Posts tagged Ember Moon
NXTop10: The greatest matches in NXT Takeover history

Capping off a wonderful first year of The Barber's Chair with our latest NXTop10! Rob, Chris, Lincoln and Post Wrestling's Braden Herrington join Pierce as they count down the 10 greatest matches in NXT Takeover history!

Follow Pierce on Twitter: @HennyOmega
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Follow Braden on Twitter/IG: @TheBrayD

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intro music: "No Money" by Yung Kartz - hooksounds.com
outro music: "Jive" by The Loyalist - hooksounds.com
Audio courtesy of the award-winning WWE Network. Please support wrestling and look up these matches.

Re-booking TLC: Tables, Ladders and Chairs 2018

Normally I wouldn’t do this for a B-show PPV in the middle of December, but the direction that things have been going in for the last couple of months has been pretty poor. In that case, I might as well have some fun with it. Here’s what this Sunday’s TLC PPV would look like if The Barber’s Chair booked it.

Braun Strowman vs. Baron Corbin - TLC Match

Source: WWE Network

Source: WWE Network

Assuming this match will still take place, the stipulation is as follows: If Strowman wins, he will receive a shot at Brock Lesnar’s Universal Championship next month at the Royal Rumble, and Baron Corbin will be stripped of his GM-elect role. If Corbin wins, he will become Raw GM permanently.

What Should Happen: The Baron Corbin authority angle was fun to me in the beginning, even with Kurt Angle being placed on “vacation”. But it’s run its course (as with all authority angles), and this is where it ends. Braun Strowman wins.

What Will Likely Happen: Braun Strowman returns, makes quick work of GM-elect Baron Corbin, and a new GM will be announced on Monday. Hopefully we get a Brock Lesnar appearance as well.

Seth Rollins vs. Dean Ambrose - Ladder Match for the Intercontinental Championship

Source: WWE

Source: WWE

Dean Ambrose hasn’t competed on TV since the emotional night when he turned on his Shield brothers and attacked Seth Rollins two months ago. The heat has kind of cooled off on Ambrose since then, but it’s still fresh enough to pick it back up again.

What Should Happen: If the TLC match from this past Monday is indicative of anything, Seth Rollins should lose here due to one final power play from Baron Corbin. It wouldn’t make sense to have Rollins win two ladder matches in six days, but then again what has made sense on this show since October?

What Will Likely Happen: Seth Rollins may likely be considered the unanimous MVP over the course of 2018, and he doesn’t necessarily need the Intercontinental belt at this point. It would be wise to let Dean Ambrose go over in this one as Rollins (hopefully) transitions into Universal title contention over the next few months.

Daniel Bryan vs. AJ Styles for the WWE Championship

aj-db.jpg

Environmentalist Daniel Bryan aka The NEW Daniel Bryan might be the favorite WWE version of the former American Dragon. He also helps solidify my theory that tree-hugging vegans aren’t as nice of people that they think.

Bryan’s heel turn has done wonders to rejuvenate his career, and his WWE title run has been fun sp far. AJ Styles has consistently been one of the best workers in the company, and I can’t really name a bad match that he’s put on since debuting in the Federation three years ago. We all know what these two can bring, and I’d love to see them top the match they had on Smackdown a few weeks ago.

What Should Happen: For someone who was as beloved as Daniel Bryan was for the last five years, if you’re going to make him a villain, you have to go all out with it. To keep AJ Styles strong, have him win by DQ as Daniel Bryan goes crazy with a brutal attack as he further cements himself as the top dog on Tuesday nights.

What Will Likely Happen: I don’t know what’s in store for Daniel Bryan as we merge onto the Road to WrestleMania, but he’ll be WWE Champion for the good portion of that ride.

Ronda Rousey vs. Nia Jax for the Raw Women’s Championship

Source: WWE

Source: WWE

After legitimately breaking Becky Lynch’s face and taking her out of Survivor Series, WWE’s used the incident to propel Nia Jax towards another battle with Ronda Rousey six months later. This is one of three matches I don’t really care about, but it will have some long term ramifications to it.

What Should Happen: Make no secret that I am Ronda Rousey’s #1 hater, but the honeymoon phase with her has long passed, and I can see myself eventually having some competition if Ronda isn’t booked as someone we should care about. Jax has been positioned similarly to how she was in NXT, albeit this time she’s been given more mic time, which is another factor to me not giving a shit about what goes on in this feud. Six months after their initial battle, Rousey now has a little more experience and should be able to command the battle better this go around. She needs to look good in victory.

What Will Likely Happen: I can honestly see them formulating the matchup the same exact way that it was done at Money in the Bank, this time with Rousey actually getting a chance to close it out. Either way, she’ll be walking into 2019 still the Raw Women’s Champion.

