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NXT TakeOver: Phoenix preview and predictions

All the belts are on the line, new faces enter the title picture, and NXT gears up for its own road to WrestleMania.

Another quarter, another Big 4 PPV, another NXT TakeOver outshining the main roster event it’s sharing the weekend with. The yellow brand has done a lot to engender goodwill over the years, meaning even their events that don’t seem all that exciting at first glance tend to outperform the loftiest of expectations. TakeOver: Phoenix boasts a fairly interesting card, with three long-served champs defending their titles against resilient tweener/babyfaces, the brand’s newly heel ace being pitted against potentially the most spectacular wrestler in the world, and an indie legend down on his luck facing off with the new kid in town looking to make a name for himself (bro). So who’s gonna win in Phoenix? We asked the AiPT! Wrestling contributors Benjamin Novoa and Jason Segarra, as well Patrick Ross, co-host of the Poor Taste Wrestling podcast, and here’s what they said:

Matt Riddle vs. Kassius Ohno

Kassius Ohno is like the super senior who should have graduated years ago but still hangs out at campus parties despite being older than everyone there. Matt Riddle is the incoming freshman who smells a bit too much like the art teacher’s office and it annoys the hell out of the Knockout Artist. Can Spicoli outlast Trip McKneely in the closest thing TakeOver has to a Pre-Show match?

Benjamin: Riddle has defeated Kassius Ohno on two occasions, one of which shocked fans with its brevity. Usually, that spells a win for Ohno to balance things a bit. However, the NXT suits are keen on Riddle, and his momentum to main event status will rival Kevin Owens. Not to mention (even though I am) that Ohno brutally attacked Riddle on NXT TV, giving him the last laugh in the feud. If WWE history is any indication, the last man to get a “win” will surely take a loss at the pending PPV. Riddle gets the win and continues to shine.
Winner: Matt Riddle

Patrick: I’m a little surprised this feud is going to a third match, as Riddle has pretty handily dominated NXT’s first boss thus far. Winning three matches in a row against the same opponent doesn’t happen often in WWE, but there are clearly some big plans for the King of Bros, and nothing to suggest Ohno is going to move out of his current role of gatekeeper for new talent.
Winner: Matt Riddle

Jason: You serious, bro? Ohno lives to take the pin. Dude’s sole role in the company is to put over the next big thing, even if that thing is rocking flip flops and the lamest magic mushroom tattoo this side of a Phish show. Look for the King of Bros to make sure this Hero falls. I only hope they give this match enough time to allow these guys to show what they can do, as Riddle remains a bit of an unproven commodity.
Winner: Riddle

Ricochet (c) vs. Johnny Gargano for the NXT North American Championship

Johnny Gargano was the white knight of NXT for more than a year before a brush with his best friend turned mortal enemy shook his confidence so bad that he embraced the dark side. Now firmly on the side of evil, Johnny Badass has decided the only thing that matters anymore is wins and championships — and he has his eyes firmly set on the North American Championship. Unfortunately for Gargano, standing in his way is the one and only King Ricochet, the quickest, flippiest dude to ever grace the yellow brand. Can the Ace of NXT topple the King en route to his first singles title in WWE?

Benjamin: Ricochet squaring off against Johnny Gargano is a dream match. The crux of the outcome will be determined by who needs the win the most. Ricochet looks to continue his momentum as a top star in NXT and Gargano desperately needs a win. After years of playing the underdog with failed attempts at obtaining gold Gargano’s time has come. If losing as a face has proven fruitless, then winning as a heel seems plausible. Concerning ring work, expect counter moves, a fast pace, and Johnny working as a heel. Ricochet will continue to defy the laws of physics with high spots off the ropes tempered with his increased character work. Gargano will win and finally obtain gold as a villain. Ricochet will drop “the strap” before setting his sights higher.
Winner: Johnny Gargano

Patrick: I still don’t really know what to make of Johnny Badass, but I do know that this match should be awesome. Ricochet is an incredible in-ring talent, but story-wise, the new Johnny Gargano (has he been hanging around Daniel Bryan too much?) doesn’t seem to have any issue with bending the rules or dialing up the viciousness to get what he wants. And what he wants right now is the North American Championship.
Winner: Johnny Gargano

Jason: I hate to be an echo chamber here, but the only interesting outcome is Gargano beating Ricochet. Johnny Wrestling’s been in desperate need of validation and that maroon hubcap is his ticket to singles success. The ONLY way I can see Ricochet holding on to the title here is if Gargano gets to the edge of going too far and pulls back at the last minute in an effort to regain his lost honor. Even though that was hinted at during the final moments of this week’s NXT, I think it’s too soon to throw away the Johnny Scumbag character. Gargles gets his first big solo win and first title in what should be the match of the night.
Winner: Johnny Badass

Undisputed Era (c) vs. War Raiders for the NXT Tag Team Championships

Millennial douchebags Roderick Strong and Kyle O’Reilly have made an artform of being the worst people on the roster, and yet some of the best wrestlers at the same time. Their over abundant confidence and obnoxious swagger has helped them make many enemies over their time as champs. Their latest foes just happen to be two large modern vikings who outweigh them by about 200lbs and are hankering for the belts. Can Strong and O’Reilly outwit the JV Bludgeon Brothers?

