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Preview – NXT TakeOver: XXX

The WWE brand of NXT presents the 30th installment of their TakeOver supercard this Saturday. Built up for weeks on their USA Network television show, the card streaming on WWE Network, includes several title matches.

In addition to the title matches is a grudge match with an outsider facing one of NXT’s top stars. A former pro football player and current media personality, Pat McAfee, takes his journey in WWE to a new level when he faces NXT regular Adam Cole in a featured match at TakeOver.

McAfee previously appeared on WWE telecasts on panels during “kick off” shows before special events. He had some pro wrestling training before this program with Cole, and McAfee was a professional athlete for years. He trained under Rip Roger no less, so he has a solid background.

McAfee is also a helluva talker, as the in-ring promo he cut on Cole proves. Cole and McAfee went face to face on the go-home episode of NXT on USA, and McAfee delivered a promo that was better than most on WWE television. The grudge is now much more than just a football player against a wrestler.

Football players crossing over into pro wrestling is nothing new. WWE has people on the roster like Roman Reigns and Baron Corbin who played professional football. Before them, superstars like The Rock and Big Van Vader were football players before becoming wrestlers. Decades earlier, stars like Wahoo McDaniel and Ernie Ladd crossed over from football to pro wrestling.

Some football players would crossover to wrestling as special attractions instead of becoming full-time wrestlers. Moonlighting as a wrestler sometimes paid better than pro football in the 1960s and 1970s. That was somewhat common in territorial wrestling. Several NFL players in the 1990s wrestled in high profile matches for national promotions like the World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling.

Headlining WrestleMania XI in 1995 saw football star Lawerence Taylor wrestling Bam Bam Bigelow in the main event. Steve McMichael was there in LT’s corner, and McMichael himself a year later in 1996 would have a celebrity match in WCW teaming with Kevin Greene against pro wrestlers Ric Flair and Arn Anderson. 

McMichael turned on his fellow football player in the match. He went on to join the Four Horsemen and become a full time pro wrestler. His tag team partner for his debut match, Greene, would return to wrestling for a grudge match against McMichael. Greene would also wrestle as a special attraction in matches with the nWo, and he also teamed with Goldberg, who also played in the NFL.

Reggie White was another NFL player who took part in a pro wrestling match in the offseason. Not long after, clauses added to pro contracts forbid football players from doing pro wrestling matches. 

Cole and McAfee face to face

McAfee has long since retired so he is free to chase his wrestling dream. The program with Cole is also different in many ways than those other football players having a wrestling match. The grudge between McAfee and Cole is a contemporary feud for a modern time. The angle to kick off the program was on a podcast no less. They also did an angle together on a NXT house show in 2018. House shows — remember those? Seems like a bygone era.

The Cole-McAfee feud was reignited during a global pandemic on shows without a live audience. That makes it hard to gauge audience reaction. McAfee is a polarizing figure, but he is a heel in this program so he can be the antagonist. Cole in the role of the protagonist can be a turning point in making him a top babyface on the NXT brand. 

Who wins? With how Cole has looked at times during the feud, Cole winning would give McAfee the comeuppance he is due. However, often in wrestling lore the heel wins the first encounter to set up a rematch. If this is a one-off, that is all the more reason for Cole to win. If they want to do a return match, maybe McAfee wins to set up another match. Yet, my money is on Cole with how the story has played out so far.

The finish to the NXT Championship match is even more intriguing with two of the brand’s most protected stars facing off. Keith Lee defends his NXT Championship against challenger Karrion Kross. Lee’s reign as champion is still rather new. Seems too early to take the title off him. 

Kross and Scarlett, on the other hand, are a fresh act with a lot of momentum. Seems far too early to beat Kross. Since debuting on NXT, the Kross character set his sights on the championship. A title reign is almost a foregone conclusion. Does Kross win the title on Saturday? 

NXT Championship Match

This is pro wrestling so a possibility exists for a non-finish or a disputed finish. NXT rarely does cheap finishes in TakeOver matches, but that was the NXT of old. The brand is more of a television property now than ever before. With that comes booking with television in mind.

Maybe the biggest argument against switching the titles is they switched the top title not long ago. The NXT title has been well protected for the most part. It still has plenty of value within the brand. Turning it into a proverbial hot potato with another title change this summer might be too much. 

Nevertheless, Kross should probably not lose clean. Unless either he or Lee is getting called up to the main roster, they appear to have booked themselves into a corner. Surely they have a plan and a direction. We shall see. 

Another title match on the show involves the NXT Women’s Championship. NXT Women’s champion Io Shirai defends against Dakota Kai. A recent development made the plot thicken. Kai vowed to win the title on her own as her second, Raquel Gonzalez, was off TV and not in her corner for a while now. Gonzalez returned to TV last Wednesday to attack Shirai.

Shirai may find herself outnumbered if Gonzalez interferes. That could make the difference in who wins the match. It would protect Shirai from losing face even if she lost. Shirai can still easily overcome the odds and win the match to retain her title. 

Where does Shirai go from there? She is an amazing wrestler, and she is a great talent. However, a heel champion might be better long term than the babyface Shirai has become. Rhea Ripley is likely chasing the title again at some point. Her chasing a heel champion could be a direction. 

NXT Women’s Championship Match

There is some speculation that Shirai is soon getting called up to team with Asuka, especially since Kairi Sane finished up with the company. Replacing a Japanese woman with another Japanese woman is a very stereotypical thing to do. But this WWE, and they often play on stereotypes. 

Asuka is challenging both Bayley and Sasha Banks at SummerSlam in separate title matches. Soon thereafter is the Payback show, and Bayley and Sasha are set to defend their women’s tag team titles on that show. If the feud with Asuka were to continue into Payback, she would need a partner. Thus the speculation about Shirai.

Another singles title match at TakeOver is the ladder match to decide a new North American Champion. Keith Lee vacated the title after winning the NXT Championship. So a convoluted series of triple threat and singles matches decided participants for the ladder match. Expect a stunt show given the ladder gimmick. 

Participants in the ladder match include Bronson Reed, Damian Priest, Johnny Gargano, Cameron Grimes, and one other. Any of those could win the title, but maybe Priest is the best bet considering the strength of his recent push. The only person that probably should not win is the one other. He is Velveteen Dream, and there is a lot controversy surrounding him. Read the room. This is likely not the time to crown him as your new champion. Even if he is now a heel, the answer is still “no.”

Rounding out the TakeOver card is a triple threat tag match to determine number one contenders for the NXT Tag Team Championship. El Legado del Fantasma collides with both Breezango and the Brit-Am Brawlers. 

The match should be action packed, and Raul Mendoza and Joaquin Wilde from the heel stable of luchadores are a favorite to win since they are the most pushed act of the three teams. That does not make it a given. 

Bálor vs. Thatcher

One given is Finn Bálor and Timothy Thatcher are both tremendous. They are matched together in a late addition to the card. Should be a fantastic match if they have plenty of time. Bálor is quite protected since returning as he dropped few falls. Thatcher could use a win here to keep his momentum, and a loss would not hurt Bálor. Unless Bálor is soon challenging for a title.

The intrigue of who wins what matches is a good selling point for TakeOver XXX. That is a hallmark of pro wrestling. NXT is arguably the best pure pro wrestling product WWE produces on a weekly basis. Hope they keep it up.

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