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NXT TakeOver 31 preview - Calling an Audible


NXT TakeOver 31 waltzes into our lives tonight (Oct. 4) from the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida. We’ve already made our predictions for the event, which you can check out here.

We’ll break down the matches and also ask what’s really at stake for each one (going beyond just the gold on the line in four of them). But first I want to talk about how we got here.

Calling an Audible

This card was not the plan coming out of TakeOver XXX a little over a month ago.

That show ended with Karrion Kross claiming the gold after defeating Keith Lee. Kross’ rise had been fast, earning a major title shot within six months of debuting while presented as an unstoppable force. Knowing the way NXT books their promotion, he was probably going to be champion for a long time.

But the best laid plans of mice and men...

Unfortunately, Kross injured his shoulder during that title match and had to relinquish the title the very next Wednesday, forcing NXT to tear up their outline for the next few months and come up with something new.

They ended up doing a great job of it.

William Regal announced a four way Iron Man match, a new twist on an old classic, between the four long standing men in NXT: Tommaso Ciampa, Johnny Gargano, Finn Bálor, and Adam Cole (they had to suddenly turn Ciampa back to a vicious heel because his babyface character was wracking up a lot of losses and didn’t really deserve a title opportunity). That match went to a tie with Cole and Bálor and they settled it the next week, with Finn winning the championship.

Luckily, NXT had continued to present Finn as a top guy throughout his return to the brand. He took minimal losses, and even if he wasn’t featured, he was always booked as a top guy. That paid dividends. They were able to put the vacant title on someone who hadn’t held it in a long time but at the same time, did not need any building to get there.

Their quick work didn’t stop there because they had to find Bálor a challenger fast given the short turnaround between TakeOvers. Creative opted for a match that would give some new blood the chance to earn an NXT title opportunity. In another new concept, this one the Gauntlet Eliminator, Kyle O’Reilly, Timothy Thatcher, Kushida, Cameron Grimes, and Bronson Reed battled it out with O’Reilly the last man standing to become #1 contender.

Given how quickly they had to get there, NXT did a very good job getting fans interested in Kyle vs. Finn. O’Reilly may be a tag guy, but his talent in the ring is undeniable, making it easy to believe he can fight for the promotion’s top prize. He’s new blood so they could avoid another title match for Cole, Gargano, or Ciampa. And it feeds into the uncertainty regarding the future of Undisputed.

They were able to take advantage of work they did prior, in this case protecting Finn Bálor’s character since his return, and identify an untapped singles talent in Kyle O’Reilly to give us an exciting title match on short notice.

Surely, some of these matches were probably the plan for this TakeOver, such as the North American title match or Dream vs. Kushida, but the top men’s title match was definitely an audible. With such an important match on the card, they did a damn good job coming up with a new plan.

Now let’s take a look at the show.

Finn Bálor (c) vs. Kyle O’Reilly for the NXT championship

As we covered, this was the audible coming out of Karrion Kross’ injury.

William Regal booked a fatal four way Iron Man Match with Adam Cole, Finn Bálor, Tommaso Ciampa, and Johnny Gargano. It ended tied between Cole and Bálor so they had a match the following week to decide things. Finn won.

Then Regal booked a Gauntlet Eliminator (a fatal 5-way elimination match where the participants entered every 4 minutes) between Kyle O’Reilly, Kushida, Bronson Reed, Timothy Thatcher, & Cameron Grimes. O’Reilly won that.

That set up our title match, with Kyle getting his first NXT title shot against a man who’s one of the longest reigning champions of all time.

What’s at stake?

The future of Undisputed ERA

There’s little doubt that Finn Bálor is winning this match. So the big question really focuses on Kyle’s relationship with Undisputed ERA and how competing for the men’s top prize can alter the power dynamics within the group.

Right now, Adam Cole is effusive in his praise for Kyle. He’s been very vocal in his support for O’Reilly. But would he really be okay with KOR possibly taking his leadership role?

Then there’s the fact that O’Reilly is less villainous as of late, which could cause issues with those in the group who still embrace those ways.

This is where the drama lies. Not with the finish but with the future of NXT’s most dominant group.


Io Shirai (c) vs. Candice LeRae for the NXT Women’s championship

Given the quick turn around between TakeOvers, there isn’t much meat to this feud (that can be said about most of the matches that had to be made within the month between TakeOvers, one of the flaws of this show).

