Kurt: Welcome one and all to a special edition of the NXT Spotlight here at TJRWrestling, as we bring to you the official Takeover: New Orleans preview! This show is poised to steal the weekend in what is potentially the most loaded weekend of wrestling in the profession’s history. There is something at stake in every match and there are two matches, possibly three, that could ultimately be the best match we see during WrestleMania weekend. There is a lot to say and a lot to get to, so I’m thrilled to bring in our fearless leader, John Canton, to join me for this piece.

John: Thanks to Kurt for having me join him for this preview. Kurt is our NXT reviewer and I don’t write about it other than during Takeover weekends, but I told him I need to be a part of this preview because this show is loaded. I’m excited about it. They have really built up a great NXT roster again and this may be the best Takeover lineup ever. I’m a fan of the format of the show that usually runs 2.5 hours for five matches, which means all five matches will get time. Let’s get to it.

NXT Women’s Title Match
Ember Moon ( c ) vs. Shayna Baszler

Kurt: Of all the matches, probably the “least appealing”, but that’s like being #5 on the richest person alive list. You’re still damn rich. This has been a fantastic story and quite honestly has surprised me in it’s ability to stay interesting this long. Baszler gets better every time she’s on TV, whether in the ring or on the mic. There’s a case to be made for each woman having challengers ready to go, should they win the match. We haven’t seen the Iconic Duo on TV in quite some time because both women were getting an Iconic Duo of their own. They could be ready to be put in a title program with Ember. Ember vs. Kairi Sane is a match a lot of people would like to see. Should Baszler win, Sane would obviously be a challenger as well and I could see them doing an underdog feud with Dakota Kai, playing off Kai getting hurt by Baszler earlier this year. Ultimately though, there’s going to be other title changes in my opinion, as you’ll see later, and I don’t think they’re going to want every title to change hands. I can see Ember barely getting by, and then in a few weeks on the TV show, you can do a third match with a gimmick like a Submission Match, and have Baszler become champion there.

Prediction: Ember Moon retains

John: I agree with Kurt that this is the least interesting match on the show, but it’s not going to be bad. They had a good match at the last Takeover and have spent the last two months building up to this rematch, which should be better than that match was.

I’m going with Baszler to win. Why do the rematch if they are not going to put the title on her? It makes sense to book the title change while having Baszler feud with Kairi Sane after this. I think it’s going to be a match where Baszler targets a body part the whole match, Moon keeps trying to fight it off, but eventually, Baszler will tap her out. Moon is a candidate to be on Raw or Smackdown on the main roster too, so that’s another reason why I believe a title change is likely.

Winner: Shayna Baszler becomes the New NXT Women’s Champion

NXT Tag Team Title Match – Triple Threat
(Winner also wins the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic)
Undisputed Era ( c ) vs. Authors of Pain (w/Paul Ellering) vs. Roderick Strong & Pete Dunne

For those not paying attention to the storylines (shame on you), here’s a tweet summarizing the predicament facing the Undisputed Era after Bobby Fish suffered a serious knee injury.

Kurt: It had been known for a couple weeks that Bobby Fish was hurt, but NXT decided to wait until this week to confirm it. This has become the chance for Adam Cole to prove to the WWE Universe why he’s one of the best wrestlers in the world, BAY BAY. This is not an easy double duty he has to pull and he will absolutely have his working boots on. Both matches are completely different but ultimately will be ultra-physical and take its toll on him. I can’t wait to see him step up to the challenge. I understand that they had to book this match on the fly due to Fish’s injury, but I don’t like the fact that Undisputed Era can win the DRTTC when they weren’t even in the tournament. That stipulation leads me to think that’s a clear sign they’re going to do a title change.

AOP has been there, done that, and I really think it’d be a letdown if they won this match. They’ve done all they could in NXT and considering how bad the Raw tag team division is looking right now, they would make a huge impact on that brand, post-WrestleMania. So that leaves Dunne and Strong. It’s odd that it took a tag team tournament to get Dunne more TV time, even though he has a title that should warrant that on its own, but nonetheless he and Strong have been a formidable tag team. The crowd this past Wednesday was as loud as I’ve heard Full Sail when they competed against AOP and I think New Orleans would lose their mind if they won this match. Strong eventually needs to win a big match and I would love to see Dunne as a double champion.

Prediction: New NXT Tag Team Champions & the winners of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, Pete Dunne and Roderick Strong

John: It’s a shame that Bobby Fish tore his ACL and he’ll be out of action for 6-9 months because he has great chemistry as a team with Kyle O’Reilly. Adam Cole will likely work twice and team with O’Reilly in this match and I’m going with the champs to retain the titles. The main reason I feel that will happen is because the other matches with defending champions look like matches that will have title changes, so having the champs retain here makes sense while letting us see what O’Reilly and Cole can do as champions for a bit.

