Three titles are on the line, and the Gargano/Ciampa saga continues Saturday night in Chicago.
It looks like the rumor that WWE is pushing make Money in the Bank the fifth of the “Big 4″ pay-per-views” may have some weight to it. After all, this year’s event gets its own NXT TakeOver show to contrast its poor booking and less intimate matches against. Though to be fair, TakeOver: Chicago looks to be a bit of a subdued shows compared to some of the yellow brand’s more recent outings. Still, there’s a lot to love about the five matches on the card, from a wondrous flippy spectacle, to a grim and gritty grudge match, to a women’s title match that looks to be a fairly brutal affair. What can you expect from this weekend’s festivities?
Ricochet vs. Velveteen Dream
Oh Velveteen Dream, why can’t you let anyone shine as brightly as you? Patrick Clark refuses to share the spotlight with anyone else, let alone the most spectacularly acrobatic high-flier in wrestling today. As such, Dream is out to prove that anything Ricochet can do, he can do better. Ricochet, on the other hand, is out to show the world there’s no such thing as too many flips. Will the Prince-inspired Dream bow to the King, or will Ricochet be having Velveteen Dreams on Saturday night?
Jason: This is undoubtedly the match I’m most excited for, and why the hell wouldn’t it be? Both guys are electric in the ring and were in the middle of (the early stages of) a pretty good match before living golem Lars Sullivan wrecked both men a few weeks back. As such, this one should steal the show. Ric hasn’t had a chance to shine yet, and Dream is still in the “jobber to the stars” stage of his development (not a fault, by the way! His loss to Aleister Black made him a star) so I’m giving this one to the King.
Winner: The fans…but more literally, King Ricochet
Loser: No one. Not a damn soul loses in this match.
Brian: How is Velveteen Dream this good? He’s 23, has only been in the business for a few years and has a gimmick that would have destroyed a less talented performer. In the past year he has feuded with Aleister Black, stole the show in the North American Championship Ladder Match, and now is up against one of the most spectacular wrestlers on the planet. He has the look, the charisma, and the ability in the ring to go toe-to-toe with anyone. As much as I know he needs to get polished in NXT, I can’t wait to see Dream vs. Rollins on the main roster someday soon.
Winner: Ricochet in an amazing match that would be MOTN anywhere but on an NXT TakeOver
Nathaniel: I’ve been in on the Ricochet bandwagon for years and can’t wait to see him in a big time angle. Dream is fun to watch and will only get better. O’Shea can go and the Dream never fails to impress on the big stage. This will be fun while it lasts.
Loser: Velveteen Dream fans, but not immediately. Something about Dream makes me think he will fade away.
Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa (Chicago Street Fight)
Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa were two journeyman indie workers brought together as a tag team by the first Dusty Classic. Who’da thunk it, but they actually turned out to be one of the greatest in-ring duos of all time. They were selfless and supportive of one another, gave their all between the ropes, and even won the NXT Tag Titles in what most consider the best WWE match of 2016. Sadly it wouldn’t last, as fuckface Ciampa betrayed his partner and set in motion a blood feud that has largely defined NXT in the post-Nakamura era. After a show-stealing 5-star performance at TakeOver: New Orleans, Gargano is up one to nil in the series. Now that s--t’s personal, Ciampa has dialed up the mind games and put Gargano off his game, even bringing his wife Candice LeRae into the melee. This actually got the normally paragon Johnny Wrestling to go renegade and agree to a Chicago Street Fight against the Psycho Killer. Can Bayley Johnny go to the necessary extremes to beat Alexa Bliss fuckface Ciampa, or will the most hated man in pro-wrestling (not named Enzo Amore) give the Chicago crowd reason to boo?
Jason: Gargles and Chompy are destined to do this forever…or at least a 3-PPV stretch before one (or both) of them is called up to the main roster. As such, this second round should go to Tommy Entertainment. Empire, Back to the Future II — trilogies always work better when the villain wins the second round, so expect the Sicilian psychopath to walk out of Chicago to a chorus of boos and his hand raised high.
Winner: Tommaso Ciampa
Loser: Probably Candice LeRae, who I anticipate doing another injury angle.
