Before I start with my NXT and (later) WrestleMania previews allow me to get something off my chest. I have read countless comments and comparisons between Takeover Dallas and WrestleMania. While NXT is, indeed, part of WWE (something we should never forget), at some point we, wrestling fans, have to be realistic. NXT is a niche show, presented by WWE and, while not perfect, aimed at us, wrestling fans. Most of us soon started to like it and, eventually, jumped on the band-wagon, which is fine. Then we, of course, started comparing the two products, which, I guess, was also fine. At first. There comes a time when we need to wake up and smell the hummus. There is no way WWE will ever model it’s product after NXT. The biggest proof of that fact lies in a recent Vince McMahon interview where he stated that he didn’t believe that the NXT brand could draw money. That says it all right there. So, I will not start comparing both shows in the various previews and reviews I will write between now and next week, but simply say this:
NXT Takeover Dallas is a show aimed at wrestling fans, and, since I’m a wrestling fan, it’s a show that I feel I will enjoy watching. WrestleMania is NOT really aimed at wrestling fans, it’s aimed at the elusive larger, more casual audience WWE has been running after for a while now and which they’ve been trying to catch with “sports entertainment” or whatever it’s supposed to be. In other words, something I feel is not aimed at me. At all (and before anyone asks, the only reason I will watch is because I’m a writer on IP and try to take that particular “job” seriously). Whether WWE reaches their target with WrestleMania or not is actually irrelevant. Those two shows are very different animals, with very different aims (however misguided most of us think one of these aim is) so comparing them is complete waste of time. And no, WWE will not learn anything if every WRESTLING fan praises NXT Dallas to the moon and spits on WM (which I’ll more than likely do), because, in a way, that’s what they’re expecting anyway.
That all being said, let’s take an in-depth look at the show I KNOW I will love before I start the daunting task of trying to figure out who or what exactly WrestleMania is aiming at:
Baron Corbin vs Austin Aries:
Many have had questions about this match, most notably why Corbin was chosen as Aries’ first opponent. Well the answer to that one is fairly simple, how else is Corbin gonna learn? Allow me to burst some soap-bubbles here. Like it or not, this match isn’t for Austin Aries’ benefit, it’s for Baron Corbin’s benefit. This is why talented wrestlers like Samoa Joe, Austin Aries, Rich Swann, Johnny Gargano and others have been hired recently, not to make them future WWE main roster superstars, but to have them help NXT prepare what WWE sees as their future superstars. Let’s face it, we all know that Vince McMahon and Kevin Dunn still don’t really give a damn about those “indie guys” don’t we? It’s the Baron Corbin’s, Mojo Rawley’s and Tino Sabbatelli’s of this world they are interested in. So sure someone like Aries will probably have a good run in NXT, and, while doing that, they will be counting on him to mix it up with the aforementioned WWE main roster hopefuls and share his experience and in-ring wisdom with them. As for AA’s main roster aspiration, well, at best, one day he’ll be part of the now traditional WrestleMania Multi-man IC-title cluster-fuck. Or he’ll join the Social Outcasts in the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal. Don’t expect WWE to do much more with him.
But enough with the gloomy WWE thoughts, this match is not without interest on its own. Whatever Aries’ WWE future holds, this will be his first WWE/NXT match and, knowing AA’s mentality, he will be ultra-motivated to make this one count. As for Corbin, credit where credit is due, he has shown some fire during his attack on Aries for once and has already proven he can be carried to a decent match when matched with a superior worker. Corbin’s main problem remains his inability to keep the crowd’s attention when the spotlight is on him for more than 30 seconds. In other words, despite whatever in-ring improvements he might have made when it come to technique and performing wrestling moves, those are immediately rendered irrelevant whenever he actually needs to sell something, anything.
Win or lose doesn’t really matter for Corbin here, as explained above he’s in these kind of matches for other reasons, so I expect Aries to take this one. But the real question here is, what can Aries make of Corbin.? Can he carry Corbin to a good match? Better yet, can Aries make Corbin look like a superstar? Because, believe it or not, that’s what this match is really about.
Winner: Austin Aries
NXT Tag Team Championship Match – The Revival (Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder) (c) vs American Alpha (Jason Jordan and Chad Gable):
As a fan of tag team wrestling, I’ve really been looking forward to this one, simply because I like both team, albeit for very different reasons. The Revival have that old school heel team aura about them I really enjoy while American Alpha have wowed the NXT crowds with their freshness and their awesomely enthusiastic in-ring style. So this is basically a tag team dream match, right? Well, not exactly, and the reason for that is that NXT’s tag team division, while light-years ahead of WWE4s in terms or match quality and entertainment value, hasn’t really been in the spotlight lately. That might change if the Dusty Rhodes challenge returns, but, that aslo means the timing for this match is slightly wrong. Problem they have here is that NXT doesn’t promote that many “big shows”, meaning they almost HAD to book the match here, but, facing stiff competition from the three top matches, it might also mean that American Alpha’s first title win (because yes, I do believe they will win here) becomes something of an afterthought.
