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WWE NXT TakeOver: WarGames 2018 preview

NXT’s latest live special, TakeOver: WarGames 2, will come our way Saturday, Nov. 17 at 7PM Eastern on WWE Network, so we’re here to help you get ready for it.

The black-and-yellow brand will ride into Los Angeles’ Staples Center with a bunch of long-running rivalries and hot angles. Those programs lead to matches which sometimes need more time to tell their stories - the Dusty Rhodes-created concept which gives the show its name being a prime example. So for the first time, a TakeOver is set to feature only four matches rather than the customary five.

Triple H explained the decision as one made from the gut; he and the rest of his team don’t want to get tied to a specific format. That sounds great! Story should dictate these things, or at least be given priority over other market factors. The concern, at least for this writer, is that with only four matches to book and 2.5 - 3 hours to work with, we might get a string of Hunter & Shawn booked epics that bleed into one another. A strength of recent TakeOvers has been the way they’ve built to an emotional crescendo provided by Tommaso Ciampa vs. Johnny Gargano main events. With those two separated and 34 of the line-up paying off long-running feuds, we could be in for a long, draining night.

Fortunately, there will be lots of great wrestling mixed in, and a bat$#!+ crazy spectacle in a giant cage to wrap it all up.

We’ll see how it all shakes out when NXT’s twenty-third Network special hits our screens tomorrow night. Now let’s get ready - match by match.

Undisputed ERA vs. Pete Dunne, Ricochet & War Raiders - WarGames

How we got here: You probably need a flow chart to keep up with all the times these guys have crossed paths this year, but in a nutshell...

Undisputed ERA’s Ada Cole won the North American championship in a ladder match at TakeOver: New Orleans. Ricochet was poised to win it, but Cole tipped his ladder over and climbed to grab the belt. Ric beat him for the belt in Brooklyn this August, and Cole cost himself a chance at a one-on-one rematch by leading the ERA in interferring in a title vs. title match bewteen Ricochet and United Kingdom champ Pete Dunne. The Panama City Playboy’s rematch was turned into a Triple Threat by NXT General Manager William Regal, and the One And Only retained by pinning Dunne.

Dunne’s issues with Undisputed go way back, and include his reuniting with his British Strong Style mates Trent Seven & Tyler Bate for six-mans. As Moustache Mountain, Seven & Bate also won the tag titles from UE’s Roderick Strong & Kyle O’Reilly, then lost them back again a few weeks later. War Raiders really want those straps from Roddy & KOR, but saw their chance for them disappear when Bobby Fish returned from injury to break up their title fight.

Hanson & Rowe couldn’t even wait for the rematch to start, attacking Undisputed backstage. By the time the brawl had traveled outside and back into the ring, Ricochet and the Bruiserweight had joined in, and Regal realized he had a show coming up that required two teams that really want to kill each other. So he went ahead and decided to put all eight men in the two rings, one cage set-up.

What to look out for: Chaos!

Honestly, given the talent and range of skill sets on display, it’s probably easy to guess at what we won’t see. The heels have the entry advantage, meaning that after the three minutes periods where it’s one-on-one, two-on-two and three-on-three, a member of Undisputed comes in for three minutes of a handicap match. Submissions and pins (yep, sorry WarGames purists) don’t count until it’s four-on-four, though.

Further tilting things in favor of the bad guys, in the match and brawl surrounding the match where O’Reilly defeated Hanson to get that edge, the Dunne and the more hirsute War Raider suffered “injuries” Undisputed will be able to target.

Once the carnage is over, the winners will be able to argue they deserve to move up in the ranks of contenders. It’s hard to imagine there wouldn’t be another tag team championship match in the cards for the Raiders and Strong & O’Reilly, regardless though. It’ll be interesting to see if wins propel guys toward a NXT title shot, or if Ricochet, Dunne, Fish and Cole will hang around the regional belt scene.

Hopefully, everyone leaves without major injury. Last year’s WarGames left SAnitY’s Alexander Wolfe on the disabled list with a huge gash and a concussion. Oh yes, there will be blood. It’s WarGames!

Tommaso Ciampa (c) vs. Velveteen Dream - NXT championship match

How we got here: Since returning from injury earlier this year, Ciampa’s beef has mostly been with former tag partner Johnny Gargano. In fact, this is first TakeOver match with someone other than the other half of #DIY this year. It may also be his first time not closing the show, which is wild considering how hot both he and his open have been. But it speaks to how stacked NXT and this card are right now.

The Blackheart kept his belt at Brooklyn 4 by outsmarting Gargano in a Last Man Standing match. Meanwhile, Velveteen Dream had tongues wagging both for his latest win over EC3 and for his “Call Me Up, Vince” tights.

Their feud has kind of taken a backseat to other stories on the brand. Which is ironic since a theme of their rivalry is who’s more deserving of the spotlight. It got it’s start when Dream implicated Ciampa in the assault on Aleister Black which kept Black out of the Brooklyn show. What followed was a war of words which was as heavy on sexual innuendo as it was on trash talk. The pair finally got physical (violently, so) when the champ made his way to ringside during Velveteen’s match with Lars Sullivan. Their interaction cost Dream the bout, but he won the extracurriculars.

