NXT’s latest live special, TakeOver: Chicago, will come our way Saturday, May 20 at 8PM Eastern on WWE Network, so we’re here to help you get ready for it.
For the first time in a long time, we head into this event without everyone asking “what’s wrong with NXT?” Fresh match-ups and an influx of talent have made for some exciting Wednesday nights since WrestleMania weekend and TakeOver: Orlando.
The roster is now deep enough that major players like Drew McIntyre and hot acts like Aleister Black aren’t on the card, and the renaissance has taken hold to the point that things fans were complaining about just six weeks ago - too many rematches, an over-reliance on older, ex-TNA guys - are being brought up nearly as often.
Of course, none of those things has ever stopped WWE’s third brand from having a really good live show every few months. And tomorrow night’s entry into the TakeOver series looks poised to continue that legacy.
We won't know until later how the sixteenth NXT special measures up to its predecessors, but we can start getting ready for the show by looking at what brought us here, and .
Match by match.
Hideo Itami vs. Bobby Roode (c) - NXT championship match
How we got here: The Glorious One runs his mouth a lot about how he’s elevated “his” NXT, but his claims aren’t without merit. From his uber-popular entrance theme to his two big wins over Shinsuke Nakamura, Bobby Roode has had it going on since showing up backstage at last year’s TakeOver: Dallas.
It has to have been pretty difficult to watch for a man who’s been with NXT since before these live shows were called “TakeOver”. Hideo Itami hasn’t just competed on WrestleMania weekend, he walked into Levi’s Stadium and fought in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal in 2015. Since then, a series of injuries have sidelined to the point many questioned, as Roode quipped this past Wednesday, if the former KENTA still worked for WWE.
Since being cleared from a neck injury a few months back, Itami’s been a man on a mission. And that mission seems to be making up for lost time by grabbing the NXT title as soon as possible. He took another step toward that goal when he defeated Roderick Strong on May 10 to become #1 contender.
It doesn’t hurt that the current champ has been doing everything in his power to avoid Hideo, and his Go 2 Sleep finisher, while mocking his struggles. He even vowed to force Itami to go back to Japan and tell his children he’s a failure.
Of course, right after he did that, Roode went to sleep via the GTS. For the second time since TakeOver: Orlando. If it happens a third time on Saturday, the Roode era will be over, and Hideo will be redeemed.
What to look out for: You can’t deny the champ’s success, but that hasn’t stopped complaints about his background or critiques of his slower-paced, psychology-heavy matches. Retaining here would obviously be a big accomplishment, but delivering a buzz-worthy match might serve him even better with the NXT Universe.
For the challenger, the frustrating three years he’s spent as a WWE-contracted wrestler were as much of a focus of this match’s brief build as his finisher. Obviously, if he can hit the GTS in the hometown of the man who borrowed it from him and made it famous in WWE, he’ll be champ. But the presentation of his NXT run has given this the feel of “one last run” through the black-and-yellow brand. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him on another show before August 2017’s TakeOver: Brooklyn.
Asuka (c) vs. Ruby Riot vs. Nikki Cross - Triple Threat match for the Women's championship
How we got here: Asuka’s historically dominant reign is well documented. She’s held a title for longer than anyone else in NXT history, and probably, kinda, sorta has bested Goldberg’s undefeated streak. Lately, that’s all left the Empress of Tomorrow somehow both bored and desperate to keep her crown.
It was the latter motivation which led to her cutting a few corners to defeat Ember Moon at TakeOver: Orlando, then going full-out unhinged in busting up the end of a battle royal to determine the #1 contender for her title. That attack left Moon laid up in the trainer’s room with a shoulder injury, and Asuka with two challengers for this weekend. Not that she cares...
Ruby Riot’s entire on-screen WWE career has been spent as a thorn in Nikki Cross’ side, and the SAnitY member has noticed. In fact, the main reason we had a #1 contenders battle royal was because Riot & Cross hate each other so much they couldn’t wait for the bell to ring in their singles match before they started trying to kill each other. Even as they prepare for a shot at the champ (a second one, in Nikki’s case, after she was taken out by Peyton Royce & Billie Kay in another multi-person title opportunity back at TakeOver: San Antonio), they haven’t been able to hide their distaste for one another.
What to look out for: When trying to take out someone who’s owned the division for more than a year, you’d like to be able to focus on that person. Nikki & Ruby don’t have that luxury, and the big question here is whether or not that will keep them from being the woman who finally takes Asuka’s belt from her.
What’s for sure is this will be a chaotic, hard-hitting affair. Cross & Riot have shown their willingness to do whatever it takes to inflict damage on one another - or whoever they might decide to get violent with, regardless of gender. And Asuka is, well, Asuka.
Expect the unexpected... and a match you’ll probably be talking about on Sunday.
