Raw was live from Memphis, Tennessee last night as we inch our way closer to the Royal Rumble. The Miz finally returned from filming a movie, Braun Strowman tried to murder Brock Lesnar & Kane and the Balor Club continued to be too sweet. Here are the five stars from the January 8th, 2018 edition of WWE Raw.
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5. The Miz, Always & Forever
Before he left to film the new Marine movie, The Miz was the best part of Raw. He’s always been great on the microphone, but his in ring work is back to where it was when he was the defending WWE championship in the main event of WM 27. He has enough experience now to cater matches to his opponents strengths. That allows both he and his opponent to shine, which is something that doesn’t happen enough in WWE. Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel are tremendous here as well, especially the bit with the gifts. Axel not getting Miz a gift and offering up his sports coat was probably my favorite moment of the show and these three continue to be magic together.
In his first promo of 2018, Miz lists all of his accomplishments from 2017 (including being Rolling Stone’s Superstar of the Year). He also talks about ‘gifting’ Reigns the IC title because he wanted the title to be defended every week while he was gone. That’s so, so good. Miz’s passion for the IC title makes it the most important title on the show, and I cant’ wait for his match with Reigns in two weeks.
Miz, Dallas and Axel show up again after the main event to attack Reigns, Rollins and Jordan. I’m not confident angering Roman Reigns is the best way to go, but Miz definitely has a game plan. If there is a God, Miz will be IC champ again before the Rumble.
4. Samoa Joe
Another consistently great part of Raw has been whatever Samoa Joe is doing. Case in point, he took on Rhino last night in a quick, physical match then declared his entry into the Rumble. He also seemed to call out John Cena and guaranteed that he would eliminate him in the Rumble. If history in any indicator, the opposite will happen, but I’m all the way in for Samoa Joe taking old man Cena to the wood shed. I really hope everyone else on the roster is paying attention to how Miz and Joe utilize promo time, because they’re far and away the two best guys on the roster right now.
3. Braun Strowman, Murder Machine
Braun Strowman vs. Brock Lesnar was a dud at No Mercy. The build was fantastic, the match was a let down but in general whenever those two are near each other it’s fun to watch. What’s not fun to watch is Kane doing anything in 2018, so I’m torn on the triple threat title match scheduled for the Rumble. After last night’s segment with Braun, Kane & Brock, I’m back on board. As a rule of thumb, Braun Strowman should always be destroying something and/or someone. Last night he did both.
After a run of the mill promo from Paul Heyman, Kane attacked Brock Lesnar on the stage. They brawled backstage where Strowman attacked them. Kudos to Brock Lesnar who is secretly the king of getting thrown around. That toss into the crew equipment looked brutal. After the quick beat down, Braun turned into a human spear gun and threw some type of hook onto the top of the metal scaffolding. He then proceeded to pull down the scaffolding with his bare hands, crushing Lesnar and Kane. Heyman’s reaction was pitch perfect as always, and if we’re going to have Kane main event a major pay per view in 2018, I’m glad they’re at least making it insane.
2. Nia Jax vs. Asuka
Even though Nia Jax vs. Asuka is taking place next week, I’m still adding it here. Nia is the only believable challenger for Asuka, so I’m glad they’re pairing them up ahead of the women’s Rumble. What makes the Rumble so fun are the mini feuds within the match. Before this segment the only friction was Absolution/Sasha, Bayley and Mickie James. Nia vs. Asuka is a great second story line to add to the match, and hopefully WWE uses the next two Raw’s to build more. I also enjoyed how Nia was able to play different characters within the same show. She showed her softer side when she checked on Enzo and her monstrous side when she attacked Asuka.
While we’re talking about Asuka, I don’t want to forget the best news of the night. That would be Miz and Asuka pairing up for the Mixed Match Challenge.
1. Balor Club
Last week WWE finally paired up Balor, Gallows & Anderson and formed the Balor Club. It was such a no brainer that I can’t believe it’s taken this long to do it, but at least it’s finally happening. This week they interrupt ‘The Shield’ to explain why it took so long for them to reunite, which I always appreciate. Balor, Gallows and Anderson always knew they could team up whenever they wanted, but they desired success on their own. I can buy that for Balor, but I would not consider what Gallows and Anderson have done so far on Raw a ‘success’.