Asuka vs. Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair - Triple Threat TLC Match for the Smackdown Women’s Championship

Source: WWE

Source: WWE

This absolutely NEEDS to main event the show on Sunday night. (The Man) Becky Lynch has been incredible since winning the belt at Hell In A Cell, and her 2019 is already shaping up to be a great one if they book her the right way. Unfortunately, I see her dropping her title this weekend in one of two ways...

What Should Happen: Asuka started off the year strong by winning the first ever Women’s Royal Rumble, but a loss to Charlotte at WrestleMania has derailed any momentum she had until just recently. Winning her first main roster championship would help her close out the year strong at a point when it seemed her WWE career was dead in the water.

As for Becky Lynch, this would give her the opportunity to jump ship to Monday nights, as we know that she has some business there waiting for her in the form of Nia Jax and Ronda Rousey. Perhaps a Royal Rumble win is in line?

What Will Likely Happen: Charlotte wins yet again *insert eye roll emoji*. Asuka has still yet to beat Charlotte one-on-one, and it’s likely that a Charlotte victory can build to a rematch in New Jersey this spring.

Drew McIntyre vs. Finn Bálor

This stat may be shocking if you haven’t paid attention, but Finn Bálor is undefeated in PPV singles matches since debuting on the main roster (6-0). Hopefully they play up this fact, as it’s something simple that can help the fans invest into this match even more.

What Should Happen: Can we get a Demon King appearance on this PPV? Drew Mac can surely afford a loss to THAT incarnation of Finn Balor.

What Will Likely Happen: WWE seems to have Bálor be the reliable stepping stone for others at this point in his career (not that that’s a bad thing), and I don’t expect anything different this go around as the Scottish Psychopath continues to run roughshod over the Raw roster. Drew McIntyre has asserted himself as a force on the red brand since his return in April, and now seems primed to reach the heights expected of him in 2009. A win here keeps him strong going into the Royal Rumble, as he can position himself as the favorite to win the annual classic.

The Usos vs. The New Day vs. The Bar for the Smackdown Tag Team Championship

Source: WWE

Source: WWE

I just want to get one thing off of my chest before proceeding with this match preview: Why the FUCK is this not a TLC match or at least a ladder match?

With that being said, This is a sleeper for match of the night. We already know what The Usos and New Day can bring to the table, and The Bar has slowly crept up to legendary tag team status (I recently realized that they’re in their FIFTH title reign in only two years). Should be a great match that will possibly open the show.

What Should Happen: There hasn’t been a whole lot of heat with this feud, but it isn’t necessary when you have three great teams like this. The Bar have been on a good run here, but I can see WWE wanting The New Day to set a record of title reigns (plus I’m bias), and a win here would bring them that much closer.

What Will Likely Happen: Since The Bar stood tall on the go home show this past week, that usually spells doom come the PPV. The Smackdown Tag Team belts have been playing hot potato a bit this year, so it would be smart to stick with a team and build them into the new year.

Elias vs. Bobby Lashley - Guitar Ladder Match

Source: WWE

Source: WWE

Before the main event of every PPV, there’s a moment where I go “Weren’t so and so supposed to wrestle?”, only to find out that match already happened on the pre-show. This is that match and I’ll probably never watch it.

What Should Happen: Bobby Lashley has been EXTREMELY lackluster since coming back to WWE. And while the partnership with Lio Rush had some potential early on, it’s very meh at this point. Have Rush pull a James Ellsworth and help win the match for Lashley, but have him receive his comeuppance post-match.

What Will Likely Happen: A likely pre-show main event, Elias wins to hype the crowd up for the main course.

Cedric Alexander vs. Buddy Murphy for the Cruiserweight Championship

Source: WWE

Source: WWE

Aside from their boss having an R. Kelly fetish all of a sudden, the 205 Live guys have been getting a lot of shine the past couple months. This past Tuesday, Mustafa Ali had a fantastic match with the WWE Champion Daniel Bryan, and while typically being relegated to the pre-show in the past, the Cruiserweight title has been defended on the main show in two of the last three Network exclusive events. Hopefully that trend continues this Sunday night, and I expect Buddy Murphy and Cedric Alexander to shut the place down.

What Should Happen: Continuing on with my “Let all the black wrestlers win tonight” narrative, I’m going to choose Cedric Alexander for no other reason.

What Will Likely Happen: It’s awfully soon for Buddy Murphy to drop the title, and I see him continuing his run of dominance over the Cruiserweight division. Time for some new blood to step up and present a new challenge.

Natalya vs. Ruby Riott - Tables Match

Source: WWE

Source: WWE

I don’t typically like when real life deaths are included in a storyline, but I can understand why it’s done, especially when all those involved agree with it. However, I really don’t care about this feud and can’t wait for it to end this weekend.

What Should Happen: I don’t believe crowds are invested enough in these two women enough to have Ruby Riott win. Riott has antagonized Natalya over Jim Neidhart’s death this entire feud, so there’s really only one way to end this and that’s with the Hart family name standing tall.

