NXT returns tomorrow night (Dec. 6) with their fourth annual TakeOver: WarGames special. We’ve already made our predictions for the event, which you can check out here.
Here, we’ll break down the matches and also ask what’s really at stake for each one. But first, we look at the nature of yearly gimmick PPVs, how they’re tough to book, and how NXT has done a very good job with it.
An Impressive Feat
Honestly, NXT’s handling of the yearly WarGames special is pretty damn impressive.
One thing I really dislike about WWE are their multiple, yearly gimmick pay-per-views. For example, every October, there are going to be multiple Hell in a Cell matches because they have a pay-per-view called Hell in a Cell. So every fall, they try to shoehorn various feuds into the match. Sometimes, they succeed in booking a program that deserves the stipulation, but often, they don’t. In essence, they paint themselves into a corner with gimmick shows like that.
Given the difficulty a yearly gimmick special poses, NXT’s success with WarGames is quite the feat.
Despite this being their fourth WarGames themed event, none of this year’s matches feel forced. They started planting the seeds for the men’s WarGames match all the way back with Adam Cole’s feud with Pat McAfee at TakeOver: XXX, but really put this plan into motion at the very end of TakeOver 31. It’s a story that’s been in the works for awhile.
They unveiled Pat’s team of Oney Lorcan, Danny Burch, and Pete Dunne over a number of weeks before announcing the WarGames show. That way, all the pieces were well in place when William Regal shouted “WARGAMES!”
The women’s match doesn’t have the history that the men’s does, but their division is so active that it was easy to put the parts together. They started with the personal issues between Candice LeRae and Shotzi Blackheart and then tasked them to build their teams. Because of existing issues between the women (a benefit of booking such a robust scene), and a smart Toni Storm heel turn to shake things up, this match has the chance to kill with the talent involved.
It’ll be much harder to keep things fresh when they run two of these matches tomorrow. Last year, they booked a big heel turn in the women’s WarGames match, leaving the babyfaces down two. It made that match unique compared to the men’s match.
They can’t do that exact same thing this year, but hopefully they find something to separate both matches thematically. They figured it out last year. They’ve been willing to get creative with the match (the first year, they had a triple threat WarGames). Let’s hope they figure it out yet again tonight.
Now, onto the card.
Rhea Ripley, Ember Moon, Io Shirai, & Shotzi Blackheart vs. Candice LeRae, Toni Storm, Dakota Kai, & Raquel González in WarGames
The issues between Shotzi Blackheart and Candice LeRae that led to this match started back at the Halloween Havoc special.
In the main event of that match, Candice challenged Io Shirai for the Women’s title in a ladder match. Like her husband earlier in the night, Candice had a mystery individual in a Scream mask appear to help her try to climb the ladder and win the belt. Unfortunately, Halloween Havoc host Shotzi Blackheart wasn’t having it. She neutralized Ghostface (later revealed to be Indi Hartwell) and Io Shirai retained her title.
The Poison Pixie was obviously not happy and sought revenge on Blackheart. She stole Shotzi’s prized mini-tank and ran it over with a real-sized SUV.
The tank wasn’t just a prop to Blackheart. It represents who she is and serves as a nod to the military members of her family. LeRae had gone too far. When WarGames was booked, these two were tapped to captain the two women’s teams to settle their personal issues.
The rest of the teams took shape over the next few weeks. Toni Storm took up Shotzi’s cause and because of that, she and Ember Moon were targeted by LeRae and Indi Hartwell. This took place after Moon and Storm defeated Dakota Kai (who had already been feuding with Ember) and Raquel González. Kai and González joined in the beat down, solidifying what looked to be LeRae’s WarGames team.
However, that was shaken up a week later. Storm switched sizes, betraying Moon and joining Candice’s team. Indi was off the team (selling a neck injury brought on by an Eclipse) and Toni was in.
Ember was a lock for Shotzi’s team, but that left two spots. Those came together at the end of the road to WarGames.
A week after Rhea Ripley failed to defeat Io Shirai for the Women’s title in an incredible main event, she was set to address her future. Before she got too far, Candice interrupted, revealing that her team of bad gals attacked Io Shirai backstage.
