NXT TAKEOVER 31: Finn Balor vs. Kyle O’Reilly, Io Shirai vs. Candice LeRae

John Pollock's report on NXT TakeOver 31 from the "Capitol Wrestling Center" featuring Finn Balor vs. Kyle O'Reilly for the NXT title.

Photo courtesy: WWE

Welcome to POST Wrestling’s coverage of NXT TakeOver 31 from the converted WWE Performance Center into the “Capitol Wrestling Center”.

Later tonight, Braden Herrington & Davie Portman will have a review of the card on the NXT TakeOver 31 POST Show on the site. They are also hosting a live Watch Along on the upNXT YouTube channel throughout the show.

*NXT Championship: Finn Balor (champion) def. Kyle O’Reilly in 28:32
*NXT Women’s Championship: Io Shirai (champion) def. Candice LeRae in 16:44
*NXT Cruiserweight Championship: Santos Escobar (champion) def. Isaiah “Swerve” Scott in 15:20
*KUSHIDA def. Velveteen Dream in 13:01
*NXT North American Championship: Damian Priest (champion) def. Johnny Gargano in 18:44

On the pre-show, they aired highlights of a Facebook Live chat where Rhea Ripley told Paul Levesque that she wants the next NXT women’s title shot against the winner of tonight’s show.

The opening video featured old footage of Capitol Sports with Ray Morgan, a quote from Vince McMahon Sr., and lots of archival footage to lend a backdrop to the “Capitol Wrestling Center” branding of the WWE Performance Center.

There are crowd members surrounding the ring behind a chain-link fence and video walls featuring the virtual audience.

The announcers are Vic Joseph, Beth Phoenix & Wade Barrett.

DAMIAN PRIEST VS JOHNNY GARGANO FOR THE NXT NORTH AMERICAN CHAMPIONSHIP

Throughout the match, Priest had to overcome the left elbow injury caused by Gargano and tailored his offense away from the weak limp. Gargano also worked on Priest’s knee using the Tequila Sunrise while keeping Priest grounded. Priest returned with his standout offense and hit Gargano with a Razor’s Edge onto the edge of the apron. The Reckoning was countered with Gargano hitting an Asai DDT and forearm to the back of the head. This is where they went all out with near falls.

The big tease was Gargano moving out of the way on the floor as Priest did a somersault over the top and landed on two security guards. With the ref tending to the security members, Gargano kicked Priest low and hit a superkick for the big near fall – and telegraphed Gargano was losing. Priest escaped the Gargano Escape, blocked One Final Beat and hit The Reckoning off the middle rope, and pinned Gargano.

WINNER: Damian Priest at 18:44 to retain the NXT North American title

This match was good, and I liked it but it didn’t hit the level of “great”. The trouble was that with this new setting, the artificial noise overrides the live members of the audience and it didn’t translate to a heated atmosphere for the near falls. This was a typical TakeOver style match that was designed for an arena of several thousand people going nuts for the near falls and big moves, but without that crowd equivalent this match didn’t achieve the heights it aimed to hit.

The Undisputed Era was shown arriving earlier in the day, and Finn Balor in a separate shot.

KUSHIDA VS VELVETEEN DREAM

Velveteen Dream came out dressed as Doc Brown from “Back to the Future” to mock KUSHIDA’s Marty McFly style. KUSHIDA jumped Dream during his entrance amplifying the aggression he’s displayed in the lead-up. KUSHIDA worked the match wearing jeans and has got this new demeanor down pat.

The match revolved around KUSHIDA’s submission attack and going after the previously injured arm of Velveteen Dream. The minor issue I had was that Dream looked so ridiculous throughout this match as he overdid the Doc Brown, which was fun for the entrance but he looked so silly that even Barrett pointed out how ridiculous he looked.

KUSHIDA drove the left arm of Dream into the post twice and then dropkicked the steps with the arm caught behind them. KUSHIDA was stopped with a superkick and went for the Purple Rainmaker, however, KUSHIDA caught him with an armbar as he came off the top. Dream poked the eyes to escape and hit the Dream Valley Driver and Purple Rainmaker but injured himself in the process of delivering it with the bad arm.

KUSHIDA stopped him on the top, flipped him off applying the Hoverboard Lock, and torqued on the injured arm. Dream tried to escape with the Dream Valley Driver but KUSHIDA kept the submission applied and Dream tapped.

WINNER: KUSHIDA at 13:01

KUSHIDA was excellent in the match and the new type of character with the vicious streak has clicked exceptionally well. It was a basic story stemming from the angle on NXT where KUSHIDA initially attacked Dream’s arm a few weeks ago and emphasized the danger of the Hoverboard Lock.

KUSHIDA continued to attack the arm after the match with Dream screaming in agony.

They announced an NXT Halloween Havoc special on Wednesday, October 28th hosted by Shotzi Blackheart. Vic Joseph promoted it as the first Halloween Havoc in twenty years (if you’re nostalgic, that 2000 Havoc card will kill any positive memories of the show).

SANTOS ESCOBAR VS ISAIAH “SWERVE” SCOTT FOR THE NXT CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE

Whatever it was with the audio sweetening, this match came across better with the noise of the audience.

Scott hit the Fosbury Flop in the beginning and proceeded to bend Escobar’s elbow around the turnbuckle. In the process, the covering on the lower turnbuckle came off and played into the end of the match.

Escobar got the heat after hitting a tope suicida and led to a big comeback by Scott that was thwarted when Raul Mendoza and Joaquin Wilde appeared ringside. They were fought off by Ashante “Thee” Adonis (the former Tehuti Miles), so he’s keeping a focused role aligning with Scott. Scott hit a ‘rana to Escobar off the top rope sending him onto Mendoza and Wilde before they left.