Brian: Months ago, Edge and Christian talked on their Pod of Awesomeness about what would make a standout heel in NXT. They thought that too many of the heels were cool and got the smarks (my term, not theirs) in Florida to cheer them rather than boo. If only there were someone who could just be a straight-up bad person that no one could possibly like. Enter one Tommaso Ciampa. With the almost year-long simmering feud bubbling back to the surface after an amazing Unsanctioned Match at Takeover: New Orleans, this has the makings of a continuing rivalry through SummerSlam and TakeOver: Brooklyn IV at least. With one of the other best wrestlers in the world, Candace LeRae, involved, this can only get better. I see Ciampa evening up the score before we get some crazy first-time-in-NXT match. First Blood?
Winner: That bald mf’er Tommaso Ciampa
Nathaniel: I thought the Takeover: New Orleans match was the blow off — not that I’m complaining. This has been the feud of the year (barely beating out WWE fans vs. wrestling). This match will be wild and should go with unconventional booking. A Gargano win does not prevent a third match if Ciampa keeps costing Gargano the NXT belt. And a Gargano win mean nothing if Ciampa keeps getting the last laugh. It’s old school booking. The face can with all the matches but the heel doesn’t really care if he is ruining their life. Gargano wins, Ciampa screws him over in the next few weeks, loser leaves town blow off.
Winner: Johnny Gargano
Losers: The fans. This feud is great and they will never be allowed to reach these heights on the main roster.
The Undisputed Era (c) vs. Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch for the NXT Tag Team Championships
The Undisputed Era are slick, douchebag heels who won the tag titles from one of the last good tag teams in NXT, then drove the other one off in the following weeks. This left them as the biggest fish in a rather shallow pond. With a dearth of viable challengers, the UE have been forced to face off with a number of scrub tandems in the ensuing months, leaving them overconfident. This allowed the chrome-domed cripplers that are Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch to take the champs by surprise and score the upset win in a non-title match, which earned them this title shot at TakeOver: Chicago. Will the UE power through their latest challengers, or will these two jobbers rise above their lot in life and secure NXT gold? Honestly, it’s happened before. More than once.
Jason: This is the most underwhelming matchup on the card. Lorcan and Burch are a fun enough team, but they aren’t serious contenders. It should be a well worked match, but the result should never be in doubt. Expect the Undisputed Era to roll over the bald bruisers and do their stupid hand gesture at the top of the ramp with the tag belts still draped over their shoulders.
Winner: O’Reilly, whose air guitar on the ramp is fast becoming my favorite entrance, non-Aleister Black division.
Loser: Oney and Two-ey
Brian: The NXT tag division since the dissolution of DIY and the loss of AOP and Sanity to the main roster has been a sea of “will this work?” While Oney and Burch are good in-ring performers, they’re not real contenders at this point. This will sound brutal with some wicked chops all around (expect near-WALTER level welts afterwards if Greatest Royal Rumble was any indication), but should be an easy pick-up for the dastardly trio heading into a potential showdown with War Raiders this August.
Winner: The Undisputed Era
Nathaniel: One of the best things about NXT is the booking can always answer the question, “why?” Things just don’t randomly happen and this includes title changes. Belts mean a lot in NXT and hotshotting titles for the sake of surprising fans has never been a thing at Full Sail. The question isn’t if The Undisputed Era will lose, but why should they?
Winner: The Undisputed Era
Losers: Strong and O’Reilly are great, but reDRagon were next level.
Shayna Baszler (c) vs. Nikki Cross for the NXT Women’s Championship
After some growing pains, Shayna Baszler has emerged as the dominant heel she always should have been. After some great vignettes that prove what a bully she could be, Shayna set out to dominate every woman in the NXT locker room. Dominating wins over scrubs like Aaliyah and Vanessa Borne led to a better-than-expected face off with Dakota Kai. When Shayna bested the Kiwi kicker, a wild Nikki Cross appeared and wrecked the women’s champ. Now Shayna is forced to go toe-to-toe with someone who can’t be intimidated and won’t back down from the former MMA fighter. Can Nikki Cross’ crazy ass take the strap off the Queen of Spades, or will Baszler choke Cross out and send her to SmackDown with the rest of the Sanity squad?