Either way I’m glad they’re together and they seem to be having a blast. While last week they beat Elias & the Miztourage, this week they faced a tougher test. This isn’t The Shield we’re used to, but Jordan, Rollins and Reigns are still a solid team. Balor Club triumphed again, and this pairing should push Finn back into the main event and make Gallows/Anderson a legitimate threat of a team. That shouldn’t be too much to ask.
Sometimes WWE has to call an audible and they end up booking a better match than the original. That’s exactly what happened at TLC when AJ Styles fought Finn Balor.
AJ Styles vs. Finn Balor – TLC
The original match for TLC was Finn Balor vs. Bray Wyatt. After Wyatt came down with an illness, WWE had to make a last minute substitution. Their pick set up a dream match, as 2017 MVP AJ Styles flew in from the Smackdown South America tour to face Balor. Styles and Balor were both former Bullet Club leaders in NJPW, and fans have been clamoring for a match between the two for awhile. We finally got it at TLC, and they did not disappoint.
When I went back and watched this match, I can’t believe this didn’t thrust Balor into the main event. The fact that he’s answering open challenges from Curt Hawkins and not fighting Lesnar at the Rumble is mind boggling. Guys like Balor and Styles should be fighting each other, as the quality of matches and fan reactions improve immensely. As I stated in the AJ Styles/Cena write up, Styles could have made up the entire top five list with his performances this year. I thought Styles/Balor at TLC was his best performance for a few reasons.
This match was booked only two days before the pay per view so neither guy had time to prepare for the match. Also, in a year filled with Cena and Jinder Mahal matches, Styles finally got to wrestle someone with talent who could keep up with him in the ring. This match had a frenetic pace from bell to bell, with both guys working and selling their ass off. The crowd ate up everything they did (rightfully so) AND they didn’t have to rely on finisher musical chairs to keep the crowd interested. One coup de grace from Balor and it was over. Two world class athletes at the top of their game having a match of the year candidate. What’s not to love?
The biggest party of the summer is once again emanating from Brooklyn, New York, as the WWE holds their annual Summerslam pay per view this Sunday night. This year’s card is pretty incredible, and that shouldn’t surprise WWE fans, as more times than not in the recent past, Summerslam has been a very good show. Summerslam 2013 featured Daniel Bryan winning the WWE Championship, only to have special guest referee HHH take him out and allow Randy Orton to cash in his MITB briefcase. That kicked off one of the more memorable Road to WrestleMania’s, which culminated in Daniel Bryan putting on the best one man show in WM history and winning back the WWE Championship in the main event. Summerslam 2014 featured one of my favorite matches, as Brock Lesnar surprisingly decimated John Cena on his way to winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. While last year’s Undertaker/Lesnar main event fell flat, the overall card was solid, and it officially brought Seth Rollins to the big boys table after he defeated John Cena. What will this year’s event bring? Let’s get to the preview and predictions!
Eva Marie, Natalya and Alexa Bliss vs. Carmella, Naomi and Becky Lynch
So Sami Zayn doesn’t have a match at Summerslam but Eva Marie does. Nothing against Eva Marie, but that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Anyway, this match was made after last night’s Smackdown, and it’s should serve as a nice showcase for the six women who will eventually be fighting for the Smackdown’s Women’s title (if that ever becomes a thing). The positive side of not having a bunch of titles on each show is that it forces the creative team to come up with storylines that don’t revolve around two people vying for a championship. This should create more personal feuds, and whether it does or not will depend on the Smackdown writing team. As far as this match goes, it will be Carmella and Alexa Bliss’s first WWE pay per view, so it’d be cool to see them involved in the finish in some way. With Ms. All Red Everything involved though, I can see Alexa or Natalya landing a knockout blow during a fracas and Eva Marie sneaking in for a pin to claim the victory.