Rhea went to Shotzi’s workshop, where she crafts her tools for war, to join the team. Io waited until the advantage ladder match this past Wednesday to aid Team Blackheart to a rare babyface WarGames advantage to join them.
What’s at stake?
Io Shirai’s next feud
All of the top women are in this match and afterwards, they’ll all break off and feud with each other. Who feuds with Women’s champ Io Shirai after this is the big question.
While there can always another turncoat on Shotzi’s team, it’s more likely that Io’s next challenger comes from the heel side. That woman will either pick up an elusive pinfall on the champ or neutralize her in a way that sparks a title program. Most likely, it’ll be Toni Storm given Dakota Kai and Candice LeRae have recent failed attempts to the win the title. But the way they’re building Raquel González, she’s a very possible option as well.
Undisputed ERA (Bobby Fish, Roderick Strong, Kyle O’Reilly, & Adam Cole) vs. Pat McAfee, Pete Dunne, Danny Burch, & Oney Lorcan
Pat McAfee didn’t just go away.
After proving his wrestling chops in a losing effort to Adam Cole at TakeOver XXX, McAfee didn’t just return to his radio show, having gotten his fill of pro wrestling. Instead, he plotted.
It took a while to see his works come into play, but when they did, they proved that McAfee doesn’t just have a natural talent for wrestling or cutting a promo. He also has an innate ability to scheme.
The fruits of his labor started to appear at TakeOver: 31. After Kyle O’Reilly failed to win the NXT title from Finn Bálor in the main event, Ridge Holland appeared ringside with a lifeless Adam Cole.
Days later, Holland implied that he was paid to do so, showing off his new Mercedes. Unfortunately, during a brawl with Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch, the former Rugby player sustained brutal injuries to both legs. Those will surely keep him out for a long time.
The following week, ERA was scheduled to challenge Breezango for the tag team championships. But both Bobby Fish and Roderick Strong were mysteriously attacked backstage. Kyle O’Reilly opted not to find a different partner and instead went to be with his friends in the hospital.
Lorcan & Burch stepped into the match and, with the help of Pat McAfee, cheated to win the titles from Breezango. This was the initial reveal, but it wasn’t everything.
Pete Dunne returned as a member of Pat’s team, luring Kyle O’Reilly in and then attacking.
Undisputed were out of action for weeks, which allowed McAfee’s Kings of NXT to run wild on the place. Finally, the ERA returned to set up this match. McAfee’s crew has the WarGames advantage because Pete Dunne defeated Kyle O’Reilly in a ladder match.
What’s at stake?
Undisputed are having a bit of a crisis. For the first time ever, someone played their own game against them. And you can maybe argue, McAfee did it better. The ERA should have smelled this coming but they were caught completely off guard.
Yes, they returned motivated, but their confidence is shaken. They spent the days before the big match discussing how to get back on track.
This is still their match to lose. Pat McAfee is talented, but he’s can’t be expected to pull his own weight in this match. Undisputed have been in every WarGames match. On the other side, only Pete Dunne has been in one.
So what if they lose? What if Adam, Kyle, Roddy, and Bobby lose a match they have no business losing? If they feel they’re a bit lost now, that could utterly destroy them.
Damian Priest vs. Leon Ruff (c) vs. Johnny Gargano for the North American championship
Damian Priest and Johnny Gargano have been feuding since Damian won the vacant North American title back at TakeOver XXX. But this current chapter really started at Halloween Havoc.
Gargano challenged Priest in a Spin the Wheel, Make the Deal match for the title. While Johnny had a professed, deep hatred for wheels, this time, they came through for him.
The wheel landed on a Devil’s Playground match, which was in essence Falls Count Anywhere. The men battled around the Halloween decorated Capitol Wrestling Center prior to ending on the balcony with one of the Havoc wheels. When Johnny looked to be cooked, a mysterious individual wearing a Scream mask attacked the champion with a pipe. Gargano followed up with a Hurricane DDT (using the wheel for momentum) and then hit Priest in the head with one of the decorative tombstones for good measure. That was enough to earn him the title.