What Will Likely Happen: Sasha Banks, Bayley and Ember Moon aren’t doing anything noteworthy this evening. Let them help Natalya even the odds

Fabulous Truth (R-Truth and Carmella) vs. Mahalicia (Jinder Mahal and Alicia Fox) - Mixed Match Challenge Finals

R-Truth and Carmella’s chemistry has been a factor in building momentum for their run through the tournament. And while Jinder Mahal and Alicia Fox have slowly but surely gotten on the same page, there are some kinks that still need to be worked out if they want to close strong. It was harder to get invested in this season of the Mixed Match Challenge as injuries and kayfabe write-offs didn’t help at all. At the end of it all, the two healthiest teams from each brand persevered, and now have a shot at coveted #30 position in their respective Royal Rumble matches.

What Should Happen: I always look forward to a surprise #30 entrant each year, but Dolph Ziggler’s overall performance this past year made it a little lackluster. So I guess I can lower my expectations for 2019 since I know neither of the two on the men’s side have a chance of winning. Although, there’s a bit more credibility with Jinder Mahal being a former world champion which you can go off of, rather than R-Truth who has been an amazing comedic act for years.

What Will Happen: We get a Royal Dance Break at #30 as Fabulous Truth comes out of this one victorious. Should be a no-brainer, but I can’t wait to see if Truth tries to enter the Women’s Royal Rumble.

Rey Mysterio vs. Randy Orton - Chairs Match

Source: WWE

Source: WWE

Sidenote: I was in the 8th grade when these two first feuded on Smackdown in 2005-06. Glad to see they can both haven’t lost a step since.

Rey Mysterio has only been back in WWE for about two months, but it’s like he never left. The chemistry that he and Orton have when working together is amazing, and they won’t disappoint on Sunday.

What Should Happen: Randy Orton has been on a tear since his heel turn at Extreme Rules, and it wouldn’t make much sense to have that randomly stop here. The Viper’s run of dominance should continue on.

What Will Likely Happen: It’s a toss up as to who WILL win this match, as they can go either way with it. However, Rey Mysterio will always be in a great position to recover after a loss (see Jeff Hardy at Hell In A Cell) to where it wouldn’t be an issue.

The 17 NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn matches, ranked

The fourth installment of TakeOver: Brooklyn is just a few days away. Chris Novak decided to delve into the previous three editions and rank all 17 matches that have taken place inside Barclays Center. The results... okay, they probably won't shock you TOO much.

TakeOver: Brooklyn is NXT's WrestleMania. Back on August 22, 2015, this event became the first NXT show to be aired on the WWE Network outside of their home of Full Sail University. To say there was pressure for the superstars of the brand to deliver that night was putting it mildly. The crowd certainly showed out in full force, as a sellout crowd watched history unfold before their eyes. The show was an absolute home run, and set up a chain of events that have led to TakeOvers being part of Big 4 weekends (and Money in the Bank, as well) now in 2018.

A TakeOver event is the surest bet in wrestling today. Duds have been few and far between, and it's arguable that there simply just hasn't been one. The events that took place in 2014 haven't aged too well, but even those have several outstanding matches that still hold up to today's standards. But TakeOver: Brooklyn? Well, the first three have been amazing in their own right, and it looks like that trend is going to continue for the fourth installment this coming week.

But enough about the not-so-distant future. Let's talk about the past. 

There have been 17 matches to take place at the last three TakeOver: Brooklyn shows. Every NXT Championship has been defended at these events, of course, and we've seen a total of 41 superstars either in the matches or at ringside. From Jushin "Thunder" Liger and Bayley, to Blue Pants and Alexa Bliss, to Austin Aries and Adam Cole (BAY BAY!)... stars and notables you may've forgotten from the wrestling world have made their presence felt at Barclays Center. 

And now, presenting: The 17 NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn matches, ranked!

17. Ember Moon vs. Billie Kay, TakeOver: Brooklyn II
Match Rating: **

Before she got in position to beat the streak in 2017, Ember Moon made her debut in front of the Brooklyn crowd in 2016. Moon was slated to face Billie Kay, an Aussie rookie herself, in Ember’s first match ever. Moon won rather decisively in a match that went less than 7 minutes, as she hit the Eclipse on Kay for the victory.

A few fun facts here: firstly, this is still the last TakeOver event to have two women’s matches on the card. Secondly, this was Billie Kay’s one and only TakeOver match ever.

The Verdict: This gets put near the bottom only by default, really. It’s not that it wasn’t a good match; it’s just that it was a showcase match for Ember and went a very short amount of time. Ember looked good and gave fans a small glimpse of what was to come for her in the future.

Kay, meanwhile, had a decent performance herself, played her role and played it well. Two stars for this one.