Prediction: Eva Marie, Natalya & Alexa Bliss
Enzo Amore & Big Cass vs. Chris Jericho & Kevin Owens
These four guys have been given the opening segment for the two out of three Raw’s, and have given us a thoroughly entertaining feud. 2016 Jericho continues to be great, and somehow gets better when you pair him with Kevin Owens. I love that Owens has hated Enzo and Cass since NXT, and that hatred has only gotten stronger now that they’re all on the main roster. The dynamic of Enzo and Cass works well too, as Enzo runs his mouth and clearly isn’t afraid of anybody, but doesn’t pose much of a physical threat until Big Cass gets involved. While I’d like Enzo & Cass to be in the tag title hunt, I’m perfectly OK with them mixing it up with two guys who know how to bring out the best in them. I have to assume that this Jericho/Owens tag team won’t last long, but I’m ok with it either way. Jericho is a tag team chameleon, so if they do stay together, why not let them make a run at the titles? If they don’t stay together, I’m all in for a Jericho/Owens feud, especially in the promo department.
Prediction: Enzo & Cass pick up a big win at a marque pay per view, continuing their rise to the top of the tag team division
IC Title Match: The Miz (C) vs. Apollo Crews
Now that the Miz’s fantastic feud with Darren Young is over, it’s time to give Apollo Crews something to work with. He came into NXT as a big new signee, but was never given much of a character and stalled out. He came onto the main roster as a fresh new thing, but was never given a character and is starting to stall out again. I’m a huge fan of the Miz, and he’s one of the best characters WWE has (especially with Maryse), but it’s time to get Crews going. He’s got a million dollar smile and for his build, he does some pretty amazing things. I have complete confidence that Miz can bring out the best in Crews, and put him over big time for what is hopefully a semi long title run.
Prediction: Apollo Crews
US Championship Match: Rusev (C) vs. Roman Reigns
This is a classic heart vs. brain match for me. My heart is, and will forever always be, with Rusev. He’s the most underrated guy on the roster and every time they’ve given him something to work with he’s knocked it out of the park. HE RODE A TANK TO THE RING AT WRESTLEMANIA. While I understand having Cena beat Rusev for the US title, they backed themselves into a corner by giving Rusev a long undefeated streak. Undefeated streaks in pro wrestling are the worst thing in the world because there is no good way to end them. The best example of this is Goldberg. The guy was the hottest thing in wrestling, held both the US and Heavyweight titles at the same time, and eventually lost because Scott Hall tazored him. Now Rusev finally has some momentum again and I have that feeling I had before WrestleMania 31 where WWE is going to have the hero come in and defeat the evil Russian, even though Rusev has been the good guy during every single moment of this feud. Remember last week when Rusev and Lana were innocently reenacting their wedding and Roman Reigns came out, unprovoked, and called Lana a mail order bride and made fun of Rusev because he couldn’t please his wife sexually on their wedding night? Remember when Roman Reigns complained and was just handed another title match? How does that make Reigns the hero in this feud? Add in the fact that Reigns is so goddamn boring, and I see no reason why Rusev should lose. Which brings me to my prediction…
Prediction: Roman Reigns. Let’s just move on.
Cesaro vs. Sheamus: Best of 7 Series Kickoff Match
While I love this move by GM Mick Foley, I do wish this had been set up prior to Cesaro and Sheamus already fighting twice on Raw. If Cesaro loses this series, shouldn’t he be furious that Foley basically ignored two hard fought, clean victories? I understand you can’t start a best of 7 series 2-0, but why not start this up a few weeks ago when Foley said he wanted to see who the better man was? If you make the best of 7 series then, you could make the Summerslam match number 3 or 4 in the series, and possibly continue it through the fall. Instead, WWE hits the reset button and we’re just supposed to forget that Cesaro has already beaten Sheamus twice. With that said, we should get a great match at Summerslam with a decent story behind it, so I’m all for it. While Sheamus is very good in the ring, his character is so bland it’s tough to care about him either way. Cesaro has all the talent in the world, but WWE just won’t let him get any continued momentum, so it’s tough for the casual fan to root for him. Hopefully this is the start of an extended showcase for both wrestlers with Cesaro eventually coming out on top.
