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.

NXT Takeover: In Your House: Every Match Ranked

NXT Takeover had been and gone yet again and…well it wasn’t the best Takeover ever, was it? Admittedly, even a sub-par Takeover is still a damn good show, but I don’t think I’ll be alone in calling it the worst Takeover of the past few years. I feel Takeovers are the kind of shows that depend on a crowd for a lot of their heat, more so than other shows. There are a couple of matches that I’ll discuss in just a moment, where I think the performances were noticeably lesser than they usually would be in front of a full live audience.

That said, there was still plenty to enjoy, including what might be my favourite WWE match of the year so far. Let’s break it down, shall we?

6 – Mia Yim & Tegan Nox & Shotzi Blackheart def. Candice LaRae & Dakota Kai & Raquel Gonzalez

This match didn’t feel like a Takeover match in the slightest.

As I said in my predictions, unless it’s a fight between factions and 6-person tag match isn’t something that should be featured on a PPV (or equivalent). It just doesn’t feel like that big of a deal. It’s good that these women got a chance to show their stuff, but given how many people were involved, everyone was fighting to be seen. NXT touted that their women’s division was “the deepest in the world” several times last night, a valid claim, but it’s entirely pointless if they don’t work out a good way to feature it on their biggest shows. Takeovers have always been about the biggest feuds, and most important matches and NXT needs to start building to more than one big women’s match for each show.

The action in the match was alright, but I didn’t think it was anything overly exciting. I liked how big of a role Shotzi Blackheart got to play in the match. With her being the newest star in the match, I was happy to see her getting show her stuff notably more than anyone else involved. Nox and Kai, unfortunately, feel like they’ve lost the heat from their feud a bit now. Whenever they were together in the ring, the intensity that I felt during their initial feud was seemingly gone. That might just be a factor of all the women involved with the match, so I hope it comes back when this splits into singles’ feuds again.

5 – Adam Cole(c) def. Velveteen Dream
(NXT Championship)
(Backlot Brawl)

It’s official, NXT just doesn’t understand what made all the other on-location matches great.

First thing’s first, the look of this match was absolutely horrible. The way they’d rigged up the lighting with the car headlights and massive spotlights meant that every shot they were in it was much too bright, with glare on the lenses making it hard to follow what was going on. Then, whenever they went outside of those lights, it was way too dark, so it was still hard to follow the action. This wasn’t helped by the hyperactive camerawork. Nevermind the fact that they cut to a different shot roughly every five seconds, but every shot was ridiculously shaky and even out of focus at some points during the match. I can understand what they were going for with the chaotic nature of the match, but it just made it difficult to watch.

Even if there wasn’t a problem with the cameras, I didn’t care much for the action. It was your standard WWE ‘hardcore’ match, which meant a lot of slowly meandering around the place, occasionally stopping to hit each other with something. Dream didn’t feel like he was playing the same character tonight either. I don’t mind him adding a more intense facet to things, but Dream is a character with a VERY distinct style, and it didn’t feel like he stayed true to it last night.

As much as I harped on about how Dream had to win in my predictions, I don’t think Cole retaining is the end of the world. It’s undeniable how amazing of a champion Cole has been, my only worry is that we’re very close to running out of challengers. I assume that Dexter Lumis is next in line for a title shot, given his involvement in this match, so I imagine he’ll be the one to finally slay the king, but if he doesn’t, then we could be at risk of this getting stale.

4 – Keith Lee(c) vs Johnny Gargano
(North American Championship)

This is the match that I think suffered the most from now crowd.

Gargano is the type of character that draws a great deal of the drama and story of his matches from the crowd. This regularly makes for some excellent matches, but now he’s taken his character in a new direction, and one of the critical tools in his arsenal is suddenly gone. I don’t think Gargano suited the slower, more methodical heelish style very well at all. Especially when he’s going up against a guy like Keith Lee, I don’t have any interest in seeing him ‘wear down’ a limb. I wouldn’t call the match boring at any point; however, it didn’t feel like it ever kicked into a higher gear that makes Takeover matches amazing.

There were a couple of points in the match where it looked like things were about to ramp up and get great, but they never did in the end. I praise Gargano for experimenting with his style, but this was a match where he was undoubtedly the underdog. I think the match could’ve worked a lot better if Gargano had started off by manoeuvring circles around Lee, only for Lee to have to try and slow Gargano down or match-pace with him. That way Gargano could’ve continued to wrestle his more fast-paced, exciting style without screwing up the face/heel story the match was trying to tell.

