John: Welcome to the TJRWrestling NXT Takeover 31 Preview. A lot of times these NXT Takeover shows have a theme name or a word after “Takeover” but this time they are just calling it 31 since it follows Takeover XXX from SummerSlam weekend in August. The card is simple with five singles match, four of which are title matches. Some of the biggest NXT names aren’t wrestling on the show like Adam Cole and Tommaso Ciampa while the Tag Team Titles are being ignored again. There were also recent stories of COVID-19 issues regarding some NXT talent, so that has likely had an effect on NXT TV shows in the last couple of weeks as well as this card. We also found out earlier this week that this event will take place at the WWE Performance Center rather than Full Sail University, so that’s going to look a little bit different.
Joining me for the preview are two guys that used to write about NXT weekly for us on TJRWrestling: Kurt Zamora and Lance Augustine. Let’s get to it.
(Note: All graphics are from WWE.)
NXT Cruiserweight Championship: Santos Escobar (c) vs. Isaiah “Swerve” Scott
Kurt: In this era of NXT full of building new stars, Legado del Fantasma is one of my top 3 favorite acts in the brand currently. They have swagger, Santos is really good on the mic, they have a good look, and they make me care about the Cruiserweight Title. (I don’t watch 205 Live still, so maybe that makes me a hypocrite.) Swerve can have good matches, but he’s just missing…something. I don’t connect to him at all. He’s just a challenger for Santos. I liked the back and forth interview they had this past week on NXT, but even that made my point about how Swerve just looked like a guy and Santos looked like a big deal. You could probably open with this match and it’ll be a good tone-setter, but I just don’t see anything in this that leads to a title change.
Prediction: Santos Escobar
Lance: This is a rematch between two guys that have had their fair share of run-ins with one another. Scott holds a victory over Escobar, but failed to capture the title in a rematch between the two. The Cruiserweights are usually a highlight on most shows, and I think this match won’t be any different. I am looking for back and forth action that doesn’t slow down much throughout the entire bout. With this being the rubber match, I can see a case being made for both men walking away with the title. Ultimately, I do think Scott will hit one more move and that will be the one that wins him the purple strap.
Winner and NEW NXT Cruiserweight Champion: Isaiah Scott
John: I like both guys a lot. The way Escobar has been presented as a champion and booked so strongly as the Cruiserweight Champion has really helped to elevate that title, in my opinion. What I think will happen here is Scott will finally get the big win to become the champion while NXT can move Escobar in another direction where he goes after one of the other titles or feuds with others. I think Escobar and his group are so great that they should be used in ways other than only being around the Cruiserweight Title. If they go on first, they’ll set the tone for an awesome night of in-ring action and I expect the usual great match from them that gets around 15 minutes or so. I’m going with Swerve for the title win here.
Winner AND NEW NXT Cruiserweight Champion: Isaiah “Swerve” Scott
Kushida vs. Velveteen Dream
Kurt: KUSHIDA is falling into that group of the likes of Sami Callihan and EC3, who show up to NXT with a lot of fanfare, but fall through the cracks and don’t get pushed like many of the other indy darlings. Keith Lee was in that same position just over a year ago. I don’t know if it’s lack of English to cut a promo explaining who he is, but there just isn’t much to him in NXT. Velveteen Dream is obviously the most polarizing superstar on the brand, and it’s not for anything he does in the ring. I do think the brand has been a little tone deaf with him, and turning him heel is their way of making the best of a bad situation. So I acknowledge that it’s a little weird to try and talk about his matches. This is a very mismatched feud and one I don’t have much interest It’s based on each other costing the other some matches, and I guess Dream thinks he’d be a champion if not for KUSHIDA. It happens all the time in wrestling and doesn’t do anything for me in this situation, especially with the cloud hanging over Dream. KUSHIDA just has never been built as a big deal, so I don’t see him beating someone as established as Dream. I know they’re/he’s saying it’s a “new, vicious” KUSHIDA, and maybe this match will be where he finally breaks out, but I just don’t see it.
