NXT’s latest live special, TakeOver: Chicago 2, will come our way Saturday, June 16 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 Allstate Arena on the eve of Money in the Bank, two-and-half months after their pre-WrestleMania show delivered one of the best top-to-bottom cards in NXT history.
It’s a tall order, trying to top or just keep pace with a show which had two five star matches (even in this day and age of seven star affairs). Conventional wisdom doesn’t seem to believe the card for NXT’s second June trip to Rosemont, Illinois in as many years can pull it off. But there are two highly anticipated bouts in the line-up, even if they happen to be the two non-title ones. And TakeOvers have a history of delivering - regardless of what fans or critics think heading into them.
We won't know how Chicago 2 stacks up until after NXT’s twenty-first 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 (c) vs. Lars Sullivan - NXT championship match
How we got here: After defeating Andrade “Cien” Almas in New Orleans, Black moved on to... not much, actually. Almas’ promotion to SmackDown, and the fact even heading into their match at the last TakeOver, Cien and Zelina Vega’s main rivalry was with Johnny Gargano and not The Dutch Destroyer, took a rematch off the table. The new champ agreed to put his belt on the line against Gargano, but Tommaso Ciampa put a stop to that before Johnny Wrestling could hit the ring.
He would help send SAnitY off to the blue brand (they’ll arrive someday), but otherwise, Black was left waiting for General Manager William Regal to name a challenger. Obviously, there was no shortage of interested parties, and the decision was made after Sullivan emerged victorious from a Triple Threat with two other men who made a splash in the ladder match for the North American Title on ‘Mania weekend - Ricochet and Velveteen Dream.
Since then, the story has been that The Freak is too much for even Black and the finisher which has dispatched everyone else in NXT, his Black Mass spinning heel kick, to handle. Sullivan caught the kick before planting the champ with his own finisher back in May, then carved a path of destruction through The Performance Center before delivering a trio of Freak Accidents on the ‘go home’ episode after Aleister admitted to being “rattled” by their earlier encounter.
What to look out for: Lars has been highly touted for quite some time by wrestlers who’ve made their way through Orlando, such as Kevin Owens. House show matches between Sullivan and Black have received good reviews from fans. But it’s hard to shake the feeling there are talents more deserving of a NXT Title shot, especially when several of them are elsewhere on Saturday night’s card.
The titleholder has yet to have a bad match in WWE, but he hasn’t delivered one that’s generated a ton of buzz, either. Will he be able to change that against an impressive but still-developing worker, especially one who presents as a throwback to 80s or even 70s style monster heels?
It’s that challenge which may be even more interesting than the kayfabe one NXT has set-up for Black. The build has been so intent on convincing us Sullivan can’t be beat, it’s hard to believe he has a chance. And that’s without getting into the fact we saw The Stoic Satanist lay him out with Black Mass in a Fatal 4Way at the end of 2017. This should be fun, but it’s unlikely to steal the show. It’s probably more interesting to view it as a main roster scout would than anything else.
Nikki Cross vs. Shayna Baszler (c) - Women's championship match
How we got here: Like Black, Baszler avoided the obligatory rematch with the wrestler she defeated for her belt when Ember Moon moved up to Raw. Unlike the men’s champ, The Queen of Spades won at the last TakeOver after a lengthy feud with Moon. She also had a ready-made rival lined up in the woman who defeated her in the Mae Young Classic finals last summer... but NXT opted to go in another direction and save another marquee showdown with Kairi Sane for later.
Instead, Shayna started a program where she tormented Dakota Kai, whose arm she’d “injured” during her pursuit of Ember’s title. Kai was traumatized by the new champ’s bullying, but eventually stood up to her. After losing her own title shot, Kai was about to fall victim to Baszler’s mean streak yet again when an unlikely savior emerged.
Nikki Cross’ rescue turned into an impromptu “championship match” with Dakota as the referee. Her victory didn’t count, of course, but it made the angle clear. The lone remaining SAnitY member on the black-and-yellow brand was too deranged to be scared by any of The Queen’s usual tactics.
What to look out for: This is another title bout on the card for which there doesn’t appear to be much doubt about the outcome. Unlike Sullivan, Cross is a veteran of both the independent and NXT scenes. Her #1 contendership is more a parting gift than an early test run. The Bannockburn Banshee’s proven her worth in high profile matches against Asuka, Ember and The IIconics, and she’ll likely help Baszler to a strong showing here, too.
But Shayna is unlikely to drop the title in her first TakeOver defense, and maybe until she’s ready to join her fellow MMA Horsewoman on the main roster in a program opposite the WWE quartet who refers to themselves by that same moniker. If this is anything more than an enjoyable 10-15 minutes before Nikki heads off and Baszler preps for Sane, Kai and some of the division’s rising stars like Bianca Belair, it’ll be a big surprise.
Tommaso Ciampa vs. Johnny Gargano - Street Fight
How we got here: If you’re not sure what this one is about, are you sure you’re in the right place? A storyline which started even before Ciampa betrayed Gargano after they failed to reclaim the Tag Titles at this show last year has been one of the most talked about in wrestling, and is well worth going back and watching play out. If you don’t have that kind of time, WWE put together an excellent video that recaps their rivalry. You can watch that here.