16. Tye Dillinger vs. Apollo Crews, TakeOver: Brooklyn I
Match Rating: **

The debut of Apollo Crews. Crews got a couple video packages en route to Brooklyn, and the folks behind the scenes decided to pit him against Tye Dillinger. This was Dillinger’s first TakeOver match of five, but he was certainly less of a fan favorite than he would soon become. It was also one of the first televised uses of his “Perfect 10” gimmick. This was nothing more than a showcase match for Crews, who won with relative ease.

The Verdict: This, like the Ember Moon match the following year, served its purpose as a showcase for a debuting talent. Crews flashed potential but, as we know, he wasn’t for long in NXT (although perhaps he should’ve been).

This was fine but obviously tough to grade compared to the rest of the matches on this show. It falls near the bottom, but like the Ember-Billie match, it by no means was a total stinker.

15. No Way Jose vs. Austin Aries, TakeOver: Brooklyn II
Match Rating: **¾

This was Austin Aries’ third and final NXT TakeOver match and the only one that No Way Jose ever had. The two had been feuding on NXT TV leading up to this bout, after Aries attacked Jose following a dancing celebration. NWJ returned the favor, attacking Aries a month later, and all those roads led up to Brooklyn. Aries won what was a quick-ish match (by TakeOver standards, at least. It went 10 minutes and change) after slapping on the Last Chancery.

Oh, and Hideo Itami showed up for the first time in over a year and hit a GTS on Aries, who had attacked NWJ after the match. The crowd went completely nuts for that.

The Verdict: This wasn’t anything special but it still served its purpose. You could tell both of these guys, Jose especially, were making the most of the big stage. This wasn’t anything to write home about but like a lot of TakeOver matches, it flowed well and the crowd more than enhanced this match, too. I will give it the 2.75-star treatment, and I would say it’s in third place as far as TakeOver: Brooklyn openers go.

Itami’s return and subsequent GTS is a forgotten awesome moment and having been there for it, I vividly remember the crowd going absolutely bonkers.

14. Bobby Roode vs. Andrade “Cien” Almas, TakeOver: Brooklyn II
Match Rating: ***

(Credit: WWE.com)

(Credit: WWE.com)

Bobby Roode’s first-ever TakeOver match was against Andrade “Cien” Almas. Almas had made his debut two months prior, having been pit against NXT fan favorite Tye Dillinger at Beginning of the End. Roode’s extravagant entrance and catchy theme song grabbed plenty of attention off the bat.

Then the match started afterwards, and Almas and Roode squabbled for a while. Roode picked up the W with the Glorious Bomb, as The Glorious One started off on a high note.

The Verdict: It’s absolutely hilarious to think about where these two ventured off after this match, because this was a slow start; especially so for Almas, who became a completely different wrestler a year later at TakeOver: Brooklyn III. Seeing Roode in the position he got to a year later wasn’t too surprising, though.

That being said, this match was just kind of there. I’ve no idea why they picked Almas to be the body for Roode, especially after they put him against a fan favorite in Dillinger the TakeOver prior. Talk about doing a guy no favors. Anyways, I’ll give this three stars. These guys were capable of much better, as we’d find out later.

13. BAMF vs. The Vaudevillains, NXT Tag Team Championships, TakeOver: Brooklyn I
Match Rating: ***

Blake and Murphy had been NXT Tag Team Champions for a couple months heading into Brooklyn, but they were three months removed from someone joining their group.

That, of course, was Alexa Bliss, who helped them defeat Enzo and Cass at TakeOver: Unstoppable. Bliss served as an asset for them and added fuel to the fire in their feud with their new challengers, The Vaudevillains. The ‘gentlemen’ of NXT refused to fight back when Alexa slapped them multiple times on the road to Brooklyn.

So, to even the odds, they brought former fan favorite Blue Pants to Brooklyn with them. What followed was a decent tag match, with some drama towards the end. A fight between Blue Pants and Alexa Bliss on the outside helped center the focus on the action. And it was then that The Vaudevillains hit the Whirling Dervish to pick up the win and the Tag Team Titles.

The Verdict: My oh my, how things change over time. The NXT Tag Team division was arguably the worst part of the brand but just a few short months later, that ultimately changed with the first Dusty Classic.

And speaking of things changing, think about how things changed with the people in THIS match. Alexa wound up becoming the biggest star of the group, Aiden English is showing his skills with Rusev and Buddy Murphy is now one of the best in-ring talents in the world. Blake is still trotting around in NXT, Gotch was released and Blue Pants evidently annoyed too many people and hasn’t been seen at Full Sail in years.

This match was just fine by the tag team standards of that time and much better than I remember. But it has obviously fallen behind the pace that’s still being set now. Which is completely fine, obviously. Still, a fun moment for Blue Pants, and the first-ever title change in the event’s history. Three stars here for a match that, like I said, is much better than I remember.

