From the opening bell at NXT Arrival in 2014, the first NXT special and the first live event to ever air on the WWE Network, when Sami Zayn and Cesaro dazzled the crowd at Full Sail, it became apparent that the staying power of NXT was strong. That match of the year-type performance set the stage for what has become a highly anticipated series of events.
The TakeOver events that followed gave us moments including the first female iron man match in WWE history, an unforgettable women's championship main event in Brooklyn and of course, the NXT and WWE debut of the great Shinsuke Nakamura.
Times have changed and the superstars that created those memorable moments have taken their careers to the main roster, but one thing remains constant: NXT has evolved, creating new and compelling storylines without becoming stale.
The next chapter takes place in Chicago on Saturday night.
NXT Championship - Bobby Roode (c) vs. Hideo Itami
Saturday's main event will feature two accomplished superstars who have never tasted defeat on the TakeOver stage.
NXT Champion Bobby Roode (4-0 at TakeOver events) has held the title for 100-plus days after claiming victory over Nakamura at TakeOver: San Antonio back in November of last year. After a successful defense of the championship in a rematch against Nakamura in Orlando, followed by the King of Strong Style's promotion to SmackDown Live, Roode was in need of a new challenger.
Recently returning from his second substantial injury, Hideo Itami (2-0 at TakeOver events) made an impact his first night back. He confronted Roode and without saying a word, he made his intentions known as he viciously slapped the champ and nailed his Go To Sleep finisher knocking the "Glorious One" out cold.
Itami needed to earn a title opportunity and did so after winning a grueling bout with Roderick Strong. He then confronted Roode again this past week and left him laying after another Go To Sleep. Itami will enter TakeOver holding the upper hand.
Both guys are fantastic performers and the combination of Roode's impeccable psychology game and Itami's quick strike mentality should make for one strong main event.
NXT Women's Championship - Asuka (c) vs. Nikki Cross vs. Ruby Riot
No one has outperformed Asuka at TakeOver, who is undefeated at TakeOver events owning an impressive 8-0 record. With one more victory, she'd pass Finn Balor for the most TakeOver wins of all time. To go along with those sparkling stats, she has not only achieved the longest championship reign in NXT history, but she is the longest current reigning champion in all of the WWE having held the title for more than 400 days.
While Asuka has been ruling the land, Cross and Riot have been engulfed in a sizzling feud of their own. Never was that more apparent than on NXT television a few weeks ago when the ladies kicked off the program with a furious battle around the ring and then continued the heated skirmish later in the night before a scheduled match could take place.
Cross and Riot have created the most intense rivalry going in NXT and following Asuka's tampering with a battle royal to determine a new number one contender, both women find themselves with a prime opportunity to dethrone the seemingly unstoppable champion. Ember Moon, who was supposed to be the fourth participant in this match, is currently sidelined with a shoulder injury.
NXT Tag Team Championship - Authors of Pain (c) vs. #DIY (Ladder Match)
Saturday won't be the first time #DIY has clashed with the NXT Tag Team Champions, the Authors of Pain. Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa lost the championships to the bruising Akam and Rezar back in November. They attempted to reclaim the belts at TakeOver: Orlando as part of a triple threat elimination match with The Revival included, but came up short.
The upcoming bout in Chicago won't be just any match though. It will be a ladder match, a stipulation typically suited for more agile and athletic superstars like #DIY. There have only been two other ladder matches in TakeOver history, and its two winners are as quick as they come in Neville and Balor. This will be the first tag team version of a ladder match in NXT history.
Stipulations aside, the Authors of Pain are looking for their fourth tag team victory at a TakeOver event, which would put them at the top of the list in that category. #DIY will look to become just the second team in NXT history to hold the Tag Team Championships twice.
WWE United Kingdom Championship - Tyler Bate (c) vs. Pete Dunne
Coming off a supremely successful United Kingdom tournament to determine the first ever WWE UK Champion this past January, it was a peculiar decision to omit a title defense from TakeOver: Orlando during WrestleMania weekend. Every UK inspired match that has taken place on NXT television during the past few months has shined, yet they haven't been given the TakeOver platform to showcase their talents.
That changes Saturday.
For the first time, the UK Championship will be defended at a TakeOver event and it will be a rematch of the UK tournament finals as Tyler Bate will defend his title against the "Bruiserweight" Pete Dunne. Dunne earned the opportunity by defeating Trent Seven at a taping that took place in Norwich, England, earlier in the month. That same night, Bate retained his championship in a match against Mark Andrews. Both bouts will be aired on a WWE Network special this Friday.
Eric Young vs. Roderick Strong
Following a tough luck loss to Itami in last week's number one contenders match for the NXT Championship, Strong found himself surrounded by the menacing anarchists, SAnitY. Young and his crew proceeded to pulverize Strong.
Strong's recent encounters with SAnitY came by way of his association with Tye Dillinger, who had a lengthy conflict with Young ahead of his call-up to SmackDown Live.
Strong will attempt to tie up the loose ends Saturday night as he seeks retribution.
Notes from this week's in-ring action
- Kassius Ohno went one-on-one with the arrogant Andrade "Cien" Almas in what was a wonderful, strike-filled match that saw Ohno come out on top using his roaring elbow.
- Drew McIntyre's first two television matches since his return to the WWE with both Oney Lorcan and Almas have been supremely stiff. Aggression is McIntyre's style and it is fun to watch. This week's victim was Sean Maluta. Maluta got some offense in and even caused a massive welt to swell around McIntyre's eye, but found himself being tossed around like a rag doll more often than not. The finish saw McIntyre nail his running single leg dropkick known as Claymore for the win. McIntyre will take on Wesley Blake next week.
- Two up and coming talents in Lacey Evans and Sonya Deville faced off this week. Deville was the aggressor for the bulk of the match and claimed victory using a step up enziguri.