WrestleMania is almost upon us, and that means it’s almost time for the event that is sure to dominate WrestleMania weekend for years and years to come. You may be excited for WrestleMania, for the Hall of Fame, and for the almost-always amazing Raw-After-WrestleMania, but this year WWE has brought out the big guns to bring the fans what promises to be the weekend-stealing card of the year: NXT Takeover:Dallas.
And really, they ought to just call this thing “Takeover:Mania” because that’s exactly what it’s done. The general consensus among we, the internet fan community, is that this show will blow the main roster product out of the water. Even though WWE will produce around 11 hours of content for WrestleMania weekend (during the 3 hour Hall of Fame, the 5 hour Mania, and the 3 hour R.A.W.), it’s the “little” 2 hour Takeover, tucked away late on Friday night, that is sure to please the fans the most.
Going back to last year, NXT has been living in the shadow of Brooklyn. The supershow, NXT Takeover:Brooklyn stole SummerSlam weekend and overshadowed the second biggest PPV on WWE’s calendar. It saw title changes, breathtaking matches and some of the best wrestling experienced all year. NXT ran two more Takeover specials in 2015 but neither of them—Takeover:Respect and Takeover:London—were able to reach the pinnacle of the Brooklyn special. Now, as WrestleMania 32 (the show that is hoped to be the biggest Mania of them all) looms, NXT is ready to outdo itself and once again prove why its the best wrestling show out there today.
Poster courtesy of Ric Gray
What’s in the cards for Takeover:Mania. Let’s discuss it…
APOLLO CREWS vs ELIAS SAMPSON
When one of the hottest babyface acts in your promotion is in a throwaway match sure to open the show, you know you have a stacked card. And that’s just what we have here. Apollo Crews made his debut in Brooklyn last year and found his way onto both followup Takeover shows, scoring a victory over Tyler Breeze at Respect and losing to Baron Corbin in London. Along the way he’s had great battles for the NXT championship and in non-title matches against Finn Balor too. He’s a dynamic player and certainly a future main-eventer, but right now he’s kind of meandering without much direction. His opponent at Takeover:Dallas is Elias Sampson, a man who looks like Randy Savage but wrestles like Randy Orton…in slow motion. It’s clear the NXT higher-ups see a lot in him, but right now he’s not winning over the crowd. His moves and his character are a little too dull. But he’s going to work with Apollo Crews, who is lightning quick, athletic and agile and sure to get the best match possible out of Sampson. Let’s hope Elias brings a little extra something to the table. The Dallas Convention Center will be the biggest stage he’s competed on, if he stumbles there, it may be the biggest stage he ever competes on.
Prediction for the match?
BARON CORBIN vs AUSTIN ARIES
If it wasn’t for a certain Japanese sensation, Austin Aries’ arrival to NXT would be the biggest free agent signing since Kevin Owens back in late 2014. Landing Aries is still a big deal though, as he was one of the top Ring of Honor and TNA competitors during his time with those promotions. He’s held multiple world titles and wrestled all over the world. He hasn’t yet shown it on NXT (because he simply hasn’t had the chance yet) but he’s got charisma and personality in spades and a library of wrestling moves to work with. Takeover:Dallas will be his in-ring debut and there’s probably a few fans—a few—who will be seeing him for the first time. Who they won’t be seeing first will be Aries’ opponent, Baron Corbin. After several years in the developmental system, Corbin has finally found some in-ring skills to go along with a good look and a blossoming personality. His character is basically him saying “I’m a real athlete, an NFL superstar, and I’m bigger and better than all those little wrestling boys from Ring of Honor and the indies.” It’s the perfect character for someone like that, and the 5’9 Austin Aries is the perfect foil. This match probably won’t be given enough time to steal the show, but it still might be a surprisingly great match.
SAMI ZAYN vs SHINSUKE NAKAMURA
Knowing that this is, in all expectation, Sami Zayn’s final Takeover, is very bittersweet. It’s like graduating high school. You know your friends are going off to bigger and better things, but a part of you still wishes you could stay in 12th Grade and keep on having fun in school. Sami is leaving the NXT family, after years of being the face of the franchise. He was the glue of the show and the brand’s moral compass. His 2014 quest to win the NXT title was the only thing WWE or NXT has ever done that rivaled the Daniel Bryan story. And now he’s off to greener pastures on the main roster (at least…we hope they will be greener…….if not, please come back Sami) and this will be his swan song.
But what a swan song! His opponent is this guy, pictured here next to a decrepit old fossil:
Shinsuke Nakamura, the “King of Strong Style,” is the biggest signing in NXT history. Bigger than El Generico, bigger than Pac, bigger than Prince Devitt or KENTA or Kevin Steen. This is the biggest “get” Triple H ever got. I assume they are paying him top dollar and I expect every penny will be worth it. Nakamura makes his NXT debut against the face of the company making his goodbye. That was most-certainly intentional. Still, not even Nakamura can fill the hole that will be felt without Sami Zayn every Wednesday night. I expect an instant-classic, match of the year contender as Sami bows out.
And what about the finish?
THE REVIVAL vs AMERICAN ALPHA
I will always have a soft-spot for Enzo and Cass. They were the first NXT tag team I fell in love with and I hope they are getting a call up to the main roster as early as the post-Mania Raw. They have no place on this card and so I hope I will get a chance to cheer for them in person at some point during WrestleMania weekend. That said, they spent the past several months in a quest to unseat Dash and Dawson (now known as The Revival), and have come up short time and again. It’s clear looking back that Ezno and Cass were simply vehicles used to get The Revival over as Tag Champions and to move them away from being perceived as mere transitional champs. The same work was put into Blake and Murphy and it made for a memorable moment when they finally lost the Tag straps at Takeover:Brooklyn. I expect the same big moment to come in Dallas as The Revival take on the newest, hottest act in NXT: American Alpha.
