NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia, The Preview

By Nathan Bones @fretlessnathan

On Saturday January 27th, WWE NXT will present their next instalment of the Takeover series from the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia.

Taking place only two months since the last NXT Takeover event (and factoring in the break for the Holidays), the show hasn’t had a long time to build. Arguably the brand is currently in somewhat of a holding pattern as the march towards New Orleans begins. Nevertheless, there has never been a Takeover show that has failed to deliver and I feel this show will be no different.

Indeed, I predict some swerves in the booking, solid matches and a rabid and vocal Philly crowd. Certainly, from an anticipation standpoint, this should prove to be the perfect lead-in for the Royal Rumble the next night.

In this article, I’ll go match-by-match; giving a quick overview of the build, what I think should happen in the match and my predictions for the winner.

Agree with me? Disagree with me? Want to discuss it further? Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter: @fretlessnathan

The rundown of the card is as follows:

Andrade “Cien” Almas (c) (with Zelina Vega) vs. Johnny Gargano

Singles match for the NXT Championship

Aleister Black vs. Adam Cole

Extreme Rules match

Ember Moon (c) vs. Shayna Baszler

Singles match for the NXT Women’s Championship

The Undisputed Era (Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly) (c) vs. The Authors of Pain (Akam and Rezar)

Tag team match for the NXT Tag Team Championship

***

The Matches

Andrade “Cien” Almas (c) (with Zelina Vega) vs. Johnny Gargano

Singles match for the NXT Championship

The Build: Due to the biceps tear suffered by Drew McIntyre in the latter stages of the NXT Championship match at TakeOver WarGames last November, the number one contendership slot was wide open. After overcoming Kassius Ohno in a singles match, then Killian Dain, Lars Sullivan and Aleister Black in a subsequent fatal four-way on December 27th, Johnny Wrestling emerged as the man to attempt to seize the crown from the rejuvenated Mexican sensation.

These two have history; having met previously in rather different circumstances last summer at NXT TakeOver Brooklyn III. At that point, Johnny Wrestling was fresh off his betrayal at the hands of former best friend and #DIY tag team partner Tomasso Ciampa, whilst Almas was only just getting back to winning ways under the guidance of his muse/manager Vega. You’ll remember she held up a #DIY t-shirt to distract Gargano into losing the match.

It makes one wonder whether Gargano has succeeding in exorcising the ghosts of his past. Perhaps one in the shape of a Sicilian Psychopath will be on hand in the City of Brotherly Love to haunt him.

What Should Happen: Unquestionably, Almas deserves more than a two-month title reign; particularly given the distinct lack of screen time he’s enjoyed since his title win. Also, he has plenty potential as a top heel act with Zelina Vega on the weekly show and needs more time and occasions to shine.

Indeed, I foresee the continued direction for Almas being a showdown with Aleister Black for the belt at the next TakeOver in New Orleans.

The question is: how should Andrade be booked to retain the title here? Personally, I have little appetite for a clean win and I feel there are two potential scenarios:

1. Underdog Johnny simply comes up short from the match and is outgunned by Andrade, who utilises every heelish trick in the book, as well as the serpentine skills of Vega to his ultimate advantage.

2. Tomasso Ciampa returns to cost Gargano the belt at a key juncture in the match, brutally beating him down yet again after the match.

Prediction: Ultimately, I feel scenario 2 is irresistible, as it serves two purposes. Firstly, Almas emerges looking like a beatable heel champion; barely scraping by with a win. Further, the former #DIY partners can pivot off into a blood feud that transcends the NXT title (at least for now); creating the potential for some incredible matches with top-notch storytelling. Pick: Andrade “Cien” Almas

Aleister Black vs. Adam Cole

Extreme Rules match

The Build: The two initially met on December 6th in a qualifier for the NXT Championship number one contendership fatal-four-way. Cole was eliminated from the running by Aleister following a devastating black mass kick. Subsequently, the vengeful ‘Era cost Black his chance at the NXT Title in the aforementioned fatal-four-way match on the December 27th episode.

