Previewing NXT TakeOver XXX: The killer, the champs and the punter

Editor’s note: The following is a column and represents the views of the author.

The 30th and easily the most eXXXplicitly named TakeOver is upon us and for the first time in a long time, this sure doesn’t seem like much.

They’re trying, Jennifer, but the interest just isn’t there like it has been for previous TakeOvers. A match with a retired NFL punter, Dakota Kai getting ruined, plus Damian Priest and Bronson Reed definitively not stealing the show — what more could you want?

This is all just fine, I guess? There’s nothing on the show that is must see and nothing that makes me think about canceling all the plans I don’t have to watch this. Of course, I’m going to watch it, but that’s beside the point. The point is that for an ‘anniversary’ TakeOver like this, there isn’t a ton that really gets my excitement up to watch it.

Maybe it’s just hard to care about the show when our current world demands that we care about everything but. We should not be forced to have an opinion on the US Postal Service. That should not be a hill we need to take a stand on. But, dear reader, I am forced to ask ‘why are we doing this?’. If we are forced to care about everything, it leaves very little room to care about escapes like wrestling. Most people can’t even muster up the desire to start a new TV show, so they just re-watch Succession for the fourth time in a year (turns towards the camera).

Unless it is truly compelling and unless it is otherworldly exciting, it’s hard to get invested in anything right now and this card isn’t anywhere close to compelling. But, we endure, fight through and preview the 30th NXT TakeOver for all the beautiful people out there like you who are doing the best they can.

Vacant North American Championship Ladder Match: Bronson Reed vs. Damian Priest vs. Cameron Grimes vs. Johnny Gargano vs. Velveteen Dream

Remember when NXT signings used to be huge and landscape altering names like Prince Devitt, Shinsuke Nakamura, Samoa Joe, Kevin Owens, etc? Now, they sign everyone like Bronson Reed, which makes the new names so much less impactful. If everyone is new, is anyone actually new? Just like it’s hard to care about anything when we are forced to care about everything, it’s hard to care about new signings when everyone gets signed. Sometimes it’s nice to be surprised.

What, exactly, is the point of Reed? The only guy who got zero reaction when he was in the 2018 PWG Battle of Los Angeles probably wouldn’t be getting one now even if there were live crowds. I don’t know what is special about him and what he has shown that is so deserving of a push. It sure isn’t the “Thicc boi” nickname. That is so beyond bad that it makes me want to never watch wrestling again. Fret not because much like I will never log off, I will never stop watching.

The only person who makes sense winning here is Grimes, who is excellent. How many chances is Priest going to get before people realize he’s just whatever? Why is Gargano on TakeOver again? Why Velveteen Dream on our TVs at all considering…everything? Ladder matches are always mindless fun, and even though my fondness for the competitors isn’t all that high, it should still be enjoyable.

I really think it’s Grimes time, baby. His shouty cartoon villain style promos are so much fun, and he would be just insufferable with a belt around his waist. I really hope they give it to him.

Adam Cole vs. Pat McAfee

Is this really going to end with McAfee standing tall while the Undisputed Era crumbles? I have gazed upon the ruins of the future and this is all I see.

Yes, it’s clear they are positioning Cole as a babyface, but is McAfee the best we could do to get there? That’s nothing against him, and maybe I’m underestimating his reach (re: I am too old) but this is Adam Cole, the longest reigning NXT champion in history and a guy who has spent years at the top of the card. And now he’s having a match with a pseudo celebrity? I just don’t get it. There has to be a better way to get to the end of the Era than this. Surely, there is something better. Surely, there is something more.

I think this has to be the beginning of the end of this current version of the Undisputed Era. It’s not even a secret that Cole is playing the face here. He’s openly giving interviews where he is saying, “I don’t see how anyone can see me as the bad guy in this situation. He’s the guy that doesn’t belong.” McAfee really drove that home this week on NXT, showing up with an entourage of former NFL players and getting a hell of a promo. Full credit where it’s due, McAfee is really good on the mic. He even threw in the obligatory “you people” for good measure.

There is just nowhere else this can go, so what is the point of having a one off feud with a punter? All I can think about is my precious and perfect Kyle O’Reilly taking over the Era from Cole and helping McAfee somehow win here. 2020 has been going on for eight years, and not once in those eight years did I ever think I’d be writing “Pat McAfee beats Adam Cole on Saturday.”

Yet there it is, and here we are.

