NXT’s latest live special, TakeOver: New Orleans, will come our way Saturday, April 7 at 8PM Eastern on WWE Network, so we’re here to help you get ready for it.
The black-and-yellow brand will ride into Smoothie King Center on the eve of WrestleMania 34, two-and-half months after their pre-Royal Rumble show delivered one of the best matches in NXT history - and a brutal post-script which sets up the most anticipated match of this TakeOver.
Andrade “Cien” Almas’ victory over Johnny Gargano in the main event in Philadelphia wasn’t the only really good match on the card at the last event, but it was the one fans will be talking about well into the future. Gargano’s fight with Tommaso Ciampa is the likely show-stealer this weekend, but it’s got serious competition - not only from Almas’ NXT Title defense against Aleister Black, but a six-man ladder match for a new championship which will feature the debut of Ricochet.
The battle to crown the first NXT North American Champ also features another debut, this one from EC3. It’s looking like a show designed to more than hold its own against major competition from Ring of Honor and Bullet Club at Supercard of Honor XII. But it also seems poised to welcome in yet another new era for Triple H’s developmental-turned-standalone promotion.
We won't know how well NXT will accomplish those goals until after NXT’s twentieth Network special leaves our screens, but we can start getting ready for the show by looking at what brought us here... and make a few guesses.
Aleister Black vs. Andrade “Cien” Almas (c) - NXT championship match
How we got here: Since Philly, Andrade and his business associate Zelina Vega have been busy... while still kind of playing a supporting role in Johnny Wrestling’s story. Tired of hearing about how close Gargano came, Vega goaded Johnny to put his NXT career on the line for one more shot at the NXT Title. Thanks to a ref bump and a Ciampa crutch shot, Cien survived a Garga-No Escape submission and defeated his frequent rival yet again, sending Johnny packing (sort of... more on all this in a second) and ensuring he’d live to defend the belt at another TakeOver.
Black’s run of dominance continued in January when he outlasted Adam Cole in a street fight which would have made Paul Heyman proud. When he followed that up with a win over Killian Dain, General Manager William Regal made him the #1 contender.
At their contract signing, The Bellicose Brawler showed off his humorous side, and in the process beat Zelina at her own game. She’d left the champ at home, thinking the mind games which had worked against Drew McIntyre and Gargano would work against Black. Instead, his disrespect of Vega and the absent Almas - and the nifty trick of bringing Mrs. Wrestling, Candice LeRae - drove El Ídolo almost literally mad.
Sure, it cost Aleister when Cien jumped him in the parking lot and beat him through the arena in their last televised interaction before Saturday night. But Almas will not be coming into this TakeOver with the focus or tranquilo he’s brought to his matches over the last several months. That may be the deciding factor.
What to look out for: The fascinating thing about this one, other than where Triple H and team will decide to place it on the card, is that these two met under very different circumstances at TakeOver: Orlando last year at this time. Black made his debut on that show (which also heralded the return of McIntyre) with a win over the floundering Almas. But it was the start of the former La Sombra reminding us he’s one of the best wrestlers in the world. And once Zelina came to his side a few months later, well, the rest is history.
His title run, and time in NXT, might be history after tonight. The booking team’s been careful to make Aleister extremely successful without quite painting themselves in the corner with an undefeated streak. The Stoic Satanist hasn’t lost a one-on-one match during his WWE career though, so we’re either getting a new champion or a career-first.
We should be getting a really good match. There’s not a ton of on-screen history to go off, but what we’ve seen hasn’t revealed any serious chemistry issues. Will they avoid being the second or third - or worse - best match of the show?
Ember Moon (c) vs. Shayna Baszler - Women's championship match
How we got here: Ember outsmarted The Queen of Spades in Philly... and paid for it. Actually, she was already paying for it when Shayna targeted her arm prior to Moon rolling her up for a win... but the post-match choke out was pretty bad, too. As was damage done by Baszler with the help of a steel barricade in their rematch on the Valentine’s Day episode of NXT. That bout ended in a disqualification when Kairi Sane ran in to stop her Mae Young Classic rival from ending the champ’s career... but it was just more fuel for Shayna’s intimidating fire, as she’d go one to beat the Pirate Princess and continue to menace The Performance Center.