The feud was resumed on the January 10th episode, wherein Black teamed with Roderick Strong to challenge Fish and O’Reilly for their NXT Tag Team Championship. Cole cost the babyfaces the match; blindsiding and luring Black into the crowd and allowing the Tag Team Champions to pick the bones and pin Roddy. It was at this point that William Regal made the Extreme Rules match.

A minor criticism of the stipulation is that it feels as if it has been somewhat expedited and used merely because they’re in Philadelphia (the home of ECW), rather than serving as a blow-off to a hot feud. Also, if The Undisputed Era are prone to interfere and as such, a potential threat to the integrity of the match, why not hold it in a cage?

As frustrating as these logical inconsistencies may be at times, I expect these two to have a well-paced and dynamic match; pushing the envelope creatively with all manner of toys at their disposal.

Will Cole’s supremacy be Undisputed, or will he simply Fade to Black?

What Should Happen: For my money, this is perhaps the hardest match of the night to call, as the two seem evenly-matched on the face of it. Black is the larger, more powerful striker versus Cole’s wily snake of a faction leader. Fortunately, the inclusion of an Extreme Rules stipulation gives a degree of flexibility in the booking that wouldn’t otherwise exist; allowing an ‘out’ for Black to lose the match without having his stock fall too dramatically.

In this “extreme” environment, Cole can stack the deck against Black and cement himself as a credible, formidable heel, rather than the chickenshit we’ve seen since his debut last August. Utilising weapons and (if they pull double-duty) the presence of Fish and O’Reilly, he could use sheer force of numbers and plunder to overpower the enigmatic Dutchman.

Prediction: Thankfully, they no longer have Black’s undefeated card to play, as he has already been pinned prior to this match (albeit in spurious circumstances in a multi-man match), so the proverbial toothpaste is already out of the tube on that one. Streaks of that sort can be limiting, so at least there’s a degree of creative freedom to work with.

Alas, I feel that Aleister will show vulnerability and eventually capitulate against the sheer force of the Undisputed Era’s numbers and potentially, a wide array of weaponry. I don’t foresee a mat classic, but I expect a dramatic showdown nonetheless. I would assume The Undisputed Era will triple-team and perhaps hog-tie the former Tommy End at some point, a la Crush at Wrestlemania X.

I fully expect a battered and bruised Black to pick himself up after this loss and avenge his honour, on the way to an NXT Championship match at the next TakeOver show in New Orleans. This redemption storyline will likely occur probably via a few TV wins over Undisputed Era members.

Far from a s bad thing in the long term, this loss will show some range and dynamism to Black’s character and create a sympathetic babyface for the fans to get behind en route to his chase for gold in early April.

Conversely, Cole’s direction after this match is perhaps harder to plot. Still, I feel that from the standpoints of booking and momentum, he needs this victory more than his opponent does; whether tainted or not. Pick: Adam Cole (bay-bay)

Ember Moon (c) vs. Shayna Baszler

Singles match for the NXT Women’s Championship

The Build: After a game showing in the Mae Young Classic, finalist Baszler debuted on the January 10th episode of NXT, absolutely destroying Dakota Kai in 93 seconds; seemingly injuring her arm in the process with a brutal, measured strike on the joint. In the post-match melee, Baszler piled on the misery by choking out the young Kai, despite the attempts of security guards and referees to remove her. Only with the arrival of Ember in street clothes did the cowardly Baszler relent.

On the January 17th episode, Ember saved a vulnerable Aaliyah from a beatdown at the hands of Shayna. Moon goaded Baszler into doing the same to her and to pick a time and a place, and she will “bring (my) title”. The former MMA star replied that she would do it if the title were on the line, with Regal making the match shortly thereafter.

What Should Happen: Realistically, the outcome of this match is crucial for both competitors’ short and long-term futures. Baszler is coming into the match with minimal televisual exposure, but plenty of (well-founded) credibility, legitimacy and expectation. Since arriving in NXT she’s has been booked like an absolute killer.

