NXT's live specials have become the stuff of legend. The last one, TakeOver: Dallas, was universally praised - anchored by a once-in-a-lifetime bout between a departing Sami Zayn and a debuting Shinsuke Nakamura.
A lot of fans seem to be down on The End... before it even begins, and it certainly has both a tough act to follow and a somewhat depleted arsenal with which to do it. In addition to being the first show without any of the vaunted Four Horsewomen on it, NXT has transitioned to a new head writer this year and figures to be on the brink of even more changes with the impending main roster brand split.
Despite those challenges, there are still a lot of talented folks and interesting stories going on in NXT right now. We won't know until later how the eleventh NXT live special measures up to its predecessors, but we can start getting ready for the show by looking at how we got here.
Match by match.
Samoa Joe (c) vs. Finn Bálor - Steel Cage match for the NXT championship
For an unprecedented third straight TakeOver, these two men will headline. Given their feud is blazing a new trail already, it's fitting they'll also make history by being the first match in NXT history held in a steel cage.
After starting out with a fairly conventional story - the two friends partnered up to win the Dusty Rhodes Classic Tag Team Tournament before Joe's desire to take the singles gold Bálor held for longer than anyone else overtook him - their program has taken an innovative path to this, their fourth battle of major import. Finn successfully defeated the Ring of Honor and TNA veteran in London and Dallas, but the Samoan Submission Machine (and the booking team) shocked the world at a house show in Lowell, Massachusetts.
Not only did the belt change hands on a non-televised event, but the action which prompted General Manager William Regal to introduce the cage stipulation did as well. A tour-ending, locker room-clearing, pull-apart brawl broke out between the champ and challenger in Portland, Oregon, so Regal posted their contract signing for this show on Facebook and put a steel fence around the ring to protect the fans at Full Sail and the rest of the locker room from the destruction they're sure to leave in their wake.
It'll be tough to top the brutality of their Dallas affair, where Joe was busted open early on - and even before there was blood everywhere, the story being told involved The Demon barely escaping with his title and his life. But they've actually succeeded in making what felt like a played-out pairing feel fresh thanks to a great build, which revisited the current champ's claim all this could have been avoided if his friend had gone to bat for him and demanded a match between them last Fall.
There's plenty of 'real' world intrigue, as well. Both men are more than ready to shine on Raw and SmackDown if given the chance, and the upcoming brand split means they could get that call - win or lose. As his old mates Karl Anderson & Luke Gallows from New Japan are by now established in WWE, fans are watching for signs of a heel turn for Bálor more than ever. That the Irishman has been sporting his leather jacket, rock-n-rolla look without mention of his demonic face paint fuels speculation a Bullet Club reunion could be on the horizon. Or, if he does show up in costume, his undefeated streak as The Demon is suddenly in play.
For the first time in a long time, the men's title bout has a ton of pressure on it to carry the show. Bálor and Joe are certainly capable. We'll know soon if they can end a long feud of varying quality on a high note, and help The End... keep the tradition of great TakeOvers alive.
Nia Jax vs. Asuka (c) - Women's championship match
This probably hasn't gone the way Triple H and team hoped it would.
The Empress of Tomorrow is still undefeated in singles action, but hasn't exactly been embraced by fans as the champ. We still want to see her take people's heads off and stuff, sure, but we're keeping a healthy distance lest the next head she takes is ours. You can't trust someone who'd choke out our beloved Hugster, after all.
It's all well and good, but combined with finally hitting the limits of how far you can go with a killer smile in lieu of a promo, it's not quite up to par for a title which had become every bit the equal of (or even greater than) the men's title.
Our monster heel, on the other hand, has lost - to the woman Asuka beat. They've done great work rebuilding Nia, and having her be the one person on the roster who isn't afraid of the Japanese star is key. But there's a disconnect that fans who pay close attention to these things (aka 95% of NXT's base) are having trouble reconciling.
Throw in the Jax is both green and limited, while Asuka hasn't shown Bayley's skill at carrying those kinds of performers to standout performances, and, well, folks are concerned.
But Nia definitely has progressed over the last six months, and was a key part of a strong Triple Threat which she won to earn this title shot. And TakeOvers benefit from lots of planning and the opportunity to practice on house shows and at the Performance Center. For those reasons, this one has a loud minority touting it as a potential surprise.
Either way, the winner (and maybe the loser, too) would seem to have a date in Brooklyn with the most popular performer in NXT on the horizon.
The Revival vs. American Alpha (c) - Tag Team championship match
There are two shames about the program which has developed between Chad Gable & Jason Jordan and Dash & Dawson.
1) That either team has to lose.
2) That their showing in Dallas, where American Alpha defeated The Revival for the belts, wasn't as good as the rematches they've been running at house shows over the last two months.
Tonight will be their chance to rectify the latter (sadly, there's not much that can be done about the former).
Story-wise, there's not much reason to think we'll see a title change here. Gable & Jordan are undefeated since winning the titles, including an impressive win over the now main roster hotshots Enzo Amore & Big Cass. Meanwhile, The Revival can't really catch a break. They're not without victories, but with their eyes set only on regaining the championship, they'll fallen victim to upsets and seem to do as much violence after matches as during them.
Like the men's title participants, this is another bout where one or both teams could move up to a main roster which might soon have two sets of tag titles to award to guys.
Dash, Dawson and the men of American Alpha would just settle for stealing the show.
Austin Aries vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
What we have here is your standard "veteran performers battling for respect" set-up.
It worked spectacularly well when Nakamura went one-on-one with Sami Zayn WrestleMania weekend. Will lightning strike twice?
Even Austin Aries' biggest fans have been kind of underwhelmed by the Greatest Man Who Ever Lived's run in NXT thus far. It hasn't helped that he hasn't been given a whole lot to do yet, either. In building to this - via a tag match and subsequent promo battle where each man declared their intention to win a NXT title shot - we've certainly seen a more confident swagger from A-Double. And maybe even some hints of a turn.
Will that be enough to take down Swagsuke himself? It seems unlikely WWE would want to pin a loss on a potential main roster cash cow like the former New Japan star so soon - especially at the hands of an undersized worker they've passed on a couple times in the past. But they do appear open to turning their history and treatment of Aries into an angle, which might be more interesting than a win.
Delivering a match with the feel of Nak's bout in Big D would be a major success for both men. We'll hope for that, and know we'll at least get two kick-ass entrance themes in the bargain.
Tye Dillinger vs. Andrade "Cien" Almas
Unclear why NXT is hiding the face of a man who's been working house shows and gracing their social media outlets for months, but there's probably more suspense around the televised character of the luchador once known as La Sombra than there is about the outcome of this match.
Dillinger has seen his stock rise considerably recently. Always a steady hand, his Perfect Ten gimmick has gained enough popularity that he's had to work really hard to get any kind of heel reaction - in Florida or on the road. While it seems really unlikely he'll pick up a win at The End..., it's possible the recently-renamed Almas' Twitter references to his old CMLL/New Japan stable Los Ingobernables mean he could be debuting as a rudo.
A loss in that scenario could then be the start of a big babyface push for Tye. WWE has been clear they have big plans for Andrade. Dillinger gets a chance to force them to create some bigger ones for him tonight.
That's our rundown of what should be a fun night of pro wrestling... however it ends up measuring up to the ten events which preceded it. Check out yesterday's predictions post for more opinions on how the action might unfold.
Can Joe & Finn bring their long rivalry to a satisfying close? Who will leave with the Women's and Tag titles? Can Aries/Nakamura follow Zayn/Nakamura?
Let us know what you think about those questions or anything on the The End... card below!