The Authors of Pain have done it all in NXT. This feels like their NXT farewell match because it’s the right time to call them up to Raw or Smackdown with Raw making more sense because if they went to Smackdown they would be too similar to the Bludgeon Brothers.

I really liked watching Dunne and Strong together. Their styles work well together as incredible in-ring technicians who aren’t the biggest guys out there, but they look tough. Should they win the titles this soon, though? No. I would build it up a bit and maybe do it at the next Takeover. There’s no reason to rush it.

This will be a great match with a lot of exciting nearfalls and the crowd should be hot for it especially for Dunne and Strong as a team. I would put this match on first and the Ladder Match for the North American Title on fourth of the five matches, so at least it gives Cole a break between his two matches.

Winners: The Undisputed Era’s Adam Cole and Kyle O’Reilly

NXT North American Title Ladder Match
EC3 vs. Adam Cole vs. Ricochet vs. Lars Sullivan vs. Killian Dain vs. The Velveteen Dream

Kurt: What a moment for these six men. This is the future of NXT. I think no matter what happens in the Superstar Shakeup, these six men will stay in NXT and that’s the reason they’re in this match. These six and whomever wins the NXT Title match will be the core of this brand for the foreseeable future.

The beauty of this match is that I can make a case for everyone to win. You have the likes of EC3 and Ricochet who will compete in an NXT ring for the first time and what better way to showcase them than to crown them the first North American Champion. Adam Cole is the best thing going in NXT not named Aleister Black and perhaps with Bobby Fish hurt, this is a chance to showcase Cole on his own by making him champion. Velveteen Dream, the cult hero of sorts, the character that looked destined to fail but was done by the right person at the right time and now maybe he should be sent to that next level by becoming champion. Lars Sullivan, the monster heel that they clearly have big plans for, do they make him champion and have the story become who can dethrone him? Killian Dain, much like Adam Cole, is it possibly time for him to split on his own and see what he can do?

This is such a hard match to predict, and ultimately I hope it just leads to three strong feuds for the brand. I’d love to see EC3 vs. Cole, Ricochet vs. Dream and Lars vs. Dain coming out of this. I’m just going to take a wild guess and because of the possibilities of him holding this title, I’m taking EC3.

Prediction: New North American Champion, EC3

John: On a normal show this may be a lock for the match of the night, but something else might beat it. I still have high hopes for it, though. We have seen plenty of six-man ladder matches on the main roster due to the Money in the Bank match, so the match should be awesome.

When the match was announced, the two names that stood out as winners to me were EC3 and Velveteen Dream. In EC3’s case, he was the former Derrick Bateman that left WWE for a few years, did better in TNA/Impact as EC3 and they need to re-establish him as a big name on the NXT brand. Velveteen Dream is a WWE trained guy that is in his early 20s that may be seen as too young to hold this title, but I think it would benefit his career a lot. Plus, he’s already started a bit of a feud with Ricochet, which could lead to a title feud.

I’m so excited about what Ricochet is going to do in this match. I watched him quite a bit in his pre-WWE career, but not as much as I would have liked. I’m just glad that he’s on this stage as a polished in-ring performer that can make everything look easy when he’s in the air. Adam Cole may have been a good pick to win, but I think the Tag Team Title situation makes it unlikely that he’s going to win this match.

As for Sullivan and Dain, they are the biggest guys in the match that will get in some power spots. I think it’s obvious that WWE really likes Dain (remember he was in the Andre battle royal last year?), but I wouldn’t put him over the other names in this match.

My pick was going to be EC3 in the weeks leading up to this, but I have convinced myself that Velveteen Dream is the better choice. They could have EC3 feud with Aleister Black for the NXT Title while Dream and Ricochet can feud for this title. I guess EC3 and Dream could swap places too. Since I have Adam Cole retaining the Tag Team Titles with Kyle O’Reilly, that will keep him busy for a few months. All of that sounds good to me. Does it make sense to you? I hope so!

Winner: Velveteen Dream is the first-ever NXT North American Champion

Unsanctioned Match
(If Gargano wins, he’s back in NXT. If Ciampa wins, Gargano is gone forever)
Tommaso Ciampa vs. Johnny Gargano

Kurt: Ciampa’s injury came at such an unfortunate time as this feud would’ve more than likely taken the last 7 months of 2017 in NXT and been the rivalry of the year. Thanks to some great old school booking though, this angle had no probably picking right up where it left off and now can be rivalry of the year for 2018. Tommaso Ciampa has been using Twitter perfectly to further his persona and agenda. (Seriously, go follow him if you don’t.) Gargano’s tactics of waiting outside the PC for Ciampa, chasing him down in his car, storming Ciampa’s house at 3:30 in the morning wanting Ciampa to face him, it’s just been terrific stuff. I expect one hell of a fight.