It wasn’t all bad, though. Even though I don’t think Gargano was at his best last night, he was still very good and was able to play off of Lee’s swagger and style to significant effect. I think he showed signs of the effective heel character he could become if he goes down the route Seth Rollins did in 2014/15. I’m not entirely sure where his character goes from this point, but I remain optimistic that Gargano can learn from this match and create something great for next time.

3 – Finn Balor def. Damian Priest

Balor has seemed so much more comfortable since coming back to NXT. I’ve not loved his promos where he’s been talking like someone who read the Wrestling Observer once and thinks they know it all, but in the ring, he appears to be back in his element.

This match didn’t blow me away, but it was definitely an enjoyable bout. The styles of these two meshed well, and I think they had some really nice chemistry. The element of the steel stairs constantly being a factor in the match was a nice way to tell a simple story and it helped break up the big sections where Priest would be slowly picking Balor apart. Balor was able to switch back to a face style while maintaining the more hard-hitting feel he gained since arriving back in NXT. It feels like Balor is really relishing in the freedom the black & gold brand has given him.

This didn’t feel like the star-making match I feel like it was designed as for Priest though. I do think he came away from this with his stock in NXT raised, but not nearly as much as it should’ve been. I’d be curious to know what the explanation is behind having Balor winning. I guess we’ll see if it was worth it depending on what he does next, but I still think this should’ve gone to Priest. Looking good in defeat absolutely helps him build himself up, but looking good in victory would’ve done it so much more.

2 – Karrion Kross def. Tommaso Ciampa

This is what a star-making performance is supposed to look like.

This wasn’t a long one, but it didn’t need to be. It had a job to do, so it got in, did it and got out, sometimes that’s all you need. It got a bit of everything in there too. The opening had lots of intensity to it as both men fought for control and one Kross got a handle on things, you got the feeling that it was just a matter of time until Ciampa was finished. I hope they find a way to play on this a bit more in the coming months because there’s the potential for a really good story of Ciampa having to look inwards to see how he was so quickly dispatched of by Kross.

It wasn’t just a glorified squash match though, because there were a couple of fun back-and-forth sections. Ciampa’s last comeback spot especially got my blood pumping with how freakishly fast he seemed to be able to execute something. These arguably helped Kross look even better than if it was a straight-up squash match because now it feels like his victory was more hard-fought than it otherwise would’ve been. It wasn’t as easy as all his other wins so far, he actually had to work for it. More importantly, we saw that when he does attempt to work for it, very few will be able to stand in his way.

This was a great way to establish a new feature player in the men’s division, and right now, it feels like a championship reign for Kross is very much a matter of ‘when’ instead of ‘if’.

1 – Io Shirai def. Charlotte Flair(c) & Rhea Ripley
(NXT Women’s Championship)

Match of the year, I’ll call that right now. I loved this match.

As I touched on in my predictions, all three women here have a firm grasp of their characters and exactly what their motivations are going into this match. There was so much heat going into this thing, and they absolutely made use of all of it. Contrary to how I thought the match would go, all three women were involved in pretty much all of the action. There were very few moments where one woman petered out of the ring but even when they did, it wasn’t for very long. It meant that the pace of this one could move at a fever-pitch from start to finish, which is the kind of match that I absolutely love.

All of the dynamics between the women got played upon here. I really got the sense that Rhea was just out for revenge on Charlotte and paid much less mind to Io, which eventually cost her the title. Charlotte, meanwhile, was at her heelish best, doing everything in her power to get Io and Rhea to fight each other and anytime there was an opening for Charlotte to get the advantage, she pounced right on it. Then you had Io who was fighting desperately and viciously the whole way through. She gave the impression of someone who didn’t care who she was fighting, she was going to do everything she could to get the title.

There were so many fantastic moments that to list them all would do a disservice to this incredible match. My personal favourite moment was when Charlotte and Rhea decided they were just going to spend two minutes absolutely wailing on each other with some really stiff looking punches and kicks. At first, I genuinely thought that tempers were flaring between the two women, but it eventually became clear that they were trying something different to tell the story of how much they hated each other; it definitely worked.

