Last weekend, the NXT Takeover:War Games II event featured just five matches on the card, but showcased a tremendous amount of talent and made a statement about several of the performers booked on the show.
An impromptu Matt Riddle/Kassius Ohno match took place, with Riddle hitting a flying knee just seconds into the match for the flash KO win. I’d guess this will be used to set up a feud between the two, and I don’t think it really took anything away from Ohno because of how it was presented. In many respects, Ohno has solidified his status in NXT as a very valuable asset in the player-coach role and can be a useful tool in the development of younger stars. Make no mistake about it, it’s no coincidence that Riddle was paired with the former Chris Hero for his initial appearances under the NXT banner. Ohno doesn’t appear to be on the radar of the main roster, and there’s nothing wrong with that, considering that he can have a successful run in NXT as an in-ring mentor to others on the brand, which is an important piece of the puzzle to the development of new talent.
For Matt Riddle, I was initially skeptical when I heard that he began to pursue professional wrestling a few years ago after a career in mixed martial arts, mostly because you never know how an athlete will make the transition to taking bumps or their ability to sell. That said, Riddle is a natural in the squared circle and has made the transition to sports entertainment as seamlessly as anyone. Riddle has a unique charisma that can’t be scripted or manufactured, which is another key to major success in the industry. Along with that, he has a genuine enthusiasm for the business that the audience can connect with, another aspect that allows for an athlete to get over with the crowd. While it’s too early to truly predict specifics on his WWE career, the early indication is that Riddle has all the skills to be a major star in NXT.
The Shayna Baszler/Kairi Sane two out of three falls match was solid, but was too rushed based on the stipulation of the match. Perhaps the interference from Jessamyn Duke and Marina Shafir will be used to set up an eventual six person tag, but three falls weren’t needed to lead to that. Duke and Shafir are newer recruits to the brand, and I’m sure their athletic backgrounds will be helpful in the training process, but their inexperience showed with the sloppy interference spots. Shayna retained the title, a decision that was probably the right call as to avoid the title being switched too often and thus hindering its importance. Despite only three years as a professional wrestler, the former UFC fighter is extremely skilled in the squared circle. In fact, it speaks volumes to her ability that she’s already reached this level in a relatively short time in the sport. She brings an authenticity and believably to her persona that adds a lot to her matches. The only downside for Baszler is that at 38, she might have a shorter time frame to really maximize the peak of her wrestling career. It seems like an almost natural pairing that at some point, Baszler might transition to the main roster as a heel to feud with Ronda Rousey. Obviously, Ronda would need to get more experience before that, but it would be quite the contrast for a heel former MMA fighter to challenge Ronda for the Women’s championship.
Kairi Sane is very talented and fits well within the NXT brand. On the flip side, I’m not sure the “Pirate Princess” persona would translate to the casual fans of the main roster. Perhaps, that means Sane will remain on the NXT roster, but at just 30, you would think that Raw or Smackdown is in her future at some point. However, considering the track record of most NXT successes after they debut on the main roster, Sane’s unique character could get lost in the shuffle if a general audience doesn’t understand the gimmick. While a lack of fluent English shouldn’t be a major barrier, it’s very possible the writing team wouldn’t script a long-term angle for Sane on main stream television based on a perceived language barrier. It will be extremely interesting to see the path that Sane takes and if/how she eventually transitions to the main roster.
The Johnny Gargano/Aleister Black bout was tremendous and had the quality of a main event contest just about anywhere. The Gargano/Ciampa feud proved that Gargano can effectively sell and work as the classic babyface. On the surface, a heel turn for him might’ve been a questionable decision, but he again proved the caliber of the performer he is, and worked heel extremely well. Black got the victory here and when the time is right, he will undoubtedly be a great addition to the Raw or Smackdown roster. With as much as NXT transitions yield mixed results, Aleister Black has all the skills to be a major star on WWE TV. Aleister Black is a unique commodity and if booked correctly, he brings an incredible amount of potential to the table for the main roster.
The NXT title match showcased the ability of Velveteen Dream, but proved what a workhorse the champion is during this run. Tommaso Ciampa is superb in his role as a maniacal heel and the argument could be made that he’s the best heel in the business right now. Despite his flashy and entertaining persona, Velveteen is just 23 with only a few years experience in the ring so make no mistake, part of the reason this NXT title bout was the best bout of his career so far is because he worked with a top notch athlete such as Ciampa. That being said, Velveteen Dream almost certainly has a bright future, especially considering that Raw and Smackdown would utilize his character ahead of his ring skills, at least for a possible debut on the brands. Ciampa is such a great heel that gets tremendous heat while still being very entertaining with his stellar wrestling ability that you almost want to suggest that he stays in NXT as long as possible because of the incredible run as champion.
There was too much action to review in the War Games match, but a very important general statement can be made about this contest. All of the participants in this match have the ability to be performers that the company can build around for any brand. With athletes like this under contract, the future of the WWE is very secure and it will be very interesting to see how their careers progress in the WWE. More specifically, while there will only be one Shawn Michaels, I’ve said it before and I will say it again, Adam Cole has the ability to be this generation’s Shawn Michaels if he’s given the chance on a major stage.
As great as this Takeover event was, the potential and progress of these stellar athletes could be moot if they aren’t booked correctly in the next phase of their careers. The right presentation is an even more important key to success when such stellar athletes will work the peak of their careers on the WWE roster.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
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