Unfortunately for Johnny, he has a bad string of luck defending his title. As in he’s never successfully defended a singles title in NXT. So he turned to a wheel, which had a complete change of opinion regarding, to decide his first opponent. The wheel was clearly rigged, landing on enhancement talent Leon Ruff for his first match.
But the wheel once against betrayed Johnny, and Ruff scored a massive upset victory over the champion. Damian Priest was watching in the audience, but did not interfere in the match or really cause a distraction enough to impact the match. This was just an upset.
However, Damian got very involved in Johnny’s rematch, punching Ruff to get Gargano disqualified. But this had the unintended side effect of pissing off the former Evolve standout.
Ruff has no desire to be a paper champion. If he’s going to lose, then he’s going to lose. So be it. He didn’t want help and he was insulted that Priest thought this was a joke. The champ boldly told Regal “I’ll fight both of them.” And the GM made it happen.
The last couple of weeks, we’ve seen these Ghostfaces (yes, plural) return, after Indi had revealed herself as one of them. This means Gargano likely has other people ready to aid him. That will likely be a big factor in this match.
What’s at stake?
The future of the masked man/men.
I could easily say that Leon Ruff’s future is at stake, but even though I don’t think he’s winning, I think he’ll be OK. He and Priest defeated two members of Legado del Fantasma last Wednesday and I can see Ruff eventually working a program with the Cruiserweight champion.
I’m more curious who is under these masks for Johnny. Austin Theory is a good possibility for one of them. He “quit” NXT awhile ago when the frustration of constantly losing got to him. Maybe he feels the Gargano Way is the means to victory.
Velveteen Dream has once again disappeared, though I think that’s once again NXT hoping more time will lessen the backlash he gets from a number of fans whenever he’s on TV. Moving to Gargano stooge would be an overall downgrade from his general spot on the card.
Or maybe they debut someone new, giving a rookie talent a prominent introductory role.
Dexter Lumis vs. Cameron Grimes in a Strap Match
This program started months back when Dexter Lumis ignored Cameron Grimes backstage one week and Grimes attacked Lumis with a Cave In the week prior.
That set up a Haunted House of Terror match at Halloween Havoc, which was part cinematic at a haunted house full of NXT zombies and part in the CWC, still with zombies. Grimes lost but refused to leave it be, attacking Lumis once again a couple weeks later.
When their blindfold match didn’t have a winner, it led us to this strap match. This is a Lumis staple as he had one against Roderick Strong a while back as well.
What’s at stake?
Honestly, I don’t think there’s much on the line. Yes, if Dexter Lumis loses, it won’t be good for the man, but he’d recover. And I think chances are he wins anyway.
Grimes is the type of guy who can take these losses and be OK. It’ll be silly given these characters, but this one likely won’t leave many waves in NXT after it’s all said and done.
Tommaso Ciampa vs. Timothy Thatcher
There isn’t too much to this program. It’s a pretty recent one.
Now a babyface again, Ciampa had cut a recorded promo about how he didn’t care for the conduct of the locker room, how they’re not tough guys but guys who want to tell you how tough they are. That apparently included Timothy Thatcher because Ciampa stopped him from beating up August Grey, Tim’s former student that he just bested in a match.
The following week, Ciampa distracted Thatcher (by just sitting and watching - it was Thatcher’s fault more than Tommaso’s) causing Tim to lose to Kushida. Then on Wednesday, Ciampa tried to sneak up on Thatcher again but ended up laid out.
So here we are.
What’s at stake?
Thatcher’s spot on the card
Timothy Thatcher in general has been presented well, but still feels very midcard. His one big win was against Matt Riddle in the FIGHT PIT, but that was Riddle’s swan song before going to SmackDown. That actually lessened the win because we knew Riddle was going to be leaving, so it’s more that someone had to beat him.
Thatcher’s other big feud was against the current NXT champion (prior to his championship win), Finn Bálor, which he lost. He also has that loss to Kushida.
Another loss to a top talent will start to really cement Timothy as a middle of the card guy. A win over Tommaso could help move him up the card.
TakeOver: WarGames airs tomorrow night at 7 PM ET on the WWE Network. What will you be looking for when TakeOver rolls your way?