Of course, even if that’s the case, Gable will probably illuminate what is basically the under-card with his talent, but I can’t help but feel that under different circumstances, this could have been a much bigger match. Ah well, we’ll see how it goes, I guess.
Winner: American Alphas
Apollo Crews vs Elias Samson:
Let’s call a cat a cat here, this is the ugly duckling on this card and there is little chance of having this match actually turn into a beautiful swan. While recent episodes of NXT have at least given those two a reason to clash, the simple fact is that both Crews and Samson have been struggling lately. Crews was heralded as the next big thing in NXT when he debuted last year. That enthusiasm quickly waned when the months flew by and the former Uhaa Nation failed to make that much of an impact. Now fans of Apollo might blame the booking, but, the man himself has to shoulder some of the blame also. Indeed, while it is true that Crews is very athletic and has some outstanding moves, his transitions between moves haven’t been that great and he obviously struggles to connect with the crowds whenever he’s not performing those big moves. Being able to perform a standing moonsault (or whatever it’s called) is all very well, but, if that move is just there for the sake of being there (in other words, if you can’t draw the crowd into everything else you do in the ring), then that’s just one wow moment, quickly taken for granted when you do it in every match and, even worse, quickly forgotten afterwards.
Ironically, Elisa Samson has more or less the same problem. Granted, his god-awful drifter gimmick doesn’t help, but he also hasn’t been able to connect with the crowds in any way. To use his own gimmick to describe his current in-ring style, he sorts of drifts from one move to another, without much aim or direction, before finally settling down with his top-rope elbow drop. Not exactly the stuff of legends.
So it’s directionless vs aimless here, but it might also be crunch-time for both of them. Indeed, considering what else is on the card, those two really need to find a way to make their match work and deliver an outstanding performance as soon as their entrance music hits, otherwise they run the risk of becoming NXT Takeover Dallas’ version of the dreaded toilet-break match.
Winner: Elias Samson
Shinsuke Nakamura vs Sami Zayn:
Faithful readers of Metalhead’s Riff, Thoughts and whatever rantings I unleash upon your unsuspecting souls will already know that this is the match I anticipate the most and that has everything to do with the presence of Shinsuke Nakamura. Although the news of Nakamura signing with WWE left me with some sense of upcoming dread, due mainly to WWE’s abysmal record in handling “foreign” stars, it must be said NXT hasn’t done a bad job until now. Not that they’ve found a genius way to introduce Nakamura or anything, they simply let Nakamura be Nakamura. With some that’s all that’s needed.
The choice of Sami Zayn as Nak’s first opponent is also a wise one. Zayn knows Nakamura’s style well so there will be no chemistry problems here.If backstage rumors are to be believed, this might be Zayn’s swan song when it come to NXT as most expect him to be “promoted” to the main roster after that. Given the fact Nakamura is, reportedly” earning what most describe as “main-event ” money, I expect him to follow suit in the coming months. In a way, this match will be interesting for that also. Here Zayn and Nakamura will have the opportunity to do what they’re both awesome at, and that is entertaining people through a wrestling match. I can’t help but wonder how nostalgic we’ll all fell in a couple of months when seeing how WWE will use Zayn and Nakamura.
But those are all worries for later. Until now, NXT has done everything right when it comes to Nakamura, simply by putting his “King of Strong Style” meets Michael Jackson and Freddy Mercury character in the spotlight. Basically all they have left to do is give those two enough time and let what will undoubtedly be an awesome match be just that. An awesome match. And yes, sometimes wrestling is indeed as simple as that. Expect a strong match of the year candidate this Friday and you’ll be in exactly the mood you need to be in to watch this one.
Winner: Shinsuke Nakamura.
NXT Women’s Championship Match – Bayley (c) vs Asuka:
If you follow wrestling long enough, every once in awhile you will come across a match that just writes itself. This is one of those instances. Ever since Asuka (back then presented as Kanna) was shown in a NXT crowd, at NXT Takeover Brooklyn, speculation about an eventual Bayley/Asuka match started. Of course Brooklyn was also the place where Bayley and Sasha Banks had their much heralded match that ended with Bayley being crowned the new Women’s champion. At Takeover Respect, we witnessed an ending an a beginning. The ending was Bayley putting an end to her awesome feud with Sasha in the main event of the show. The beginning was Asuka making her debut, by delivering an awesome ass-kicking to Dana Brooke (which is, incidentally, considered The Total diva’s best match ever). At Takeover London, both were presented new challenges, Nia Jax for Bayley and Emma for Asuka. In that instance it was very clear to most observers that Emma/Asuka, despite some silly shenanigans towards the end, had clearly upstaged Bayley/Nia Jax (even if Bayley did work a minor miracle here). This would be a recurrent theme by the way, while Asuka kicked some much needed experience into the other NXT performers, Bayley also worked hard to carry the likes of Alexa Bliss, Carmella and Eva Marie to their best match ever (which, in some case, wasn’t saying much, but still). And all this time, fans were already looking forward to the moment those two almost parallel traject would finally cross .
