NXT’s latest live special, TakeOver: Orlando, will come our way Saturday, April 1 at 8PM Eastern on WWE Network, so we’re here to help you get ready for it.
And that task is either more or less important than ever, depending on to whom you talk. Gone are the days of the brand’s weekly, Wednesday night episodes being “must see”. NXT is still reportedly one of the most watched shows on WWE’s streaming service, but the buzz of 2014 - 2015 is gone.
Somehow, even as the “cool factor” NXT had during the days of the Four Horsewomen and Sami Zayn’s quest to win the big one has been transferred to SmackDown, or Progress, or any number of other promotions, the TakeOver live shows have upheld their reputation. Fans and critics talk about how non-essential the pre-taped product feels, but their (roughly) quarterly events still draw eyeballs - and not just because they’re now mostly linked to main roster pay-per-view (PPV) events.
We won't know until later how the fifteenth NXT special measures up to its predecessors, but we can start getting ready for the show by looking at what brought us here.
Match by match.
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Bobby Roode (c) - NXT championship match
How we got here: Roode took advantage of Nakamura’s heroic drive to finish their match in San Antonio despite a knee injury, and ended the Japanese Superstar’s second reign as NXT champ. The Glorious Era began, and continued through a quick one match feud with the returning Kassius Ohno, while Shinsuke worked to get cleared by trainers for his rematch.
And that’s it. There have been some excellent video packages, and a couple strong interview and promo segments with the champ, but the two men haven’t been face-to-face since the night before Royal Rumble. The build to round two has focused on the champ’s desire to continue his quest to transform NXT into something, well... Glorious, while Nakamura tries to raise his importance to the history of the brand even higher by becoming its first three-time champion.
What to look out for: A heck of a match. Their first encounter was probably one of Roode’s best performances ever, as Nak brought his A-game and helped elevate a guy who can be a better character than an athlete to something, well... Glorious. Even outside of kayfabe, Shinsuke’s legacy will be impacted by this one. He’ll want to build on the reputation he established last WrestleMania weekend with Sami Zayn in his WWE debut, and hopefully impress the brass to ensure that next April he’ll be wrestling on Sunday, and not the night before ‘Mania.
Most men’s title feuds for this brand have featured the deposed champion losing his rematch before being promoted, but Nak and Samoa Joe broke that mold last Fall in Toronto, so there’s some doubt. But even with the King of Strong Style advertised for a NXT tour of the United Kingdom this Summer, a lot of rumors have him going to the main roster sooner rather than later, so a title change would be a bit of a shocker.
Asuka (c) vs. Ember Moon - Women's championship match
How we got here: Neither woman’s been pinned or submitted while wrestling for WWE, but Asuka’s streak’s longer - and has received considerably more promotion from the company. In fact, those 160 straight matches have really gone to the champ’s head. Since dispatching both Billie Kay & Peyton Royce (after they dealt with Nikki Cross) in San Antonio, the Empress of Tomorrow’s become a full-blown egomaniac. She’s making like Ric Flair in video packages and laughingly dismissing Moon whenever anyone mentions her as a potential threat to end the longest title run in NXT history.
Ember’s looking to prove Asuka is making a mistake by underestimating her, and Creative wants us to believe that if Moon can hit her corkscrew stunner from the top rope - the Eclipse - that it will be lights out for the champ. She’s been hitting her finisher on people since her debut, but over the last month it’s been sold as actually dangerous. Royce & Kay have lobbied General Manager William Regal to ban the move altogether after Billie was “injured” by it a few weeks back, but so far, the GM hasn’t indicated he’s willing to do anything to add to Ember’s already considerable challenge.
What to look out for: Any indication that WWE has plans for Asuka at the next level, or that they thing Moon is ready to carry the division - especially as a draw on the house show circuit. There’s also the question of whether the company wants to market a Japanese woman as breaking a “record” currently held by the WCW legend who’ll main event WrestleMania this Sunday night.
The action in the ring will be just as intriguing. We haven’t really seen a long singles match from Ember on television since she joined NXT, but what we have seen (in WWE and elsewhere) indicates she should be able to go toe-to-toe with Asuka... something we haven’t been able to say about a challenger since the last of the Four Horsewomen rode out of town. On a lot of cards, it would be safe to predict this as the showstealer. But this is a TakeOver...
The Revival vs. Authors of Pain (c) vs. #DIY - Triple Threat elimination match for the Tag Team championship
How we got here: The rivalry between Dash Wilder & Scott Dawson of The Revival and Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa of #DIY was NXT’s bread-and-butter in 2016, producing multiple match of the year candidates and carrying the flag for tag wrestling, not just on this show, but across the entire WWE. Gargano & Ciampa’s victory in Toronto appeared to end their program, as many expected the first two-time titleholders in brand history to head to the main roster.
