NXT TakeOver preview: A stacked card, War Games returns, more

Welcome to the preview for “War Games” that isn’t really War Games — but still has some great matches and a bunch of big cages.

A lot has happened since the last live special for everyone’s favorite third brand. Adam Cole showed up with some pals, Asuka is off murdering Dana Brooke on Raw, and we are blessed with a man named Lars Sullivan on our television screens each week.

Personally, I think this TakeOver is stacked top to bottom. There isn’t a single match I’m not looking forward to, which wasn’t always the case during the Bobby Roode era of NXT. But every title change seems to bring a new era (no pun intended) to NXT. So, like we always do at this time, let’s run through the card and see what stands out.

WWE United Kingdom Champion Pete Dunne defending against Johnny Gargano (taped for NXT TV next week)

Wow, this match really isn’t airing live? They give Survivor Series s-e-v-e-n hours of coverage and this is getting stuck on the pre-show tapings? The only explanation is that they don’t want Pete Dunne to have the best match on another TakeOver, which is too bad because, spoiler alert, this is going to be the best match at this TakeOver. And I’m going to write about the best match on the card, even if we have to wait until Wednesday to see it.

Johnny Gargano is, full stop, the best pure babyface in pro wrestling. Pete Dunne is one of the best pure heels in all of wrestling. Both are just straight up incredible wrestlers. The UK Championship still kind of means…nothing? That someone is the champion of the United Kingdom? That someone is the champion of United Kingdom wrestlers?

I don’t know, and it seems like WWE doesn’t know either. It seems like they are trending more towards the former, having a non-UK competitor challenge for the title. Either way, I don’t care because the outcome is this match.

It might be a little heavy on the leg slapping for some, but please don’t let it take away from a match that on paper, lines up very well with Dunne/Bate from Chicago — a match that might have been WWE’s best of the entire year.

Kassius Ohno vs. Lars Sullivan

Kassius Ohno getting advertised for a TakeOver? Not just getting thrown into a random six-person tag match? I guess wonders really will never cease. Lars Sullivan is a big, big dude. Big to the point where his presence kind of fills whatever space you’re in. He and Ohno are the same size, and despite everything said about Ohno’s size, he feels small next to Lars.

Plus, his name is Lars Sullivan. It is actually impossible to be small with that name, which is actually a true fact and not one I made up.

Really this match should be on the TV tapings, not Dunne/Gargano. I say that only because there hasn’t been a build, Ohno is off and on television, Lars is still new, etc. That is also a good way of saying I have no idea what to make of this match. The original KO can have a decent-to-good match with just about anyone, but Sullivan is such an unknown it’s hard to talk about.

Regardless, it will be two big boys slugging it out to start the night, and as far as I know, that’s never been a bad thing.

Aleister Black vs. Velveteen Dream

Give me all of this, every single last bit of it. If someone said, “hey NXT has a guy who does a Prince gimmick and is wrestling the former Tommy End” my reaction would have been “oh cool, another squash match.” But man have they done a hell of a job building up to this match, focusing much of the heat around Velveteen Dream getting Black to just say his name.

This is pitch perfect mostly because, well, Black doesn’t really say anything. It’s lazy to just write that you really like something. But I really, really just like all of this. Everything has been absolutely fantastic, which is something you can’t always say about programs in NXT that don’t revolve around the title in some capacity.

NXT, for all the great things it does, doesn’t always give characters distinct personalities — especially so for people not involved in a title picture. Even if they are in the title picture, think Ember Moon, what was her defining characteristic? What made her special? She doesn’t have one thing you can point to as something that defines her. Ruby Riot might run into the same problem. They tried to give Roderick Strong something — he’s a family man everyone! — but it just didn’t take.

What they are doing with Black/Dream is leaning into what defines them, what makes them special. Black’s unique look and scary presence and Dream’s undeniable and unique charisma are the things that make this match compelling.

NXT Champion Drew McIntyre defending against Andrade “Cien” Almas (w/ Zelina Vega)

Is this the first NXT title match in a really, really long time that doesn’t “feel” like a big deal? Feel is a relative term, of course, but this just feels like a standard by-the-books heel vs. face wrestling match.

Most TakeOver title matches have the overly dramatic “big fight feel” to them, but this one just doesn’t for some reason. That is not meant to take anything away from the performers — who are both incredible, or the build — which has also been quite good. But something just feels, off? Missing? I usually have a good idea of what I’m going to write about each match before I start, mostly because I hate staring at a blank Google Doc and feeling all kinds of dumb about it, but this match just puzzled me.