John Cena vs. AJ Styles
Since coming to the WWE, AJ Styles has been one of their best performers. He had a great feud with Jericho, then slid into the #1 contenders spot and put on a few classic matches with Roman Reigns. Now he’s going up against Mr. Superman and even though he’s already beat him once (CLEAN) they’re having a rematch. I honestly don’t know what’s going to happen here. It’s almost the same thing as Rusev/Reigns, except on a much bigger scale. Styles has a chance to be one of if not THE top guy in WWE, but he has to go through John Cena to get there. Kevin Owens tried, and failed. Rusev tried, and failed. Bray Wyatt tried, and failed. Why would Styles be any different? A classic John Cena feud has him lose at a B pay per view, then get his win back at a bigger show. Guess what? AJ Styles beat John Cena at MITB, and now they’re fighting at Summerslam, a much bigger show. History tells us John Cena is going to win, and there’s a reason I use that picture above for every Cena match I preview. While I’d love to happily be proved wrong, I’m going with Superman.
Prediction: John Cena
Brock Lesnar vs. Randy Orton
If you held this match before UFC 200, Brock Lesnar would eat Randy Orton for lunch. Lesnar was as unstoppable as anyone in recent memory until he decided to go back to the UFC and fail a few drug tests. While WWE doesn’t have the power to suspend him, they have to be embarrassed and upset at Brock to act as carelessly as he did, especially given the circumstances of WWE suspending Reigns shortly afterwards. Regardless of UFC fights and drug test failures, Lesnar steps back into the ring for the first time since WrestleMania as he takes on Randy Orton at Summerslam. While Lesnar hasn’t fought since WM, Orton is coming off of an almost year long hiatus due to injury, and although he’s fought a few matches on Smackdown since coming back, nothing can really prepare you for The Beast Incarnate. As much as I’d love to see Brock destroy Orton a la John Cena at Summerslam 2014, I just don’t see it happening. The WWE loves that ‘RKO Outta Nowhere’ talking point, and it really fits into this storyline perfectly. Whether Lesnar wins or loses, he should dominate the match, until an RKO Outta Nowhere surprises him and gives Orton the win. As I said before, I bet the original plan for this match was for Brock to return and destroy a worthy competitor in Orton, but now I’m not so sure. Vince McMahon was kind enough to let Lesnar fight in the UFC while under contract with the WWE, and Lesnar basically spit in his face. The Beast is going to have to pay for that.
Prediction: Randy Orton
Tag Team Championship Match: New Day (Kofi & Xavier) vs. Karl Anderson & Luke Gallows
This is an interesting match, and it has rematch written all over it. As much I love Xavier Woods, the best in-ring version of New Day is Kofi & Big E. Now that Big E has suffered a ‘contusion to his groin area’ at the hands of Anderson & Gallows, New Day is forced to defend the tag titles with the team of Xavier and Kofi. Does Big E make a surprise comeback and help New Day retain? Or do Gallows and Anderson take advantage of the weakened unit and win tag team gold? New Day has done a lot of good as tag team champions, but they are way overdue for a loss. Similar to having Styles beat Cena, having Gallows and Anderson go over the longest reigning tag team champions of the modern era at Summerslam would be huge for them. Why bring these guys in from Japan if you’re not going to do something with them? Plus, you have a built in excuse for a rematch with the Big E injury, so why not give your new tag team a big win at a major event? Give Karl Anderson and his hot Asian wife a reason to celebrate.
Prediction: Gallows & Anderson
Women’s Championship Match: Sasha Banks (C) vs. Charlotte
‘Women’s Championship’ has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? After suffering through the Diva’s division for so long, its nice to see the women slowly but surely making headway on the main roster. If there’s any two women the WWE Universe can thank for that, it’s Sasha Banks & Charlotte. They (along with Bayley and Becky Lynch) tore it up in NXT and forced WWE to start recognizing women for their in ring talent and not just because they looked good in a bikini. Sasha & Charlotte had the best one on one main roster women’s singles match on Raw a few weeks back, so if this match is anything close to that, it’ll be fantastic. Dana Brooke being banned from ringside is an interesting twist, and I can see either Ric Flair coming out or Dana dressed as Ric to try and cause some interference. Regardless of outside interference, the title has to stay on The Boss here. Sasha is not only the best in the ring, but she has a strong connection with the fans which goes back to her time in NXT and her look and personality give her a strong mainstream appeal. If the rumors of Charlotte taking time off are true, that’s just another reason to keep Sasha as the champion and to develop a new round of challengers for The Boss to dispatch. Don’t be surprised if Nia Jax makes a post match appearance as well to set up the next Women’s championship feud.