One of the best things that production does is drive home what’s changed since the former partners unsanctioned match in New Orleans, won by submission when Johnny used Ciampa’s knee brace to apply his Garga-No Escape finisher. Gargano believed that win, which earned him his job back, meant he could finally move forward. If The Blackheart attacking him before an NXT Title shot Johnny believed he was now clear to pursue didn’t disavow him of that notion, the ambulance ride and kayfabe injuries which nearly forced him to retire surely did.
Despite the wishes of his wife, Candice LeRae, Gargano pursued another match with Ciampa. Even after an altercation with Tommaso caught LeRae in the crossfire and left her unconcious on the ramp, Johnny pushed Regal to book this Street Fight. Candice has wiped her hands of the whole thing, and seeing her husband snap on the June 6 edition of NXT probably reinforced her decision. Gargano bloodied Ciampa and again had him tapping, but that Tommaso pushed his former best friend to that point seemed like a victory for The Sicilian Psychopath.
What to look out for: This story goes back to the first Dusty Rhodes Classic and the initial Cruiserweight tournament, which is part of why New Orleans felt like the end instead of a chapter break. It was actually their first singles match on NXT, though, as injuries which sidelined Ciampa after TakeOver: Chicago 1 until earlier this year. And there’s no reason to feel sure this second one will be their last encounter, either.
The Street Fight stipulation is probably a little too similar to the Unsanctioned gimmick (this was rumored to be planned as a Last Man Standing match until SmackDown claimed that for Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles on Sunday), but leaves plenty of room to innovate for two performers who’ve proven they’re willing to do pretty much anything to get this story over.
If there’s a problem at this point, it’s that anything shy of “match of the weekend” will be viewed as a let down. And it might have a difficult time being “match of the night” with this next one on the show...
Velveteen Dream vs. Ricochet
How we got here: One brand isn’t big enough for these two talents, or egos.
After these men took our breath away in New Orleans, but didn’t leave Louisiana with the North American Title, both were looking to use their ladder match performance as a springboard to the NXT Championship scene. But before they could finish stating their case, a freight train named Sullivan ran them both over. That led to an uneasy alliance in a handicap match, but it turned out Dream couldn’t trust Ricochet - or risk being overshadowed - so he took out The King before it could go any other way.
Being forced to absorb a second loss in WWE, and miss out on an opportunity to face Black for the brand’s top prize, obviously rubbed Ricochet the wrong way. And that may have been Velveteen’s plan all along. He hasn’t demanded The One And Only “say his name”, but his quest to prove he can do better than Ricochet’s best still feels rooted in a desire for Ric and the entire NXT Universe to notice and recognize The Dream.
Without facing each other one-on-one, these two have created a feud which has fans anxiously awaiting more. Moments like this one certainly didn’t hurt.
What to look out for: People have been waiting for Ricochet to show up in WWE for years. Dream has impressed more and more fans with every match and promo since debuting in his current gimmick. Their Twitter interactions have been almost as much fun as their on-screen ones. What could go wrong?
Probably nothing, but in addition to the burden of high expectations, Ricochet is said to be banged up. He certainly won’t let a lingering shoulder injury or a bad bump from the European tour keep him from showing off in his first live singles match as a NXT Superstar, especially since there will be an opportunity to rest for at least a few weeks if they book around a match at the taping on the other side of Chicago.
Everyone will be watching to see if the former Tough Enough contestant can continue his rapid rise, and to see which man Triple H decides to have win. Whoever it is, there next stop almost certainly has to be a shot at one of the brand’s singles titles. That they started this feud angling for a NXT Championship opportunity tells you what likely awaits the winner.
Undisputed ERA vs. Danny Burch and Oney Lorcan - Tag Team Championship match
How we got here: Lorcan and Burch are rivals turned partners, who came together out of mutual respect for their similar hard-hitting, fast-paced styles. Just as their teaming up seemed unlikely, so does their shot at the titles. It was agreeing to assist another former nemesis, United Kingdom Champion Pete Dunne, which got them here. Backing up The Bruiserweight put The Brit-Am Brawlers in the position where Englishman Burch could pin Kyle O’Reilly in trios action, and earn them this match in Chicago.
Despite that loss, O’Reilly and his new faction-mate Roderick Strong remain unimpressed with Burch and Lorcan. They can’t even get their names right. But the challengers did get the best of a brawl on the June 13 episode, so they have plenty to build off momentum-wise, provided they can avoid that damn numbers game from the ERA’s Adam Cole and even the recuperating Bobby Fish.
What to look out for: This is another of TakeOver: Chicago 2’s title matches where the straps changing hands looks unlikely. Lorcan and Burch are talented and popular among the NXT faithful, but Undisputed are stars the brand is building around. It will take a more highly touted tag team such as War Raiders to pry the Tag Team Championship away from KOR and Roddy.
Still, it’s a big spotlight for the #1 contenders. And it should be fascinating to see how the match plays into not only what’s next on this show, but next week’s United Kingdom Championship Tournament events where Dunne will defend his title and team with Tyler Bate and Trent Seven against The ERA. With a rumored UK show on the way, there could be plenty of opportunities for Burch and Lorcan on both sides of the pond, even if they come up short here.
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 we see any titles change hands? Who will establish themselves as a future main eventer? Are any acts saying goodbye this Saturday night? Where will this TakeOver rank in the show’s illustrious history?
Let us know what you think about those questions or anything on the Chicago 2 card below!