Nevertheless, the former mixed martial artist lost in the final of the Mae Young Classic to a performer in Kairi Sane who is much smaller and less powerful than Moon, so there’s that wrinkle in the booking. Having said that, the character she’s been playing on the yellow brand of late is a far cry from the one who came up short in the tournament last autumn and I’m not sure the former iteration is exactly canon, so to speak.

Ember on the other hand has suffered as champion in the same way as Almas: minimal screen time with the gold and not much time and scope to show fans what she’s actually about. Currently, it is arguably too early to take the belt from such a popular babyface this close to TakeOver New Orleans.

Prediction: A game Ember will be overpowered and outmanoeuvred by Shayna, who will make the babyface tap out with a brutal submission (probably a modified rear naked choke) after a punishing match-long decimation; not that I foresee the match running long. After the decision and being awarded the belt, Baszler won’t release the hold and the decision will be reversed; thus, the injured Moon will retain her title.

From a storytelling perspective, the Texan champion could benefit from being off TV for a few weeks and reintroduced with some character-building vignettes charting her recovery from her kayfabe “injury”. These packages could also aid the build for the return match against Shayna in New Orleans to avenge her loss of face in the disputed finish. Pick: Ember Moon (by reversed decision)

The Undisputed Era (Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly) (c) vs. The Authors of Pain (Akam and Rezar)

Tag team match for the NXT Tag Team Championship

The Build: The Authors have been sniffing around the Tag Team Championship since losing them to Sanity at Takeover: Brooklyn III. Yet after putting in an impressive performance in the WarGames match, they’ve been arguably treading water. On the January 16th episode, they overcame the up and coming Street Profits to gain another title shot.

This match presents the two behemoths a chance to go at the throne and the team of Fish and O’Reilly their sternest test since capturing the gold.

Will Fish and O’Reilly turn the page on the Authors’ NXT career, or will Akam and Rezar write their next chapter as two-time champions?

What Should Happen: Arguably, the fact that the Authors of Pain are still in NXT, and not the main roster, is somewhat of a curiosity. They may still be relatively inexperienced technically, but they’ve had a great tenure in NXT and there really is little left for them to do at this level except pass the torch to the next team to scale the summit of the division.

Indeed, I see this match as the one to truly cement The Undisputed Era as the dynamic team to beat in NXT; much as The Revival were. With their proven track record and past dominance, AoP are truly the team to beat to get this concept over the top.

Prediction: The powerful, yet green, Authors will make a couple of crucial errors which will be capitalised upon by the opportunistic Fish and O’Reilly, who will retain their titles. Unless there’s

further retributive action taken by Sanity to avenge their recent beatdown at the Center Stage tapings, I can’t see this going any other way.

I fully expect to see Ellering’s boys on the main roster soon enough and their opponents going on to feud with Heavy Machinery, The Street Profits and a rejuvenated Sanity over the coming weeks. Based on their build and hype, it’s likely their long-term opponents will be the returning TM-61. Pick: The Undisputed Era

Kassisus Ohno vs The Velveteen Dream

Singles match

The Build: There really has been no build to this match at all, as it was only announced only a few days prior to the show on a conference call by Triple H. Even so, The Dream is surely out to prove himself against the veteran Ohno and based on his past matches with both Aleister Black and Johnny Gargano, he’s set to do just that.

If they’re allowed to go longer than ten minutes, expect this to be the sleeper match of the night.

What Should Happen: Although there has been no build to this, I’d like to see The Velveteen Dream assert himself over his opponent with innovative offense, bags of athleticism and a generally charismatic performance.

Although Kassius is acting as ‘jobber to the stars’ in this current run, he’s a very giving opponent who can truly go; not to mention a seasoned ring general who can tell an exceptional story in the squared circle. I feel he’ll get the best out of the up and comer and make him look like a million dollars.

Prediction: The Velveteen Dream will pick up a decisive win in a competitive little match; via the Purple RainMaker elbow. Pick: The Velveteen Dream

***

This is shaping up to be a solid card and I hope you’ve enjoyed my preview. I’m sure it will stir up some debate.

Enjoy the show!

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