Is it because the main event is the War Games match? Even though the stakes are way, way higher for this, War Games is the calling card of the TakeOver special.

All that aside, McIntyre vs. Almas is very clearly something to look forward to. I saw them run this match at a live show a few months back and it KILLED in person. It’s very easy to forget just how physically huge Drew McIntyre is until you see him in person, but my god. It’s hard to believe we are the same species as him. And Almas has it figured out now, it’s just too bad it took this long. He (clearly) has the look, the wrestling ability, and the dynamic with Zelina Vega seems to have completed the package for him.

It does warrant wondering, if they aren’t going to “strap him up” here — which with Adam Cole coming, they most assuredly aren’t — is this the end of his time in NXT? WWE has been looking for its next Hispanic star ever since Rey Mysterio retired, but he was there all along. Hiding in plain sight, waiting for us to notice him.

Oh and one more thing, the hammerlock DDT finisher is trash and has to go. I don’t understand NXT’s seeming fascination with unnecessarily complex finishers, but sometimes it shows up.

Kairi Sane vs. Peyton Royce vs. Ember Moon vs. Nikki Cross for the vacant NXT Women’s Championship

I like this. I like that this is essentially a reset button on the entire women’s division in NXT. Asuka was champion for over 500 days, and was honestly never challenged. That is almost two full years of an entire division being in a pseudo holding pattern.

Let’s face it, no one was ever going to beat Asuka — it was a challenge to find someone who looked believable standing across the ring from her. Now there is no more Final Boss, no more ultimate weapon, only a blank slate that this group of NXT women are looking to make their own.

And honestly? It could really be anybody (even though it’s going to be Kairi Sane). There is an argument for each woman that makes sense and fits their character. Ember Moon came the closest to actually beating Asuka, and beat everyone else along the way. Kairi Sane won the Mae Young Classic. Nikki Cross is insane and perfect. Peyton Royce has been around the longest, easily has the most well defined character, and is the only heel in the match.

It’s going to be interesting to see which way they go. Personally, I’d like the title to go on Royce because she has the most well defined character. You know who she is and what she’s about — the same can’t be said for the other three. Plus, maybe they could let her and Billie Kay both defend the title in some pseudo Freebird type situation. Then have either Ember or Kairi chase them down until the next TakeOver.

The Undisputed Era (Adam Cole, Bobby Fish & Kyle O’Reilly) vs. SAnitY (Eric Young, Alexander Wolfe & Killian Dain) vs. The Authors of Pain & Roderick Strong in a War Games match

I refuse to look up the rules to this match. Even though I technically should, so I can write a “proper” preview, I won’t. I saw the rules listed somewhere that contained multiple bullet points, and multiple sentences within those bullet points, and just decided it was too much.

They’ll tell us the rules 17 times during the broadcast, and it will go in one ear and out the other. But here is the gist of this match — it should be so, so good.

It’s so good seeing the Authors of Pain back, and they brought a Rod Strong with them! Every column I write praises them and their potential, so I’ll skip that for this one. They shine in chaotic multi-team matches, and what’s more chaotic than a multi-person, multi-cage, multi-ring match? These type of bouts accentuate all the positives AOP has and hides their perceived weaknesses.

SAnitY has transformed into this weird babyface team, even though they have the big monster (Killian Dain) that belongs in a powerful heel stable. Regardless, it’s great, they’re great, and they have always performed their tails off anytime they’ve been in the spotlight.

Probably (definitely) the most anticipated part of this match is the formal TakeOver debuts of Adam Cole, Bobby Fish, and Kyle O’Reilly. No one reading this column needs to read about how good those three are — they are known commodities with the ability to headline shows anywhere in the world. The interesting part is how they handle them moving forward. They debuted at the last TakeOver and went right after Drew McIntyre and the NXT Championship. But now they’re in the War Games match, and Cole is nowhere near the title picture?

One would think this sets up a victory for Team Not ROH and serves as a platform for them to chase all the NXT belts at the next special. For all NXT has done, they’ve never done a heel stable that holds every title, but it’s the logical progression of the group and the story, and one worth telling.

And Rod Strong needs to join the Undisputed Era, or else he’s just going to get lost in the constant NXT midcard shuffle.