Ciampa has the easiest job in the world this night as Gargano is the best pure babyface in wrestling and there is no doubt this crowd is going to be rabid for Johnny Wrestling. Anything Ciampa does to keep Gargano down is going to get a big reaction. The story they told in the CWC was tremendous and that was as friends. You replace that with the animosity they have now and allow them to do anything they want, there is no limit to how good this can be. This is such a tough match to predict, due to the fact that despite there being no way this storyline is over, that doesn’t mean Gargano has to win. I can easily see a scenario where Gargano loses, goes up to the main roster/205 Live and then Ciampa follows him there, angry that Gargano is doing something positive still. I don’t know that Gargano will ever win the NXT Title, but I do know that even as the ultimate underdog, he needs a big win at some point. This is that time.

Prediction: Johnny Gargano

John: I’m so excited about this match. Watch the video above if you don’t know about their history because it’s great. This match will be amazing with a raucous crowd that is going to boo the hell out of Ciampa as the asshole heel that is tremendous at acting like a jerk. Johnny Wrestling is one of the best babyface wrestlers out there that is going to be cheered wildly. The fans know the story here with Ciampa attacking Gargano, then Ciampa missed nearly a year of action after knee surgery and he didn’t want Gargano to win the NXT Title, so he cost him the title and his job. Best storyline in WWE In the last year for sure.

I like the Unsanctioned Match rules because that should mean this will be a wild brawl. Expect some tables to broken and other weapons to be used. It could be good enough that we are talking about is a match of the year although I don’t know if it can top the incredible Almas/Gargano match (I gave that five stars out of five) from January. That was on another level. My expectation level for this match is very high. At least four stars out of five and probably better than that.

They will probably get 20-25 minutes to tell the story with Gargano selling everything so well, Ciampa relentless as a heel and Gargano kicking out of everything. The result of this match is the easiest on the card because Gargano should win to get his job back. I don’t think Gargano should be on the main roster yet. The story needs to be that he wins the NXT Title at some point this year to give him that special moment. I hope they have another match at the NXT Takeover in Chicago in June because I might be going to that one.

Winner: Johnny Gargano

NXT Title Match
Andrade Almas ( c ) (w/Zelina Vega) vs. Aleister Black

Kurt: Does anyone realize this is a rematch of the same pre-WrestleMania Takeover a year ago? It’s amazing to look at the trajectory of both men since that night. Almas was in the middle of his “make everyone look good” phase while he learned who he was and got comfortable with the NXT style. Not long after that match, Zelina Vega came into the picture and completely changed his career. I honestly cannot remember a manager being linked to a superstar and changing their fortunes that drastically. Almas would’ve never sniffed the title picture before her and now he’s become a great champion that carries himself well. His promos are sometimes a little bit of a bucking bull that’s got no direction, but he is clearly more confident in his abilities and that’s led to some tremendous matches. As for Black, on that night it was quite apparent we were seeing something different and something that looked destined for a big push. Sure enough, it only took a year for him to fill the Finn Balor and Shinsuke Nakamura role of the brand. The Rockstar that has the IT factor that most others don’t.

Black is so cool in everything he does. It’s effortless for him. He’s the best thing going on the brand and this should be his coronation as “the guy”. There is going to be no shortages of challenges for Black and Almas has no shame in dropping the title here. They will have a barnburner of a match and Almas will be so much better in standing than he was after taking this same loss a year ago. It’s time for all of us to Fade to Black.

Prediction: New NXT Champion, Aleister Black

John: Black is the most popular wrestler in NXT along with Johnny Gargano, so it’s great to see him elevated to this spot in the main event of Takeover during WrestleMania weekend. I think sometimes in NXT they might push guys too fast or too slow, but in this case the timing is just right.

It would be tough to top the Almas/Gargano classic from the last Takeover although I still expect an excellent match here. They have worked together a lot over the last year going back to last year’s WrestleMania Takeover (as Kurt mentioned), so they should be at a point now where the chemistry will be there. I expect Vega to try to cheat multiple times, it will be effective and then towards the end of the match, Black will be able to overcome to find a way to win. Give them 20 minutes, Almas dominates most of it and Black ends up the victor.

I think Almas and Vega are going to “graduate” to Raw or Smackdown after WrestleMania, so that’s another why the loss is probably going to happen. Almas started in WWE in November 2015. He’s ready to move up to the next level especially with Vega as his manager.

Winner and New NXT Champion: Aleister Black

Final Thoughts

John: Thanks to Kurt for having me join him for this preview. Make sure you are back here on TJRWrestling on Saturday night for Kurt’s live review of the show. I will also have a review of the show that will be posted on Sunday morning. I’m not sure if I’ll be doing play by play style because I think Kurt will do that, but I may do it too because that’s how I do my reviews. Anyway, we’re both excited about the show and we hope you can check out our recaps as well.

We will be back tomorrow for the WrestleMania preview.