NXT Takeover Chicago
Well, it’s happening again. The WWE is throwing on a couple of different events this weekend – one featuring the main roster (WWE Money in the Bank), and the other featuring the training league (NXT Takeover Chicago). I’ve got mixed feelings about most of the main roster and don’t feel any real urgency to watch that event, but that’s a topic for a whole other article.
No, the thing I’m dying to see is NXT Takeover.
The past five years have made NXT the go-to show for wrestling fans that know of it, featuring great characters, wrestling, and stories. Things make sense, everyone progresses, and everyone feels important. The only reason I care about the main roster at all is because so many people on it come from NXT just to have their potential wasted by bad storytelling choices.
Again, though, that’s another article. Let’s cover what’s in front of us, what’s happening, why it matters, and who I think should win.
Ricochet vs The Velveteen Dream – The Best Match You’ll Ever See Match
Honestly, this match alone would sell me on the whole show.
Wrestling is a story. You have characters and those characters are telling stories within the context of a fight; a wrestler works a style that builds to a climax, which is their finishing moves. There are several different styles that people use, and all of them have variations that make wrestling exciting and unpredictable.
We’re going to break this down a little: styles include things like high-flying, brawling, technical wrestling, submission grappling, martial arts, and even just force of personality. A good wrestler will be good at one of those styles and be okay at one or two others. Your legendary wrestlers are usually exceptional at two and maybe know their way around the others.
Hulk Hogan, for example, had an exceptional force of personality, was good at brawling, and was okay at the technical stuff. Steve Austin was an exceptional force of personality with exceptional technical skill that was limited due to injury and became exceptional at brawling. The Rock was another exceptional force of personality with incredible brawling and some good technical stuff.
They took their skills, married them to their characters, and were able to transcend the rank and file because of it. Force of personality plus being exceptional at one other story style.
Ricochet and Velveteen Dream both have that force of personality going for them; Ricochet in terms of a quiet confidence and Dream with an over-the-top level of delusional showmanship. They’re both easy on the eyes, too, but the real trick of them is not that they’re exceptional at any one thing: they are both exceptional at everything.
There is no one else working today that can do the things that either of these men can do (well, maybe Will Osprey…). Ricochet has wowed audiences worldwide and we know he’s good enough to carry a promotion – he was the face of Lucha Underground for years, essentially the soul of the company. It is impossible to overstate how good he is and the things of which he is capable. Dream is a home-grown talent, coming up through the NXT training center exclusively, but he has such pull and talent and dedication that it’s hard to see him as anything but a future world champion.
Their characters, too, are twisted images of one another. They’re supreme talents that have personalities that not only conflict, but perfectly foil one another. If this match isn’t headlining Wrestlemania inside six years than something has gone very, very wrong.
Predicted Winner: The fans. Neither of these guys need the win story-wise and both of them can handle the loss character-wise. This really is anyone’s game, and should be a brand-defining rivalry. I have impossibly high hopes for this match and know that, as high as those hopes are, they will not even come close to what these two will deliver.
Nikki Cross vs Shayna Baszler – Women’s Championship Match
Shayna is a former UFC fighter who turned to wrestling because you’re much less likely to get crippled or suffer brain damage doing it, especially these days. She made a good run through the Mae Young Classic, an all-female tournament that acted as a way to highlight how good women’s wrestling has become. She made it all the way to the finals and lost there, going back to the NXT Performance Center to hone the one thing she didn’t have down: her character.
When she finally debuted on NXT proper, that character was firmly in place – she is an absolute monster, a lethal fighter that mangles her opponents. She’s got good martial arts skills and exceptional submission grappling and had some pretty decent matches leading to her becoming the NXT Women’s Champion, a title that has a hell of a pedigree and helped kickstart a whole women’s revolution in wrestling as a whole.
Since winning, she’s browbeat the hell out of everyone that’s gotten in her way, intimidating her opponents long before they get in the ring with her, and then demolishing them. It’s worked really well for her.
Her opponent’s name is Nikki Cross. Nikki is a crazy-person, possessed of a sort of fearless mania that allows her to take fights to places other people fear to tread. She’s not intimidated by Shayna because she has no survival instinct – she attacks and keeps attacking until either her enemy can’t move or she’s not conscious. Even when she’s beat she doesn’t know fear, she just keeps coming and coming, attacking and attacking, leaving nothing in her wake.
The Winner: Shayna Baszler. NXT is in the process of rebuilding their division after the last series of call-ups to the main roster, and Nikki got left behind because she can carry the division and allow Shayna to grow into a true monster. This should be the first match of an epic feud that will probably conclude a few months from now in dramatic fashion and end with Shayna looking like an absolute badass, just barely managing to contain the madness Nikki embodies.
Undisputed Era vs Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch – Tag Team Championship Match
This is the sort of storytelling that completely separates wrestling from anything else.
About a year ago, a wrestler named Roderick Strong came to NXT. He’s a talented technical wrestler and brawler with a sort of Ryu-from-Street-Fighter vibe, or what people think that vibe is (we’ll come back to that) – dependable, versatile, the baseline for what a good wrestler is. At about the same time a new group called the Undisputed Era began causing problems for people and went out of their way to try and recruit Roderick. They interfered in his matches and tried to bully him into joining, which did not work, and they appeared to have made an enemy for life.