And they exited the title scene for a while. Long enough for the winners of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, the undefeated Akam & Rezar, to quickly end #DIY’s reign in Texas. Having to watch someone else take out their nemeses from the sidelines of the January TakeOver inspired the Top Guys to get back in the game, and they did so with authority when they prevented the Authors from beating Johnny & Tommaso in #DIY’s contractual rematch.
Dash & Dawson have targeted Paul Ellering’s team every chance they’ve had since San Antonio, leaving Regal with little choice than to make the tag title match in Orlando a Triple Threat. To keep the formula fresh, he made it an elimination match, too, so some of this will be a threeway, but we’ll also get down to two-on-two action for the finish... unless some sore losers return after being ousted.
What to look out for: Something special. The NXT tag scene has followed the same pattern as the top singles feuds - rematches across months between two sets of contenders - without ever feeling as stagnant as those programs do.
Dawson, Wilder, Gargano & Ciampa, who seem incapable of having a bad outing right now. AoP are green, but improving with every outing. And, right or wrong, there’s no guarantee any of these teams are about to be moved to Raw or SmackDown, so predicting a winner isn’t as easy as reading the promotion rumors.
Any duo could win, or be eliminated first. Two of them could come back in to wreck shop after being pinned or submitted. The only outcome that seems unlikely is a bad match.
Aleister Black vs. Andrade "Cien" Almas
How we got here: After several weeks of teaser videos, Black (the former Tommy End) was announced as debuting at TakeOver: Orlando. Almas (the former La Sombra) has had a rocky rollout since debuting last year as a face, including a post-heel turn loss to Roderick Strong in San Antonio, but has been starting to click as a rudo, picking up some impressive wins since January. He was announced as Aleister’s opponent this Saturday.
What to look out for: With a bit of backstory, this could be a match of the night candidate. It might be anyway. But it will be up to the two performers to sell the Amway Center crowd on their fight with whatever they put out there Saturday night, because there’s not much else to go on.
NXT officials likely knew these men would be up to that challenge, however. Cien’s cockiness meshes well with his outstanding athletic ability, and he’s getting an able dance partner in the occult-tinged kickboxer. Expect a fast-paced, hard-hitting affair, and for both men to leave it all in the ring. Neither can really afford a loss, so they’ll be trying to make fans forget one of them has to take one.
Tye Dillinger, Ruby Riot, No Way Jose & Roderick Strong vs. SAnitY (Eric Young, Nikki Cross, Killian Dain & Alexander Wolfe)
How we got here: The lineup of Young’s stable has been as chaotic as their philosophy. But even when he was in the depths of an existential crisis fueled by his winless record on TakeOvers, Tye Dillinger never accepted the offer of membership in SAnitY. And that pisses EY off - a lot.
After the numbers game got to him again in San Antonio (and rejuvenated by a surprise entrance in the Royal Rumble match), Dillinger found himself with a couple of allies in the fight against SAnitY. Unfortunately, when it looked like that had earned him a clean, one-on-one shot at Young, Dain & Wolfe appeared with the battered body of one of those allies, Roddy Strong.
Once Strong healed up, he, Dillinger and Jose were set to fight again, but thanks to the wildly unpredictable Cross, they were still one person short. Enter punk rock newcomer Riot (recently signed independent standout Heidi Lovelace) to take out Nikki and finally even the odds.
What to look out for: This feud has received more time on our screens since San Antonio than everything else on this card other than the tag titles combined, so the only surprising thing about its inclusion is that it came at the last minute.
An eight-man tag is bound to be a wild, spot heavy affair, and with the brand’s truest babyface up against a faction which has confounded him, and been really strongly booked throughout its existence, we should be in for a solid pro wrestling tale.
There’s a lot of intrigue, too. Will this be traditional WWE mixed tag rules, or will Cross and Riot be allowed to work against their male opponents? How will this fuel a women’s feud many of us are all ready anticipating? Can Tye finally win on a live show, and what’s next for him if he does?
Adding this to the card really rounded it out nicely. Now it’s time to sit back and enjoy another TakeOver.
That's our rundown of what should be a fun night of pro wrestling... however it ends up measuring up to the events which preceded it. Check out our predictions post from earlier for lots of opinions on how the action might unfold.
Can Roode & Nakamura deliver a must see main event? Who will leave with the Women's and Tag titles? Will Tye ever win the big one?
Let us know what you think about those questions or anything on the Orlando card below!