Prediction: Velveteen Dream
Lance: Kushida has been getting a slight push as of late, and he has been built up well. The Dream on the other hand has felt kind of lost since making his return from injury. He assaulted Kushida after a Triple Threat Match, but Kushida got his revenge a couple of weeks later and put Dream back on the shelf. I feel like this match has some potential because both guys have proven they can work. As far as a winner, I think Dream pulls this one out after a Dream Valley Driver, but the match will be competitive. Dream has some unfinished business in NXT, and I think an NXT Title shot should be around the corner.
Winner: The Velveteen Dream
John: I strongly believe this should be a win for Kushida. Velveteen Dream has not had a good year for many reasons, mainly off-screen and all the accusations about his questionable behavior with fans. I’m not going to get into it, but do some research if you are interested. I realize that his bosses support him, but I find it hard to believe they are going to push him prominently. Dream is barely featured on the show anymore compared to how he used to be on NXT. The booking of Kushida of late feels like the way that they should have used the talented superstar from the beginning. I think sometimes with wrestlers that come in from other countries and/or environments, there’s an adjustment period for sure. I think Kushida has figured it out while the creative team has realized how to book him the right way. I’m going with a Kushida win. Keep pushing this guy. He’s too great not to be utilized more.
NXT North American Championship: Damian Priest (c) vs. Johnny Gargano
Kurt: This is a big spot for Priest. He’s being built up as a top babyface, which I’m all for, but now he’s going against the face of NXT and Johnny Takeover himself. He held his own with Finn Balor a few months back at a Takeover, and even though he lost, that’s really where his rise began. This was a match that was announced cold, no real story behind it, but I think could surprise some people and steal the show. As I stated above, I love Gargano as a heel. He’s really embraced it and pulled it off better than I could’ve expected. Gargano as champion makes a lot of sense, but I think Priest needs a defining win as champion to establish himself as one of the new top guys, and even with such a size difference, a win over Johnny Gargano at a Takeover definitely means something. Plus, we saw Gargano pin Priest this week on NXT, so that comes across as a dead giveaway that Priest will win. There just isn’t much meat on the bone with this one, as they like to say, but I do appreciate the fresh matchup.
Prediction: Damian Priest
Lance: On the last episode of NXT, Priest and Sharai took on the power couple of Gargano and LeRae in Tag Team action. Gargano and LeRae stood tall afterward, holding both titles above their heads and claiming that they will be the new champions come Sunday. Now, anyone who has watched wrestling for longer than a day knows that usually indicates that neither belts will be changing hands. I haven’t always agreed with that premise, but here I think it applies. Gargano doesn’t need The North American Title as much as Priest would benefit from keeping it. The match will go back and forth and, while I don’t think it’ll be a classic Gargano Takeover match, he will bring a lot of good out of Priest in defeat.
Winner and STILL NXT North American Champion: Damian Priest
John: There isn’t much of a story here, which is disappointing. They announced the match, then had a few interactions and a tag team match, but it’s not like there’s a big storyline here. That’s an issue with this show that is lacking a bit in terms of stories.
Priest won the North American Title at the last Takeover, so it seems likely that he’ll retain here and that’s what I’m predicting. I think Priest is another guy took a bit of time to find his comfort zone in NXT, but now he’s capable of having some pretty good matches with the right opponent. You don’t get much better than Gargano in terms of being able to put on an awesome match at a Takeover since Johnny has had more Takeover matches than anybody and more great matches at Takeover events than anybody too. Gargano pinned Priest on NXT this past Wednesday (it wasn’t clean), so he has the momentum. I expect Priest to win here.
Winner: Damian Priest
NXT Women’s Championship: Io Shirai (c) vs. Candice LeRae
Kurt: First off, let me give my well wishes to Tegan Nox, who has now suffered her third torn ACL and will be out of action for a long while again. It’s such a tough break, and although I personally don’t think I could find the desire to come back from that injury a third time, I’m sure she will absolutely do so though. Her injury actually changes my prediction for this match. I thought Candice and Tegan were just getting going in a very good storyline that had some legs, and I could’ve seen Candice winning the title and Tegan chasing her for it. Maybe perhaps Tegan getting involved in the match and inadvertently costing Io the title. With Tegan off now, I don’t know where that leaves Candice and so I don’t think her winning the title makes sense now. Io is at the top of her game and is one of those rare superstars that draws your attention every time they’re on the screen. It’s not the worst thing ever that she retains the title. As much as I think Johnny Gargano has relished in the heel persona, I haven’t fully bought in Candice as a heel. She was getting with the angle with Tegan, which is another reason why it’s a shame she got injured.
