Samoa Joe (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
It took the champ a long time to get the belt. Will it be taken away from him by a charismatic newcomer in just his second pay-per-view (PPV) defense?
The Road to TakeOver
Joe went through a lot to finally possess the NXT title. Just ask him, he’ll tell you. And in the wonderful way this brand often constructs its angles, everything he lists when complaining about his road to the belt will also be 100% true.
In the year since his arrival, the former Ring of Honor and TNA champion has done everything asked of him. He saved Sami Zayn from Kevin Owens. He teamed with Finn Bálor to enter the tournament honoring NXT’s departed patriarch, Dusty Rhodes.
It still wasn’t enough to earn him a chance to face Finn for the title. So he fought in a battle royal and defeated Zayn one-on-one. Yes, he came up short against Bálor at two straight TakeOver events, and still earned another opportunity at a house show in Lowell, Mass., but it’s not Joe’s fault William Regal couldn’t produce any other contenders.
When he finally claimed the belt that night in New England, then defended it in NXT’s first ever steel cage match, the Samoan Submission Machine thought he’d finally earned the respect of WWE officials, and specifically NXT’s General Manager.
And maybe he did. But he was always going to end up facing the prized free agent from New Japan, even before Shinsuke Nakamura electrified the WWE Universe - and Joe’s sense of entitlement rubbed Regal the wrong way.
With wins over Zayn, Austin Aries and Bálor, Nakamura has had an impactful four and a half months in WWE. That résumé alone would qualify him for a championship match, but combined with the way fas have responded to his unique swagger, this showdown was a no brainer for Regal.
But the General Manager has appeared to be subtly working against Joe, even within his justifiably making the match. Women’s champion Asuka was consulted before Bayley’s rematch was approved. NXT officials held the champ in place while Shinsuke was allowed to mock and tease him during a recent staredown - one the King of Strong Style instigated by walking to the ring after Joe’s match.
The combination of what the champ perceives as disrespect from both challenger and authority figure is definitely getting to him, as his fit of temper at this week’s contract signing demonstrated. Can he keep it together long enough to defeat a man who has yet to experience defeat in WWE?
What's at Stake?
Like the co-main event these men will likely have to try and follow, neither Joe or Nak needs to be in NXT. Hell, a good argument could be made that both men shouldn’t be anywhere other than the main roster.
But Finn and Bayley have established a legacy for champions as standard bearers of what Triple H will tell you is "the hottest brand in wrestling", and that’s the mantle Joe is looking to claim with a win in Brooklyn. If he can defeat Swagsuke, we can probably expect him to sit atop NXT for the bulk of 2016.
Many argued that Nakamura never should have been in NXT in the first place... that he’s wasted in anything other larger arenas with the biggest names in the business. While he’s definitely incrementally grown his fan base while helping the feeder promotion through a transition period, it’s hard to dispute.
Would Vince McMahon and company delay his main roster run further in order to call him a former (or current?) NXT champion when he arrives on Raw or SmackDown? It wasn’t a rub AJ Styles needed, but it’s difficult to impossible to predict WWE’s thinking on these matters sometimes.
Either way, capping off what’s been a quietly well-developed feud with a barnburner of a match on SummerSlam weekend would be a feather in both mens’ caps - and should be what we see this Saturday.
See it along with the best pro wrestling community on the internet, right here at cSs!