12. Samoa Joe vs. Baron Corbin, TakeOver: Brooklyn I
Match Rating: ***

Samoa Joe’s first TakeOver match saw him face “The Lone Wolf” Baron Corbin. Corbin and Joe had been feuding on TV, with Corbin’s animosity towards Joe being the purveying reason the two squared off. Joe was able to give his first true showcase to the NXT fanbase while Corbin had what was, inarguably, his best effort as a member of the NXT roster at the time.

The end of the bout saw Corbin pass out to the Coquina Clutch, giving Joe his first big win on the big stage.

The Verdict: This was a pretty solid effort from both guys here. Corbin flashed some potential and proved to be a more than competent opponent for Joe to handle. Having Corbin pass out instead of tap out was a small but notable point, protecting Corbs in some aspects. And he certainly got in enough offense against the great Samoan Submission Machine.

Three stars for me here. This more than served its purpose and was very solid.

(Credit: WWE.com)

(Credit: WWE.com)

11. Tyler Breeze vs. Jushin “Thunder” Liger, TakeOver: Brooklyn I
Match Rating: ***¼

Tyler Breeze was anxious to get on the TakeOver: Brooklyn card, and General Manager William Regal was more than willing to oblige him. Breezus was informed in the lead-up to the biggest show in NXT history that he wouldn’t be facing someone from NXT; instead he’d be facing a wrestling legend and icon:  the great Jushin “Thunder” Liger!

Breeze and Liger partook in the very first TakeOver: Brooklyn match and they absolutely made the most of it. In a competitive bout, Liger won after hitting his signature Liger Bomb. But Tyler made a huge impression in one of his last big matches with the brand.

The Verdict: This is one of my favorite matches in TakeOver: Brooklyn lore, even if the ‘workrate’ wasn’t up to snuff with some of the rest of the matches above this. Just the fact that JUSHIN “THUNDER” LIGER was involved in this match makes it freaking cool. Say what you will about Tyler and him being a JTTS, but they clearly saw something in him to put him against someone of Liger’s caliber. This just misses the Top 10 for me, but it’s an extremely fun match that will no doubt hold up as one of the more surreal moments in the brand’s history.

10. SAnitY vs. AOP, NXT Tag Team Championships, TakeOver: Brooklyn III
Match Rating: ***¾

Authors of Pain were a year deep into a run in which they defeated just about every great tag team that NXT has ever produced. They walked into Brooklyn with the tag belts in tow against SAnitY, a team that had caused plenty of destruction in their own right. The match produced the goods in a chaotic matchup featuring a bunch of big, beefy boys. SAnitY came out on top, dethroning AOP in the process.

The Verdict: I was blindsided by the fact that SAnitY received such huge face pops in this match while being there in Barclays. This was pretty good, although it is certainly #2 on the list of NXT Tag Titles matches to take place in Brooklyn. The spot where Nikki jumps onto one of AOP, and Killian Dain runs him through the table was legit great.

This gets just a notch below four stars for me though, as it was entertaining and frenetic enough to capture my attention throughout. The ending felt like it needed a little bit more though, and that’s part of why it stands where it is. Oh and, of course, reDragon made their first showing as a unit after this match and laid both teams out. They show up later in the show too. Wink wink.

9. Bobby Roode vs. Drew McIntyre, NXT Championship, TakeOver: Brooklyn III
Match Rating: ****

One year after his in-ring debut in Brooklyn, Bobby Roode walked into the borough with the NXT Championship in tow. His task was to take down Drew McIntyre, who returned to the WWE umbrella a few short months before. Drew Mac and Bobby fought over the NXT crown, following a ridiculous effort by the women (sound familiar?).

McIntyre would capitalize in his first big opportunity back in the fold, winning the match against Roode and becoming the NXT Champion in the process.

The Verdict: NXT Champion Has Tough Act to Follow™ is a feature, not a bug, at TakeOver: Brooklyn events. This match was certainly a more spirited effort than the one from the year prior, though. It was a bit slow and plodding, but that’s just kind of what Roode does. There was still enough drama and enough sauce for me to give this four stars.

All in all, a very good effort from both guys. This was the fourth-best match of the night that night. But that’s saying something, since this card, all in all, was the absolute best Brooklyn card that’s been produced.

Oh, and... yanno... lest I forget... ADAM COLE, BAY BAY!!

8. Hideo Itami vs. Aleister Black, TakeOver: Brooklyn III
Match Rating: ****

After debuting four months prior at TakeOver: Orlando, the hype for Aleister Black was pungent. He landed right back onto a big event card, facing off with a star who also had plenty of hype at the time of his debut.

As you well know by now, Hideo Itami is one of the biggest what ifs in NXT history, if not the absolute biggest. Itami was likely in line for gold and probably would’ve headlined the first TakeOver: Brooklyn had it not been for a debilitating shoulder injury. After making a big return the year before, Itami turned more into a villain heading into this showdown with the new kid on the block.