Benjamin: Expect a high star rating for this potential classic (if ratings carry any sway with you). The Undisputed Era has dominated the tag division for quite some time, and rightfully so. They have consistently had all-out battles with every opponent they face. The storytelling never fails either. Kyle O’Reilly and Roderick Strong have unquestionable chemistry and the War Raiders… well, they’re the War Raiders, their history speaks for itself. Undisputed will pull every dirty trick in the book and use their speed and wits to their advantage, but in the end, the War Raiders will be your new champions. Undisputed Era will remain top stars in NXT for some time to come regardless of the loss, and the War Raiders will begin to earn the praise they deserve.
Winner: War Raiders

Patrick: If the War Raiders are to mean anything in the NXT tag team division, I think they have to come away with this one. Undisputed Era are entertaining as hell and cunning, but they should not be able to defeat these two, in the words of Mr. McMahon, SLABS OF BEEF! Plus, they went into the woods and lit some sh*t on fire last week, how metal was that?
Winner: War Raiders

Jason: See, now this is where I differ from my peers, because I’m almost certain that the Undisputed Era is going to retain here. The Era remains the most popular act on the brand, and is currently on their own “expedition of gold.” To that end, I feel like the beardless boys will find a way to screw the Raiders out of the titles and eventually end up with another (if not two more) belts in the fold. I don’t see the entire Era getting called up anytime soon, and if that’s the case, it’s only a matter of time before Adam Cole (Bay Bay) nets that big gold belt. The War Raiders don’t feel like a priority at the moment, so let them simmer on the backburner for a while and let the Era run wild.
Winner: The Undisputed Era

Shayna Baszler (c) vs. Bianca Belair for the NXT Women’s Championship

The irresistible force vs. the immovable object. The greasers vs. the Jocks. MMA vs. the EST. This should be an interesting matchup, as neither of these competitors has faced someone like the other yet. For Shayna, Belair poses the most physically imposing threat to her title reign yet. She’s used to being the bigger and badder competitor. For Bianca, Baszler this is her first real challenge. Short of her recent win over Nikki Cross, Bianca’s been steamrolling lower-tier performers only, and Shayna’s a cut above. Will the Women’s Champ maintain her grip on the division, or will the EST of NXT prove that she’s ready for the spotlight the rest of the world seems to think she is?

Benjamin: The fans are behind Belair and her inevitable grasp of the “brass ring” is pending, but not just yet. With Lacey Evans moving to Raw, the NXT Women’s division is severely lacking prominent heels. Anticipate Baszler to get over on Belair with some help from her Jessamyn Duke and Marina Shafir. The result will keep Belair looking strong for her eventual title run and garner heat for the MMA Horsewomen and Baszler (As if she needed any more). The clash of styles won’t be as pronounced as Bazler vs. Kairi Saine, but the brute strength and athletic prowess Belair brings to the table will delightfully clash with Baszler’s MMA style of limb work and all out disrespect.
Winner: Shayna Baszler

Patrick: Barring a small hiccup between SummerSlam and Evolution, Shayna Baszler has had a reign of terror with the NXT Women’s Championship since the day before WrestleMania. No one’s had an answer for her brand of violence, until now. That answer is Bianca Belair. Belair has been one of my favorite women in all of WWE since I first laid eyes on her, and I think the woman who is UN-DE-FEA-TED has what it takes to represent the division.
Winner: Bianca Belair

Jason: This is the one I’m least certain on. It’s long since time for Shayna to move on from the junior league and move on to the main roster, except for one small hiccup: She’s currently grooming two henchwomen for the business. So long as Shayna needs to stretch her credibility to cover both Jessamyn Duke and Marina Shafir, I think she’s holding onto that belt for the foreseeable future. I do think it’ll be Belair taking that belt off of her, just not until the TakeOver that accompanies WrestleMania. I expect an interesting match, but the Horsewomen will keep rolling.
Winner: Shayna Baszler

Tommaso Ciampa (c) vs. Aleister Black for the NXT Championship

Tommaso Ciampa is worst person in the world. A selfish, manipulative cheat who also happens to be one of the most spectacularly talented heels in professional wrestling. The man manipulated his former friend into helping him steal the NXT Championship from an occultist kickboxer with a penchant for kicking people square in the head. After some time spent dealing with said friend, Aleister Black has vowed to regain the title he was cheated out of by hook or crook. Will Tommy Sports Entertainment continue his reign of terror, or will Ali Black rise from the grave to reclaim what’s rightfully his?

Benjamin: The main title match is the hardest to call. This match can go either way considering Aleister’s initial title run was cut short. The X-factor in this match is “Johnny Wrestling.” Black holds an exciting win over Gargano, which would bode well for his chances, but the extensive (yet still exciting) relationship between Gargano and Ciampa lingers. Gargano interfered in a cage match with ambiguous foreshadowing for the former DIY member’s futures.  Johnny may side with the angels and find redemption by giving Ciampa his comeuppance, or he will continue down his road of despair. Ciampa’s heel work is unmatched, and I expect Johnny and Ciampa to write the final pages of this storyline with a title on the line at a future event. Ciampa gets the win over Aleister in a heated battle and some interference.
Winner: Tommaso Ciampa

Patrick: If Johnny Wrestling wins the North American Championship as I predicted him to, I think Ciampa holds onto the NXT Championship here. I love me some Aleister Black, but he does feel like the third wheel in this story. We’re clearly getting the next chapter of Gargano and Ciampa, wherever that story may take us. The Blackheart will hold onto that NXT Championship, or he will DIY trying.
Winner: Tommaso Ciampa

Jason: I’ve made no secret of my love for F*ckface Ciampa, and I see this train just keeping on keeping on. Black will almost certainly be on the main roster sooner than later, and Tommy is in the midst of a fantastic run with the belt. He’s probably going to hold onto it for a while too, as it seems likely that Gargano’s redemption would eventually involve him winning the belt off his greatest foe. For now, though, Tommy Sports Entertainment is keeping that belt, and Ali’s probably heading to SmackDown where he’ll be kicking the head off of Shelton Benjamin sooner than later.
Winner: Ciampa

NXT TakeOver: Phoenix takes place this Saturday on the WWE Network.

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