Tonight is the NXT TakeOver: Phoenix card from the Talking Stick Resort Arena airing on the WWE Network at 7 pm Eastern with a kickoff show at 6 pm.
We will have coverage on the site beginning at 6 with a POST Show later tonight with Braden Herrington and Davie Portman of upNXT.
It is difficult to imagine this show not delivering at the level of past TakeOver cards with this one having the potential to be one of the best. The depth of talent on this roster is extraordinary with no one overexposed with a one-hour television program and not running monthly big shows that allow programs and to evolve and peak without being rushed.
The central story remains the relationship between Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano and teasing the notion they will work together again, ultimately leading to one final showdown. They are in separate title matches tonight, which leads to potential of both leaving the show as champions for that final match, both leaving without titles (less likely), or Gargano failing once more and ups the stakes for one last crack at Ciampa by placing his career on the line, which was done over the past year with Andrade Cien Almas.
Here is a preview of the five matches announced:
Tommaso Ciampa vs. Aleister Black for the NXT title
This program has taken a back seat to the Ciampa and Johnny Gargano segments over the last month but has the easy-to-digest story of Black attempting to reclaim his title after the Gargano detour.
I don’t expect a title change as wherever they go after this event, I see Ciampa as the champion and that title being crucial to Gargano’s obsessions with Ciampa and the ultimate prize that has driven Gargano to turn.
Black has been able to excel as a top babyface even in the often-difficult role of oversized babyface when he’s paired with smaller heels.
It would make sense that Gargano has some involvement in this match, even though run-ins are kept to a minimum with NXT title matches. I see Ciampa retaining and should be a terrific match.
Ricochet vs. Johnny Gargano for the North American title
There is a lot of hype for this match and I think there should be more. This honestly has the potential to be one of the best matches in NXT history.
The placement of this match will be interesting. I don’t see it going on last, even though you could argue it’s the most-anticipated of the show. Going on second-from-the-top seems like a good spot and having at least 18-20 minutes.
Gargano winning the title seems to contradict this entire chase of Ciampa as Johnny “Failure” that cannot win the big one and has driven him to this character switch. It also shines a light on the North American title is secondary to the main title, which is true, but not something you ever need to promote.
TakeOver at the Barclays Center is the biggest NXT show of the year and the whole year appears to be centered around Ciampa and Gargano and that could be the final showdown.
Roderick Strong and Kyle O’Reilly vs. War Raiders for the NXT tag titles
Strong and O’Reilly are among the best teams in the entire industry today and having this stage will allow the War Raiders to have a big showcase.
I would assume Bobby Fish will be in the corner of TUE and allows for that element to be incorporated with the War Raiders being outnumbered. Adam Cole isn’t booked for a match either at TakeOver and it’s hard to imagine no presence from him on the show.
This is one title change I could see happening to allow for some fresh teams to enter the mix and go with babyface champions after this long reign from Strong and O’Reilly.
One of the most difficult aspects to previewing these NXT shows is whether specific performers are earmarked for the main roster, or not. Personally, I hope they hold off on more call-ups until after WrestleMania as this is the toughest time of the year to introduce new talent and just started the integration of the recent call-ups on Raw and SmackDown. When the time comes, Undisputed Era as a unit could be an enormous shot in the arm as major players on the show they are designated for.
Shayna Baszler vs. Bianca Belair for the NXT women’s title
This is the match I am most intrigued by on the card. It isn’t going to be the match-of-the-night, but it’s an enormous chance for Bianca Belair to launch herself into the next phase of her career. This is her first TakeOver card and I’m assuming many people watching tonight only know her name and have never seen her in a high-profile match like this one.
Belair is an exceptional athlete, tremendous personality and has her character figured out well beyond others so early into their career. Baszler has had very good matches in the past on TakeOver cards and I expect their styles to work well.
I see enormous potential in Belair, and this could be an eyeopener for everyone but it’s a big pressure situation and a loaded card to stand out on. Belair is undefeated and if Baszler loses the title, the natural speculation will be that she is getting called up and will be expected in the Rumble as a surprise. I don’t know if the timing is right to go through with either of those scenarios.
Matt Riddle vs. Kassius Ohno
This is their chance to do the real match and not the flash knockout victory that Riddle had in November.
This is another one that should be stellar and could be one of the best matches this weekend. Ohno is excellent in these situations and it’s the first big match for Riddle since coming to NXT.
Obviously, this is designed to be a longer match but also having Riddle win definitively and then move on to a bigger opponent next.
Calling Ohno underrated is not accurate, but I feel the role he is serving in NXT is underappreciated and it’s important to have these guys in roles like this and he’s excellent at it. I have high expectations for this one, too.