This Saturday at the Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, Louisiana, we will have what I consider the highlight from a pure wrestling standpoint, NXT TakeOver: New Orleans.
For every Takeover I have seen, there hasn’t been a single bad match either in wrestling technique or story-telling so this comes with a lot of high expectation. The card looks set to deliver, but who will end with their hands held high in victory? Here’s what I think.
NXT North American Championship ladder match – Ethan Carter III (EC3) vs Ricochet vs Lars Sullivan vs Adam Cole vs Velveteen Dream vs Killian Dain.
Picking a winner from this is tricky as each of the competitors has a compelling reason to make them a brilliant champion.
EC3 is a classic braggart and would make a brilliant, grating champion that everyone would pay to see get his comeuppance. This match would be his debut and nothing would suit him better than to win on his first night and massage his ego even further. Alas, for me that seems too obvious a route to go down. EC3 could really hit his stride as an embittered wrestler, who had his chance snatched away from him, when he is convinced that he should have just been gifted the title in the very beginning from Mr Regal.
Another recent signing to WWE is Ricochet, who suits a ladder match well. He’s light and agile and the fans love him. He would be excellent as a champion that fans can get behind and support. He would also be a perfect target for someone like EC3 to chase, and there would not be a bad match throughout the rivalry. However, I can see Ricochet’s role during the match being the guy who does a ridiculous stunt that the crowd loves, but that does take him out of commission for a vast majority of the match. In my mind, he is the second coming of Shelton Benjamin, for this weekend at least. Although, he shouldn’t be cast in this role too much further down the line.
Killian Dain is a man who looks like he could easily trample over most of the NXT roster and he has had superb showings at both NXT War Games and at last year’s Wrestlemania in the Battle Royale. His rival powerhouse, Lars Sullivan, is also in this match and I can see them cancelling each other out – each one too good to lose, but that’s why they both will. One thing he does have to his advantage is his stablemates SAnitY, who could tip the scales in his favour. If they do get involved, it does increase his chances of winning, but I’m just not struck on a Killian win.
Also showing well at War Games was Adam Cole (BayBay), who could have the support of his stable, the Undisputed Era, but they are due to fight in the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, which means their focus could lay elsewhere. Given the animosity between the Undisputed Era and SAnitY, Adam Cole could become a target for Killian, Eric Young and Alexander Wolfe.
That leaves just one, and my pick for this first bout, Velveteen Dream. A man who I am nicknaming the Human Kirby, due to the fact that everyone he faces, he takes part of their style and makes it part of him. His recent matches have been nothing short of excellent and he would make a fantastic champion whose résumé of awesome matches would rival anyone’s in NXT.
This is the match that I am most excited about, and the stare-down at the end of NXT this week only ended up amplifying the excitement.
Winner: Velveteen Dream
NXT Women’s Championship Match – Ember Moon (c) vs Shayna Baszler
These two awe-inspiring women have had some truly first-rate tussles in the past, both during matches and during backstage sections where it feels that neither will ever back down.
Thinking about this match leaves me very conflicted as to who wins. Baszler has caused fear in anyone who dare cross her, and is certainly very contemptible in how she terrifies Dakota Kai. She also caused major damage to Ember Moon at their last Takeover match, the day before the Royal Rumble – where Ember made a main roster debut, bandages and all.
Despite this Ember has valiantly and fearlessly stood up to Baszler. For this match, Shayna will target the arm and shoulder of Ember, weakening her for a submission finish and attempting to nullify the capabilities of Ember’s Eclipse. However, Ember has proven that she can hit that move one-handed if the situation dictates it. Moon will valiantly keep fighting on, and after further targeting and weakening by Shayna, she will succumb to the strategy. It doesn’t fit that Ember will tap out, so one of two eventualities will happen. Either, Ember is made unconscious and can’t tap out, or (my personal favourite) Shayna keeps beating and thrashing Ember, and screams to the referee to either declare her the winner or she breaks Ember’s arm. The referee refuses, so Shayna shapes up to truly injure Moon until the ref steps in to break it up (the match, not the arm).