The Verdict: A hard-hitting affair that, in my opinion, has gotten lost in the shuffle. High points for me in this match were Black getting legit busted open and Itami stealing Black’s taunts. The striking in this match was off the charts. The sudden hit of Black Mass to emphatically end the match was very well done.

This unfortunately was Itami’s only TakeOver: Brooklyn match and just his second big arena match in TakeOver history, which is a shame given all that he’s been through. That being said, it is firmly his best effort, and one of Black’s best, too. Four stars here.

(Credit: WWE.com)

(Credit: WWE.com)

7. Samoa Joe vs. Shinsuke Nakamura, NXT Championship, TakeOver: Brooklyn II
Match Rating: ****¼

Shinsuke Nakamura debuted four months prior in Dallas and immediately shot up the rankings out of a cannon. Nakamura’s star power was evident from night #1 and he found himself in the NXT Championship picture as the summer months motored on.

This led to a clash with Samoa Joe in Brooklyn. Joe and Nak engaged in a pretty hard-hitting affair that proved both captivating and scintillating. Nakamura captured the NXT Title after a Kinshasa straight to the mouth.

The Verdict: While there were tough acts to follow, unlike the previous year, the energy and the life was not sucked out of the building this time around; and Joe and Nakamura made the most of it. This might’ve been Joe’s best effort in an NXT ring. Nak, meanwhile, energized the crowd with an electric entrance in which Lee England Jr. strummed his theme on the violin. It’s the single-greatest entrance I’ve seen in person and was a ton of fun to get immersed in.

This gets 4.25 stars from me. Enjoyed the effort from both these dudes that night. This is the second-best NXT Title Match in TakeOver: Brooklyn history.

(Credit: WWE.com)

(Credit: WWE.com)

6. Finn Balor vs. Kevin Owens, NXT Championship Ladder Match, TakeOver: Brooklyn I
Match Rating: ****¼

Finn Balor captured the NXT Championship at Beast in the East in Japan the month before this bout. Balor and Owens kept their feud going while KO was playing double duty in a feud with John Cena on the main roster.

Ultimately, the two would collide in a ladder match in the main event for the first TakeOver: Brooklyn event. After a couple of wicked bumps, Balor would eventually grab the title belt and retain the title, thus ending Owens’ short but impactful run in NXT.

The Verdict: This match is best viewed in a vacuum. It’s not a slight against either man. It’s simply just that the energy in Barclays Center had been completely sucked out after Bayley-Sasha. Which begs the question, of course, as to why they opted for this match to main event instead of Bayley-Sasha. It was a pretty great match, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that it will always be forgotten because of what happened before it.

You also knew that Owens wasn't recapturing the gold and was headed for the main roster full time, which took away some of the suspension of "disbelief." Unfair as it is, that’s why it stands where it is. But with that said, this is the best NXT Title Match in TakeOver: Brooklyn history.

(Credit: WWE.com)

(Credit: WWE.com)

5. Asuka vs. Bayley, NXT Women’s Championship, TakeOver: Brooklyn II
Match Rating: ****¼

After Bayley’s lengthy title reign ended in April 2016, Bayley’s quest to become a two-time NXT Women’s Champion went through some bumpy roads. An injury kept her out of action for a bit, but she kept her head up and trudged on as Bayley has always done.

She stood against the mighty Asuka in Brooklyn, hoping to win back her title. Unfortunately for her, The Empress of Tomorrow as far too powerful. A couple of hard kicks to the head led Asuka to victory, and sent Bayley off in her swan song in NXT.

The Verdict: An antithesis from last year’s monumental victory. Bayley’s might, heart and sheer will were not enough for her to overcome the daunting Asuka. This match was brilliantly done and served as Bayley’s final match and appearance in NXT. It was obviously not the last we’d see of Asuka, and perhaps that took away from some of the ‘fun’ and ‘unpredictability’ of the match.

Still, this was an excellent match, and a bit better than their first clash in Dallas four months prior. 4.25 stars. And yes… if you care to know, I did get plenty of dust in my eyes that night in the stands.

(Credit: WWE.com)

(Credit: WWE.com)

4. Johnny Gargano vs. Andrade “Cien” Almas, TakeOver: Brooklyn III
Match Rating: ****½

In the wake of DIY’s dissolving, Johnny Gargano was probably going to face Tommaso Ciampa at TakeOver: Brooklyn III. However, a legitimate knee injury kept Ciampa on the sidelines for quite sometime. Instead, Gargano faced Andrade “Cien” Almas.

Heading into this show, stock wasn’t super high on Almas, especially after a weird, funky year with the brand; but with Zelina Vega joining up with him, his focus got clearer. Gargano and Almas delivered a high-energy opener that concluded when Vega hurled a DIY t-shirt at Gargano. The distraction provided Almas with the opportunity to blast off on Gargano’s head and give him a much-needed W.