In the end, the night belonged to Io Shirai though and I’m thrilled that things turned out this way. I initially thought she didn’t have a place in this story, but she instead became a vital part of it, and now she’s finally got the championship. Hopefully, Charlotte sticks around in NXT long enough to have a one on one rematch at the next Takeover because that will undoubtedly be another top-tier match. Even if she doesn’t, the NXT women’s division has so many spectacular wrestlers in it right now, that I don’t think Io will be hard-pressed to find good challengers anytime soon.

And there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this review. Please, let me know what you thought of the show, either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo. Finally, make sure you come back this time on Saturday, where the wrestling just doesn’t stop! As I’ll be giving you my predictions for Backlash.

NXT Takeover: In Your House: Predictions & Analysis

AEW has shot their shot, now it’s time for NXT to fire back. This should be a loaded one.

Like always, looking at the card for this Takeover has me very excited. I honestly think that NXT had suffered significantly more than Raw, Smackdown or AEW since we’ve been forced into empty arena shows. So much of NXT relies on the performers at Full Sail feeding off one of the most dedicated crowds in modern wrestling and it feels like everyone’s performance has been lacking something since the fans were forced out. Of course, this is happening all across wrestling right now, but for some reason, the issue really stands out to me when I watch NXT.

That said, all of these matches have ‘match of the year’ potential as far as I’m concerned, so I sincerely hope this show blows me away like almost every Takeover from the past few years has.

Mia Yim & Tegan Nox & Shotzi Blackheart vs Candice LaRae & Dakota Kai & Raquel Gonzalez

I mean, it’s good that the women’s division is finally getting more representation on Takeovers than just the one title match but…was this really the best way to go about it? Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it’ll be an entertaining match but, unless it’s a fight between duelling factions, 6-person tag matches always feel really unimportant.

As for the competitors, I like them, but I can’t see how this will do much in benefitting any of their stories. I know the Yim vs LaRae feud is still pretty fresh right now, and I would’ve preferred a one on one match between these two rather than a fairly pointless match that just gets everybody involved for no real reason. Nox and Kai remain firmly opposed, but after their match in January, the shine has come off the apple somewhat in regards to their feuds, and I don’t really fancy seeing it again. Blackheart, on the other hand, is a wrestler that I can’t get enough of, so more of her, please.

As for picking a winner, it’s pretty tricky purely because it’s such an unimportant match. It’s not like anything significant will be gained for the victors. It probably won’t even be mentioned on Wednesday. I’m going with Mia Yim & Tegan Nox & Shotzi Blackheart, purely to balance out the face/heel wins that I’ve predicted throughout the other matches.

Finn Balor vs Damian Priest

While it’s impossible to deny that Finn Balor has been given a fantastic new lease on life since joining NXT, he seems to have ended up floating around without a purpose more than I’d have hoped. Until a few weeks ago, Balor had basically no role on the show. While I’m happy that he was finally given a solid storyline in the form of searching for his attacker, I’m not sure this match will do anything to help his position in NXT long-term.

Damian Priest, on the other hand, can pretty much only gain from having this match. He’s been teasing a slow and steady rise to the top for about 6-8 months now and just being a part of a big match with Balor should give him some form of a boost, even if it isn’t the biggest. I’m not sure what kind of match these two will produce either. I’ve always found Balor’s style hard to define, it’s a bit hard-hitting, but also quite technical and there’s a lot of high-flying stuff in there too. Meanwhile, Priest focuses more on the quick but brutal style of offence that people like Aleister Black use to great effect, so as long as these two guys click in the ring, we should be in for a treat.

As for a winner, I think it’s got to be Damian Priest. Unless there are plans for Balor to chase the NXT title anytime soon, then I don’t think there’s anything to be gained from Balor winning. Priest is still an up-and-comer with all the potential in the world to be a star and NXT are usually good at valuing their fresher stars over the established guys on the brand. Speaking of…

Tommaso Ciampa vs Karrion Kross

If you need any indication as to how much NXT are investing in Kross, just watch his entrance. It’s a veritable rock-opera that takes the mystique and cool factor of Aleister Black’s entrance and turns it up as high as it can possibly go. Like most people who show up in NXT, I know basically nothing about any of Kross’ previous work, but I’ve heard only good things, so I’m excited to see what he can do in his first big match.

Looking at Ciampa, his return has been pretty underwhelming all things considered. WarGames was a fantastic standout performance for him, but then he lost Cole in his big title match. That was fine, as it led to the final payoff (hopefully) to the Gargano/Ciampa series which was…actually quite boring. I know this divided opinion somewhat, and it was by no means an awful match, but it didn’t bring the excitement out of me like all of their previous encounters had.

