This week on The Right Side of the Pond (TRSOTP), Mazza and I are predicting WWE’s big weekend as we look towards this year’s edition of Money in the Bank, running down our thoughts on its card and, apparently, the plethora of uninspiring matches on it. That, and rant a little about the woeful state of WWE’s product now being popularly eschewed among internet ranks for the more fan-friendly NJPW alternative. But ahead of our official predictions on tonight’s Pond, I thought I would get the party started, as ever, a couple of hours early by running through some of my thoughts about Money in the Bank’s accompanying NXT Takeover: Chicago.
In an age where WWE pay-per-views now seem to disappoint more than they excite, NXT’s flagship special event brand has turned into something of a safe harbour on now dreaded pay-per-view weekends in WWE, and this latest pending iteration looks fit to be no different. Speaking as a fan who doesn’t always find himself in line with popular sentiment about WWE’s black and gold brand, I have to say even I am finding myself feeling particularly excited for what I believe to be a well-rounded card that could prove to be right up my performance art alley.
Ironically, I don’t know whether a large swathe of the fan base agree, meaning I could still be very much of a hipster mindset when it comes to NXT. With Aleister Black set to defend his title against as traditional a WWE wrestler as you could find in the gargantuan frame of Lars Sullivan, the move away from ‘work-rate friendly’ main event might have some of NXT’s hardcore fan base balking, especially considering the brand’s form in presenting main event title bouts exclusively featuring workhorse stars and Indy darlings in equal measure. NXT, and especially Takeover, is the safe-harbour of the alternative within the land of the mainstream, so to see a star like Sullivan – undoubtedly of a mainstream WWE design – ‘hijacking’ that scene might not necessarily be a move lending itself well to forgiveness.
For my part, I haven’t seen enough of Sullivan to really be able to dislike the man, and I’m so removed from the general NXT sentiment that I may very well be writing of a straw man argument in the first place. I hope that’s the case, because variety is very much the spice of life and, with a champion made up of ice cold composure like Black is, Sullivan feels like a refreshing new kind of imposing challenger for a Takeover title match, after several years of solid ‘work rate’ headliners consisting of equally capable competitors.
This is not to say that Takeover: Chicago looks set to stray too far from the established and incredibly successful NXT norm. It does, after all, feature a much anticipated rematch between Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa in what very well could prove to be the concluding chapter in one of the show’s most historic rivalries. Typically – and you may roll your eyes when you read this – I haven’t been as enamoured with this story as most, for no real reason other than my own lingering bitterness about the needless dissolution of DIY before the team’s time and my pessimistic view on both men’s futures as solo stars on an already stacked pair of main rosters. That their rematch is to be a Chicago Street Fight doesn’t provide me with enough of a variance from their Unsanctioned Match – in practice, essentially the same kind of environment even if, semantically, there is a subtle difference – to enable me to get excited at the prospect of sitting through another heavily insistent 40-odd minutes of action between the two. For variety’s sake, and because the title isn’t otherwise featured, I would have much preferred a North American Championship Triple Threat, I think.
So keeping in line with that notion of variety, I hope they find a means to take a different route this Saturday, telling a faster paced story than their leviathan and dirty-faced epic from WrestleMania weekend, bringing their rivalry to its definitive end lest it become one of those feuds that drags on much longer than necessary; one of WWE’s worst, most recurring historical traits.
I am more intrigued by the story evolving between Indy import Ricochet and the home-brewed Velveteen Dream – a clash of pathways through the business that NXT has successfully called upon in the past and which, frankly, never grows old. “Show me!” was the defiant demand of Ricochet on NXT some weeks ago following a verbal tirade of the extroverted Dream, and this Saturday night at Takeover is both men’s chance to do just that for this particular fan. I’m a fan of Dream, if not to the hysterical extent many have become since his infamous clash with Black some months ago, and Ricochet is a talent so diametrically opposed to my wrestling tastes that, as a ‘WWE-homer’ who also loathes multi-man ladder matches, my introduction to him at Takeover: New Orleans was fated to have me resisting the pull of his popular appeal.