That happened a couple of weeks ago, with Asuka saving Carmella (and Bayley) from a beat-down by Nia Jax and Eva Marie. But more importantly than the beatdown were the battle-lines between Asuka and Bayley finally being drawn. And, take heed WWE, all it took in this instance was one smile. One incredibly scary (but also strangely attractive, but that may be only me) smile. The rest was all details, including Asuka’s re-match against Emma. All that was left to do was for William Regal to make it official and we’re finally there. The match every wrestling fan wanted to see.
I have no doubt this will be a great match, but I do have some reservations here. Judging from what happened in recent weeks, NXT might actually be tempted to have the usual suspects (Emma, Dana Brooke, Nia Jax and Eva Marie) interfere here in order to prolong the feud between Asuka and Bayley and make the eventual grudge match between the two that much more exiting. But they need to be very careful with that. NXT has booked non-finishes to their big matches on occasion, and, it must be said, more or less got away with them, but this is a match that fans have been looking forward to for months. This is also a match that could herald character changes for one (or both) of the competitors. This is a match between two of the best female workers wrestling has right now. Do we really need those extra’s? I believe (and really hope HHH believes the same) that, just like the Nakamura/Zayn affair, NXT needs to let this match be a match. If that happens, then Nakamura and Zayn will face some very serious competition for match of the night (week/month/year) honors.
Now to answer the BIG question, I believe Asuka will take away the win and the title, setting up a huge re-match against Bayley. This is why I spoke of character changes above. When these two ladies clash, sparks are gonna fly, fireworks will be set off, and, well, you get the idea. If the Empress of Tomorrow indeed wins, how will that affect the way she looks at the other competitors? If Bayley indeed loses, how will that affect her, who worked so hard to get where she is right now? Interesting stories to follow, but those can only happen if Asuka wins.
NXT Championship Match – Finn Balor (c) vs Samoa Joe:
It may not seem that way, but I think there is enormous pressure on both Balor and Joe for this match. Not only has that match happened before at Takeover London, and while very good (especially the closing stretch), didn’t exactly meet the expectations many had, but they are also main eventing a loaded card and have to follow Nakamura/Zayn and Bayley/Asuka. Not an easy task if you ask me.
It’s a bit of a strange story here. After losing to Balor in London, Joe started his quest to become the number 1 contender again. After a couple of detours, he finally regained his spot after winning a great two-out-of-three-falls match against Sami Zayn. Now a supposedly enraged Joe can finally concentrate on his main goal and that is becoming the NXT Champion.
Meanwhile Balor all but disappeared after London. Aside from a well-received non-title match against Crews and a more recent glorified squash match against Swann, the NXT champion seldom appeared on the TV show (he was, of course, very present during the various NXT house shows). So the question here is, did NXT pull Balor out of the spotlight to enhance Joe’s road back to the top? Or was it their way to make the fans forget this match already happened and was concluded with a clear winner? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that Joe and Balor could have a bad match even if they wanted to, but, especially from Balor’s side, there doesn’t seem to be much of a reason for this to happen again. UUnless they’re having Joe react to Balor’s Demon side, identifying this as Joe’s real enemy. Then things could get really intense.
As for the winner, I think that will be decided by which direction NXT has in mind for Nakamura and Balor. There can be no doubt they will push Nakamura heavily from the start, they simply can’t afford not to given what they’re paying him, so the real question here is, who will be Nakamura’s second opponent? I think that Finn Balor will lose and then spend some time looking for a new attitude (and a Club), while Joe, after celebrating the end of his road towards NXT glory, all too suddenly finds himself to be The King of Strong-Style’s next target.
Winner: Samoa Joe
ANd there you have it, the complete card for NXT Takeover Dallas. And I think it’s safe to conclude that this should be awesome. See you all in a few days for my WrestleMania preview.
Tags: American Alpha, apollo crews, Asuka, Austin Aries, Baron Corbin, bayley, Elias Samson, Finn Balor, NXT, NXT Takeover: Dallas, sami zayn, Samoa Joe, shinsuke nakamura, The Revival