Winner: Shanya Baszler
Unsanctioned match (If Ciampa wins, Gargano is gone forever. If Gargano wins, he gets reinstated) – Tomasso Ciampa vs Johnny Gargano
My prediction is simple but shocking – Ciampa wins. Everyone expects Gargano to win, or there to be a loophole, but my personal opinion (and it may go against other writers) is that Gargano loses. There will be weapons involved and quite brutal sections where both will look like they are trying to kill each other. The ramifications for this result are that Gargano leaves NXT for good. The expectation may be for him to wind up on either Smackdown or Raw, but I’m predicting that he will re-appear on the independent wrestling scene and isn’t seen in WWE again until next year’s royal rumble, returning as one of the surprise entrants that everyone waits for each year.
Ciampa will bask in the personal glow of having achieved his goal of getting rid of Johnny Wrestling from NXT, and take all the hatred that will come his way for this.
Winner: Tomasso Ciampa
NXT Tag Team Title Match – Undisputed Era (c) vs Authors of Pain w/ Paul Ellering vs Roderick Strong and Pete Dunne
Born out of the Undisputed Era interfering in the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic final (shame they didn’t attack using cow-bells), this match has all the promise of a Match of the Night and even Match of the Year contender.
Undisputed come into this match as the champions, but have to take on two teams, which reduces their odds somewhat. Charly Caruso confirmed on NXT that it is made more of an uphill struggle by the fact that Bobby Fish isn’t medically cleared for Take:Over, so Adam Cole has to pull ‘double duty’ and fight in both the punishing ladder match and a tag-team match.
As if that wasn’t difficult enough, the teams against them are Roderick Strong (Messiah of the Backbreaker) and Pete Dunne (who in his match against Adam Cole would regularly regain control of the match with his sickeningly powerful right-hand punches), and the Authors of Pain (AoP), who are behemoths, from a Mixed Martial Arts background. A team that has steamrollered all in their path and made even the mighty kneel before them.
With so many participants involved, there are plenty of narrative choices and storylines that are interwoven for this match. I have mentioned already the War Games match from last year, which developed the rivalries between AoP, SAnitY and the Undisputed Era. SAnitY themselves are not involved in this match, and I have signalled that they may get entangled in another match on the card, but AoP are most certainly in this match. The rivalry was exemplified by the fact that Undisputed targeted AoP first during their interference in the Dusty Cup final.
An interesting wrinkle to that is that the AoP had a third member to their team for the purposes of War Games. None other than, Roderick Strong. He could be a loyal ally to his tag partner Pete Dunne, but this team is considered rather makeshift. In fact, as recently as February, the duo competed against one another for Dunne’s UK Championship. They also narrowly beat the more fluent team of Danny Burch and Oney Lorcan in the first round, but did tremendously to beat SaNIty in the semi-finals. I think here is where we start to see some cracks in the alliance and it’s hard to envisage Strong giving his all against the AoP.
With the AoP being as dominant as they are, the other teams do need to rally round to take them on with all their available resources. Otherwise it’s difficult to look past the Authors of Pain to continue their story and to sentence the rest of the NXT tag division to a life without the titles.
Winner: Authors Of Pain
NXT Championship Match – Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas w/ Zelina Vega vs Aleister Black
Since teaming up with Zelina Vega, the brains to Almas’ brawn, Andrade has looked unstoppable, beating Drew McIntyre, and temporarily ending Johnny Gargano’s NXT career (albeit with some help). Will he be as dominant against Aleister Black on Saturday?
This one truly is too close to call. As mentioned above, Zelina Vega has been a godsend to Almas and has seen his NXT career take a huge upturn in fortunes. Even when she’s been nullified, Almas still gets the win from somewhere. On the 28th March episode of NXT he showed a brutal side to his persona, with his vicious attack on Aleister Black, which included an attempted drowning.
This brutality has only added to the rivalry between the two. I fully expect Black to be baying for Almas’ blood. Angry at the humiliating attack sustained previously, this match promises to be bubbling over with intensity.
Zelina will get involved in this match, and she could be cancelled out again by Candice Le Rae, which is a future match waiting to happen.
This will be a titanic struggle between two extra-ordinary combatants, which only one can win. As good as Almas’ reign has been, it could be that Black takes the next step and takes the victory. With his finishing move having the potential to end any match in an instant, Aleister could be beaten from pillar to post and still pull out the win. And that’s how I see the match unfolding. Almas controls the match and looks the dominant force for large parts but gets caught with the Black Mass and loses the belt that is so precious to him. But with that comes promise and as is posited by Ross Bramble here, Almas could well end up on the main roster.