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NXT TakeOver: Phoenix preview - Long form storytelling

NXT is back tomorrow (Jan. 26) with TakeOver: Phoenix, emanating from the Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Arizona, another highly anticipated TakeOver show. (Aren’t they all at this point?) We’ve already made our predictions and you can find those here.

Now it’s time to look at the card. We’ll run down the matches, discuss the main roster implications, and then for a little fun, make an outrageous prediction that won’t happen. But first, I want to touch on something that’s making an already good NXT better:

Longer form storytelling

TakeOvers are in a bit of different spot now than they used to be. It used to be the main event was a rotating door of developmental graduates destined for the main roster who would lose the title to the next person at the top until they move up.

But the last year, the main event has been consistent. The story between Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano has been unfolding for over a year now. It’s still going strong with twists and turns to keep it interesting. The last “graduate” Aleister Black has a title match tonight that makes sense in this long story.

It’s a different look that allows NXT to tell long-term stories, while allowing the show to feel less like developmental and more like a complete brand. It’s something that affects the top matches and stories of this TakeOver and the promotion as a whole.

Shayna Baszler has already lost and won the title and instead of sending her up, they added Jessamyn Duke and Marina Shafir to make her even more dominant, giving the women’s division a difficult challenge to overcome. Then you have Adam Cole, who debuted a year and a half ago and is still running strong as the popular leader of the heel Undisputed ERA faction. He may not be on this card himself, but two members of the ERA are, continuing to play the villain stable that’s tough to overcome.

Keeping these staples of NXT around longer ironically keeps the product fresher, allowing creative to change up their storytelling formula and adding a level of unpredictability that wasn’t there prior.

Now let’s break this bad boy down.

Tommaso Ciampa (c) vs. Aleister Black for the NXT championship

This is a prime example of NXT’s newer formula.

Aleister Black has been champion. He won it last spring from Andrade “Cien” Almas. But then he lost it to Tommaso Ciampa, because Ciampa’s enemy Johnny Gargano interfered and it went horribly awry.

This led to a planned triple threat match between the three men. But a Johnny Gargano descending into some madness attacked Black, taking him out of the match. It became a one-on-one match where Tommaso was victorious.

The Aleister attack was to cover for an actual injury, but instead of returning on the main roster like Drew McIntyre did after losing the title, they worked it into the story. It’s a rematch that doesn’t feel like the obligatory rematches which would lame duck main event TakeOvers past.

When Black came back, full of rage, he set his sights first on Johnny. They had a match at TakeOver: WarGames where Black was victorious. Then he finally turned his focus to the man who beat him for the title. But Johnny Gargano still could be an issue, which we’ll look at in a bit when discussing Gargano’s match with Ricochet.

This will be Aleister’s first rematch for the title.

Main Roster Implications:

If Aleister loses, he may be finally on that path we discussed above. That could be the end of his story here. Having feuded with most of the prominent acts in NXT, when his time in the Gargano/Ciampa story is finished, that could be the end of his run on Wednesday nights.

They’ve announced six people moving to the main roster so that may slow down the ascension of someone like Black. But unless they find a way to keep him in this blood feud between Johnny and Tommaso, there’s not much really left for him.

Outrageous Prediction:

Johnny Gargano, the crazy sonuva bitch, interferes in the match since he’s still laser focused on Ciampa in one sense or another. When he does, the man he faced earlier in the night, Ricochet, tries to stop him. In a rare move, William Regal turns this into an impromptu fatal 4-way match with Ricochet walking out NXT champion.

Shayna Baszler (c) vs. Bianca Belair for the NXT women’s championship

Shayna Baszler has proved her dominance in NXT. Yes, her record isn’t spotless. She’s taken losses to Ember Moon and Kairi Sane in her time on the yellow brand. But at the same time, she got those wins back, plus picked up wins over folks like Nikki Cross as well.

Because Sane proved a tougher challenge, the champ recruited two other Horsewoman, Jessamyn Duke and Marina Shafir, to help her win and retain her title. Shayna was dangerous before. With these two, she could be unstoppable.

Enter Bianca Belair.

The EST of NXT is Un-de-fea-ted and finally has a shot at the gold. And unlike most of Shayna’s opponents, she shows zero fear. She has as much confidence and bravado as Baszler if not more.

She won the right to challenge for the belt in a Fatal 4-way against Lacey Evans, Io Shirai, and Mia Yim. She’s only had one face-to-face with the champ since then, but in that moment, she was not impressed with Baszler. Bianca knows she’s the best and isn’t scared of the champ or her henchwomen.

Now we find out if such confidence can overcome a dominant champion and two women on the outside looking to affect the outcome. It should be a great clash of characters.

Main Roster Implications:

Shayna being a Horsewoman, there’s always the chance they call her up, perhaps even with Duke and Shafir to eventually build that Horsewomen vs. Horsewomen feud. But I don’t think that’s going to happen until well after WrestleMania. And I expect Shayna’s run to go longer than tonight.

I suppose they can fast track Bianca to the main roster, but I expect this to be a feud that continues, no matter the outcome.

