nXt Cool Points Rankings: Pre-Takeover Chicago


Logo for nXt Takeover: Chicago II

COOL POINTS: NXT Rankings
(Apr 11, 2018- Jun 13, 2018)


Opening Notes:

Welcome to the Cool Points. May this exercise in research and reflection provide you with all the info and insight you need to properly enjoy Takeover: Chicago II this coming Saturday.

After following nXt closely for almost three years, I’ve determined that a monthly ranking is not as effective as a periodical ranking. Reason being, often storylines and matches all build towards the next major event. For nXt, that’s TAKEOVER, which happens 5 times a year.

nXt fans are in for yet another exciting weekend of wrestling, which will be instrumental in establishing just how good Takeover: Brooklyn IV will be in August.

This edition tracks the Men’s, Women’s and Tag Team Divisions from Takeover: NOLA to June 13, 2018 and covers the last 9 weeks of nXt.

nXt Rankings heading into Takeover: Chicago

Use the table of contents below to jump to whichever division you want to read first, or keep scrolling and read it all in one sitting!


Men’s Division
Women’s Division
Tag Team Division

Men’s Division

Rank Wrestler
CHAMP Aleister Black
#1 Tommaso Ciampa
#2 Johnny Gargano
#3 Lars Sullivan
#4 Ricochet
#5 EC3
#6 Velveteen Dream
#7 Kona Reeves
#8 Adam Cole (NA Champ)


8. Adam Cole (NA Champ)
Cole only had one title defense since winning at Takeover: NOLA, defeating Oney Lorcan on April 25th. He’s been an active part of the Undisputed Era’s feud with Dunne, Burch and Lorcan since then.

It’s easy to complain about the lack of Adam Cole at present, but nXt has other stories they need to tell. The NA title is following a similar trajectory as the UK title; both titles are prestigious and, perhaps for that reason, do not get over-exposed on weekly TV or even at Takeovers. This is good for Cole.

7. Kona Reeves (2-0)
Kona Reeves returned to the nXt roster with a new gimmick that establishes him with a more unique in-ring presence. Reeves won both of his matches over this two month period, which indicates the possibility of more success over the summer months. I don’t think it will translate into a Takeover: Chicago match, but expect to see some more significant feuds on weekly TV. He’d play a good foil for a guy like EC3 or even Ricochet.

6. The Velveteen Dream (#3 contender)
Coming out of an excellent six-man ladder match at Takeover: NOLA, The Velveteen Dream has decided on becoming an obstacle for Ricochet and his desire to be nXt Champion. He has effectively siderailed his and Ricochet’s title opportunity in order to determine who is the better man. This feud has gotten consistent TV time since May 9 and is the de facto #1 contender match for the nXt Championship.

Dream has another opportunity to steal the show on Saturday. By year’s end, he may be a champion, but I see an equally important label being given to him: kingmaker. More on that in a future column.

5. EC3 (The One Percenter)
EC3 also benefitted from making that NA Championship ladder match at Takeover: NOLA as great as it was. By getting his debut in that match, nXt clearly holds him in high esteem. His presence on weekly TV proves the same. For 5 of the past 6 weeks, EC3 has either had a promo, in-ring interview, or match, and he’s undefeated in singles competition (2-0).
He won’t get the nod at Takeover: Chicago, but the crowd at Full Sail has really taken to this guy, who continues to accentuate the parts of his character that worked so well in Impact Wrestling. He’ll be moving up the rankings in 3 months’ time.

4. Ricochet (#2 contender)

Ricochet’s athletic ability, agility and flexibility, and fearlessness are unparalleled in nXt today. We’ve only seen glimpses of his greatness and they have wowed the crowd, in his confrontations with Velveteen Dream and Lars Sullivan, and a quick win over Chris Dijak on May 30.

Ricochet/Dream should contend for match of the weekend in Chicago and all wrestling fans’ lives will be enhanced by tuning into what these two do. The winner should face Aleister Black in Brooklyn.

3. Lars Sullivan (#1 contender)
After dispatching fellow super-heavyweight Killian Dian, of SAnitY, on April 18 in a No-DQ match, Sullivan was absent on weekly TV for a month. What brought him back? A match between The Velveteen Dream and Ricochet where the two fought to establish who should fight Aleister Black for the nXt Championship.
On May 23, Sullivan won a handicap match by pinning Ricochet, when Dream abandoned his partner, and that sets us up for an intriguing main event match in Chicago. The big man has been on a trajectory for the title for months. Smart money says he may not overcome the intelligence of Black, but he will definitely hurt him.

2. Johnny Gargano
Gargano was at an all-time high, coming out of Takeover: NOLA, having gained a significant main event victory over his former tag partner, Tommaso Ciampa. It seemed like he was primed and ready for an nXt Championship match against Aleister Black, on April 25, until Ciampa executed the next segment of his plan to destroy Gargano’s career. Gargano was injured during the attack. Candice LeRae spoke on behalf of her husband, on May 16, and wanted Ciampa to stay the hell away from them. It even seemed like Gargano might be moving on from nXt, but Ciampa successfully goaded him into continuing their feud, despite LeRae’s vocal protests against it.