I don’t think that’s going to change following this feud with Kross either. He’s said several times that he never wants to leave NXT (and will basically quit wrestling if anyone forces him to) so the only thing left for him to do for the foreseeable future is put over the younger guys. It will undoubtedly help NXT has a whole, that much is undeniable, but I think it could cause people to lose interest in Ciampa pretty quickly.

If I hadn’t already made it clear, I’m confident that Karrion Kross is going to walk away from this one as the winner. Unless someone unexpected costs Kross the match, then I see absolutely no value in Ciampa winning this one.

Keith Lee(c) vs Johnny Gargano
(North American Championship)

So Gargano vs Ciampa also gave us the brand new heel Gargano. Something that would’ve been awesome if it had happened a couple of years ago but now…eh. The promos he’s been cutting with LaRae have been alright. What he’s actually been saying has been good enough, although the presentation of it is a bit weird. The main problem I have with it is that he doesn’t feel like he’s doing anything unique as a heel. When he was skirting the line between the two early last year, it was incredibly compelling, but now it just feels like he’s doing heel things for generic heel reasons. Keith Lee, meanwhile, is still the greatest human ever. Everything about him is just absolutely lovable, and nothing will ever make me stop rooting for the guy.

These two have very different in-ring styles, but I think it they’ll mesh well in this match. Gargano’s style is one that I don’t think needs to be altered all that much now he’s a heel, it’ll still make for a fantastic match where he’s able to look like an arsehole the entire time. Conversely, Lee’s power and agility will work wonders against Gargano’s frantic style, so I think this is going to be an exciting match to watch.

This is probably the one I’m struggling the most with in terms of picking a winner. After beating Ciampa and taking his character in a new direction, it would make sense for Gargano to get the belt and do something interesting with it. However, Keith Lee is still wildly popular, and I don’t think we’re even close to seeing everything he can do with the title. It’s a tough call, but I’m leaning more towards Keith Lee retaining. As much as I think Gargano could benefit from holding the title, I don’t think it’s in any way essential, especially considering he’s already won it once before. Plus, I really like Keith Lee, you guys.

Adam Cole(c) vs Velveteen Dream
(NXT Championship)
(Backlot Brawl)

When it comes to feuds that have suffered thanks to the pandemic, I really think this one does it. Everything was primed and ready for Dream to take the title from Cole at Tampa Bay, it would’ve felt like a proper culmination of the story. Then, the real world intervened, and that match was put on hold. So now, the NXT creative team had to scramble to put together another two month’s worth of story to get us here. The promos have been pretty good, which is to be expected given who’s involved, but the elements like the first match ending in a DQ have been uninspired and hurt the story in the long run.

In regards to what this match will be like, I’m not optimistic if I’m being honest. Were we going to get a straight wrestling match then I’d be anticipating a match of the year, but it’s not. I’ve tried my best to avoid any spoilers, but from what I’ve heard, it’s going to be an arena with cars. I’m not sure if there’s going to be an actual ring in there, or if it’s going to be more like an Iron Circle match (I hope it’s the former). For the most part, these pre-taped matches have been awesome, but NXT has produced the only one I didn’t like so far (Gargano vs Ciampa), so I’m a bit worried my opinion of this one will come out similar.

Velveteen Dream has undoubtedly got to win this. I think Cole has been a spectacular champion, but his time is over now. Not only has he already beaten almost every face NXT has to offer, but this just feels like Dream’s time. I felt it when the Tampa Bay show was still a thing, and NXT isn’t the kind of place to change all of their plans on a whim. With the added stipulation that Dream will never get another shot at the title if he loses too, there’s nothing to be gained from him losing. The only possibility is if he’s joining Raw or Smackdown soon, but that would be a colossal mistake on WWE’s part. I desperately hope he gets to have a stellar run with the NXT title first.

Charlotte Flair(c) vs Rhea Ripley vs Io Shirai
(NXT Women’s Championship)

Now, this is something I can really get excited about.

I mentioned it in my Wrestlemania review, but Ripley vs Charlotte is easily my favourite pure-wrestling match of the year so far. Their chemistry in the ring is outstanding. Both women have such a firm grasp on their characters that it made for a brilliant watch. So this match looks to top the efforts of the Wrestlemania match by throwing in an element of chaos known as Io Shirai.