Prediction: Sasha Banks
WWE World Championship Match: Dean Ambrose (C) vs. Dolph Ziggler
This has been one of the more enjoyable feuds on the card, and it’s safe to say no one is enjoying the brand split more than Dolph Ziggler. He’s looked like a star since the first Smackdown Live and hasn’t looked back. I really like Ambrose as the figure head for Smackdown as well, because he’s a great talker and while he might not be the greatest threat in the ring, he figures out a way to get the job done. When Ziggler became #1 contender, it was an interesting dynamic because both wrestlers were baby faces, but Ambrose has slowly been turning heel over the last few weeks. While I doubt he goes full heel, it does give this match a little more suspense than before. Will Ambrose cheat to win? Ziggler is a good guy based on fan reactions, but is he above cheating to finally stand alone at the top? I expect this to be an expertly wrestled match, and as much as I’ll be rooting for Ziggler, I think Ambrose deserves a longer title reign.
Prediction: Dean Ambrose
WWE Universal Championship Match: Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor
While I’m pretty sure Orton/Lesnar will go on last, I think that’s a mistake. Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor to crown the first ever Universal Champion should absolutely be the main event, and the WWE is crazy if they do anything else. Balor is the MAN. He’s got the entrance, the charisma, the look, the in ring skills; whatever you’re looking for, Finn Balor has it. He’s made every promotion he’s ever worked for better just by being in it, whether it be NJPW or NXT. If WWE gives him a real shot, he’ll do the same thing for Monday Night Raw. Balor had one of the best in ring debuts ever a few weeks ago, and he can’t ask for a better dance partner than Rollins at Summerslam. Since separating from The Shield and cashing in his MITB briefcase at WrestleMania 31, Rollins has been the standard bearer for the WWE. While they wasted his talent by turning him into a cry baby champion, Rollins still made the best of it and turned into a heel who was impossible to boo. His injury came at an inopportune time, but he busted his butt to get back, and now finds himself right back where he belongs: fighting for a title. If this was Rollins vs. Balor, I’d give the edge to Rollins and have him be the first Universal Champion. Unfortunately for Seth, Finn Balor is bringing The Demon with him to Summerslam. While The Demon has lost in NXT, it’d be a mistake to have him lose his first appearance at a major pay per view. The fact that Rollins is focusing so heavily on The Demon gives me hope that Rollins will unleash a demon side of his own at Summerslam, but either way, I’m going with Finn.
Prediction: Finn Balor
WWE had to deliver on the first night of the ‘new era Raw’, and that’s exactly what they did. The two big stories coming out of last night’s show were of course Finn Balor becoming the #1 contender for the new Universal title (on his first night on Raw) and Sasha Banks finally winning the Women’s Title in probably the best 1 on 1 main roster women’s match ever. If you thought Trish Stratus and Lita were studs in the ring, go back and watch Sasha and Charlotte blow away any of those matches, including the one that main evented a Raw. Beyond those two matches, we had two fatal four way matches, a new contender step up to New Day, Nia Jax and Braun Strowman assert their dominance and for the first time in a long time, a fresh feeling to a Monday Night Raw. The set was different, the announce table was put up towards the entrance ramp and announcers were in the ring before and after matches getting competitors reactions. I loved everything about last night’s show, and this should only be the beginning.
A couple random thoughts:
Finn Balor might’ve had the best wrestling debut in WWE history. Guys have had more memorable debuts, but as far as showing what you can do in the ring, I can’t remember a guy looking better. On the same night he turned 35, he made his Raw debut and beat Cesaro, Rusev, Kevin Owens and Roman Reigns. The last win against Reigns put him in the (Raw) main event at Summerslam where he’ll fight Seth Rollins for the brand new Universal Title. It just doesn’t get better than that. I hope that Stephanie sides with Rollins and HHH returns to side with Balor, and that Balor wins the title and HHH and Rollins go on to duke it out to see who is the true master of the pedigree.
While Balor had an incredible debut, my favorite moment was Banks winning the title. Her and Charlotte had the match of the night, and it’s so much fun watching these women get a chance to pull out all the stops and really deliver. Sasha is ‘the boss’ in every way possible, and Bayley needs to get up here ASAP so they can tear every single arena down.