So, Gargano fights for vengeance and pride in a Street Fight at Takeover Chicago. He got the one-up on Ciampa last week, busting him open and tapping him out with the Gargano Escape. This outcome suggests it’s Ciampa’s who will stand tall on Saturday, leading to one final match at Brooklyn IV. Excuse yourself ahead of time for the salivating over what this rivalry continues to produce.

1. Tommaso Ciampa
Ciampa has been the best heel in the WWE in 2018. Everything he says and does draws a reaction. He’s made Gargano and LeRae’s lives a mess, inflicting physical and emotional pain on both of them. It’s drawn them to the point of considering a departure for Gargano and divided husband and wife on how to resolve this ongoing feud. He even made time to beat Kassius Ohno in a main event match, on May 9th.
Despite Gargano finally getting the best of Ciampa last week, it appears to be Ciampa’s time to shine this Saturday, which will lead to what’s best for business: a third and final payoff match, hopefully in the cage or cell.

Aleister Black, at Full Sail University, wearing a suit, holds the nXt Championship belt, over his left shoulder.

nXt Champion: Aleister Black

I am happy to finally be able to write that Aleister Black is the nXt Champion. It’s been an amazing year for the Dutchman, consistently winning over the nXt fanbase, month after month. All of his upward momentum, including his in-ring work, promo time, and the amount of detail invested into Black’s presentation on TV, has produced a main event player who could hold this title for a long time.

He was supposed to wrestle Gargano on April 25, but, instead, he accepted one final challenge from Eric Young of SAnitY, before that man left nXt. Now, he has to face his biggest contender to date, Lars Sullivan. He’s proven himself capable of enduring a ton of punishment and Black Mass can effectively be used in a number of situations, so I think he will come out of Takeover: Chicago as champion. It’s gonna be a trial though.


Women’s Division

Rank Wrestler
CHAMP Shayna Baszler
#1 Lacey Evans
#2 Kairi Sane
#3 Nikki Cross
#4 Bianca Belair
#5 Dakota Kai


5. Dakota Kai
Kai has opened up more to nXt fans in the last few weeks, as we have watched her overcome her fear of nXt Women’s Champ Shayna Baszler. Baszler consistently harassed and intimidated her, in a series of post-match attacks and backstage promos. This led to a main event title match, on May 30, which Kai lost.
That’s a big showing, which helps fans care about Kai. She’s got an underdog presence but a competitive spirit, and that may yet endear herself to fans in the future.

4. Bianca Belair
Last edition, Bianca Belair was getting plenty of TV time, showing off her wrestling skills in short matches. This time around, we have had no in-ring time, but a series of promos that were created to help fans get to know Belair’s story. Similar to what was done for Roderick Strong, the promos delivered interviews with Belair and her family, interspersed with highlights of her athletic accomplishments from high school and college. There was also WWE Performance Center footage too, talking up her work ethic, focus, and motivation to be the best.

Look for her to take on Baszler at some point this year. It seems like nXt wants fans to get behind her, but I think she needs a featured feud on weekly nXt TV to get her there.

3. Nikki Cross
Cross will get the nod at Takeover: Chicago II, coming out of nowhere to challenge Shayna Baszler for the championship. This match was essentially booked last week as Baszler opened the show, touting her defeat over Dakota Kai, as an indication of her dominance.
Cross is the longest-tenured vet in the division, and I feel that their match is a nod to Cross’ continued relevance as an unpredictable yet reliable top-level wrestler. I don’t see her winning the title, but that doesn’t make this match any less interesting. They’ll put on a great fight.

2. Kairi Sane (2017 Mae Young Tournament Winner)
Yes! Last edition, I was concerned about how Sane was being used on weekly nXt TV. The last few months have seen Sane embroiled in an engaging feud against Lacey Evans. Their ongoing series of matches has given us the most featured feud in the division these past two months. Sane leads 2-1 over Evans, and matched every effort of Evans to bring her down, including responding with a post-match attack on May 16, when Evans had another match.

Sane could also be a contender to the Women’s Championship in the coming months, and this feud helped remind nXt fans of why she was last year’s MY tourney winner. She doesn’t do much in the way of promos, but she’s easy to cheer on, thanks to her high-flying in-ring style.

1. Lacey Evans
Evans is my pick for most improved women’s wrestler since Takeover: NOLA. Her feud with Kairi Sane and the amount of TV time she received for matches and promos indicates that nXt likes what they see from this one. Although she loses the series, 2-1 to Sane, she wrestled an aggressive, hard-hitting style each match. The “Women’s Right”, one of the cleverest finisher names I’ve heard in a while, is a simple yet effective way to close a match, but this woman can fly, too, executing an amazing second to third rope springboard moonsault. Her character work in-ring is arrogant, too, doing pushups as she pins her opponents.

Evans may not feature on Takeover, as long as Baszler is champion, but she’s done really well for herself these past few months. I’m not sure how much we’ll see her over the summer, since other women need an opportunity in the spotlight. A feud with Belair could be pretty great.

