NXT’s second event of the year takes place the night before WrestleMania, hoping to sow the seeds for a great weekend of WWE wrestling.
Despite a number of shows occurring in and around New Orleans over the weekend, NXT fans will be expecting an exceptionally high standard of wrestling after Johnny Gargano and Andrade Cien Almas’ five-star match in January at TakeOver in Philadelphia.
The card will be headlined once again by NXT Champion Almas, defending the title against Aleister Black in a match that promises great things.
As well as this, the card has four other matches that could easily steal the show in their own right.
JOHNNY GARGANO VS. TOMMASO CIAMPA
Starting ten months ago in Chicago, Gargano and Ciampa have one of the most captivating feuds in wrestling today.
Former best friends and partners in DIY, Ciampa became frustrated with Gargano after failures to capture NXT Tag Team gold and subsequently beat down Johnny Wrestling at the end of the show.
An ACL injury kept Ciampa off screens for eight months before a return in Philly, striking a dirty shot at Gargano’s back with his crutches.
A real slow burner, the pair have moved their feud onto social media as they prepare for their unsanctioned match – Gargano is not technically being hired by the company.
If Gargano can overcome his bitter enemy, he will regain his job at NXT although Ciampa will be looking to do everything to become the number one villain in all of WWE and write Johnny completely off NXT television.
PREDICTION: Crazily, I believe that Tommaso Ciampa will win this match against the biggest babyface in the company. This feud can continue over years if they allowed it to and the crowd will never lose faith in Johnny Wrestling any time soon. He is the new Daniel Bryan character and could potentially move up the main roster if he loses to Ciampa this weekend. Ciampa needs the win in this one to cement himself as a true villain.
NXT NORTH AMERICAN CHAMPIONSHIP – ADAM COLE VS. EC3 VS. LARS SULLIVAN VS. KILLIAN DAIN VS. RICOCHET VS. VELVETEEN DREAM
A six-person ladder match for the new North American Championship is the perfect way to introduce the newest NXT title belt.
This match is perfectly balanced, and a credible debate could be had for every superstar winning this match.
It contains two of NXT’s best big men in Killian Dain and Lars Sullivan, both of whom are extremely good in the ring for their size.
As well as the big men, Ricochet will make his first live NXT show after joining WWE’s sister brand earlier this year.
A popular wrestler on the independent scene, Ricochet has wrestled anyone, and everyone – but is best known for his brilliant series of matches with Aerial Assassin Will Ospreay.
Also making his debut will be EC3 as he rejoined NXT after several years away in Impact Wrestling.
Whether as a face or heel, Carter has really blossomed since his WWE departure in 2013 and has held the TNA Heavyweight Championship twice as he carried the company through tough times.
Velveteen Dream, still only 24 years old, won the appreciation of the crowd in late 2017 with a brilliant match against Aleister Black where he just came up short and will hope to rectify that result in a match that could suit his wrestling style.
Finally, Adam Cole will represent The Undisputed Era as he is expected to wrestle twice in one night.
PREDICTION: This one is so hard to call for a championship which has never had a previous owner. One of the new superstars could win the belt to really make a name for themselves in NXT, and this person for me would be EC3. Ricochet can put on fantastic matches without a title on the line, and it seems as though he could be feuding with Velveteen Dream in the fallout of New Orleans. Dain and Sullivan can both have a good performance and can easily escape without being pinned due to this being a ladder match. Adam Cole and his Undisputed Era could move further up the card as some of the roster will presumably arrive on Raw and Smackdown on Monday or Tuesday.
NXT TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP – KYLE O’REILLY & ADAM COLE VS. PETE DUNNE & RODERICK STRONG VS. AUTHORS OF PAIN
For the second time in one night, Adam Cole will be in a title match with five other competitors.
Kyle O’Reilly tags with Cole due to Bobby Fish’s injury picked up while at an NXT house show.
The Undisputed Era are current holders of the belts after defeating Sanity on NXT television and will use the Freebird rule to defend their belts in New Orleans.
Roderick Strong joins forces with UK Champion Pete Dunne after their unexpected alliance in recent times.
The Bruiserweight faced Strong in singles action, successfully defending his UK Championship in the process, before being attacked by Adam Cole’s Undisputed Era.
Strong came to the aid of Dunne much to the Brits disapproval, but the duo managed to make their way to the final of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic before The Undisputed Era crashed the final.
Authors of Pain have been in and around the tag division for over a year now and have become known as one of the best teams in the world today, their incredible size and power adds an extra dynamic to tag matches.
PREDICTION: Although Authors of Pain are in this triple threat, I expect them to avoid the pinfall and move up to the main roster post-WrestleMania. The Undisputed Era holds the belts, and I think they will retain them. There are many great tag teams in NXT that have yet to reach their full potential and matches against O’Reilly, and Fish, when he returns, will only make them better. Strong and Dunne were thrown together due to Tyler Bate’s recent injury; therefore, I expect to see him and partner Trent Seven shooting for the belts sooner rather than later as part of Moustache Mountain.
NXT WOMEN’S CHAMPIONSHIP – EMBER MOON VS. SHAYNA BASZLER
In a rematch of January’s NXT TakeOver in Philadelphia, Baszler looks to topple Ember for the first time in singles competition.
Baszler, part of the four horsewomen from MMA, lost to Moon in Philly despite dominating most of the match with excessive force on the arm of the champion.
It was a decent match last time out but got lost in the middle of some excellent matches surrounding it, therefore given the time this could be a brilliant exhibition of what these women can do.
PREDICTION: Shayna Baszler came close last time, and this time, I predict that she can topple Ember Moon. The odds are in her favor, being a genuinely bitter heel in a division where there isn’t too much threat at the moment. A rubber match could then occur between the two at the next TakeOver event sometime in the summer.
NXT CHAMPIONSHIP – ANDRADE “CIEN” ALMAS VS. ALEISTER BLACK
Two of the finest workers in NXT today, Almas and Black meet in a rematch from one year ago.
In Orlando before WrestleMania 33, these two met in Black’s debut for the company, and he came out the victor on that occasion.
However, the circumstances have changed considerably.
While Black was feuding with competitors such as Velveteen Dream, moving up the card slowly, Almas has been joined by Zelina Vega and earned his way to become the NXT Champion by beating Drew McIntrye in November.
His classic five-star match with Johnny Gargano in January established him as one of the best wrestlers today, whereas Black is commended for his flexibility and hard striking style.
His match with the aforementioned Dream was arguably the best in NXT during 2017, and since Almas has been part of 2018’s greatest match (so far), the bar could be raised once again.
PREDICTION: Black has some good momentum going into New Orleans, but we have seen him beaten before. Gargano has pinned Black on NXT TV, albeit with the help of a distraction, but that’s the only loss he has occurred. Almas plays the arrogant heel as good as anyone these days and his in-ring skills have significantly improved since joining the company. I expect Almas to retain the title this time around, setting up a rubber match between the two on the next TakeOver.