I can’t say enough about how purely fun Jason Jordan and Chad Gable are. They are at times the rebirth of the World’s Greatest Tag Team and other times they are the second coming of the Minnesota Stretching Crew. Jason Jordan is currently the best hot tag in the business and Chad Gable is like someone packaged Kurt Angle into Eddie Guerrero’s body. He’s small but he can do amazing things in amateur-style. If nothing else, and with both singles titles very much up in the air, the one absolute certainty needs to be that Takeover:Dallas is Jordan and Gable’s coronation. Dash and Dawson have done a great job going from jobber team to top of the line heel champs, but this is American Alpha’s time.
So of course…!
BAYLEY vs ASUKA
Again, the singles title matches are anyone’s guess. You can make a logical case for any of the four to win their match. That’s what so exciting about it. With the Women’s Title match you have two very different competitors. Bayley is everything WWE wants John Cena to be. She’s a scrappy underdog with lots of talent that has to rise up and conquer bigger and badder challengers. With the departure of Sasha, Becky and Charlotte, Bayley is the last remnant of the women’s division that carried NXT for the better part of a year. Whether or not she wins this match may determine if we see her again on Raw the following Monday. She has been “ready” for her call up for a long time now, but even more than Sami Zayn, NXT needs Bayley. The talent drop off in the women’s division, after her, is steep. There are a few others who are ready to step up but they don’t command the star power and appeal to the audience the way Bayley does.
And then there’s Asuka. Despite what I just wrote, Asuka is certainly every bit the wrestler that Bayley is. She has a great presence too (she just lacks a lot of the connection with the audience that Bayley has so naturally). Asuka is brutal in the ring (in a good way), often winning her matches in short order after a flurry of kicks and submission moves. She represents a totally different kind of challenge than Bayley has ever faced. Bayley spent all last year dealing with big personalities that were her equal in the ring. Since winning the title she’s taken on big monsters like Nia Jax who she could run circles around, she’s taken on smaller quicker challengers like Carmella that she can simply out-wrestle, and she’s taken on Eva Marie….aaanyway.
But Asuka is her own brand of challenge. This is a competitor who can be presented as Bayley’s superior in the ring. The fact that she’s still technically a babyface also allows for some different storylines coming out of the show. If Bayley wins she obviously would not be getting a main roster call up, and Asuka could go heel on her, win the title in a rematch and set up a rubber match as far away as the next Takeover:Brooklyn this August. On the other hand Asuka could win straight up, Bayley could give a bow and debut as the next WWE Divas Title challenger as early as that Monday night. There’s a lot that can be done and it seems any decision they take will be a good one.
FINN BALOR vs SAMOA JOE
And now for the main event. There’s no question that the NXT Title picture was overshadowed for much of last year due to the greatness of the Women’s Title happenings and a lot of that time was spent with Finn Balor as the babyface NXT champ. Some are blaming Balor and his slightly-stale good guy character for the rather dullness of the top title scene, but that’s not really fair. The Women’s Title division was a force of nature that even overshadowed much of the main roster work. No NXT Champ could have risen above what the Four Horsewomen were doing. The departure of Kevin Owens and Neville and the injuries to Sami Zayn and Hideo Itami diminished a lot of the depth the NXT Title picture enjoyed. Finn’s babyface run has been the most steady force the title has had since Neville tweener run in 2014. That said, there’s not much more that can be done with “babyface Finn.” Those who are familiar with his work in New Japan know he can be a tremendous heel. That might be just what the company needs.
As with the Bayley/Asuka match, there is a “will he get called up” aspect to this one as well. There are rumblings that the loser of this match will get promoted to the main roster, which means we may see the debut of Finn Balor on Raw or we may see something many fans thought we never would: Samoa Joe on WWE TV. Joe has been on NXT TV for only a short time. He debuted in May of 2015 as a babyface and for most of his early run he was a bit aimless. When Sami Zayn returned a few months ago, Joe came alive and displayed a fire and intensity to his work that hadn’t been seen since his early TNA years. You could make the argument that Joe has been the best male superstar in NXT for the past few months.
Considering the injuries and the departures NXT has had since this time last year, this is certainly the biggest match we could ask for, even if it is a rematch from December’s Takeover:London special. Despite all the talk that one of these men is leaving, it’s always possible that both stay in NXT. And if that were to happen, considering the fact that it’s a rematch, there’s almost no finish that would be acceptable other than Samoa Joe winning the title. Short of a run-in that lets him save face (and would, certainly turn him face), you pretty much can’t let Joe lose twice in a row. It would kill him as a legit challenger. On the other hand, are Triple H and the NXT higher-ups ready to end the mystique of the Demon? Finn is undefeated when he puts on the paint and a Joe win would end that. On the other hand, if Finn is leaving NXT that’s not a problem…and neither would Joe losing be, if he were leaving.
So once again we have a title match where either finish is acceptable and no one can reasonably predict what’s going to happen. That’s exciting and just how it should be as you head into a major PPV event.
So what’s my guess?
It’s still uncertain if WrestleMania 32 will rise above the flurry of injuries that have plagued WWE over the past few months. It’s still a question if their biggest show of the year, and perhaps ever, can live up to the hype attached to it, after what has certainly been a lackluster buildup. Whatever happens on Sunday , one thing is for certain: WrestleMania weekend is more than a one-show spectacular. The Hall of Fame is always good, R.A.W. is almost always memorable, and now we have something else to fall back on, something else that promises to do more than just be “good enough to belong on WrestleMania weekend” but can and probably will actually steal the weekend all together.
Here’s to Friday night and to NXT taking over!