With the seconds taken away, Scott was hit with the Phantom Driver and was the first one to kick out of Escobar’s finisher. Escobar hit three amigos but missed the frog splash. Scott hit the House Call and a 450 splash for a near fall and Scott screamed that he couldn’t believe he kicked out.

On the edge of the apron they fought, Scott was knocked backward, and hit was supposed to hit the exposed buckle but it didn’t look all that devastating. Regardless, Escobar capitalized hitting a new move where he used a double underhook suplex and dropped Scott’s head on his knee to win.

WINNER: Santos Escobar at 15:20 to retain the NXT Cruiserweight title

They had a good match and unlike the opener, the near falls came off more heated and built the match further. The end was a bit clunky as you weren’t sure what Scott had done but these pieced it together that the covering on the buckle was removed earlier and it cost Scott the match when he crashed into it. It was a good match and they establish Ashante “Thee” Adonis as a focused upon talent and can probably have some tag matches result from this outcome.

IO SHIRAI VS CANDICE LeRAE FOR THE NXT WOMEN’S TITLE

The theme of the championship matches has been to go to extreme lengths to convince the audience they will see a title change, only for the champion to overcome the odds and regain their title.

After landing a backstabber, LeRae had the heat for a long time and the match was just there. It was a far cry from their TakeOver: Toronto match throughout the first portion of it but it picked up. Shirai made a comeback with the Tiger feint kick and stopped a quebrada from LeRae with a kick. LeRae hit a snap German, backstabber, and the quebrada for her first serious near fall of the match.

After Shirai applied a crossface, LeRae countered and applied the Gargano Escape and Shirai got to the rope. As LeRae continued to attack, the referee administered the count and was struck down by LeRae, which the referee did not disqualify her over. Shirai caught LeRae with the Air Raid Crash and landed on the knees when Shirai attempted the moonsault, the force sent Shirai flying into the referee and he was out.

LeRae hit the Wicked Stepsister (curb stomp) but the referee was down, so Johnny Gargano ran in wearing a referee’s shirt and fast-counted as Shirai kicked out. The referee returned and argued with Gargano allowing LeRae to hit Shirai with the belt behind the referee’s back for the big near fall. Shirai fought back hitting a one-woman Spanish Fly off the top and followed with the moonsault to win.

WINNER: Io Shirai at 16:44 to retain the NXT Women’s Championship

After the match, Toni Storm appeared on the screen and congratulated Shirai on her win. Storm announced that she is back in NXT.

I know that in the end, Shirai was winning and therefore, you can have a lot of leeway with certain aspects. But, I feel strongly that these TakeOver cards have become such a hit because there is a minimum amount of B.S. and stuff like Gargano running in with the ref’s shirt and excessive ref bumps are the exact things people want less of on these shows to distinguish them from the main roster. As a match, this wasn’t at the level of their match in Toronto last year due to a relatively slow start and a lot of outside involvement that made the match a bit too convoluted for me. The comebacks from Shirai were strong and there later in the match, the two hit their stride but I really didn’t enjoy the Gargano involvement.

Shirai remained in the ring when the mystery person on the motorcycle arrived with a helmet on. They removed the helmet and it was Ember Moon.

McKenzie Mitchell interviewed Ashante “Thee” Adonis, he has a lot of respect for Scott and is going to beat Legado del Fantasma “faster than Amazon”. This was a good promo from Adonis.

FINN BALOR VS KYLE O’REILLY FOR THE NXT CHAMPIONSHIP

The main event was excellent and one of the best matches this year. It started slow, with each attempting to gain control of a body part. Balor worked a long headlock until O’Reilly was free and got control of Balor’s arm. Later, it was Balor using a hammerlock for control. The grappling and limb work was strong from the jump.

The major spot of the match occurred when Balor executed a body kick and O’Reilly collapsed to the mat. It didn’t appear the announcers understood the significance of a shot to the liver, which is common in MMA and frequently shuts a fighter down completely. About a minute later, Beth Phoenix explained it and it became Balor’s target throughout the match.

O’Reilly sold and sold, and they explained if it wasn’t a title match, the referee would stop the match. He mounted some offense with the Ax & Smash and slingshot lariat off the bottom rope. Balor went for 1916 and it was countered with a standing guillotine. O’Reilly isolated the armbar and briefly had an armbar after Balor initially clasped his hands, Balor stomped free to escape the armbar.

O’Reilly kicked out from 1916 and attacked Balor’s knee and applied a heel hook. Balor got to the rope and shortly after, leaped and hit a foot stomp near the liver but his knee is hurt in the process. O’Reilly gets a “Hail Mary” release German suplex, which Balor pops up from and hits another foot stomp before going to the top and landing the Coupe de Grace – to the liver, and pins O’Reilly.

WINNER: Finn Balor at 28:32 to retain the NXT Championship

Both were bleeding from the mouth, the announcers suggested Balor could have a broken jaw.

This match was phenomenal and a star-making performance for O’Reilly as a singles competitor. The various chapters of the match escalated the intensity, violence, and struggle. I loved the liver shot and how it paid dividends for Balor in winning the match. This was hands-down my choice for the match of the show.

The show ended with Balor lifting O’Reilly to his feet and showing mutual respect when Ridge Holland appeared with Adam Cole draped on his shoulders and proceeded to dump Cole onto the floor and he was beaten to a pulp. Bobby Fish and Roderick Strong rushed down to tend to the fallen Cole as O’Reilly was concerned. The scene definitely hinted at Strong & Fish having something to do with the attack.

About John Pollock 5663 Articles
Born on a Friday, John Pollock is a reporter, editor & podcaster at POST Wrestling. He runs and owns POST Wrestling alongside Wai Ting.