Outrageous Prediction:

To get some revenge on a woman who actually held their own against her on Twitter, and to stick it to Ronda Rousey, Becky Lynch gets involved to help even the odds when Duke and Shafir get involved. The even score allows Bianca to win the title.

As pay back, Baszler costs Becky the following night against Asuka, freeing up Lynch to win the Royal Rumble to challenge Shayna’s buddy Ronda.

Ricochet (c) vs. Johnny Gargano for the North American title

It all happened in a steel cage with a brief reunion of the most unlikely of allies.

Johnny Gargano was facing off with his nemesis Aleister Black (after losing to him at the last TakeOver). Ciampa, who was already scheduled to defend his title against Black, slammed the cage door in the face of his future challenger.

Then, in a wild moment, Ciampa and Gargano delivered their knee/superkick tandem finish. Gargano covered the #1 contender for the 1-2-3.

Ciampa knew that this could mean Johnny is back in the title conversation so he made the suggestion that Gargano challenge Ricochet for his North American title. While Johnny made it clear that he has no love lost for Tommaso, he didn’t like Ricochet’s initial response to the idea. That was enough for him to set his eyes on the secondary title.

Last Wednesday, we learned that the #DIY reunion was not a one-off. A brawl between Gargano and Ricochet ended up morphing into another case of Tommaso and Johnny helping each other. While this isn’t a full reunion still, it is a shadow hanging over both men’s title matches. Both Ricochet and Aleister Black have to keep the idea of interference from their opponent’s former partner in the back of their head.

Main Roster Implications:

I can’t imagine either man is headed to the main roster too soon. Johnny’s story with Tommaso is not yet done. And Ricochet likely has a main title run in the yellow brand ahead of him. He’ll eventually make major waves on the main roster, but I don’t think it’s in our immediate future.

Outrageous Prediction:

Candice LeRae interferes on behalf of her husband to help him win the title, her thought process being that she will play the role of evil guide to Johnny so he doesn’t turn to Tommaso as he continues to figure out who he is.

Undisputed ERA (Kyle O’Reilly & Roderick Strong) vs. the War Raiders (Hanson and Rowe)

It feels like this has been destined since the Raiders debuted on the pre-show at TakeOver: New Orleans. Despite other tag teams already in place, as soon as they arrived on the scene, the Raiders felt like the true top contenders.

They already challenged for the titles on an episode of NXT, but the ERA got themselves disqualified when Bobby Fish returned and revealed himself as completely healthy. They haven’t had a rematch since.

Since that loss, we don’t know if the Raiders have any plans to neutralize Adam Cole and Bobby Fish if necessary. They were able to beat them up 4-on-2 in a brawl weeks back, but that’s different. They should have a plan in order to make sure it’s two-on-two, whether it is convincing William Regal to ban the other members from ringside or enlisting help of their own.

Main Roster Implications:

Honestly, we’re likely not looking at any here, despite whomever wins and loses. They already set up an Adam Cole/Velveteen Dream feud last Wednesday. And if the ERA moves to the main roster, it’ll be as a unit. It’s not like the main roster is looking for more tag teams for their logjam.

Expect both these acts in Full Sail at least through the first half of this year.

Outrageous Prediction:

In order to even the numbers games, Rowe reaches out to his wife Sarah Logan and recruits the Riott Squad to neutralize the extra members of Undisputed. Honestly, I just want to see Ruby Riott kick the hell out of Cole while O’Reilly acts extremely confused by Liv Morgan.

Matt Riddle vs. Kassius Ohno

Kassius Ohno was tired of the new hot act coming into NXT and taking the spotlight. So he aimed to change that.

After a fairly decent winning streak for Ohno, he told William Regal that he wanted to face the shiniest new toy and that was former MMA fighter and indie sensation Matt Riddle. The Bro, who doesn’t play by the rules, opted to not wait around and called Kassius out at the last TakeOver. Ohno accepted... and got knocked out by a knee immediately.

Utterly humiliated, he ended up getting a rematch. While he did better this next time, he still lost. After the match, Riddle offered his fist as a sign of respect... and Ohno kicked the holy hell out of him.

Because the attack left him unable to compete for a few weeks, Riddle’s buddy Keith Lee stepped up and challenged the veteran. However, Ohno isn’t above cheating to win. When the referee took a bump and couldn’t see, Kassius hit Lee with a low blow and then the elbow for the win.

This infuriated a usually chill Bro, who stormed to the ring despite agents trying to hold him back. Ohno bailed before Riddle could get to him.

And now, they do it a third time.

Main Roster Implications:

None. While I can see Riddle being a quick call up, it won’t be this quick. There are too many good feuds for him in NXT to explore. And Ohno probably won’t see the main roster and instead act as player/coach in developmental.

Outrageous Prediction:

Kassius Ohno wins. Really, of all wild scenarios, that would be the one that’d surprise me most.

NXT TakeOver: Phoenix airs tomorrow (Saturday, Jan. 26) from the Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Arizona. We’ll have all our usual coverage, including a live blog.

Who’s excited? And let us know your outrageous predictions below!

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