It seems Ember is the only person who can stop her. If she can’t, she’ll also lose her Title.
What to look out for: What I was looking for here was some kind of stipulation. This is the third match in as many months between these two, and especially given Moon’s whole act’s focus on her Eclipse finisher and Baszler’s reputation as The Submission Magician, I’d thought they’d have done something to make it stand out. But with Triple Threats, ladder and unsanctioned matches elsewhere on the card, they’ve decided to play it straight.
Their previous bouts have been fine, with a heavy emphasis on selling Shayna as a bully and the champ as the one standing up to her on behalf of the entire women’s roster. That kind of story would usually end with the hero teaching her opponent and the audience a lesson, but there’s an argument to be made that Moon’s done all she can in NXT - whether it’s been successful, and whether or not that’s her fault, are another discussion entirely.
Baszler hasn’t put it all together yet herself, either, but officials are obviously high on the former MMA fighter. And having her come up short in three title matches to start her NXT career - after losing the MYC final to Sane - would be a weird way to start a career. But who knows? While everyone’s thinking Ember gets a call-up after this, Shayna does have a friend making her in-ring, main roster debut on Sunday night...
Tommaso Ciampa vs. Johnny Gargano - Unsanctioned match
How we got here: This is it, folks.
Had no idea how to list these out within the overall preview (here or in our predictions post) because I have no idea how NXT brass will lay out this card. Pretty sure this HAS to main event, but I’ve thought that about other bouts in the past (cough * Bayley vs. Sasha at Brooklyn I * cough) and they didn’t go the way I thought they would.
Anyway, you can get caught up on this feud, and probably get pretty emotional, by watching this phenomenal piece of business here.
In general, this is a pretty standard tag team break-up angle. Gargano was always the more popular of the team during #DIY’s babyface run through the Cruiserweight Classic and NXT tag division, because of his style, personality and the fact it’s not hard to see why Tommaso brought that Sicilian Psychopath nickname with him from Ring of Honor (ROH). They played up injuries Ciampa was going to have to deal with sooner or later anyway to get fans to speculate about his replacement in the duo before they attempted to reclaim the Tag Titles in Chicago last year and... he snapped.
After disappearing for surgery and rehab, he returned to attack Johnny after he came up short in Philly’s main event against Almas, then cost him the match - and his NXT career - a few weeks later in a rematch of that NXT Title fight. Tommaso tried to explain his actions, or plans, to the crowd for weeks but was booed down. Finally, Gargano snuck into Full Sail to attack him, them chased him around Orlando for a few days until the Blackheart asked Regal to reinstate him for this match.
What sets this fued apart, and should elevate this match, is the attention to commitment both men have put into it from the time they showed up on per-date deals in WWE back in 2015. Their friendship was intimately documented for years leading up to Ciampa’s betrayal in Chicago last summer. As a result, everything that’s followed has been acutely felt by Johnny and the fans.
What to look out for: These two were incapable of a bad match together as #DIY, and with the emotion behind their rivalry, this is likely to end up on “best of the weekend” lists. There’s also a lot at stake, as a win means Johnny Wrestling is back as a member of the NXT roster, and if he loses, he’s gone for good.
Some question about what “gone for good” means, of course. He just signed a “termination agreement” a little while ago, after all. But with rumors of another main roster draft and DRAKE MAVERICK scouting talent for 205 Live, Gargano’s departure is not out of the question.
We don’t know how Ciampa’s knee is, other than that he’s been cleared (unsanctioned stip or no). He hasn’t been wrestling anywhere - commitment to the angle and concern for his health - so while he’s certainly been using The P.C., it’ll be interesting to see if his style has changed due to injury or character tweak. It will also be interesting to see how his new heel character reacts to either outcome in this one.
