NXT is reaching into its past to redefine its future.
Samoa Joe returned to the ring at TakeOver 36 and defeated Karrion Kross to become the new NXT champion. This was Joe’s first match since before the COVID-19 pandemic began over a year and a half ago, as well as his first in NXT since 2017. The match served as the TakeOver headliner; Joe finished it off when he hit a muscle buster, handing Kross his first defeat in NXT.
Joe provides a legitimate presence to the brand, with his win giving him the title of NXT’s first three-time champ. The decision also allows Kross to transition and fully establish himself in an entirely different terrain on Raw.
The show also included a physical masterpiece between WALTER and Ilja Dragunov for the UK championship. Dragunov ended WALTER’s 870-day title reign in an outrageously vicious bout. This was one of the best matches of the year, in all of wrestling, and served as a reminder of the obvious: If Vince McMahon & Co. want to improve the quality of Raw, then WALTER should be the top priority.
Here are the results from TakeOver 36:
• Cameron Grimes defeated LA Knight to win the Million Dollar title.
• NXT women’s champion Raquel González defeated Dakota Kai.
• Ilja Dragunov defeated WALTER by submission to become the new United Kingdom champion.
• Kyle O’Reilly defeated Adam Cole in a two-out-of-three falls match.
• Samoa Joe defeated Karrion Kross to become the new NXT champion.
The show opened with Cameron Grimes getting the upper hand on his rival, finally defeating LA Knight. Grimes seems to get better by the week, benefiting from the pairing with “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase. He continues to showcase his endless charisma and athleticism—and a willingness to put his body on the line. A product of Cameron, N.C., Grimes has mastered the Mid-Atlantic style of wrestling. That is an old-school approach to the craft, focused on psychology and precision, and his dedication to the craft caught the attention of Shawn Michaels.
“The key to this job is an emotional connection,” Michaels told Sports Illustrated ahead of TakeOver 36. “You need a genuine love of wrestling to connect the way he does. Look at me. It’s no secret I am a wrestling fan. A long time ago, I always thought I’d be happiest if I had the chance to be a regional wrestler. Man, being Southwest Heavyweight Champion, I thought that would be so cool. I didn’t want anything else; that’s how much I loved it. That’s Cameron Grimes—his whole life, this is everything he ever wanted.”
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Only 27, Grimes has experience all across the industry. Yet, despite his reservoir of work, he never connected with the audience at large until this run in NXT.
“He was always a great worker, and now he’s showing off a different side of his personality,” said Michaels, who closely works with Grimes—27-year-old Trevor Caddell—at the WWE Performance Center. “Even his promos, they were more over-the-top before. That’s what got him to this point, but you need those pieces of reality as a babyface, and that’s what he’s going to do now. Once people latch on to him, he’s going to be even bigger; he’s going to be huge.”
The TakeOver card was full of solid bouts, which included women’s champion Raquel González defeating Dakota Kai in a compelling match. Kai deserves a run with the NXT title, but timing has yet to play in her favor. She has been replaced as the top contender for the title by Kay Lee Ray, a former NXT United Kingdom champion who returned as González was celebrating her victory. While González’s future as champion offers much more clarity, it will be very interesting to watch the next program for Kai, and hopefully she is never too far removed from González or the title.
In a rematch from October, WALTER and Dragunov again bludgeoned each other. For more than 22 minutes, this was carnage, with Dragunov absorbing an enormous amount of punishment. WALTER made another compelling argument that he is the best pro wrestler on the planet, and the chemistry he shares with Dragunov—who was also brilliant—is incredible. This was a beautiful form of violence and nonstop intensity, and the future is especially bright for both men.
Kyle O’Reilly against Adam Cole was another outstanding bout. This went all three falls, with O’Reilly winning the decisive one by submission with a heel hook inside a steel cage despite being handcuffed to the ropes. While Cole’s future remains unknown, this match was a great indicator of the belief that NXT has in O’Reilly, who needs to be propelled into a title program against Joe. If Cole does depart for AEW, it marks the end of his sensational run in NXT. He would bring immediate value to AEW, instantly becoming one of the top free-agent acquisitions AEW has ever landed.
NXT is in a period of change, but that charge will be led by a very familiar face in Samoa Joe. And on a weekend full of wrestling that was defined by the debut of CM Punk in AEW, it was appropriate that Joe, his former rival, also gets to share a piece of that spotlight.
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