Prediction: Io Shirai retains
Lance: The same rules apply for this match, although, I think the title has a chance to change hands. Io Shirai won the title in a Triple Threat that pitted her against Charlotte and Rhea Ripley, so it was an impressive win for her. LeRae hasn’t been in the NXT Women’s Title picture much in the past, but she has been on a roll as of late. The heel turn that she and Gargano went through freshened up their characters a bit, and added some much need edge to both. Shirai’s reign has been solid throughout, but I just have a feeling that they are ready to pull the trigger to have the title switch hands and have LeRae at the top of the very stacked NXT Women’s roster.
Winner and NEW NXT Women’s Champion: Candice LeRae
John: I think they’re going to have an awesome match where a title change is certainly possible. I’m a bit torn trying to predict here because I think Shirai has done very well as champion with several good to great matches with opponents like Dakota Kai, Tegan Nox and Shotzi Blackheart. Candice has really impressed as a face as well. I think if Tegan Nox was healthy then you could make a case to put the title on Candice and go into that feud, but now Nox is out until next spring with the torn ACL. It might be best to keep the title on Shirai for now until there’s a better story for her to drop the title. The other thing with Shirai is I can see NXT doing what they did with Keith Lee where he dropped the NXT Title and then he was on Raw. I can see Shirai going to Raw or Smackdown as soon as next week. Whether that’s the best thing for her career, I don’t know right now, but I certainly can see it happening.
This should be an awesome match, which might be the best of the night. I could say that about a few matches for sure. I’m fine with either woman winning because they’re both so talented. I’m going with Candice for the win. I think at some point in the near future, her husband Johnny Gargano is going to win the NXT North American Title or the NXT Title to make them champions as husband and wife.
Winner and NEW NXT Women’s Champion: Candice LeRae
NXT Championship: Finn Balor (c) vs. Kyle O’Reilly
Kurt: I think the biggest complaint on this show is it’s a lot of either cold matches, or storylines that don’t have much going for them. After being a tag team guy his entire run in NXT, and also after being off TV for the most part during the pandemic, all of the sudden O’Reilly is the #1 contender for the NXT Title. I’m not necessarily complaining, because from an in-ring standpoint, knowing these guys will get a lot of time, this will be an OUTSTANDING match. But it is hard to get behind a match thrown together like this with no story, and seemingly so predictable because I don’t know how many people actually believe O’Reilly can and will win.
NXT did a great job with the “Prime Target” video package this week for O’Reilly, and I thought the segment moderated by Shawn Michaels was really well done. Finn did a great job making O’Reilly seem like a legit contender, and O’Reilly came across as someone who this moment is not too big for. I think that’s important for someone getting their first title shot. I’m very confused at what the Undisputed Era are currently. It seems Cole and O’Reilly are being positioned as babyfaces, while Roddy and Fish are heels. Could this possibly be a “Randy Orton in Evolution” situation where he won the title and Triple H kicked him out the next night? Could Cole go back to his old form and solidify Undisputed Era by kicking O’Reilly out should he win? That’s the only scenario that makes sense for O’Reilly winning, but ultimately I just don’t see Finn losing the title this quickly, and I think this is just a new matchup they’re trying. Plus, we find out who the mystery man in the night vision videos are, and it sure looks like he’s aiming for the NXT Title, so that’s probably Finn’s next opponent.
Prediction: Finn Balor retains
Lance: Finn Balor is the NXT Champion due to Karrion Kross’ injury, but I don’t think that is a bad thing. Balor is a great worker and he would have probably won the title back eventually anyway. O’Reilly has spent his entire NXT career as part of The Undisputed Era and is finally getting his shot at singles gold here. Full disclosure, I didn’t watch a lot of O’Reilly in Ring of Honor, but I do know that he is a hell of a wrestler himself based on what I have seen in NXT thus far. He uses an MMA/submission-based style, and I think that these two can go out there and have a match worth of being for the top title in the promotion. Both men met face-to-face on the last episode of NXT and it put this feud into full gear. I expect O’Reilly to use a lot of submissions and try to make Balor tap out. There will be a lot of back and forth, and in this instance, some real close near falls that almost give O’Reilly the title. In the end, though, Balor will retain the title because I honestly think that his reign at the top will be longer than people suspect it will be.