Shayna Baszler and Nikki Cross square off in ring during a segment on June 6, at Full Sail University

Women’s Champion: Shayna Baszler

Baszler finally defeated Ember Moon at Takeover: NOLA, and immediately asserted herself as an unbeatable, intimidating champion. She’s only defended the title once, defeating Dakota Kai in late May, but she has been consistently reminding her peers, inside the ring and backstage, that she’s the boss. Her promos are noticeably improving from week to week, and I feel she is truly embracing the championship mindset and swagger, in her words and body language.

Her title defense at Takeover: Chicago will be against Nikki Cross, who only emerged from the darkness last week, to challenge Baszler. I expect to see a hard-fought, entertaining match, but this is Baszler’s division and no one is taking that from her right now.


Tag Team Division

Rank Tag Team/Faction
CHAMPS Undisputed Era
#1 Burch/Lorcan/Dunne
#2 TM61
#3 War Raiders
#4 Heavy Machinery
#5 Street Profits
#6 Tino Sabbatelli & Riddick Moss


6. Tino Sabbatelli & Riddick Moss
Sabbatelli & Moss haven’t had much TV time lately. They finished a brief feud with Heavy Machinery on April 25, and we haven’t seen them since. They’re a credible enough team to provide a challenge to up and coming teams, but I don’t know if we’ll see them get a push up the rankings anytime soon.

5. Street Profits (Dawkins/Ford)
Here’s another team that got plenty of promo time pre-Takeover: NOLA, but have been largely absent from nXt TV this spring. They lost to the returning TM61 on May 2nd, and that’s it. These guys were getting a following in FSU, but the Tag Division has a lot of big teams at present. Hard for them to compete against that kind of size and muscle.

4. Heavy Machinery (Knight/Dozovic)
Knight and Dozovic continue to be the most entertaining guys on the nXt roster. They were the first major team to engage with the incoming War Raiders (formerly War Machine), calling them out following a win over Sabbatelli and Moss, on April 25.

Unfortunately, they lost a pretty quick match to War Raiders on May 9, and then got beat by TM61 on May 23. Despite the losses, fans still seem to love them. I just hope they continue to be recognized as a serious challenge and a tough team to face in the division. The division needs them.

3. War Raiders (Hanson/Rowe)
War Raiders haven’t truly been tested yet, but this team is primed and ready for a big push. They are 3-0, and their most notable win was over Heavy Machinery, on May 9. The presentation is there. The high-impact, visually stunning double-team move set is there. All that’s missing is a big feud. Expect to see that happen this summer.

2. TM61 (Thorne/Miller)
TM61 has revealed a more antagonistic side recently. After a loss in the Dusty Classic to Authors Of Pain, it seems like Thorne & Miller decided they would have to operate differently in order to win the nXt Tag Team Championships. In addition, they’ve had noteworthy wins over Street Profits and Heavy Machinery, cheating to win in both instances, and, again, last week, they dominated the team of Hubley & Brand. I would embrace a feud between them and War Raiders, which would be good for the Tag Division that hasn’t had too much stability recently.

1. Danny Burch/Oney Lorcan/Pete Dunne
As I said on “The Doc Says”, which is available today on LOP Radio, Burch and Lorcan absolutely deserve the Tag Team Title opportunity they are getting this Saturday, in Chicago. They have been two of my favourite singles wrestlers to watch for quite some time, always bringing a unique intensity and energy to their matches. Even in a loss, they would come out looking fantastic, earning the respect of the fans with their attitude and skillset.

One of the highlights of weekly TV was the six-man tag, on May 16, in which Burch/Lorcan and UK Champ Pete Dunne defeated the Undisputed Era. Couple that with the ongoing singles matches between various members of the two groups, and you’ve essentially got a faction vs. faction feud, escalating at Takeover: Chicago. It will provide for a great match, but it is unclear if it will continue into the summer.

The Undisputed Era celebrate the victories at nXt Takeover: NOLA. From left to right, Bobby Fish, Roderick Strong, Adam Cole and Kyle O'Reilly

Tag Champions: Undisputed Era (Strong/O’Reilly/Fish/Cole)

What, at first, seemed like a premature labelling of their abilities has become living prophecy. The Undisputed Era hold two of five major titles on the nXt brand and their bi-weekly promo continues to set them apart from the rest of the roster. Think nWo, with the music playing as they talk, but it’s in colour and the camera cuts aren’t as many nor are they as jarring.

While they lost the six-man tag I already mentioned, they one-upped their opponents last week when Roderick Strong defeated Danny Burch. Then, they left Pete Dunne laying in a post-match attack. Expect a good match on Saturday and expect them to come out on top. This era ain’t over yet.

*BRRRRRING*

That’s a wrap on the rankings from my perspective. Naturally, the best part of this type of presentation will be the discussion that results from it. I look forward to reading where you agree and disagree. Here are three questions to help guide your comments.

Is Ricochet going to assert himself as the #1 Contender to the nXt Championship?

Who can overcome the Undisputed Era?

Will Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano wrestle a third and final match inside a steel cage or cell at Takeover: Brooklyn IV?

Looking forward to your thoughts, comments and cool points. Please share them in the comments section or join the conversation on Twitter by clicking the button below.

Peace!

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