Candice LeRae won a battle royal to become #1 contender for Io Shirai’s championship. LeRae eliminated Shotzi Blackheart at the end of the match to win the spot.

On the go home show, Candice and Johnny Gargano defeated Io and Damian Priest.

While the build has been short, there is a history between the two women. In fact, when Io Shirai turned heel (which is still the foundation of this current character), it was at the expense of Candice LeRae. They had a match that could be considered the breakout performance for both women at TakeOver: Toronto last year. So while there isn’t much build up to this match, the history is there now, though with the roles reversed.

What’s at stake?

Candice’s standing

Prior to Tegan Nox’s unfortunate injury, the thinking was Candice would lose this match, but it would play into her simmering feud with Tegan. That would protect LeRae and kick that feud into high guy.

But now with Nox out of action for a long time, there’s no one to help cushion the likely inevitable loss for Candice. Taking a squeaky clean loss to Io will hurt the Poison Pixie’s character a bit.

It’s possible they slot Shotzi Blackheart into the role Tegan was going to play. Shotzi and Tegan have been established friends, even teaming once to challenge for the Women’s tag team championships. Blackheart could try to avenger her friend, who was written off TV by a LeRae attack, and give the Poison Pixie an immediate feud to focus on after her loss.


Damian Priest (c) vs. Johnny Gargano for the North American championship

The last two men on the ladder during the TakeOver XXX ladder match for the vacant North American title were Damian Priest and Johnny Gargano. With little time between the two shows, William Regal booked these guys in a title match.

As mentioned in regards to the women’s match, the Garganos teamed against Priest and Io Shirai last week and the happy couple were the ones left standing.

What’s at stake?

Gargano’s path

Despite playing a new heel character, and doing it quite well, Johnny has felt overexposed in NXT to the point where even a new version of his character feels stale. And he doesn’t win big feuds often so it’s tougher to see him as a threat.

Once again, he’s likely not going to win here. What then? How many losses can this version of the character take before they have to find another new wrinkle to attempt to keep him fresh?


Velveteen Dream vs. Kushida

Velveteen Dream returned to NXT in a triple threat match between him, Kushida, and Cameron Grimes. The winner would be added to the TakeOver XXX ladder match to crown a new North American champion. Grimes won, pinning Kushida, and Dream was pissed.

He unloaded on Kushida, beating the hell out of him for costing him the match (Dream would eventually qualify in a second chance match).

Kushida was tired of it and later returned to beat the ever loving tar out of Velveteen. I mean it was a beating.

The new aggressive style would stick and Kushy would go on a win streak. But that would come to a halt in the Gauntlet Eliminator when Velveteen Dream would get his revenge, attacking Kushida and forcing his elimination.

What’s at stake?

Velveteen Dream blowback

There’s no doubt that there’s a section of fans who really don’t want to see Velveteen Dream on their TV screens. After allegations of inappropriate behavior regarding minors during the #SpeakingOut movement, some vocal fans don’t care to see him at all. Those fans have made it into the ThunderDome. Triple H has had to field questions about him multiple times. So it’s not something that’s just disappearing like they’d hope.

There’s no doubt NXT is still behind Velveteen as they continue to feature him. Winning, which would be another step back for a liked Kushida, isn’t going to help matters. Not to say those who don’t want to see Dream right now are going to be OK with it all if he loses, but a victory certainly isn’t going to help matters.

Santos Escobar (c) vs. Isaiah “Swerve” Scott for the Cruiserweight championship

Back in the Interim Cruiserweight title tournament, Isaiah “Swerve” Scott was the only man to pin eventual winner Santos Escobar (still wrestling as El Hijo del Fantasma). Because of that, it put Swerve at the front of the line.

Isaiah already came up short in a title shot in a match where Santos won by head butting Scott with a loaded luchador mask. But Swerve received another chance and here we are.

What’s at stake?

The depth of the division

If Santos wins, and I think he will, NXT will have to find someone else to face the champion. It would be tough to argue that Scott deserves a third shot no matter how they finish things here. Right now, Santos and Swerve are the Crusierweight division on NXT (“Division” may not even be the right term because they just pull guys from the roster who fit the weight limit as needed). Finding another challenger for Escobar could help actually establish some members of the NXT Cruiserweight division on Wednesday nights.

TakeOver 31 airs tomorrow night at 7 PM ET on the WWE Network. What will you be looking for when TakeOver rolls your way?

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