Winner and STILL NXT Champion: Finn Balor
John: This NXT Title match has probably had the least amount of build of any Takeover main event, perhaps ever. It’s understandable because former NXT Champion Karrion Kross got hurt in the match when he won the title and then NXT took a few weeks to crown a champion with Finn Balor emerging as the new champion for the second time in his career. That was followed by the Gauntlet Eliminator match won by Kyle O’Reilly in impressive fashion as he beat three guys in that match to earn this shot. Somebody could easily complain about the logic of it all because why would O’Reilly even be in a tournament like that when he barely wrestles in singles? I think it’s a case of NXT’s decision makers realizing they could have something special in Kyle as a babyface singles wrestlers, so why not give him a shot? I’m all for it because Kyle has a strong personality, plus he’s so talented in the ring and has the ability to have a great match with anybody.
I’m sure there are some people thinking that Adam Cole might do something to turn on O’Reilly. I really hope not. My sense is, which I alluded to in the last NXT review earlier in the week, that Cole is possibly going to Raw or Smackdown soon. That’s my gut feeling anyway. Plus, Cole was a heel for years. They used the Pat McAfee feud to turn him face, so it would seem a bit foolish to erase all that just to make Cole a heel.
I think this is another potentially outstanding match that could be one of the best singles matches in NXT this year. I also get the feeling that this might be the start of a rivalry where Balor goes into it like a tweener of sorts, but I can see him having to cheat to win the match and then lean more towards the heel side while O’Reilly continues to get pushed as a face singles wrestler. Balor is my pick, possibly due to some low blow that the referee doesn’t see, which can lead to the finish and Balor retains in a match that probably goes between 20 to 25 minutes. I’m really looking forward to this match.
Winner: Finn Balor
The Match I’m Looking Forward To The Most
Kurt: NXT Title Match.
Lance: NXT Title Match.
John: I’ll go with Balor vs. O’Reilly as well. The Women’s Title match is right there for me too.
The Match I Care About The Least
Kurt: Dream vs. KUSHIDA.
Lance: Velveteen Dream vs. Kushida, but that’s not an indictment on the match because all of the matches on this show should be solid.
John: I’m also going Kushida vs. Dream because I don’t think Dream is the level of in-ring performer that Kushida is. I think the other matches will be better.
Kurt: If it’s not the NXT Title Match, something is wrong.
Lance: Gargano vs. Priest, but I wouldn’t be stunned if they give significant time to Shirai vs. LeRae.
John: I can see several matches topping 20 minutes, but I don’t know if that’s wise. I’ll go with Balor vs. O’Reilly here.
Kurt: Gargano vs. Priest.
Lance: Escobar vs. Scott.
John: Kushida vs. Dream around 12 minutes.
Excitement Level on a Scale of 1-10 (1 being low, 10 being high)
Kurt: It’s really hard to be excited for this show. It feels like the first Takeover that isn’t “must watch”. I’ll say a 6. I do think there will be some great in-ring work though.
Lance: I will go with a 7. I am always excited about a Takeover event. Takeover XXX was a slight letdown, but I think they can bounce back nicely with this show.
John: It’s a 7.5 out of 10 for me because I have a lot of confidence in the NXT brand delivering an outstanding show. They have earned my trust. I think in terms of match quality, it should be an outstanding show with several matches getting around the four star level in my ratings, if not higher. However, the hype and excitement level for this card isn’t that strong because they have only had a couple of weeks of TV to build some of the matches. What I’m saying is that they could have built some of the matches up a bit better. If you’re a fan of great matches then this show shouldn’t disappoint you. If you like stories more then it’s probably not as interesting.
John: I’ll be back with a review of WWE NXT Takeover 31 on TJRWrestling.net on Sunday night, so check that out after it’s over. I don’t anticipate it being a live review, but I should be able to get it posted late Sunday night after I watch NFL games on Sunday.
If you want to send an email, send it to me at [email protected] as well. Thanks for reading.