While Shayna Baszler was running strong over the NXT women’s division, Shirai felt like she had her legs cut out from under her. She was a brutal heel wrestler in a division that was already dominated by one of the best heel wrestlers in the business, so she felt somewhat out of place. Now, she has more of a chance to shine. While it’s true that she still has to contend with a strong heel champion, they’re distinctly different types of heels. Charlotte is the stuck-up “I’m superior to you” kind of heel, while Shirai is the “I’m going to try and kill you” kind of heel. All three of these characters are so perfectly conflicting, and it’s created some strong heat going into this match.

I imagine we’re going to get a little bit of everything in this match. It’s a triple threat, so it’s sure to have plenty of fast-paced action, but there’s also going to be room for slower, technical-based moments. I imagine Ripley and Charlotte will pick up right where they left off at Wrestlemania, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what Charlotte and Shirai can do together when given a proper platform to show their stuff.

I’m reasonably confident in picking Charlotte Flair to retain the title in this one. I think the end-goal of this feud will be for Ripley to get the title back, getting a huge win over Charlotte and making her even more of a star than she was before, but I think that has to happen in a one-on-one match. To solidify Charlotte’s reign as champion, she has to get a strong-looking win here, probably by pinning/submitting Io Shirai. As much as I’m not happy about Io being sacrificed to help boost the Flair/Ripley storyline, I think the eventual payoff will be worth it.

And there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this. Please, let me know what you think is going to happen, either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo! Finally, make sure to come back here on Monday, where I’ll be giving my review!

NXT Takeover: Portland: Every Match Ranked

Another Takeover, another great night of wrestling. I don’t think anyone would be surprised to discover that the show last night was just as good as they always are. I was worried the addition of a 6th match would mean that one of the matches get slightly shafted, but instead, the length of the show was simply extended to make room, which is fine with me and I don’t think 3 hours is too long of a show, especially when compared to Raw & Smackdown PPVs. So let’s not waste any more time and take a look at the matches.

6 – Dakota Kai def. Tegan Nox

Interesting how on one show we can have examples of two match-interferences, one of which was to the match’s benefit, the other its detriment, no prizes for guessing which one this was.

The action between Nox & Kai was great stuff, as I mentioned in my predictions, this whole build has done a great job of making both women seem like legitimate contenders in the women’s division and the brutality on display here has capped that off perfectly. I know I’m not normally a fan of weapons matches but I think this one kept the pace fast enough to hold my interest.

The interference at the end feels to me like a case of short-term loss for long-term gain, which is ultimately a good thing, but it doesn’t stop it from bringing this match down. It didn’t help that I – and seemingly the whole arena – had no idea who it was that interfered in the match, but I kind of like that, it immediately creates intrigue surrounding them and it lets them have a real ground-zero for a new character. That said, I’m not sure giving Dakota a lackey is the greatest idea, especially when you consider that we’ve already done that story very recently with Baszler, Duke & Shafir.

I have faith in the NXT creative team to make it feel like something different, however, until I see proof of that, I shall remain wary.

5 – Finn Balor def. Johnny Gargano

I know, I know. This match was fantastic, but there was so much good stuff on this show and I just couldn’t put this above the other matches from last night.

I think one of the main reasons I dropped this one is because it didn’t quite live up to my (admittedly, very high) expectations. I think because of Johnny’s injury, it lost a little bit of steam and the match as a whole just felt like it was missing something. What exactly that something is, I can’t quite put my finger on, but it dropped my enjoyment of the match just a bit.

That said, the match was still really good. I know people have soured on Gargano slightly, but I honestly don’t know where those people are coming from because I don’t think he’s lost a beat. These two matched up about as well as you’d expect them to and the action was, fast, hard-hitting and full of spectacle as a result.

Against, what I said in my predictions, I actually think Balor winning is the better idea now I’ve considered it. Gargano has had his status reinstated by what happened in the main event, so giving Balor this win to give him that boost in credibility after his return & subsequent heel turn was definitely the right way to go.

4 – Rhea Ripley(c) def. Bianca Belair
(NXT Women’s Championship)

This match is actually a really great look into how far Bianca Belair has come over the past year.

