Friday, 6 April 2018

NXT TakeOver: New Orleans Preview

On 7th April, NXT is set to take over the Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, LO, as part of the WWE's Wrestlemania weekend, however, in a confusing reversal of situations, the pre-Mania TakeOver is more like NXT's SummerSlam than it is their WrestleMania, their WrestleMania, of course, being the annual Brooklyn show, which takes place the day before Summerslam. Anyway, we here at ATPW sure do love our previews, so here's one for this show, think of it like a pre-show but with no Peter Rosenberg so much better. Talking of pre-shows, why not tune in for the KickOff at Midnight (if you're in America, please check your local listings) with an all-star panel including NFL All-Pro Punter Pat McAfee (whatever that means) giving us all the chat and discussion required for an hour before the actual show at 1am (once again, check your listings, US). Till then, why not enjoy this preview with the sounds of our themes for this show courtesy of New Orleans own, Cane Hill...

NXT North American Championship Ladder Match:     EC3 vs Adam Cole Velveteen Dream vs Ricochet vs Lars Sullivan vs Killian Dain

I would imagine there's a strong chance this match opens the show as its a match with little build, little in the way of emotional attachment but with six men and a whole load of ladders set to be in the ring, has the potential to set the stage with some good and crazy action. This match, and indeed, title, have been mostly made to accommodate the expanding ranks of the NXT Men's Single's division making it so that everyone going after one title is getting ridiculous. What about the United Kingdom Championship I hear you ask, surely that title could have been expanded in its focus in order to accommodate such a position? Well, the answer is fuck off, we don't need your kind of logic around here. Also, with UK Champion Pete Dunne in the Tag Title match later, it's not like they could have a non-full time talent working double duty. Still, what works well here is that there is no way to predict which of these six men will be taking the title with a strong mix of indie darlings like the debuting EC3 & Ricochet through to Velveteen Dream & Lars Sullivan, two men who've cut their teeth here in NXT and really made themselves cornerstones of their division. 

What to expect from this one is an interesting thought as beyond Ricochet, we don't really have many flippy boys in this so traditional WWE ladder match booking would suggest he'll do the really cool spot that everyone talks about but not win it, Dain & Sullivan still feel like even after this week's NXT, they still have some unresolved issues so likelihood is, the feuding between those two might distract them from climbing that ladder which leaves Cole who might not even be in the match as he might be helping O'Reilly defend the tag-team titles, Dream who is just wonderful in every way & EC3, a man who by the end of the night, everyone will realise he is what Bobby Roode pretended to be, if they don't know, now they'll know. This is my long-winded way of saying I don't know, spoiler alert though, it's probably going to be at least a little bit good.

NXT Tag Team Championship & Dusty Classic Cup: Undisputed Era (Bobby Fish & Kyle O'Reilly) (c) vs Strong x Bitter & Authors of Pain

You may notice that Adam Cole is in the photo above as well. This is because over the past month/s, NXT has been running the third Dusty Rhodes Tag-Team Classic, an eight-team tournament for the prestigious title, previously won by Finn Balor & Samoa Joe and Authors of Pain, but also a shot at the Tag-Team Championships. On the one side of the finals, we had the previous winners Authors of Pain who smashed through TM-61 and Street Profits to get here and on the other side, Pete Dunne and Roderick Strong, a make-shift team formed after Moustache Mountain (Tyler Bate & Trent Seven) were forced to bow out when Tyler aggravated an angle injury while at Brighton's Riptide Wrestling, who fought past Danny Burch & Oney Lorcan and SAnitY to make it here. With poor Bobby Fish out on injury, Kyle O'Reilly and Cole decided to crash the final and cause a double disqualification, no winners, no challengers, smart eh? so O'Reilly was given three choices: wrestle alone, Cole does double-duty or Cole drops out of the Ladder Match.

Unsurprisingly, it seems he's chosen to work double duty, so one of the major factors of this match in play is card order as Cole or Cole & O'Reilly are at a significant disadvantage depending on which match goes on last of the two, though if this is the first of the two, it puts all three teams on a roughly equal-footing as Undisputed Era have beaten Authors of Pain before (twice if you count War Games), Authors of Pain have won tag gold, dusty cups and tag three-way dances before and the team we here like to call Strong x Bitter have tag-team success written through their DNA with former PROGRESS, Ring of Honor & PWG reigns between them, a UK title still in their team's grasp and the knowledge that the first Dusty Classic was won by a makeshift team like them. If it's not clear, as a Midlands boy myself, I'm calling a win for Strong x Bitter and rooting for them but mostly, I'm just looking forward to watching some good, solid tag action. Expect lots of big strikes, big moves and at one point, if we're lucky, Pete Dunne will punch Adam Cole out of the air. Won't that be a treat?

NXT Women's Championship: Ember Moon (c) vs Shayna Baszler

If you're getting a sense of deja vu, yes, we did only recently see this match at the last TakeOver and also once more in between, as well as frequent attacks on each other. The dispute between these revolves around Baszler thinking Moon isn't fit to lead as she couldn't defeat Asuka, she couldn't hit the Eclipse on Baszler who kept her grounded having to use a roll-up to get victory and when Baszler was given another match, she won but via disqualification after an angry Kairi Sane returned and attacked her, only for Baszler to make reasonably easy work of Sane. Much like last time, expect this match to come down to a David-Goliath type match-up with Moon once again seeking that Eclipse top-rope stunner while Baszler will want to lock in and preferably never let go of the Kirifuda Clutch. As to whom shall walk out of that arena with the title, it's hard to call, it feels like Ember is only ever one Eclipse away from retaining but especially with her friend Ronda Rousey making her pro-wres debut the next night, it seems like maybe Baszler is being set up to take the title and run with it for a while, especially as there's still some unsolved animosity between Baszler, Sane and Dakota Kai to sort out if Moon were to make the move Main Roster-wards...

