WrestleMania weekend has arrived in Dallas, Texas where World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) is banking on the distant hope that 100k fans will fill AT&T Stadium to watch one of the most underwhelming super-cards in years. Injuries and one forced retirement started adversely affecting this show’s prospects months ago. Terrible booking doesn’t help either. Instead of being treated to bona fide dream matches like John Cena v. The Undertaker and Seth Rollins v. HHH, we are being force-fed the McMahon Family Drama, one that has been playing out on WWE television for more than 15 years. The one bright spot to this weekend is tonight’s NXT Takeover show. For those unaware, NXT is WWE’s developmental program-turned-runaway success with a weekly show and occasional special events that have overshadowed the “big stage” WWE product for over two years now. Now well-stocked with indie, international, and home-grown talent, NXT now houses the best collection of in-ring talent in North America, if not the world. Even if WrestleMania doesn’t deliver, it’s all but guaranteed that NXT will.
For those curious, below are my NXT Takeover predictions. I will post my WrestleMania ones in due course.
- Samoa Joe v. Finn Balor (c) – NXT Championship Match –> The last time these two faced off they had a near-**** match, and I expect the same this time. While Joe has had to tone down his style a tad since joining NXT, he has steadily developed an alternative in-ring approach that highlights his reputation as a monster without relying on dangerous offensive maneuvers. Balor, as most know, is one of the best workers in the world. With rumors swirling that he will be called up to the main roster after WrestleMania, Joe seems likely to take the strap and have a run as the main guy on NXT for a bit.
- Asuka v. Bayley (c) – NXT Women’s Championship –> This bout should prove interesting given the contrast of styles. Bayley is a straightforward American pro-wrestler with great workrate and psychology. Asuka just destroys people with her martial arts-based moveset. Both of these competitors are fan favorites and both will likely be around NXT for awhile longer. Given how well they have built Asuka up as an unstoppable killing machine, she is my favorite to go over here. However, this is a feud NXT can extend for months and I wouldn’t be surprised if Bayley retains initially before eventually losing the title to Asuka down the road.
- American Alpha v. The Revival (c) – NXT Tag Team Championship –> If given the right amount of time, this match could steal the show with a brilliant mix of amateur-style mat work, suplexes, and ring psychology. As much as I love The Revival and their old-school tag team wrestling style, I don’t see them as long-term favorites to hold the belts. American Alpha, on the other hand, seem poised for greatness, particularly Chad Gable. He has all of the tools to be the next Kurt Angle. My money is on NXT doing the right thing and sending the crowd home happy with American Alpha as champions.
- Sami Zayn v. Shinsuke Nakamura –> Up until January 4 of this year, if you would have told me Nakamura would be spending 2016 wrestling in either an NXT or WWE ring, I would have thought you were crazy. Now it’s coming true in what appears to be Sami Zayn’s final NXT match before moving to the main roster full-time. (Zayn is also wrestling at WrestleMania.) Nakamura’s debut is intriguing for two reasons. First, how much latitude will the WWE give Nakamura to be, well, Nakamura? The self-professed “King of Strong Style” is arguably one of the top three or four wrestlers in the world, but that doesn’t mean his hard-hitting, knee-striking ways will be permitted in WWE (or NXT). Second, how well will Nakamura get over with an American audience after spending his career in Japan? Hardcore NXT fans will go nuts for him no matter what, but the plan is for his NXT run to be a brief transition period for heading to the big stage. As for this match, I have no doubt Nakamura prevails here and that both men will deliver a sterling performance.
- Austin Aries v. Baron Corbin –> The good news is that Austin Aries is finally performing live in an NXT ring. The bad news is that it’s with Baron Corbin. WWE officials may be high on Corbin because of his size, but his ring-work is pedestrian and uninspired. Aries, however, is a veteran worker who can carry Corbin to a good match. It is doubtful NXT would bring Aries in just to job him on his big debut. Besides, at this point the only thing Corbin should be doing is playing a serviceable mid-card heel to put over the babyfaces on their way to the main event.
- Apollo Crews v. Elias Samson –> Why is this match even on the card? I am not sold on either of these guys despite Crews’s amazing athleticism. I suspect this bout will serve as a buffer between two of the more high-profile matches on the card. The quicker it is over with the better.