My new favorite tweet:
— Brazzers (@Brazzers) July 26, 2016
— WWE (@WWE) May 17, 2016
My favorite thing NXT does is that they go above and beyond expectations. Samoa Joe is fighting Finn Balor for the NXT Title at the next TakeOver special on June 8th. I’m sold. These guys are amazing in the ring together, and you just know they’re going to put on a great main event. Per usual, HHH and NXT one up themselves and make the match a steel cage match, the first time any NXT superstars have faced off in a cage. The only question that remains is will The Demon show up, and if he does, will he win? I’m a firm believer that Finn should not lose as The Demon in NXT (or ever) but at the same time, how much longer can you keep him down there? He really should debut on the main roster this summer, so how do you work around this? I don’t know the answer, but I do know I’m somehow more excited for this special than I was when I woke up this morning.
If you’re a wrestling show that is just beginning to tour around the United States, how do you drive up interest in local house shows? Have your longest reigning champion lose clean in the middle of the ring. The only thing I don’t like about this (selfishly) is that it didn’t happen tonight in Kingston, RI, because I’m going to the show. Other than that, this is awesome. Wrestling is inarguably at it’s best when it’s unpredictable, and if you follow NXT, nothing is more unpredictable than Finn Balor losing the NXT title at a house show. The positives are almost too long to list, but they include Finn being available to move up to the main roster, which has been overdue forever. Joe being the NXT champ, which is awesome, because I’ve always felt having a good heel champ is the best way to develop another killer baby face. Plus, listen to that crowd. As much as I love Balor, 2016 Samoa Joe is a god damn badass. I can’t wait to see what happens next.
This Friday night, two days before WrestleMania 32, NXT will run it’s biggest and most important show to date. While this won’t be as big of a crowd as NXT Brooklyn, this is the first TakeOver event during WrestleMania weekend. NXT Takeover Dallas will air live on the WWE Network at 10pm. On paper, it has the ability to blow WrestleMania out of the water and force Vince and WWE to pull out all the stops in order to top it. Let’s get to the preview and predictions!
Apollo Crews vs. Elias Samson
This match was set up last week after Johnny Gargano beat Samson, and Samson beat him down post match. That post match beat down brought out Crews for the save and alas, a match was born. Even if NXT is giving Samson the Baron Corbin treatment (short, quick wins even though he has the ability to wrestle anyone on the roster and look good) this should be a squash win for Crews. He lost at the last TakeOver special to Corbin, and he has really hasn’t had much character development since debuting. He’s got a boat load of potential and is a phenomonal athlete, so I can see him winning rather easily here to get on track. Samson, on the other hand, has been underwhelming since debuting both in the ring and as a character. I hope we see a little more character work here, but I still think Crews should take it.
Prediction: Apollo Crews
Austin Aries vs. Baron Corbin
This is a really interesting match up. You have an Indy darling making his NXT in ring debut vs. a guy who has a lot of momentum going for him after his win vs. Apollo Crews. This match will most likely be great, and I’m excited to see Corbin in there with a smaller guy, which is where he has done his best work so far. Aries excelled in TNA, but it’s not a given that his transition will be smooth. I think Corbin will be next in line to challenge either Joe or Balor, so look for him to pick up the win here. The best thing about NXT: Aries will look like a star in defeat.
Prediction: Baron Corbin
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Sami Zayn
Just to get this out of the way, this will be the match of the night. I love American Alpha and I think they might pull out some stuff that could be match of the night worthy, but this match gives me goose bumps. Nakamura is one of two guys debuting at TakeOver Dallas, and no offense to Austin Aries, but this is BIG. NXT being the wonderful thing that it is has matched up Nakamura against the perfect opponent – Sami Zayn. This is one of those matches where alignments don’t matter; it’s just two guys who are excellent at what they do going out there and putting on a show. Of all the matches, this one is the easiest to predict, especially now that Zayn has an IC title match at WM and is pretty much a permanent member of the main roster. Out of all the things that are going to happen at TakeOver, Nakamura’s debut is what I’m the most excited for. He’s fought in Japan his whole life, so outside of YouTube compilation videos, I’ve never gotten a chance to see him perform. The good news is that everyone who has ever seen him wrestle says he’s not only great in the ring, but his charisma is off the charts. Anyone who considers Freddie Mercury an idol is OK in my book. Anyway, the outcome of this match isn’t in doubt, but the match itself is going to be bonkers.
