NXT TakeOver 36 comes during a period of significant uncertainty for the brand.
The weeks leading into Sunday’s event have seen main roster call-ups, some baffling booking decisions and surprise releases. Those decisions have left fans wondering what NXT’s role in the WWE ecosystem will be going forward.
NXT has had two often-conflicting purposes: developing talent, while also being a third television brand. It was once purely developmental, existing just to get wrestlers ready to move up to the main roster. That changed when NXT became a centerpiece of the WWE Network after it launched in 2014. We saw international stars like Finn Bálor and Shinsuke Nakamura make their WWE debuts in NXT. Kevin Owens and Samoa Joe, wrestlers whom it seemed like WWE would never sign, came into the company through NXT. It was where WWE’s women’s evolution started, propelling Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks, Charlotte Flair and Bayley to main roster superstardom. What was once only developmental transformed into the coolest thing in WWE.
Led by Paul “Triple H” Levesque, NXT grew more and more into a bona fide third brand over time. That was fully established when NXT moved to USA Network in September 2019 and soon started competing head-to-head with AEW Dynamite. With the “Wednesday Night War” going on, NXT now had to focus on drawing ratings. There was more of a need for talent to be TV-ready. Many top NXT stars began staying on the brand indefinitely instead of being called up to Raw or SmackDown.
NXT conceded the Wednesday Night War when it moved to Tuesdays this April. But four months after debuting on its new night, NXT needs to figure out what its identity is going to be.
It appears that a disconnect between the decision-makers in WWE has led to many of the issues that NXT is facing. NXT champion Karrion Kross is defending his title against Samoa Joe at TakeOver 36 on Sunday night. But the story of the unstoppable champion facing the returning badass has been undermined by Kross’s appearances on Raw. Kross made his Raw debut last month, losing to Jeff Hardy. He later lost another match to Keith Lee. Even without considering how it affects NXT, Kross losing two of his first matches on the main roster was mind-boggling. Considering they happened so soon before a huge NXT title match, the losses were completely indefensible. Losing before TakeOver inevitably makes Kross look weaker and takes at least some interest away from his match against Joe.
Dakota Kai, who will challenge for Raquel González’s NXT women’s championship at TakeOver 36, also lost to Aliyah on Main Event earlier this month. While Main Event is a little-watched show featuring glorified dark matches, there’s no reason for Kai’s loss to have happened.
Twelve wrestlers and one referee were released from NXT two weeks ago, again showing a lack of cohesion within WWE. Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter reported that Vince McMahon, Bruce Prichard and John Laurinaitis decided who would be cut, with NXT’s Levesque and Shawn Michaels not having a say. The releases included former NXT North American champion Bronson Reed, Mercedes Martinez and Bobby Fish. It didn’t matter whether wrestlers were valued in NXT or currently involved in story lines; they were still at risk of being released.
But despite all of the uncertainty surrounding NXT right now, the card for TakeOver 36 looks fantastic. A successful event would go a long way in providing some positivity for NXT as the brand looks to find the right balance between being a TV product and developing talent.
Here’s a full rundown of the TakeOver card:
NXT championship match: Karrion Kross vs. Samoa Joe
Joe’s road to this title match has been an unusual one. Four years after his initial run in NXT, he’s now back on the brand and looking to become the first three-time NXT champion.
Joe is returning to the ring for the first time since February 2020. While out of action with concussion issues, Joe spent time as a color commentator on Raw before being released by WWE in April. Joe wasn’t gone from the company long, returning to WWE as part of NXT in June. He was an on-screen authority figure in NXT before his problems with Kross set the stage for this match.
Joe is one of the best wrestlers of his era, and it’s good to see him back in the ring after he wasn’t able to wrestle for so long. It's hard to know what to expect from Joe after such a long layoff, but his style should mesh well with Kross’s. The match should seem more like a fight than usual NXT championship matches. With Kross likely to join the main roster on a full-time basis after TakeOver, Joe’s winning the title here is the obvious outcome.
Prediction: Samoa Joe wins
NXT women’s championship match: Raquel González vs. Dakota Kai
Former tag-team partners will face off for the NXT women’s championship Sunday. Dakota Kai turned against Raquel González in the lead-up to TakeOver and set her sights on challenging for González’s title.
Kai has really come into her own as a character during this feud with González. Her performances in NXT have been stellar, and she’d be a great NXT women’s champion. González, who has also improved greatly, would benefit from an extended program with Kai. But Kai has wrestled in multiple dark matches at main roster shows in recent weeks. It looks like Kai is being considered for a call-up to Raw or SmackDown, which means González will likely retain her title.
Prediction: Raquel González retains
The Undisputed Finale: Adam Cole vs. Kyle O’Reilly
This is a two-out-of-three falls match with a different stipulation for each fall. The first fall will be a traditional wrestling match, then the second will be a street fight. If necessary, the third fall will be a steel cage match.
Adam Cole and Kyle O’Reilly have a 1–1 record against each other since the breakup of the Undisputed Era. O’Reilly defeated Cole in an unsanctioned match at TakeOver: Stand & Deliver in April, but Cole got the win when they faced off at NXT Great American Bash.
Cole’s contractual status is another element of uncertainty within NXT right now. His contract with WWE is up after TakeOver, and it’s unknown whether he’ll be staying with the company. But whether Cole re-signs with WWE or goes somewhere else, this should be his last match in NXT. He’s been the brand’s biggest star since debuting in 2017. He has the charisma and in-ring ability to succeed wherever he goes. Cole is good enough to be headlining WrestleManias. He should lose to his former stablemate O’Reilly here before moving on to his next chapter.
Cole and O'Reilly will ideally be able to use the different stipulations in this match to make each part of it feel unique. With this being the final match in their feud, it will be one of the highlights of Sunday's event.
Prediction: Kyle O’Reilly wins
NXT United Kingdom championship match: Walter vs. Ilja Dragunov
Walter vs. Ilja Dragunov is a rematch of WWE’s best match of 2020. They’re two of the absolute best wrestlers in the world and have such incredible chemistry together. Expectations are so outrageously high after their previous match. But if anyone is capable of living up to those expectations, it’s Walter and Dragunov. It’d be a bit disappointing if they don’t have another classic.
Walter has held the NXT United Kingdom championship since April 2019. With such a long and dominant title reign, it’s vital that the right person is chosen when it’s time to end it. Dragunov is that guy. Dragunov’s redemption story since losing to Walter last year should culminate with him winning the NXT United Kingdom title on Sunday.
Prediction: Ilja Dragunov wins
Million Dollar championship match: LA Knight vs. Cameron Grimes
As a stipulation of this match, “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase will have to become LA Knight’s butler if Cameron Grimes loses.
Grimes has previously lost two Million Dollar championship matches against Knight. The title was reintroduced for the first time in more than a decade when Knight defeated Grimes in a ladder match at June’s TakeOver: In Your House. Knight then turned on DiBiase and attacked him following that show. Grimes winning the Million Dollar title and saving DiBiase from having to be Knight's butler is the only finish that makes sense here.
Prediction: Cameron Grimes wins
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