NXT returns tonight (Sept. 23) from Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida. They are building towards the still unnamed TakeOver on Oct. 4.
Advertised for tonight:
- Elimination Gauntlet match between Kushida, Kyle O’Reilly, Cameron Grimes, Timothy Thatcher, & Bronson Reed to become #1 contender to Finn Bálor’s title
- Women’s Battle Royal for the #1 contendership to Io Shirai’s title
- Tommaso Ciampa vs. Jake Atlas
As per usual, here are our five questions about NXT tonight:
1) Are we really doing Kyle O’Reilly: Babyface?
All signs point to Kyle O’Reilly becoming the babyface out of the Undisputed ERA. He hasn’t been down with the ERA’s standard dastardly tactics lately. He stopped Tommaso Ciampa’s blindside beatdown of Jake Atlas last week. He cut a babyface promo when he was added to tonight’s match.
This could work, but I’m surprised that they went this way. My guess was that Kyle was going to kick Adam Cole out of Undisputed, where Cole would be the babyface and O’Reilly the heel. It just felt more natural. The Panama City Playboy is a good heel, but he’s also really likable. Meanwhile, KOR feels like a more natural douche bad guy.
Now some of this is my own personal bias. While I’m a big fan of Kool Kyle now, there was a time I definitely was not. A combination of just not getting his appeal and an old story that got Davey Richards a bad rep but somehow didn’t get Kyle who was involved the same rep just had me disliking the guy. When he faced Adam Cole in ROH as the babyface, I personally couldn’t buy it. Of course, this wasn’t a problem since he came into NXT as a heel because I’m supposed to dislike the guy.
But as I said, I’ve become a big fan of O’Reilly watching him in NXT, so I am on board to see what they do with this, despite thinking he’s more naturally a heel. Tonight will be the first real step in really establishing him as a babyface.
2) Does Kyle get the nod?
Continuing with the KOR theme, does he win the match?
I think he does.
Timothy Thatcher just had a match with Finn Bálor at TakeOver: XXX. Bronson Reed, like Thatcher, still feels like he’s in the midcard/North American scene. Kushida’s feud is with Velveteen Dream (though I wouldn’t mind seeing this aggressive Kushida face Bálor). They’re high on Cameron Grimes, but that doesn’t feel like a big enough title match for a TakeOver.
I don’t think Kyle would beat Finn. That’s not likely at all. But it would accomplish a couple things.
It would establish O’Reilly as a singles star. A strong showing against the champion would immediately remove the idea that KOR is only a tag guy from fans’ minds. (It’d also be a fantastic match.)
This would also allow them to put the plan for KOR and maybe Adam Cole in motion. (My current guess is the plan is KOR vs. Cole but with Cole as the heel. However that’s not at all certain either since Adam has been playing the babyface himself since losing to Finn.) But whatever the plan for Kyle and the ERA is, the title match should kick it off.
3) Is it too soon for Rhea?
Rhea Ripley could conceivably get a title shot against Io Shirai at any time. Defeating Retribution member Mercedes Martinez (or whatever her weird name is going to be) in a cage a couple weeks back pretty much ensured that. But tonight may be too soon.
Not that it would be too soon because she’s not ready. Of course she’s ready. But with only a week and a half to build this match, that’s not enough time to properly build Io Shirai vs. Rhea Ripley. That’s a money match that deserves an in depth program.
Instead, I can see NXT giving someone like Raquel González the nod. She’s not going to win, but she could elevate herself with a strong showing against the dominant champion.
4) How much of the show will be the two #1 contender matches?
There are two big matches with title implications tonight and both could take up some space. I expect the gauntlet match could be around 40 minutes given four men need to be eliminated.
The battle royal won’t be as long, but will probably take up a good 20 minutes. Meaning there’s going to be some long stretches of action tonight with the two main matches taking up a good hour.
There’s nothing wrong with long stretches of action.
5) Does Atlas hold his own?
A fired up Jake Atlas will face a dangerous Tommaso Ciampa tonight.
While it’s unlikely Atlas will win, he’ll need to hold his own for awhile to make this worth while. Jake hasn’t found his groove in NXT, much because his first gimmick was rooting for Drake Maverick.
His fire last week was the first time I was truly interested in Atlas. To keep that going, he needs to show he can hold his own against the Psycho Killer. He’s not going to win. But he needs to have an answer to Ciampa’s brutality. It can’t be another squash and stretchering.
We’ll see how they play it.
We’ll see if we get any answers to these questions tonight at 8 ET PM on USA Network.