Prediction: Shinsuke Nakamura
NXT Tag Team Championship Match: The Revival (C) vs. American Alpha
In what will be the 1A match of the night, American Alpha takes on The Revival (formerly Dash and Dawson) for the NXT tag belts. This is the match I’m the most emotionally invested in, because American Alpha are my jam. They’re the best tag team on any WWE related roster, and they came from out of nowhere. Remember when Jason Jordan was looking for a tag team partner and this short, dorky guy with a ‘ready, willing & Gable’ towel was following him around? Yeah, well that guy ended up being Chad Gable, the second coming of Kurt Angle and one hell of a wrestler. I have to imagine Enzo & Cass were slotted to win the tag belts at one point, but once HHH and the rest of the NXT brain trust saw the momentum Gable & Jordan were creating, it was impossible to put them anywhere but in this slot. The Revival are very old school in their approach and in ring styles, and I love that it feels like they can lose the belts at any given moment. They remind me of Ole and Arn Anderson, who were never the focal point of the tag matches they were in, but they always came out looking great. With that said, I will be devastated if American Alpha doesn’t win the tag belts. This is the perfect team at the perfect time, and Dallas is going to go INSANE for Jordan and Gable. I have complete confidence NXT will do the right thing.
Prediction: American Alpha
NXT Women’s Championship Match: Bayley (C) vs. Asuka
Is this match card real life? There isn’t one bad match on the card and there are 4 or 5 REALLY good ones. From the day Asuka debuted and started beating the crap out of everyone, you know this match was an inevitability. Bayley is the crown jewel of NXT, but she’s running into an oncoming train. I think this match and the main event will have the crowd’s split pretty evenly, because all four competitors are just so good. Asuka has yet to be defeated in NXT, and I love that they aren’t beating that point to death. Undefeated streaks in wrestling, except for maybe Taker’s WM streak, are the most overrated thing in the world. Asuka’s seems different, though, and I think it’s because she’s so different from any other women in the division. Her attire is different, her entrance is difference and her wrestling style is different. She doesn’t really speak, but when she’s in the ring, she is kicking and back handing you until you collapse in a heap. Bayley is probably the best ‘character’ in NXT, and I put character in quotes because she seems like the same person in real life. A wrestling fan who got to live her dream, and who ended up being great at it. This match could go a few different ways, but I’m rooting for a Bayley win and a post match beat down from Asuka, which sets up a dynamite heel/baby face rematch.
NXT Championship Match: Finn Balor (C) vs. Samoa Joe
This main event is going to be so good. SO GOOD. Joe and Balor had a decent match at TakeOver London, but they’re capable of so much more. At NXT’s biggest show, I think we’re going to get a classic. Balor is the second longest reigning NXT Champion, and he’ll be 17 days behind Adrian Neville’s reign by the time this match starts. Do they want to make Finn the longest reigning champion, or do they want the reign of Samoa Joe to lead them into the next chapter of NXT? Either outcome won’t be wrong, because both guys are great, but I sense some kind of swerve coming. The one thing NXT hasn’t really done is use a swerve to determine a main event at a TakeOver. Owens attacked Zayn after he won the NXT title, but that was post match. Every Finn Balor main event has been him winning clean. Here’s what I think goes down: Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows debut, but they turn on Finn and start the new version of the Bullet Club with Samoa Joe as champion. Maybe they were mad at Finn for leaving Japan without them, or maybe they want to get out from underneath his shadow. Finn and NXT have been teasing the Bullet Club for awhile, and I wouldn’t put it past them to swerve us. This will go down as the greatest NXT show ever, and I cannot wait to watch it.
P.S. We’ll be live tweeting the event, which starts at 10pm on the WWE Network.
NXT live events seem like such a magical place. If it’s not Finn Balor doing Bayley’s entrance or Bayley and Finn Balor recreating Dirty Dancing, it’s something like this. The best part is Finn Balor won the match before this video. Not only did he beat Samoa Joe, but he decided that post match was a perfect time to sing Happy Birthday to Joe along with the entire crowd. It’s wonderful. I’ll be attending the NXT live event in Kingston, RI on April 22nd, so I can only hope for something this great.