NXT TakeOver: War Games 2018
November 17, 2018
Staples Center
Los Angeles, CA

Watch: WWE Network

Meet our previewers

  • Steve Case: A tall, bald man from Michigan who counters the misery of Detroit sports fandom with wrestling fandom. Not sure if that says something deeper about me. Takeover is the surest thing in wrestling, and all these matches have the potential to be great and will get plenty of time. Plus, I’ll be using this show as a friend’s first foray into watching wrestling live. You’ll all get Officer Bob’s thoughts in my pending review.
  • Barry Hess: Voices of Wrestling contributor. Follow him on TWitter @BFHess171 and check out his new project Wrestling With Art.

NXT Women’s Championship – 2 out of 3 Falls
Shayna Baszler © vs. Kairi Sane

Steve: These two bring the absolute best out of each other. Their last two matches have been stellar. Kairi sells Shayna’s offense so well and is able to get the crowd behind her so much more organically than she can against anyone else. Shayna is such a good bully and you can really feel Kairi’s pain. Shayna also brings an edge out of Kairi that makes me enjoy her so much more than I do her smiley pirate princess gimmick. This is the only match that I worry the time given may hurt it a bit. Shayna’s wheelhouse is 12ish minutes of tight, no-nonsense action, so it will be interesting to see how they stretch that out over the likely three falls. I would LOVE for Shayna to win this 2-0 with no outside interference in dominant fashion. Then you can have a post match beatdown leading to a faceoff between the Horsewomen and Kairi’s friends saving the day. That’s probably wishful thinking though. I see the Horsewomen getting involved, until Kairi’s friends even the odds for her leading to the victory. This sets up a nice starter feud for the Horsewomen before their eventual call up to be Ronda’s lackeys. Prediction: Kairi Sane

Barry Hess: This story is on my shortlist for WWE feud of the year. The chemistry between Shayna Baszler and Kairi Sane, both in and out of the ring, has been excellent since these two began regularly colliding dating back to the inaugural Mae Young Classic finals. The story is simple, the in-ring work is consistently above average and the character work of both performers is believable and compelling. There haven’t been any over the top plot twists or incredible five star-type matches, just a solid face/heel dynamic driven by the most basic of pro wrestling conflict devices.

I’m torn in terms of predicting an outcome. The 2-out-of-3 falls stipulation feels like we’re in pay-off territory, which leads me to believe Sane will win back the NXT Women’s Championship. Call-up season is right around the corner and Baszler is more than ready to make her mark on the main roster. At the same time, I don’t see Baszler going up on her own and I’m not sure her Four Horsewomen counterparts are ready for the main roster yet. It’s possible Io Shari and another character get involved to counter the numbers advantage that played a part in Baszer winning back the title at Evolution. If that’s the case, I anticipate Baszler retaining here amidst the chaos of outside interference before the feud shifts to a factional rivalry. I don’t know that I’m ready for this to end, so I’m hoping for the latter. Prediction:Shayna Baszler

Aleister Black vs. Johnny Gargano

Steve: Spider-Man 3 Johnny Gargano has been an odd fit, but it grows on me the more I think about it. I think this unhinged persona has some legs. His obsession with Ciampa continues to drive him down a dark path and could set up some interesting feuds over the next few months. I would love to see this lead to a short “Dark DIY” run. It would be a natural progression to the story, to join Ciampa only to turn the tables on him later. But first, he needs to beat Black. Black seems to be biding time until an almost certain call-up, probably sooner rather than later. The video package on the go home show this week really sold the hatred from Black and the crazed obsession of Johnny bubbling underneath the surface. This should be a very good, hard hitting, and well-worked match.  It could even steal the show. That is unless Johnny goes full-blown crazy for the finish. Though it would be a lot more interesting if that happens later. Preview Prediction: Johnny Gargano

Barry Hess: Johnny Gargano has been the most compelling character in all of WWE for the past 12-16 months in my opinion. I know some folks have been turned off by the melodramatic elements that have overtaken the character lately, and that’s fine because everybody has different taste. I’m someone who absolutely loves melodrama and so this character is square in the middle of my wheelhouse in terms of the kind of stories and character development I want from my pro wrestling.

How often has WWE actually pulled off a ‘who done it?’ storyline that actually makes sense and furthers an angle in a positive manner rather than just a convenient twist to explain away an injury with no follow-up or payoff? William Regal’s investigation into who attacked Aleister Black served as a steady plot point for NXT’s weekly TV in a way that involved multiple members of the roster, which fosters a brand continuity severely lacking on the main roster. At the same time, the story wasn’t overdone to the point where it oversaturated the show writ large. Gargano truly believes he’s the good guy in this story; his rivalry with Tommaso Ciampa having completely destroyed his moral compass and driven him into a state of manic instability. Because I trust NXT storytellers to tell me a compelling story (imagine that) I’d be ok if this was a temporary twist in Gargano’s larger story or the beginning of a new direction completely. We still don’t know exactly how Candice’s role in this story will play out. Will she follow her husband into the darkness? Will she begrudgingly support Gargano in the hopes he will find his way out of the darkness? Does she fight back against the darkness? I believe we haven’t seen the last of the Johnny Wrestling we all know and love. Ultimately it feels like Black will be the mechanism to beat the darkness out of Gargano. Prediction: Aleister Black

