a nice hefty dose of that when this match started. What I got instead though, was very interesting indeed. The pace was exceedingly quick throughout the whole match, as these two really tried to brutalize each other. Both of them came out of the gate with incredible energy that got me pumped for the rest of it.

Things eventually slowed down a bit, but it never lost the pace and energy that the beginning had built up, and it created the kind of back-and-forth contest that I haven’t seen in NXT for quite a while now. It definitely felt like Kushida controlled the match, but Dream was still able to look like an even match for the guy. They played around with the character work a lot, and I was wondering if they were trying to cast a shadow on the heel/face rolls, and if the aftermath is anything to go by, I think I may have been right.

I’m not sure if this would count as an out-right heel turn for Kushida, but I definitely wouldn’t be against it if that was the way they wanted to go. With Undisputed Era having turned face, it’s left a bit of a hole at the top of the card for heels, and I’d be excited to see what Kushida could do with such a role.

2 – Finn Balor(c) def. Kyle O’Reilly
(NXT Championship)

Kyle O’Reilly is a singles star now, it’s as simple as that. Anyone who already followed O’Reilly’s career already knew that he was a fantastic singles competitor, but to finally see it manifest in NXT is wonderful.

I was resistant to Balor’s heel style when he first started having featured singles matches in NXT, but I’ve absolutely come around to it now. I tend to prefer the fast-paced and flashy styles, but I think over the past year I’ve learned to appreciate the slower, hard-hitting styles that someone like Balor can produce. It makes for a match that feels weighty, where every move has a meaningful impact, and the story is allowed to flourish.

The way they structured this match got to show all of O’Reilly’s strengths as a performer and, by extension, Balor’s strength as a champion. People had already fallen in love with his charm – stuff like his belt air-guitar – but here we got to see a very sympathetic side to him. When a character like O’Reilly is a heel, it’s scarce that we see them struggle. The only time that he could be classed as ‘struggling’ as a heel, we’re too busy cheering because we’re happy he’s getting beaten up. I got the clear idea in this story that, Balor had the edge and was the better competitor overall, but O’Reilly was ready to give him one hell of a fight.

It was precisely the kind of feeling you need for an upcoming face. It felt like last night, Balor was the better man, but on any other night soon, it could very easily have gone the other way.

1 – Santos Escobar(c) def. Isaiah “Swerve” Scott
(Cruiserweight Championship)

This is the first time since the Cruiserweight Classic in 2016 that I feel like the Cruiserweight Division is living up to its potential.

This was honestly everything you could ever want from a cruiserweight match. It wasn’t super-heavy on high-flying action, but it didn’t particularly need to be. It gave us a healthy dose of the hyper-athletic stuff but didn’t bear down on us constantly with it. I think this ability to hold back from being super flashy all the time is what allowed the story of the match to properly grasp me and become my favourite match of the night.

This is one of those rare cases where the interference enhanced the story of the match and made it more exciting. I know one other match had interference last night, but the way they balanced it before quickly and efficiently disposing of it was far better than the other example. The thing with putting the Cruiserweights in a meaningful Takeover match for the first time is that you have to impress upon the audience that there’s more to the division than just the two guys you’re currently seeing. This interference did that, I don’t really know much about any of these characters, but I absolutely want to know more now I’ve seen this match.

The near-falls scattered throughout were a lot of fun. I know many people don’t like a bunch of false-finishes, but I always have been, and always will be a sucker for a good kickout. If this is the template for the Cruiserweight division from here on out in NXT, then I’m all-in, because this was brilliant.

And there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this. Please, let me know what you thought of the show, either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo. Finally, make sure to come back this time on Saturday, where I’ll be counting down the worst ever Treehouse of Horror episodes of The Simpsons.