The NXT brand will present their fourth event at the Barclays Center tonight with TakeOver and perhaps the deepest card in the brand’s history.
NXT was born out of the remnants of Florida Championship Wrestling, a strictly developmental promotion for the WWE to send talent with hopes of receiving their main roster call-up. The switch to “NXT” occurred in 2012. As Daniel Bryan explained on SmackDown this week, the NXT brand was not always associated with the cool one. It was a holdover from the WWE’s attempt at a mixture of Tough Enough and the Diva Search for a semi-reality series that would replace ECW on Syfy.
Today, the skills competitions and format of the show are routinely panned for placing talent in dead-end segments that were seen as failures.
The rise of the NXT as the promotion’s developmental league gained traction in 2013, cementing itself as the WWE’s answer for the disenfranchised viewer by the time the WWE Network launched in February 2014. The first live event on the network was the NXT “Arrival” special that was highlighted by a thrilling women’s match between Paige and Emma, an outstanding match between Cesaro and Sami Zayn, and headlined by the crowning of a new NXT champion with Adrian Neville defeating Bo Dallas in a ladder match. The tone and presentation were a splash of cold water to the face of the common WWE consumer and buzz for the product soared.
Rather than run to the well monthly with a big show formula that mirrored the main roster, NXT adopted the template utilized by Jim Crockett Promotions and WCW with their Clash of the Champions cards that were presented 4-5 times per year.
As NXT grew throughout 2014 with TakeOver becoming the most consistent offering of shows, touring increased, and the product was able to fulfill a hole in the market that the WWE main roster was unable to fill. The fan of high-level independent wrestling now had a WWE satellite promotion that they were willing to spend money on and compete with the Ring of Honors and PWGs of the world.
A major step forward occurred over WrestleMania weekend at San Jose State University in March 2015 with NXT presenting a live event two days before WrestleMania 31. With close to 5,000 in attendance, it proved the WWE could draw over WrestleMania weekend with another in-house brand and set the stage for NXT’s largest undertaking within their three-year existence. The WWE booked the Barclays Center for three nights that summer as NXT would hold a TakeOver event on the eve of SummerSlam and cap off the weekend with Raw.
While there was hesitation NXT could fill a 13,000-seat venue, with a plan to scale the building down, it didn’t matter, and the show sold out immediately.
The summer of 2015 presented the dilemma that NXT encounters routinely. As they grew to the point of selling out the Barclays Center, it was the same summer that Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, and Becky Lynch received their main roster call-ups. Since that time, it’s become an arms race for NXT to load the deck, the result being an embarrassment of riches when you consider the talent working out of the Performance Center and under contract while NXT is limited by a one-hour weekly show.
Tonight, they return to the Barclays Center for the fourth consecutive year with an incredible card on-paper. The industry has changed greatly since 2015 with NXT at the center of the WWE’s international expansion plans with the hope of satellite promotions throughout the world under that banner. Up first is the NXT UK experiment, which just completed their first set of television tapings for a yet-to-be-announced date and home.
We will have an NXT review show late tonight with Braden Herrington and Davie Portman joining me for a full recap. Davie is attending the show live at the Barclays Center so he will provide live notes as well.
Below is a preview of tonight’s TakeOver card, which begins with a pre-show at 6 pm Eastern followed by the main show at 7 pm on the WWE Network.
TOMMASO CIAMPA VS JOHNNY GARGANO IN A LAST MAN STANDING MATCH FOR THE NXT TITLE
It’s been one of the hottest feuds of 2018 with two phenomenal matches already this year. This was not the original plan for the main event, but an injury to Aleister Black has forced the initial three-way into the third singles match of 2018 for Ciampa and Gargano. In one way, it was unfortunate timing, on the other, it was luck that they opted to have Black lose the title to Ciampa on television rather than save it for this show.
The two were scheduled to have a Last Man Standing Match in June at the last TakeOver, but because the match stipulation was earmarked for the Money in the Bank show that weekend, they had a street fight instead.
Ciampa has been such as excellent villain since he turned on Gargano, that I would prefer seeing him have longer run with the title than several weeks. There is a great story to tell with Gargano winning this match, accomplishing his dream only to be revealed as the attacker of Black. The conclusion being he sold his morals for the championship and alienated himself from those around him. It sounds like a compelling story on paper but is also nearly verbatim to the Eddie Edwards story in Impact.
It should be another outstanding match and the stipulation allows for Ciampa to win in heinous fashion as well with programs lined up with Black, presumably Matt Riddle and then way down the line, an eventual loss to Gargano.
SHAYNA BASZLER VS KAIRI SANE FOR THE NXT WOMEN’S TITLE
The television build-up for the match peaked this week with Sane’s win over Aliyah while Baszler was on commentary. The idea they wanted to push was Sane displaying a killer instinct that she can be as dangerous as Baszler and has her own dangerous submission with the Anchor.
Baszler has run through the women’s division, although there are a plethora of options with the forthcoming Mae Young Classic. The way the feud has been structured it would seem likely that Sane is winning the title.
One of the difficult aspects of mapping out directions for NXT is that you’re never sure who is on tap for the main roster call-up, so you can forecast ideas for Baszler to remain champion and build up challengers, but if they earmark her for the main roster it’s a moot point. It’s only a matter of time before Baszler is moved up, as she is one of the best female characters they have on any brand.
Sane winning the title and transitioning to a program with Bianca Belair is one option I could see playing itself out.
ADAM COLE VS RICOCHET FOR THE NORTH AMERICAN TITLE
This is a contender for the match-of-the-weekend and may have the highest expectations of either WWE show. It’s an enormous stage for the two to go out and have a phenomenal showing and should have an electric atmosphere.
Ricochet has been battling with an injury but appears to be good to go and wouldn’t expect anything to be withheld for this one.
Cole has had a very good 2018 and the Undisputed Era has lifted all those guys up to a level of importance on the show. This is going to be a tough match to follow and should be excellent.
KYLE O’REILLY & RODERICK STRONG VS TYLER BATE & TRENT SEVEN FOR THE NXT TAG TITLES
This showcases the depth of this show as this is another one that could be the best match of the weekend.
Their recent matches from the UK tournament where Mustache Mountain won the titles and then dropped them back at Full Sail University were two of the best tag matches of 2018. The television match was one of my favorites this year, it was incredible with the selling from Seven, the concern displayed by Bate and ending with the towel being thrown in.
Tyler Bate has consistently been off the charts the past year, his pairing with Trent Seven is a great role and this feud has been one of the best this year. The fact this card has five matches should ensure they will receive plenty of time and I could see this one opening the show as well, which will set the bar ridiculously high immediately.
It seems we could have a scenario where either The Undisputed Era retains all their titles or lose them all. Personally, this is the match I have the most anticipation for on the card.
VELVETEEN DREAM VS EC 3
While the match isn’t expected to be at the same level as the others, the characters are very, popular and I would expect the Barclays Centre to take this match up several notches.
The two work off the other so well and I think it’s been the establishing program that EC 3 needed, and that Velveteen Dream has used to elevate himself.
Dream seems due for a big victory and he’s getting near that level where the audience is going to organically turn him, conversely, EC 3 should be a babyface at the start, but will thrive as a heel when the timing is right.