Unsanctioned Match: Johnny Gargano vs Tommaso Ciampa

This has been a long time coming, almost a year in fact. Let me take you back to Chicago as after they'd just lost their last shot at the NXT Tag Team Titles, Ciampa would turn viciously on Gargano, knowing that he was going to be out for a while on injury time, he wanted to make a statement before he did, one that for a long time, broke Gargano, forcing him to try and exorcise the monkey on his back that is Ciampa because that's what you do to monkey. Eventually Gargano started winning again, earning a shot at the NXT title but even then, wasn't quite enough and just as he was at his lowest, having lost his shot, there was Ciampa again because exorcising doesn't work on back monkeys, especially when they get involved in your Title vs Career rematch and force you to lose your job. It's at this point, the waters get muddied as Ciampa spent a few weeks struggling to get a word in edgeways as he simultaneously continued to be the best heel in NXT and also it's greatest hero for standing up to the awful sturmundrang of the NXT audience till he got tired of their caterwauling and Gargano's hounding of him and agreed to a match, unsanctioned of course because let's not forget, Gargano is fired but if he wins, he gets his job back, loses, he's gone forever.

There's almost too much history behind this match to cover but regardless, this is going to be one of the most emotional matches of the weekend, just as much, maybe more important to the wrestling scene as a whole than Kenny Omega vs Cody as every single second has the entire heart of NXT hanging in the balance, this is for something more important than the actual title, this is a match for the philosophical centre of the developmental brand, is this a place of good or evil? Also, most importantly, can this top Gargano v Almas because that shit was tight? As it's unsanctioned, expect this one to be more of a brawl than a technical classic. Ultimately, this seems like it's Gargano's match to win as he needs his job and assuming they get enough time for this, it's unlikely Ciampa looks any weaker in loss, especially coming back from a lengthy spell on the injured list but never count out the Sicilian psychopath as he might well pull it out of the bag, setting up his own chance at going after that big slice of NXT gold (and who amongst us doesn't see money in Black v Ciampa?) while Gargano, surely the bright post-mania lights of RAW or Smackdown could be a' callin'.

NXT Championship: Andrade Almas (c) vs Aleister Black

Cast your mind back to NXT TakeOver: Orlando last year, Tommy End, now going by the name Aleister Black made his official NXT debut (having competed against Neville at the United Kingdom Championship tournament) against Andrade 'Cien' Almas. It was a well-fought match but in the end, Black came out on top with reasonable ease. That was, however, a different Almas, that was Almas before he met Zelina Vega, that was Almas before his five-star classic with Johnny Gargano, that was the Almas that I usually dismissed by just calling him a 'lad'. He was floundering, now he's at the very top of the NXT pyramid of greatness and the man who calls himself 'The Idol' and '100' is a far more motivated and more dangerous man than he was this time last year, for proof of that, see how he dragged Black from car park to the ring, destroying and nearly drowning him along the way. Though in the other corner, somewhere between good and evil, sits Aleister Black, a man with only two losses to this particular name in NXT and one of those he wasn't even in or around the ring for, he's someone who's been on a tear and seemed like he's been destined for the NXT title since he stepped into Full Sail but no one should expect Almas and definitely not Vega to go down without one heck of a fight.

Pardon the innuendo but expect this one to go long and stiff as even with their differing backgrounds, both men are known as much for their technical expertise as the swift, hard-hitting nature of their strikes. They are both also known to bust out a moonsault or two every so often so that'll be fun. As much as Gargano-Ciampa is the biggest story going into the show, I'd still expect this one to go on last as it's the main title, it really should and I don't see any world in which if Gargano and Ciampa haven't tore the entire house down, that these two don't tear down the rest. As to who's walking out with that lovely golden belt, as much as I'd love to see Almas hold on to it forever, I think that Black is walking out with his first WWE prize slung over his shoulder and you know what, if the crowd chant 'you deserve it' at him, yeah, he bloody well does.

Any Other Predictions...

So with Pete Dunne in the Tag match, it's unlikely there'll be a separate UK Championship match, as a result, I'm going to assume the card is just these five matches and I'm fine with that as I can't see any of them not being at least good. This being a TakeOver, this is really the bit where I mostly speculate about what 'hottest free agent' will be in the crowd, this time around, I will keep saying that it could be Christopher (Donovan) Dijak but really it could be anyone. I mean, as part of the deal with PROGRESS and EVOLVE, Keith Lee, WALTER, Zack Gibson and others will be participating in Axxess so who knows? If it turns out to be Jason Kincaid, I don't really know anything about him so you'll have to come up with your own thoughts. Of course, the big question we all have is will Triple H appear and do a big crowd warm-up 'we are NXT' speech? I hope so, who doesn't pop for those every, damn, time?

Article By Jozef Raczka (@NotJoeRaczka)

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