WarGames Match
The Undisputed Era vs. Pete Dunne, Ricochet & War Raiders

Steve: I would like for a second for everyone to imagine this match as the Undisputed Era + 1 (a guy like Dijak perhaps) versus British Strong Style with Lorcan and Burch. *Sigh* Nonetheless, this match will still be great and I expect it to surpass WWE’s first crack at War Games on every level. I like that we are getting one team versus one team with alternating entrants like the old days. Undisputed Era is being groomed to be WWE’s version of the Four Horsemen, and as heels, it makes sense that they get the man advantage to start. Things that make sense are fun. All of them are great workers and excel in these chaotic match types. They will take crazy, nasty bumps for the War Raiders, Dunne will hit everyone really hard, and Ricochet will do multiple things that make you question his sanity. With all the talent involved, this has the chance to be as good or better than the classic War Games matches of the late 80’s, early 90’s. I went back and forth on this, and I would really love to see UE prevail here. But with Dunne leading the UK Brand, Ricochet holding the North American title (with wins over Cole), and the War Raiders chasing the tag belts, I can’t see any of them taking the pin. Plus, with Fish just getting back in the mix, he seems destined to eat the 1, 2, 3. I hope I’m wrong though. Prediction: Dunne, Ricochet, & War Raiders

Barry Hess: As someone who also wrote the preview for the upcoming Survivor Series show, please allow me just a moment to revel in the glory that is sound storytelling. I recognize that basic creative competency is a low bar, but based on the state of WWE’s main roster product, this feels like a pro wrestling utopia. In all seriousness, I’ve really enjoyed watching everything come together for this match. Even though we knew the War Games match would be back again this year, nothing about this match feels shoehorned to fit into a pre-existing concept. Adam Cole plays the role of the beatable heel better than almost anyone around right now. The chemistry between Cole, Ricochet and Pete Dunne fighting over the North American title is phenomenal. Then there’s the conflict between Dunne and Roderick Strong caused when Strong defected the Undisputed Era side, which still has heat all these months later. The War Raiders have added a dose of brute force to the mix that blends really nicely with the combat styles of Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly. It feels like Undisputed Era is primed for a large dose of good old-fashioned comeuppance, especially considering they won War Games last year,but I’m not so sure that’s where we’re headed. Either way, I don’t see this story ending with War Games; War Raiders will still be looking to win the tag team championships and Cole still hasn’t received a one-on-one rematch for the North American title. Prediction: Undisputed Era

NXT Championship
Tommaso Ciampa © vs. Velveteen Dream

Steve: I was waiting for Lars to be added to this match after beating Dream on TV last week due to Ciampa interference, but there wasn’t one mention of it. There’s still a chance Lars gets added during the show. I hope not, because these two straight up should be another very good to great match on a small, but high-quality match card. Ciampa hasn’t had a bad match on NXT dating all the way back to when he did the job for Samoa Joe. Dream showed against EC3 that he can carry a match, and if he’s in there with top-tier workers (Black, Ricochet) he can deliver something special. I guess if Dream wins it sets up Lars as a logical first opponent? I don’t see Dream winning though unless they have Gargano cost Ciampa the title. But it doesn’t make sense to their story to have another non-title match either. I’m thinking we get a good 15-20 minutes of action between these two that leads to a ref bump. Johnny comes out to presumably save the day and get even with Ciampa, only to take Dream out. Ciampa gets the pin and Johnny hands him the title. DIY reunites ….for now. Prediction: Tommaso Ciampa

Barry Hess: Like Steve, I was also expecting Lars Sullivan to be a last minute addition to this match. I’m glad he wasn’t, not because I don’t think it would be a good match, but because I think a singles match will benefit Velveteen Dream more. The Dream feels very much like Mick Foley in 1996 and 1997 in terms of his place on the card as compared to the emotional investment he draws from the audience. He’s not the top guy, he’s not even necessarily at the top of the midcard, but you can tell there’s a full wind at his back and he’s well on his way to something special. I expect another strong performance from Dream with Ciampa as his dancing partner. There’s a stark contrast between these two characters that should be a lot of fun and open things up for some creative spots. If I have one critique of NXT storytelling on the whole, it’s that the NXT Championship scene consistently feels like a secondary storyline, dating back to Finn Balor and Kevin Owens being overshadowed by Sasha Banks and Bayley. While that is the case again here, it does actually make sense in the context of the larger story between Ciampa, Black and Gargano. It feels like the company wants to protect Dream so I wouldn’t anticipate a clean finish. Maybe Sullivan interferes, maybe Gargano interferes, maybe it becomes an all out schmoz like the Bret Hart/Diesel championship match from Royal Rumble 95 (that’s my choice). Prediction: Tommaso Ciampa