The Verdict: The storytelling of this match was downright spectacular. This was the start of an incredible singles run for Gargano that’s still going to this day. It flashed the brilliance that even his biggest fans probably didn’t think that he had.

More importantly, this was the start of something great for Andrade, who needed that jolt in the WORST of ways. Zelina proved to be an extremely valuable asset, and her role with Almas was validated on this night. This gets a high, high mark for me.

(Credit: WWE.com)

(Credit: WWE.com)

3. Asuka vs. Ember Moon, NXT Women’s Championship, TakeOver: Brooklyn III
Match Rating: ****½

Asuka’s undefeated streak was in serious jeopardy on the night of the third TakeOver: Brooklyn. She faced off with Ember Moon in a rematch of a collision between the two several months back in Orlando. An injury forced Ember onto the sidelines after, but she got back on the saddle and took aim at her in Barclays Center.

Ember gave Asuka her best shot, arguably the best shot that ANYONE gave her during the streak. But, in the end, Asuka proved victorious.

The Verdict: I was in a bit of a haze during this match in the crowd, but after a second watch, I can see why this got so much praise. This could’ve been near a full five for me and it could have POSSIBLY unseated #1 from its spot on the throne.

But the simple choice of keeping the belt on Asuka and not giving it to Ember keeps this at ****½ and 3rd on the list. This was still dramatic and thrilling and outstanding, however, despite that booking decision.

(Credit: WWE.com)

(Credit: WWE.com)

2. The Revival vs. DIY, NXT Tag Team Championships, TakeOver: Brooklyn II:
Match Rating: ****¾

DIY got themselves a huge opportunity in August 2016. After forging separate paths on the indie scene, the team was kept around after solid showings in 2015. They then made headway in 2016 and pursued the NXT Tag Team Titles.

With American Alpha out of the way after The Revival became two-time NXT Tag Champs at The Beginning of the End, Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder faced off with Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa in Brooklyn. The two tag teams delivered a scintillating tag team bout in what was, no doubt, the biggest match of their respective careers to this point. Revival wound up retaining, but it was hardly without an effort, as Gargano and Ciampa showed off their heart and soul.

The Verdict: This is the best tag team match in TakeOver: Brooklyn history and the 2nd-best match in the event’s history, too. Although it’s not a super high bar to clear, it should be noted that it’s going to be a high bar to clear for anyone else (Of course, Undisputed Era and Moustache Mountain might wind up doing the damn thing later this month). The drama, the creative near falls and tandem offenses really make this match stand out.

The better of the series between these two teams happened three months later, but this match was still outstanding. 4 and 3-quarter stars for me.

1. Sasha Banks vs. Bayley, NXT Women’s Championship, TakeOver: Brooklyn I
Match Rating: *****

(Original Photo Credit: WWE.com)

(Original Photo Credit: WWE.com)

The spirited clash between two of the most beloved NXT superstars of all time takes the top spot. And are you really surprised? You probably shouldn’t be.

This match ended a two-year long journey for The Hugger to get championship gold. Sasha Banks got an extravagant entrance, and for the first time ever, the tubemen joined The Hugger in a bigtime venue. Bayley took Banks down after a Reverse Hurricanrana, or Poisoned Frankensteiner for other acquired tastes, and then slammed her down with the Bayley-to-Belly.

The Verdict: The greatest women’s wrestling match that WWE has ever seen is also the greatest TakeOver: Brooklyn match ever. You won’t find many disputing this as a simple fact. Bayley and Banks poured their hearts and souls into this match, and the Brooklyn crowd’s reaction to Bayley’s title victory was sensational. It got yours truly right in the gut.

This gets the full five stars from me. It is a perfect wrestling match in every single way, and one that you should go out of your way to show a non-wrestling fan who’s trying to get into the fandom.  

Money in the Bank guide: previews, predictions for NXT Takeover & MITB

What started as a unique concept for Wrestlemania has turned into the fifth of WWE's new "Big Five" pay per views: Money in the Bank! The big event returns to the Chicago suburb of Rosemont, but this time bringing its indie darling, NXT, along with it for a stacked card on Saturday night. Of course, the main course will be not one, but TWO Money in the Bank ladder matches - one for the men and one for the ladies. The Barber's Chair has your guide to all of the matches this weekend, including who we think will leave Chicagoland victorious.

nxt takeover chicago.png

Ricochet v. Velveteen Dream

Pierce: This is a Dream match, no pun. Not because I've wanted to see it for years, but because I didn't know I wanted to see it this badly. This should open Takeover, and could attempt to steal the show just like the ladder match did in New Orleans. Dream has his sights set on one of two things: an NXT title or a WWE call-up. A win furthers both objectives.
Prediction: Velveteen Dream

T.C.: I didn't care for Dream's whole schtick when he first debuted, but his match with Aleister Black at War Games completely changed my opinion of him. I think he's an easy choice to face Black in a rematch in Brooklyn, so it'll be smart to keep his momentum going into SummerSlam weekend.
Prediction: Velveteen Dream

