NXT’s new era is set to reach a milestone with the brand’s first streaming special since its “2.0” facelift.
NXT WarGames will stream live on Peacock/WWE Network on Sunday night. While WarGames is returning for the fifth straight year, a hallmark of past NXT specials is noticeably absent. WWE has dropped the “NXT TakeOver” name, marking the end of a seven-year run that produced some of the best shows and matches in company history.
The TakeOver name going away is another sign of just how much NXT has changed in a few short months. From the look of the show to the talent that is featured, NXT is a different place than it was before September’s revamp. What Paul “Triple H” Levesque built into a legitimate third brand has now fully transformed into a developmental show. Some of the wrestlers from the previous era are still there, but it’s clear that the focus of NXT is now on developing younger talent. The established independent wrestling stars that NXT used to be built around are now there to help the new wrestlers get better.
That shift to focusing on less experienced wrestlers has inevitably made NXT a worse product. It’s difficult for a wrestling show to become something totally different overnight. The introduction of so many new people has been jarring. NXT used to be defined by its strong in-ring work, but the show’s new identity is attempting to develop characters for the young talent. Those characters have been hit or miss at best.
A two-hour weekly show on the USA Network provides a big platform for NXT’s new talent to either sink or swim. But whether NXT 2.0 will be a success isn't going to be determined by the quality of the product in the moment. It’s a long-term project that’s meant to produce future WrestleMania main-eventers. If the new NXT can provide Vince McMahon with the type of main-roster stars that he’s looking for, the rebrand will have been worth it for WWE. The old NXT may have been a better show, but it was no longer serving that function of building up wrestlers for Raw and SmackDown. Combined with losing the “Wednesday Night Wars” to AEW, the old NXT had lost much of its usefulness. There was an obvious divide between the wrestlers NXT was producing and what McMahon thinks a main-roster star should be. The top wrestlers in NXT were all talented people who would have succeeded on Raw or SmackDown if given the chance, but that opportunity was never going to come for most of them. All that really matters on the main roster is whether McMahon thinks you can be a star or not.
The divide between the old NXT and the new NXT will be on display in the men’s WarGames match Sunday. It will pit the old-school team of Tommaso Ciampa, Johnny Gargano, Pete Dunne and LA Knight against NXT 2.0’s Bron Breakker, Carmelo Hayes, Tony D’Angelo and Grayson Waller.
In the women’s WarGames match, Io Shirai, Raquel González, Cora Jade and Kay Lee Ray will face Mandy Rose, Gigi Dolin, Jacy Jayne and Dakota Kai.
This is a huge test for the NXT 2.0 wrestlers. With WarGames featuring a double cage and staggered entrances into the ring, it’s a hard match to get right. The new talent will be out to prove that, even though the TakeOver branding is gone, NXT can still produce the type of special events that fans have come to expect.
Here’s a full rundown of Sunday’s card, along with predictions for each match:
WarGames match: Tommaso Ciampa, Johnny Gargano, Pete Dunne and LA Knight vs. Bron Breakker, Carmelo Hayes, Tony D’Angelo and Grayson Waller
Breakker and Hayes have been the two brightest stars of the NXT 2.0 rebrand. They’re very charismatic wrestlers who are both good in the ring. Hayes already had extensive wrestling experience outside of WWE as Christian Casanova, but Breakker (real name Bronson Rechsteiner, a former college football player) has been so impressive for someone just starting his career. Being the son of Rick Steiner and the nephew of Scott Steiner definitely helps, but Breakker is much better at this point than anyone could have expected.
After having already unsuccessfully challenged for Ciampa’s NXT championship once, a goal of this match should be setting up Breakker for another title shot. Breakker should get the win here and then go on to win the NXT title from Ciampa the next time they face each other.
A subplot for this match is whether it will be one of the final times we see Gargano in an NXT ring. His contract is set to expire this month. Like Adam Cole before him, it doesn’t feel like there’s an ideal place for Gargano in WWE. He’s one of the best wrestlers in the world, but there’s little reason to think he’d be given a chance on the main roster if he hasn’t gotten that opportunity already. With NXT becoming a developmental brand, staying there would only cause Gargano’s career to stagnate.
Prediction: Breakker, Hayes, D’Angelo and Waller win
WarGames match: Io Shirai, Raquel González, Cora Jade & Kay Lee Ray vs. Mandy Rose, Gigi Dolin, Jacy Jayne & Dakota Kai
The Toxic Attraction trio of Rose, Dolin and Jayne have perhaps gotten the strongest push of any act in NXT since the revamp. For Rose, going back to NXT has revitalized her career after stalling out on the main roster. She currently holds the NXT women’s championship and has more momentum as an in-ring wrestler than she’s ever had before. The only question is whether a hair color and attitude change will be enough to allow Rose to thrive the next time she’s on the main roster. Sending main-roster wrestlers to NXT to freshen up their characters is something WWE should have done more of in the past.
As with the men’s match, WWE can use WarGames to establish a new women’s title challenger. Jade already has a win over Rose and could be a breakout star on NXT 2.0, but it isn’t time for Rose to lose the NXT women’s championship yet. It’s more likely that one of Jade’s teammates gets the next shot. Shirai would be the best possible opponent for Rose.
Prediction: Shirai, González, Jade and Ray win
NXT tag team championship match: Imperium (Marcel Barthel and Fabian Aichner) vs. Kyle O’Reilly and Von Wagner
Von Wagner is another NXT 2.0 wrestler that WWE is high on. He’s already made a brief appearance on SmackDown and has the type of size that the company values. But Wagner lacks the natural charisma that Breakker and Hayes have. Wagner’s size alone isn’t going to be enough to make him a success in WWE. He’ll need to become better in the ring if he’s going to reach his potential.
Working with Kyle O’Reilly gives Wagner the chance to learn from an incredible wrestler. But how long O’Reilly will be staying in NXT isn’t known. He’s in a similar situation to Gargano with his WWE contract also expiring this month. Whether O’Reilly is staying or leaving, his tag team with Wagner shouldn’t last long. A feud with Wagner should be the eventual destination if O’Reilly remains in NXT.
This will be Imperium’s first title defense since becoming NXT tag team champions at Halloween Havoc in October. Marcel Barthel and Fabian Aichner are a solid team that can have good matches with anyone in the NXT tag team division.
Prediction: Imperium retain
Roderick Strong vs. Joe Gacy for the NXT cruiserweight championship
Joe Gacy’s “woke” heel character is one of the weakest parts of NXT 2.0. He’s been a prominent member of the new NXT roster despite his character not connecting with the audience. The story for his match against Roderick Strong is that Gacy wants to win the cruiserweight title and make it more inclusive. Gacy has claimed that the cruiserweight division promotes weight shaming by restricting who can compete for the title.
It would be a mistake if WWE goes in that direction and makes Gacy cruiserweight champion, but it wouldn’t be a surprise given how heavily featured Gacy is on NXT 2.0.
Prediction: Joe Gacy wins
Hair vs. hair match: Cameron Grimes vs. Duke Hudson
Cameron Grimes and Duke Hudson will each put their hair on the line when they face off at WarGames. Losing his hair would be a much bigger transformation for Grimes. But after already having some of his hair and beard cut off by Hudson leading into WarGames, Grimes should get his revenge Sunday.
Prediction: Cameron Grimes wins