Authors of Pain (c) vs. #DIY - Ladder match for the Tag Team championship
How we got here: After chasing for most of 2016 (and their WWE careers), Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa finally claimed the NXT tag belts in match that ended up on most people’s “Best of the Year” lists when they defeated The Revival in Toronto. It was a dream come true - until Paul Ellering’s latest team of monster’s crushed their dreams at TakeOver: San Antonio.
Since then, Authors of Pain’s path of destruction has grown longer... including a win over both #DIY and Dash & Dawson in an elimination title defense on WrestleMania weekend. While Akam & Rezar have been throwing their considerable weight around, however, Ciampa & Gargano have continued to rack up wins themselves, all while pleading their case to General Manager William Regal for a clean, two-on-two rematch against the champs (The Revival crashed their first attempt at re-earning the belts).
Now that they’ve had their request granted, it may be a case of be careful what you wish for...
What to look out for: What can undefeated hosses like AoP do with ladders as weapons? No one’s been able to put AoP down even when they didn’t get to hold six-plus feet of steel in their hands. On the flip side of that argument, however - perhaps only needing to reach the titles as they hang above the ring rather than needing to pin or submit either Akam or Rezar gives #DIY a better chance at reclaiming the belts.
Which brings us to the other bit of drama just recently injected into this match... will Ciampa be able to climb a ladder, or anything else, with the ankle injury he sustained at a house show in Kentucky on Thursday night? Triple H says he’s okay as of now, but will his sprain require the match be booked around him? Or could we find ourselves playing the “mystery partner” game Saturday afternoon?
The questions we thought we’d be asking about #DIY are still there, but they’ve faded into the background since Tommaso went down in Highland Heights. Could a call-up be in their future? Or a break-up, with or without a turn from Ciampa and subsequent feud?
When healthy, the challengers are pretty much incapable of putting on a bad match. The champs are still learning, but have improved with each outing. This could be a showstealer, but we won’t know until we see who Johnny brings to the ring with him - and if it’s his best friend (not named Candace), how bad his limp is.
Tyler Bate vs. Pete Dunne - United Kingdom championship match
How we got here: These two met in the finals of the tournament to crown the first ever UK champ back in January. An despite being friendly in Progress, the ruthless Pete Dunne looking to create an advantage by attacking Bate before their match began back in Blackpool.
That set the stage for a truly memorable finale, where the 19 year old Bate gutted out a great babyface victory against the Bruiserweight - who himself earned a legion of new fans with his performance throughout the two day tournament.
Since then, the champ has retained in a handful of showcase matches on NXT and on WWE Network, such as in his successful defense against Mark Andrews on the recent UK Championship Special. On that same show, Dunne earned another shot at Bate by defeating Trent Seven in a #1 contenders match. And here we are.
What to look out for: There’s little doubt this pair can deliver in Chicago, and with Jim Ross stepping in to call their action, it will certainly be a memorable bout.
But until Triple H’s UK roster has a permanent home, it’ll be difficult to become too invested in their stories. Dunne and Bate do have a chance to connect with more fans for whenever they do find themselves in a regular spot on the Network’s screens, however, and if their last encounter was any indication, it’s a safe bet they’ll make the most of the opportunity.
Roderick Strong vs. Eric Young
How we got here: Unlike most main roster call-ups, Tye Dillinger didn’t leave NXT on his back. Sure, his team - which included Strong - came us short against Young’s SAnitY stable in Orlando, but The Perfect Ten came back to beat EY in a steel cage match after his SmackDown debut... thanks in part to an assist from Roddy.
Perhaps that’s why SAnitY targeted him again two weeks ago, moments after Strong fell to Itami in a hard fought #1 contender’s match. Or maybe Young, Killian Dain, Alexander Wolfe and Cross are just crazy anarchists.
Roddy has plenty of reasons to want a piece of EY and his crew. The beating we saw on May 10 wasn’t even the first time SAnitY jumped him. The group kayfabe injured him with a backstage assault in the build to the last TakeOver. Payback has been a long time coming, but it’s reasonable to wonder if Strong has a chance when it will likely be at least three-on-one.
What to look out for: SAnitY’s been made to look really strong ever since Young introduced them. He still hasn’t been pinned or submitted on-screen (Tye won by escaping the cage), Dain showed up at ‘Mania and Nikki’s been a staple of the women’s title picture for months. But they also just spent a lot of time establishing Strong’s ‘reality’ era character as a new father driven to succeed in a business he loves.
NXT probably has big plans for both men, is what we’re saying. Watching them figure out how to continue their pushes through and beyond a match somebody is probably gonna lose will be worth watching.
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 & Hideo deliver a must see main event? Who will leave with the other three titles? Will Roddy have a chance against DAT NUMBERS GAME?
Let us know what you think about those questions or anything on the Chicago card below!