Roderick went and did some other things for a bit, notably having some good-to-great matches with a guy named Danny Burch. Burch is another brawler-technician from England and is the WWE’s European champion, a dude possessed of a style that makes him feel like the love-child of William Regal and Mick Foley. He works stiff and does some incredible stuff, making the small things matter, and he beat in Roderick a few times last year.
So, when the Undisputed Era came after him again, Roderick asked the guy he was fighting for help. The two of them fought the Undisputed Era at the last Takeover with the tag titles on the line, and then this happened:
Seems Roddy hated Burch a little more than the Undisputed Era, or maybe he just wanted some gold.
(In reality, one-third of the Undisputed Era got hurt and they needed someone to replace him while he recovers. This results in a much stronger heel faction – especially when the injured guy returns – and made Roddy a much more interesting character. Net win for everyone~!)
Oney Lorcan is a guy who’s also had issues with the Undisputed Era and also had some tough matches with Burch; Oney’s thing is that he loves to fight, and he hates the Undisputed Era, so when Burch needed someone Oney stepped in. The two of them work well together and this should be an excellent match.
The Winner: The Undisputed Era is going to cheat to win. Team leader Adam Cole isn’t booked for this card and he’s going to want to get some face time, and that injured member could even put in an appearance. Also, the Undisputed Era Instagram is a work of heelish eighties art and if you like that sort of thing you should follow it. Danny and Oney will fight and fight hard, but the Undisputed Era is taking this through nefarious means.
Johnny Gargano vs Tomasso Ciampa – Til Death Do Us Part Match
This match could steal the entire weekend. These two excel at everything the way that Ricochet and Velveteen Dream do, but they have the benefit of a story that goes back years.
I described Roderick Strong as being what people think Ryu-from-Street-Fighter is, and that’s a good thing. Having that character – the one that wants to be the best and challenge himself – is important, and it’s a strong enough trait when used properly that you can build epics around it. And I felt bad for Roderick because while he was aiming for that vibe, Johnny Gargano lives it.
Like Ryu, he’s the sort of person you can gravitate to as a new fan or player; his easy demeanor and seeming simplicity of what he does allows anyone to figure him out quickly and get behind him. As someone matures into it, though, whether it is wrestling or Street Fighter, one begins to appreciate the complexity of design, the depth of the character, the simple truth that this build is meant for marathons.
Johnny came to NXT with his best friend, Tomasso Ciampa, who looked to play Ken to his Ryu. They formed a tag team called #DIY and became one of the hottest acts in the company. They became fan favorites and tag champions, facing off against the Revival in some epic confrontations and people loved them.
And then Tomasso tried to kill Johnny.
I mean, come one, they have the Obi-Wan and Anakin on Mustafar moment: you were my brother! How awesome is this?
The two of them had one of the best matches of this year at the last Takeover, an epic marathon of a war that felt like four different matches and was emotionally exhausting; coming out of that war looked to change both men and the people that were watching that confrontation. If that had been the end of it that would have been fine, fantastic, great.
But Tomasso kept coming. And now…
Tomasso is not going to stop. The question has become is how far will Johnny go, and will he lose himself in the process?
The Winner: I picked Tomasso for last Takeover, and I’m picking him again here. He needs a win, I think, but this could go in a few different directions that might be even more emotional – Johnny could go totally over-the-edge and turn Tomasso face, or the two of them might go evil together and reform #DIY as a purely destructive force. More likely, though, is that Johnny remains Johnny and Tomasso brutalizes him here, doing something utterly despicable that either puts him in line for a title shot and/or ends Johnny’s time on NXT. We’ll see.
Aleister Black vs Lars Sullivan – NXT World Championship Match
Aleister Black is not a man so much as a force of nature. He looks and acts like the Undertaker’s Dutch cousin; someone who has touched the darkness and been touched in turn, the sort of spooky presence that you could see playing mind games or being possessed of legit supernatural power. He doesn’t talk much and doesn’t need to: he has presence, gravity, and a high-flying martial arts style that makes him look like he’s trying to kill his opponent. He’s a scalpel in the dark, the devil’s favorite assassin, the honorable and honored evil.
He finishes people with a kick that looks like a fatality.
He’s been unstoppable since coming to NXT, destroying anyone that’s gotten in his way. That kick ends people, and everything that happens before it leaves his opponents craving that end.
But then this happened:
Lars Sullivan is a monster disguised as a human being. He hurts people, eviscerates them, and has had some brutal feuds that have seen only him left standing. He demanded a shot at this title and got it; he’s a big powerful brawler and he grows on you, a presence that equals that of an old eighties slasher. He’s a bludgeon, a hammer to the face.
Aleister’s elegance contrasts nicely with Lars’ brutishness; this is two very different kinds of viciousness going head-to-head in a way that NXT has never seen before, and it’s going to be interesting to see which one of them is capable of walking out of this in one piece.
The Winner: Aleister Black just won this title and he’s more than earned it. Lars is a good foil, probably the next iteration of Kane – the big guy that everyone fears – but Aleister is very much his own thing and you’ve got to believe he’s going to be defending his title against Velveteen Dream or Ricochet in the next few months, possibly both. Aleister takes this, but only after getting the beating of his life.