Now the question is whether that’s proof of the old “reverse momentum” theory...

What to look out for: Aside from the outcome, which will dictate at least the next few months of NXT booking, an interesting thing to watch for here is how Dream works as a babyface. He’ll obviously be cheered, because he was getting pops even when he was working for boos. But this will be his highest profile match, and the biggest stage on which he’s worked as a fan favorite.

With NXT, everyone is always wondering who’s next for a main roster call-up, and how what we’ll see in the ring does or doesn’t clue us in to the answer. That’s in play here, particularly for Velveteen, as he’s been rumored for promotion already in his still young career. Another thing which is in play that isn’t usually true for TakeOver matches is interference. He’s booked elsewhere, but could Gargano get involved? What about Sullivan, who thinks he should be in this match, and has a win over Dream (however tainted) to back his claim?

Kairi Sane vs. Shayna Baszler (c) - Two-out-of-three falls Women's championship match

How we got here: This is the fifth showdown between these two, so there’s no shortage of history. Sane won in the Mae Young Classic ‘17 final, Baszler sucessfully defended the title on television in the spring of this year, Kairi won the belt at the pre-SummerSlam TakeOver and the Queen of Spades won it back (with the help of fellow MMA Horsewomen Jessamyn Duke & Marina Shafir) at last month’s Evolution pay-per-view (PPV).

Regal made this two-out-of-three falls as a nod to that history, indicating one pin or tapout wouldn’t be enough to settle things between these long-time rivals. The stipulation doesn’t address possibility of Duke & Shafir getting involved again, but the Pirate Princess seems confident, regardless.

What to look out for: Is that because Sane has plans to bring back-up of her own. A sometimes friend, sometimes foe from Japan just finished up the ‘18 MYC, so a lot of us are wondering if this is where Io Shirai gets introduce into NXT’s storylines.

Because to the long-simmering Horsewomen feud rumors, call-up speculation probably hovers over this match more than any other on the card. Putting that aside for however long you can, though, this should be an interesting match-up. Baszler’s grown as a sports entertainer before our eyes, and her martial arts sadist gimmick works well with Kairi’s ultimate underdog. They’ve managed to innovate and deliver different versions of the same match for more than a year now, and seeing them deliver three mini-matches in LA should be cool.

Aleister Black vs. Johnny Gargano

How we got here: Well... it’s kind of a long story.

Black was NXT champ, until Johnny tried to help keep it that way while Aleister was wrestling Gargano’s nemesis, Tommaso Ciampa. The run-in went wrong, and Tommy Sports Entertainment left with the belt.

That was supposed to all be resolved with a Triple Threat at Brooklyn 4, but Black got hurt IRL and written off via a mystery attacker angle in kayfabe. Johnny was baited into going to the dark side in the one-on-one that replaced the threeway, and it cost him the match, the belt and a chance at revenge.

Turns out, Gargano’s descent began before he got to Barclays, though. After a months long whodunnit, Black returned to television and learned from Nikki Cross that Johnny was the one who assaulted him. His quest to get his hands on Gargano ended when he confronted Regal and Johnny snuck up behind him and superkicked the former champ. Since then, we’ve seen Aleister have a run-in with Mrs. Wrestling, Candice LeRae, and learned via a self-shot explanation video that Gargano thinks he’s still in the right.

What to look out for: Both men view this as a launching pad to get their hands on Ciampa and the belt. For Black, it’s much more than that, though. The “Grudge Match” NXT is billing this as is mostly for the Dutch Destroyer, who has warned the GM and Candice that he plans to end Gargano in Staples Center this weekend.

Johnny, on the other hand? Who can tell. He seems pretty convinced the fans will understand why he’s done what he’s done. Whether the so-called “smart” fans who make up NXT audiences will cheer or boo him should be interesting, as will the outcome of this match. Win or lose, Gargano’s quest for Ciampa is far from over. The brand has invested too much into their story to have it fizzle out while the former friends feud with other people.

Is Aleister possibly done with the black-and-yellow after this show. He hasn’t been in a televised match in months, so he’s not really involved in any other storylines. If WWE is as high on him as some rumors have indicated in the past, this is a clean break for him to move on. But will that come after a win, or a loss? How will he look, and how will Gargano switch up his in-ring work to reflect his latest character tweak?

This may be the only match on the card where neither participant brings gold to the ring, but it might be the most intriguing, regardless.

That's our rundown of what should be a fun night of pro wrestling... however it measures up to the events which preceded it. Check out our predictions post from earlier for lots of opinions on how the action might unfold.

Will everyone make it out of WarGames in one piece? Who will leave Los Angeles as champions? Is it possible to have too much drama on one show, or does the insane amount of talent in this line-up make that impossible?

Let us know what you think about those questions or anything on the WarGames 2 card below!

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