When Belair got a title shot against Baszler this time last year everyone viewed it as an opportunity to proves she belongs in the uber-high quality of the NXT Women’s division and she succeeded. Now, a year later she has another opportunity and it’s clear that she’s easily on par with any other competitor in the NXT locker room. In an era of NXT where the majority of stars are wrestlers who come in with a wave of indie support & hype behind them, looking back I’ve loved watching Belair become the fantastic performer she is today.

I had a lot of fun watching this match. Rhea has settled into her role as champion so easily that it only further proves how worthy of a successor she is to Shayna Basler’s crown. The chemistry here was stellar and there was such a wonderful sense of flow to the whole thing that kept my attention ticking over from one spot to the next. I don’t really have anything special to say about it, it was yet another great performance from two great performers and I’m very excited about what Rhea & Charlotte have in store going into Wrestlemania.

3 – Adam Cole(c) def. Tommaso Ciampa
(NXT Championship)

Oh! That’s the direction they’re going in, alright, you’ve got my attention.

This match was exactly what I’d hoped it would be and honestly, I think that’s the best thing I can say in its favour. This easily had the strongest story going into it and both guys feel like huge stars in both their presence and in the ring. There was a subtle brutality to this match, even though there wasn’t a great deal in terms of big “OMG” spots. Probably helped by that fact that Ciampa looks ripped, this felt like a real hard-hitting fight between two men who genuinely despise each other.

Despite Ciampa’s overwhelming presence and being the one with all the steam behind him currently, Cole made sure that he wasn’t forgotten as the champion and just in general, this match really cemented both of these guys as two of the biggest stars NXT has ever had. This fed into the finish, where we got a bait-and-switch with the interference, as Cole used all his greatest hits in terms of using underhanded tactics to try and win the match. The Undisputed Era getting involved, the low blow, the ref bump;  it felt like a real swan-song for Cole’s title reign and right up until Gargano showed up, I was certain Ciampa was going to win.

Gargano’s arc over the past three years has been so interesting to watch, it’s like when Ciampa’s around, Gargano just can’t help but become the worst version of himself. It’s almost like some kind of deeply ingrained trauma inside his mind that just turns him into a completely different person whenever Ciampa gets involved. There are so many pieces involved here and I’m not sure exactly how they’re all going to come together, but I’m very excited for wherever this whole thing ends up.

2 – Matt Riddle & Pete Dunne def. The Undisputed Era(c)
(NXT Tag Team Championships)

In my predictions, this was easily the match I was the most negative about and when it comes to the character stuff, I stand by what I said. I liked the caddy they drove themselves & the trophy out on, but I was not a fan of the “Fish” stuff. I understand why other people would find it funny, but it’s just really not for me. When it comes to the in-ring stuff, however, that’s the kind of stuff I live for.

In the past, I criticised the fact that Riddle & Dunne have a distinct lack of chemistry in the ring and while I still wouldn’t say it was perfect here, it was absolutely much better than it has been in previous matches. This match was back-and-forth the whole way through which is where I think tag matches are at their best, there was never a chance to settle into the groove of the match because as soon as one team established control, it somehow got broken and stuff started going mental again.

Something I think this match did particularly well was towards the finish when it kept me guessing as to who was going to win right up until the referee hit for three. It continued that form that I talked about earlier, I was never allowed to settle into the finish which meant that the excitement just kept building and building until Dunne & Riddle finally got the win. Despite what I said in my predictions, I’m actually glad the titles changed hands here because I think a shakeup in the tag division is absolutely in order because it’s really lacking in major talent right now. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get on board with their odd-couple pairing, but as long as they keep churning out matches like this, I really don’t mind.

1 – Keith Lee(c) def. Dominic Dijakovic
(North American Championship)

So THIS is what an all-out hoss fight is supposed to look like…I like it!

Quite simply, these guys went all-out and unleashed just about everything they could possibly think of to do and it was just fantastic fun to watch. it proves that big-guy fights don’t have to be slow, plodding affairs full of tests of strengths and grunty pushing. This match had such a different feel to everything else on the show, it was able to have an incredible sense of spectacle to all the big spots, while still maintaining a sense of a hard-hitting fight.

Not to mention, it helped to make an absolute star of Dijakovic. I know most of the NXT faithful know that he’s a great wrestler, but this was his first match on a big show like Takeover and I’ll be very surprised if he didn’t turn some heads. I could sit here listing all of the awesome spots that filled this match, but let’s be honest, you’ve already seen the gifs. I didn’t even know it was possible for people the size of Lee & Dijakovic to pull off some of the stuff they did last night, but quite frankly, I’ll never see gravity in the same way again.