Thoughts for another day, however. For this day, let’s all watch Johnny Wrestling kick the hell out of The Blackheart. There will be plenty of time to discuss the fallout.
EC3 vs. Adam Cole vs. Velveteen Dream vs. Ricochet vs. Lars Sullivan vs. Killian Dain - NXT North American Championship Six-Man Ladder Match
How we got here: Pretty simple. The seemingly always increasing NXT roster needed something else for men to fight over beyond the existing titles. Since the United Kingdom belt never officially belonged to this brand and might be getting its own show (I know, I’ll believe it when I see it, too) soon, Regal announced the creation of this one.
Four guys who’ve already been regulars on television were prime candidates for a shot. Dain has been the featured player in former tag champs SAnitY for a while, been on the cusp of a NXT Title shot several times and even worked the main roster for WrestleMania last year. Sullivan is another hoss they’re high on, who was in the #1 contender picture before getting hurt earlier this year. Cole is... Cole (BAY BAY), and worked weekend double duty while lasting a while in the Royal Rumble match in January. And Velveteen Dream was 2017’s breakout star, convincing doubters and winning fans with a layered character and impressive natural in-ring skill.
Then you have two new guys who’ve been champions in their old promotions, and needed a splashy entrance to the black-and-yellow. What better way for Ricochet and EC3 to debut than a gimmick match for a belt?
What to look out for: What not to look out for? This would be the no-brainer one to watch on most cards, and it might still be the match of the night in NOLA. Cole, Dream and EC3 have enough character to carry the whole affair, and despite varying levels of athleticism and in-ring acumen a shared willingness to do whatever it takes to get something over.
Sullivan and Dain can hoss it up and move better than anyone with their bulk should. And Ricochet? His reputation precedes him, even for fans who haven’t seen him wrestle before. An rest assured, in addition to the high-flying he definitely will do in a ladder match, he can do everything else, too.
This should be bonkers. And very good.
Undisputed ERA vs. Authors of Pain vs. Roderick Strong and Pete Dunne - Tag Team championship match and Dusty Classic Tournament Final
How we got here: An injury to champion (along with Kyle O’Reilly of Undisputed) Bobby Fish threw a wrench in plans for the winner of the Dusty Classic to challenge the ERA in New Orleans.
O’Reilly and Cole thought they’d thrown a wrench in The GM’s plans when they crashed the final between former champs AoP and the makeshift team of Strong and the UK champ. But Regal made this Triple Threat, and gave the Panama City Playboy three choices - leave Kyle high and dry for this one, withdraw from the NA Title ladder match, or work them both.
If they do decide to try to keep the championship in the existing stable, Cole and O’Reilly have plenty of experience as a team stemming from their days in ROH. Maybe not quite as much as Akam and Rezar, but certainly more than Roddy and Dunne, who only came together at the start of the tournament out of necessity, mutual respect stemming from a slobberknocker of a UK Title match, and mutual dislike of Undisputed.
What to look out for: The possibility the ERA could sub in a new recruit for Cole (fellow ROH veteran Chris (fka Donovan) Dijak is waiting to make his debut) makes this one hard to call. It should be a lot of fun, though. The Authors and Dunne/Strong were well into an entertaining bout for the Dusty Cup when Adam and Kyle crashed the party last week, and their whole act seems to have found its WWE footing this year.
Speculation is - and has been - that Paul Ellering’s charges aren’t long for NXT, which might make them unpopular picks as winners, but also might make them work even harder to go out with a bang and prove once and for all how far they’ve come from the green rookies who won the Dusty in 2016. And Strong and Dunne are... Strong and Dunne.
This match may have come together at the last minute, but it has the potential to be quite memorable. And with the line-up for this show, and on this night, it better be.
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.
We’ll definitely see one new champion - will we see more than one? Who will establish themselves as a future star of Wednesday nights? Are any acts saying goodbye this Saturday night? Where will this TakeOver rank in the show’s illustrious history, and can it outshine Cody vs. Kenny?
Let us know what you think about those questions or anything on the New Orleans card below!