Dream has a strong previous when it comes to Takeover undercards though, and is such a traditional WWE character in his own right, evoking some of the most beloved legends of yesteryear, that – unnecessarily showy or not – I imagine he’s going to be wrestling Ricochet to another, even more intense crowd-pleaser than we’ve seen before. I hope that their proving ground story feeds into that though, and it doesn’t just turn out to be a box ticking exercise to get a crowd reaction.
It is the two other undercard title matches that I am most excited for, however.
Shayna Baszler vs. Nikki Cross for the NXT Women’s Championship is an inspired decision, and in actuality evokes memories of the promise inherent in 2016’s Brock Lesnar vs. Dean Ambrose feud. Let’s hope the two women can meet fan expectations with a little more success come their time to takeover! The basic concept of their story is symmetrical to that of the Beast and Lunatic Fringe: a monstrously dominant presence (and, in this case, one that carries vaunted championship gold) faces down an apparently unhinged individual possessing none of the typical human inhibitions that so often has opponents behaving in an overtly fearful manner. Cross presents a fascinating challenge for Baszler to overcome as a result, with arguably Baszler’s most powerful weapon – her intimidation factor – rendered inert by Cross’s complete lack of trepidation.
When Baszler first won the championship, I groaned. Her performances in the Mae Young Classic were good enough, but screamed of that same heavy-handed Lesnar booking of which we’ve all had more than we can stomach. What has happened, however, is that, through her matches with Ember Moon, Dakota Kai and now her interactions with Nikki Cross, to my delight Baszler has proven herself a talented character performer capable of imbuing her matches and feuds with compelling subtext. Such is the beauty of robust character development, folks. As a result, seeing how these myriad factors will come to translate into their match on Saturday has me salivating, as it should any fan with an appreciation for a character driven story.
For me, the main event will be the NXT Tag Team Championship Match between The Undisputed Era’s champions Roderick Strong and Kyle O’Reilly and their working class opposition Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch, in what promises to be a return to the kind of tag matches we became used to when The Revival were dominating the scene opposite American Alpha and DIY. Already the four omen have clashed in multiple matches of one kind or another, and have never once failed to rip the roof off of Full Sail University. In front of a more vocally excitable Chicago crowd, and especially with Lorcan’s incredible hot tag routine, the reaction is likely to be one that will live long in the memory.
There’s plenty of storyline here too; it’s not just going to be some high octane, hard hitting action movie without greater meaning. A by-product of the lingering ill will felt between Strong and the man he betrayed several months ago, Pete Dunne, it is a match that combines multiple stories with an established history – the continuity of Lorcan and Burch’s previous encounters as opponents lends their own unit as much a sense of history as Undisputed Era and their latest recruit, Strong. This feels like a match logically culminating a series of disparate character and story threads that have just so happened to intertwine in recent months, while promising to return the NXT tag division to its recent famous form, all the while continuing to build to the pending encounter between Undisputed Era and British Strong Style in the Royal Albert Hall set to be televised at month’s end. I mean, i that’s not a main event – if that’s not a demonstration of fantastic professional wrestling – then I don’t know what else is!
Oh, and just for the sake of posterity, here are my official predictions: Black, Undisputed Era, Gargano, Ricochet and Baszler. These predictions may seem obvious, but Takeover looks to be an exciting show not because of unpredictability but because of the satisfying conclusion of well-written emotional arcs for its characters. There’s a prescient lesson to be learned by WWE’s main roster creative teams there, I think.
But you can hear more on mine and Mazza’s predictions for this weekend, as well as our grumbles about WWE’s current creative state, in just a couple of hours on the next instalment of The Right Side of the Pond, airing only on Lords of Pain Radio to kick your weekend off right! The Right Side of the Pond airs only on LOP Radio every Friday night, 9pm BST / 5pm EST, or can be listened to on demand at any time via BlogTalkRadio or on iTunes, so be sure to check it out!
Also, be sure to check out LOP Radio’s Aftershock, hosted by me and host of The Late Shift Steve, airing immediately afterboth Takeover: Chicago and then again after Money in the Bank!
Until that time, if you have any thoughts or predictions for NXT Takeover: Chicago this Saturday, or Money in the Bank on Sunday, let them be known in the comments below, over on social media or even by signing up to our own LOPForums, where TRSOTP and every other LOP Radio show has its very own discussion thread for you to throw some responses our way without the limitations of Twitter or Facebook; just click here to sign up!