It had just about everything you could want from a big match like this (both figuratively and literally) it was loud, proud, impressive and, most importantly, an absolute blast to watch, easily the best match of the show.

That’s all folks! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this article, 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 on Saturday, where I’ll be running down the best speeches from Doctor Who!

NXT Takeover: Portland: Predictions & Analysis

It’s been far too long since we’ve had one of these. I know World’s Collide happened and it was a very good show, but it just didn’t have the same feel or level of pure quality that a good old fashioned NXT Takeover event does. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but something about that show just didn’t quite click for me. Regardless, we’ve got this to get excited about, so let’s not spend too much time complaining.

Tegan Nox vs Dakota Kai
(Street Fight)

If I’m remembering correctly then I’m pretty certain this is the first time in quite a while that an NXT Takeover event has had more than one women’s match on the show. For a while, this was understandable, as there wasn’t much in the way of talent depth, but now looking at NXT Women’s division, the whole damn show could be women’s matches and it would be brilliant.

This match, in particular, has got me quite excited. I don’t really know much about Kai & Nox, but I’ve been getting quite invested in them since their feud began at Wargames. Now Shayna Baszler seems to be bowing out of NXT, there’s a lot of room up at the top for heels in the women’s division and I think Dakota Kai is going to be a great fit for that role. As for Tegan Nox, I just hope that NXT management has learnt from the mistakes they made with Io Shirai and keep Nox going as a believable face because as much as I’ve like Io since her heel turn, it very much felt like a move born out of desperation.

When it comes to picking a winner, this is a simple situation of picking who I think has the most to gain from the win right now, which is easily Dakota Kai. Although her heel turn was a good few months ago now, this is the first major match she’s had since it happened and it would be a bit of disaster for her to start taking major losses this early and there’s all the potential in the world of Tegan Nox to have a Gargano-Esque redemption story following a loss or two in the coming months.

Johnny Gargano vs Finn Balor

Out of all the matches on this show, I think this one has had the best build.

It was disappointing that we had to wait a couple of months longer than we expected to get this match thanks to Gargano’s injury, but they were able to recover the story well and I think a great deal of intensity has been added to the feud thanks to Balor’s new shift in character and Gargano’s hunger to re-prove himself. The history of Balor in NXT has been played into it, but what I think is most surprising is how starkly different Balor’s character is this time around, he truly feels like a different person to the one we’ve seen on Raw & Smackdown for the past few years.

Naturally, this match should be brilliant. While I’ve never been blown away by a Finn Balor match, I always find them very enjoyable and when he’s matching up with a wrestler like Gargano, I’m certain we’ve got a potential match of the year on our hands.

It’s a tough call as to who will win this one. Balor needs a solid win to cement his return, otherwise, he could quickly fall back into old routines. Though at the same time, I think Gargano is going to be a major part of major storylines going into Wrestlemania season (I’ll talk more on that in a little bit) and he really needs a big win after spending the past year having a bit of an underwhelming time. I’m picking Johnny Gargano because, unlike Balor, I actually have a pretty clear picture in my mind of what I think the next couple of months are going to look like for him and it requires a win here.

The Undisputed Era(c) vs Pete Dunne & Matt Riddle
(NXT Tag Team Championships)

It seems like such a weird thing to say given the men involved, but I’m really not feeling this match. Don’t get me wrong, I think Fish & O’Reilly are a fantastic tag team and both Dunne & Riddle are among my favourite singles guys in WWE right now, but I just don’t really buy them as a tag team. Unfortunately, there’s not much else they can be doing right now and if the Dusty Rhodes Classic achieved anything, it was highlighting the fact that NXT US has literally only one decent tag team in their ranks at the moment, so it was kind of necessary.

I’m sure this will be a brilliant match, but after so many years of the NXT Tag Team division being full of cohesive teams that felt like natural partners, to have two guys whose characters don’t align in the slightest (and not even in an “opposites attract” sort of way) seems like such a letdown.

Weirdly though, I kind of think they might win. It seems like Undisputed Era’s reign at the top of NXT is starting to crumble, so taking those titles away from them might be the direction they’re going in right now, not to mention that if Undisputed Era retains, then who have they got left to fight? Unless we’re just going to keep bringing in NXT UK teams for them to fight, the only direction we can go at this stage is rehashing old matches. The other possibility is that Riddle turns on Dunne, in order to inject some life into Riddle’s quickly stagnating character, not to mention there’s a bit of a lack of heels at the top of NXT right now thanks to Undisputed Era being the be-all and end-all of the division.