Finn Balor vs. Timothy Thatcher

Now this is good stuff, pal. This is something everyone should be able to sink their teeth into: a match featuring ttwo of wrestling Twitter’s thirstiest fandoms coming head-to-head. I love that these two had all of one interaction and Tim got so mad that he came out and brained Finn. Then, like, 18 hours later, there was a match announced. Sometimes it doesn’t take all that much to stick two guys in the ring together and see what happens.

Seeing Thatcher get a huge stage to perform on is a wonderful surprise. He’s been doing this for so long without fitting the WWE mold that it was an actual surprise when his signing was announced. That makes me think he came on his own terms and is going to wrestle his way which is great because Timmy is a wrestler, man. I wish there was a less corny way of saying that, but there really isn’t. He’s going to stretch you. He’s going to slap you. He’s going to beat the heck out of you. He’s going to tap you. He’s going to make you think that all of this is real. 

This is a great matchup for Balor who is obviously continuing to do the very best work of his WWE career. He has wrestled a super indie worker (Gargano), a tall guy (Priest), a certifiable maniac (Dragunov), and now the best wrestler of the bunch. Thatcher is completely different from anyone Balor has been in the ring with recently to the point that this should feel more in line with some of his heavyweight matches in New Japan.

Balor has nothing really to gain here with a win and it’s clear there are some plans for young Timothy. Thatcher goes over in the best match of the night.

NXT Women’s Champion Io Shirai vs. Dakota Kai

Why is this happening to Dakota Kai and what has she done to deserve this? This is the most relevant she has felt since she came to NXT and also has a zero percent chance to win Saturday.

Up until now, she has kind of been booked like a chump. She came out of her feud with Tegan Nox looking very chump-like. Her mini feud with Mia Yim also resulted in pseudo-chump status. The only people she has regularly beat recently are Kacy Catanzaro and Kayden Carter. Bull Nakano, they are not. Even her victory over Rhea Ripley was through no doing of her own. She got handled easily throughout that match, never once looking like a real threat. How can anyone reasonably expect her to beat the fully leveled up version of Shirai?

The crazy part about all of this is that Kai is actually really, really good. The switch to heel gave her character and depth, but even with all that, they still waited such a long time to pull the trigger on a full push that it almost feels like all of this is months too late. Before she had nothing, she just did a bunch of kicks. Now she actually has substance to her, but still feels a full level below the top of the women’s division in NXT which is squarely Shirai and Ripley. The return of Raquel Gonzalez certainly gives her a little extra something but that little something isn’t nearly enough.

Of course, Shirai is going to win this. She’s the best wrestler in every match she’s in. She should win every match. She should hold every title. She can do everything at such a high level. We truly do not deserve her.

NXT Champion Keith Lee vs. Karrion Kross (w/Scarlett)

Earlier I wrote that since NXT signs everyone, it is hard for anyone to feel special. Kross is the exception to that rule.

I have really enjoyed everything they have done with he and Scarlett. The allusions to the occult/supernatural, the outrageous theater kid entrance music and ring walk, and the minimal screen time have all worked tremendously. There is so much unique interest in Kross the character. He is at the top of the card and there is still so much we don’t know and so much story to tell. It has been a while since they had a character like this, one that isn’t just saying “Hello, I am from the indies, but it was my dream to be in WWE.” He just showed up, suplexed Tommaso Ciampa right out of NXT, and started his spooky journey to the top. You love to see it.

The only bummer about this match is that someone has to get cooled off. Lee has been the best thing going for a year now. Not even him dropping the North American title, which I thought was dumb, stopped his momentum. It’s almost unbelievable that him winning the title was just back in July, but that’s what happens when we live in a year of only Sundays.

I’m still trying to figure out why this only got the ol’ video treatment in advance of Saturday. Surely, an NXT title match deserves more than this. However, the video package was good as hell though. The overall aesthetic of everything Kross is involved in is the perfect mix of film school and hourglasses.

How does this end though? Two months isn’t enough of a top title run for someone of Lee’s caliber. Then again, Kross as champion feels like an inevitability. He has been shot to the top of the card with no signs of stopping. Will they really do some kind of non finish? Maybe big Dom Dijak gets involved in some way? Since this is Lee’s first defense of just the NXT title, let’s say he keeps it but the finish won’t be clean.

Mike DellaCamera is probably scrolling through Uber Eats and not ordering anything. Find him intermittently here.

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