Jason: It’ll be great to see Shayna face off with someone who can truly go toe-to-toe with the Queen of Spades. I absolutely love Nikki Cross, but unless Baszler’s being fast-tracked to the main roster, she’s not walking out with the women’s title. The former MMA fighter needs the belt to remain at the top of the women’s division, and Cross is already as over as someone with no merch and little TV time can get. It’s going to be a good matchup and will probably feature a few hardcore-style high spots, but expect Shayna to walk out with the title after Cross (presumably) passes out in Baszler’s Kirifuda Clutch.
Winner: Shayna Baszler
Loser: Probably every woman on the NXT roster not named Kairi Sane.
Brian: I’m one of, I believe, many who expected Nikki Cross to head on up to Smackdown Live with her Sanity stablemates, but she was needed in the NXT Women’s division to lend some extra credibility to the division and its champion, Shayna Baszler. Shayna’s a badass, legit, but, like her partner in the other Four Horsewomen Ronda Rousey, she is green in a WWE/NXT ring and needs some polish before the big time. While Rousey has the name recognition to skip NXT, Baszler needs to make a name for herself by being vicious and unrelenting. I think Cross will get in some offense rarely seen by a female wrestler before finally being knocked out in the Kirifuda Clutch, which Baszler will not release until her next challenger comes out for the save.
Winner: The Queen of Spades, but there’s no way Cross taps out.
Nathaniel: I know JR has called plenty of women’s matches, but has he ever given one his “slobberknocker” stamp of approval? If there was ever a match that deserves it, this will be it. This will be hard hitting and fun if you like that style, but it will lack drama.
Winner: Shayna Baszler
Loser: My ears. I’m expecting Mauro Ranallo’s references to really be grating at this point.
Aleister Black (c) vs. Lars Sullivan for the NXT Championship
Since beating Andrade “Cien” Almas to win the belt at TakeOver: New Orleans, Aleister Black has been a bit of a vacant champion. Sure, he’s on the weekly shows from time to time, but with Gargano and Ciampa keeping each other busy, Ricochet tied up with the Velveteen Dream, Adam Cole (BayBay) holding a secondary championship and EC3 just kind of farting around the Performance Center, he hasn’t really had a foil to play off of. Enter “The Thing” Lars Sullivan, a man who looks like he was carved out of a granite boulder and imbued with the ghostly spirit of a Norse berserker. Sully has steamrolled the Dutch kickboxer at every turn, but it only takes one kick from Black to turn out the lights. Will Sullivan topple the champ in his first defense, or will Black be able to fell the ever-lovin’ blue eyed Sully?
Jason: I don’t really know how to feel about this one. I love both of these guys, and I like the idea of them facing off, but I just don’t know that it’s going to be all that good. Sully hasn’t really sold me on his in-ring acumen yet (though I would love to be pleasantly surprised) and seeing Black bump around for the monster before hitting a quick Black Mass to knock his lights out doesn’t sound like a terribly exciting match. I expect Black to keep the belt in this exchange, and I worry that it means Lars will go tumbling down the card. Don’t let this be another Bull Dempsey, Trips. Keep your monster heels fallible but strong!
Winner: Ali Black
Loser: Sullivan’s push.
Brian: Lars Sullivan looks like the real deal. He doesn’t have Braun Strowman’s size (who does), but he has that monster presence that makes him an instant contender against anyone. Black is ready for the big time at any point now, but I just can’t see him dropping the title here. I think Black gets brutalized by the larger Sullivan before pulling out a last minute Black Mass kick, getting the pin. I see a rematch in the future.
Winner: Aleister Black
Nathaniel: This really is a one match show. Not in quality — that should be fine up and down the card. In terms of suspense, however, there really isn’t much there. Sullivan just doesn’t do it for me. The whole Aleister Black persona is amazing and ready for the main roster. No need to send him packing yet though.
Winner: Aleister Black
Loser: There is no shame losing to Black, but where does Sullivan go from here?