There are compelling arguments for both scenarios and I honestly can’t say that I think either one is more likely than the other, so I’m instead going to go with what I want to happen and pick The Undisputed Era to retain.

Keith Lee(c) vs Dominic Dijakovic
(North American Championship)

For the longest time, I was not a fan of Dijakovic he seemed to me like just another hoss that didn’t bring much to the ring other than a fairly impressive physique. Over the last few months, those assumptions I made of him have been utterly destroyed as he’s put on some great matches with wrestlers of all shapes and sizes.

Combine a guy like Dojakovic with someone like Keith Lee who, I don’t think it’s much of an exaggeration to say, has it all. He was criminally underused for the longest time in NXT and Survivor Series finally woke everyone (myself included) up to the fact that he’s an absolute beast and a brilliant wrestler that deserves the world. Now Lee has himself a championship, I can’t think of a better way than to show off just how good he can be than by putting up against one of his best opponents in NXT right now.

These two have fought several times before and it’s always been great stuff, their chemistry is impeccable and they’re always able to add something new to their matches so that it doesn’t feel like they’re stepping over old ground. Now they’ve finally been given the opportunity to put it all on a much bigger stage, I can’t imagine they’ll waste it. I’m expecting big things from this one, both from a literal and metaphorical standpoint.

That said, I think it’s quite easy to pick Keith Lee as the winner here. He’s only just won the title and he’s got all the momentum in the world right now, so losing the title like this would be an absolutely terrible move. Admittedly Dijakovic does need a big win to fully legitimize him, but that win can’t be at the expense of Lee.

Rhea Ripley(c) vs Bianca Belair
(NXT Women’s Championship)

When this match was first announced, I really wasn’t interested. I adore Rhea Ripley and thought her title match against Baszler was one of the best matches of last year, but this felt like such a placeholder match it’s believable. I mean, I still stand by that a little bit, there’s no way Bianca’s winning this match, but the build has been exciting enough so that I am actually interested in seeing the match play out now.

A large chunk of this switch in opinion was Belair’s great performance in the Royal Rumble a few weeks ago, she went on an absolute tear and reminded me that she is actually just as good a talent as any other wrestler in the NXT women’s division at the moment. There was also that great promo on NXT TV last week where she inserted herself in-between Charlotte & Rhea’s bickering and reminded everyone that, despite Charlotte’s insistence that she wasn’t a threat, she’s could easily take that title from Ripley and be staring Charlotte down at Wrestlemania soon.

That said, there’s absolutely no situation in which she takes the title away from Ripley on Sunday. Ripley is absolutely the biggest star in NXT right now, she’s only just won the title and now she’s got a Wrestlemania match against Charlotte Flair looming in a couple of months. Rhea Ripley is keeping that title around her waist and nothing anyone says will convince me otherwise.

Adam Cole(c) vs Tommaso Ciampa
(NXT Championship)

Ooooh boy, this is gonna be a good one. Ever since Ciampa returned I have been gagging to see this match, so now it’s finally happening, I am sufficiently excited.

Cole has been a fantastic champion during his reign, all of his matches have been must-watch and this will absolutely be no exception. WarGames proved that Ciampa hasn’t lost a beat during his time away from the ring so this match should do nothing but reaffirm his status as the best of the best. The build to this match has been great too, it’s clear that Cole and The Undisputed Era can sense that Ciampa might spell the end of the Golden Prophecy so they’re attacking with all their might to try and beat him down before the match and hopefully that’ll carry over into the match itself too.

While I’m not entirely confident in this pick, I feel fairly certain Tommaso Ciampa is going to pick up the win here for two major reasons. For one thing, it feels like the culmination of his return & redemption story to sit atop the NXT throne once again, but also, with an NXT Women’s title match already being planned for Wrestlemania, I think it’s likely that we’ll see the men’s title get the same honour and quite simply there is no bigger NXT Title match for Wrestlemania than us finally getting the finale in the Ciampa vs Gargano saga, one year after the match was cruelly taken away from us. I think seeing that match at Wrestlemania would mean so much to both guys and everyone like me who’s seen the whole story unfold from the beginning and in order for that to happen, Ciampa has to take the win here.