Markus Howell: Let me be the first to tell you that I might be the biggest Velveteen Dream fan just because of everything he represents and how damn good he is. Dude is a MEGASTAR. That being said, this match is a MOTY candidate for sure. Ricochet is proven between those ropes and Dream ain't too bad himself. Dream needs a win here though before he enters "Bray Wyatt" range.            Prediction: Velveteen Dream

Chris Novak: This match really fascinates me. I think it has major steal-the-show potential and will probably end up kicking things off on Saturday night. I get the sense that Velveteen Dream is going to win. Ricochet may have only started a couple months ago, but he's a big star. He can afford the loss, and can afford to put Dream over. You can easily slide Ricochet into a feud with Adam Cole for the NA Championship or even have him in a side feud with Aleister Black on the road to Brooklyn, and nobody would really bat an eye. Speaking of which, I think this Dream win will tee up Dream/Black II in Brooklyn, like T.C. said. 
Prediction: Velveteen Dream

Robert O'Neill: The first of two MOTN candidates, I really can't wait to watch these guys in person. They were the high points of the best multi-man ladder match of all time at Takeover NOLA and there's no reason to believe this match won't be awesome. Dream wins though because I think he's going to be the next #1 contender for the title and this is your start of that.

Prediction: Velveteen Dream

NXT Women's Championship - Shayna Baszler (c) v. Nikki Cross

Pierce: Shayna is mid to me, but they're running with her as long as they can. Nikki Cross belongs up top anyway.
Prediction: Shayna Baszler

T.C.: What the hell happened to SAnitY debuting on the main roster? I'd assume they're holding off until Nikki is done in NXT, but I can see them trying to distance her from the group at this point as she gets a run with the Women's title down in Orlando.
Prediction: Nikki Cross

Markus Howell: Seems like this match was thrown together randomly. But hey, whatever. This has all the components of a filler match until Bianca Belair is done smoking everybody else in the division.   
Prediction: Shayna Baszler

Chris Novak: Haven't minded the build to this. Nikki is crazy as hell and I think her finally getting a 1-on-1 TakeOver opportunity rules. I don't see her winning the belt though. She'll fall to Shayna, but this match should be real good.
Prediction: Shayna Baszler

Robert O'Neill: It's really hard to get a read on this because Cross is probably overdue for a title shot and Shayna really hasn't done much as champion, but they likely won't have her lose yet. Baszler retains.

Prediction: Shayna Baszler

NXT Tag Team Championship - Undisputed Era (c) v. Danny Burch & Oney Lorcan

Pierce: Burch and Lorcan are good hands but they have no business winning the tag titles over Undisputed Era.
Prediction: Undisputed Era

T.C.: Undisputed Era are flaming hot right now, and things are only looking up for the group. Burch and Lorcan have had the Undisputed Era's number the last few weeks, but it's not their time yet.
Prediction: Undisputed Era

Markus Howell: Undisputed Era > nWo. Kyle O'Reilly air guitar with the title > Hollywood Hulk Hogan air guitar with the title. Do I need to say anything else?
Prediction: Undisputed Era

Chris Novak: Markus, I completely agree about KOR's air guitar being better than The Hulkster's. This match is going to surprise a lot of people who may not be familiar with Lorcan and Burch. Then again, if you watch NXT, you probably are anyway.
Prediction: Undisputed Era

Robert O'Neill: While a lot of people were surprised that Lorcan and Burch got the title shot, I think it’s it’s pretty cool. However, I think Undisputed Era retains because they have the numbers in their favor provided Adam Cole goes to the ring with KOR and Roddy Strong.  

Prediction: Undisputed Era

NXT Championship - Aleister Black (c) v. Lars Sullivan

Pierce: Ion really fuck with Lars.
Prediction: Aleister Black

T.C.: Aleister Black hasn't really had a chance to show off as champion since winning the belt back during WrestleMania weekend, and I can't see him losing here. Lars Sullivan has laid the champion out multiple weeks now, and looks stronger than ever heading into Chicago, but Black will finally overcome the thorn in his side.
Prediction: Aleister Black

Markus Howell: This match here has seemingly gotten overshadowed with the Ricochet/Dream and Gargano/Ciampa feuds. LARS (Yes we capitalize that man name around here) has looked great in the past few months. Black has been relatively quiet waiting on this new challenger to appear and boy has LARS appeared. It's a bit too early for Black to drop the title though so look for him to hold on the strap a while longer.
Prediction: Aleister Black

Chris Novak: I'm not surprised that this match has gotten a second- or third-billing deal. This feels like Roode/Itami from last year in Chicago, in that it's a transition feud where the challenger doesn't stand much a chance. I like Lars a lot but putting Black over is the easiest choice of the night. 
Prediction: Aleister Black

Robert O'Neill: The NXT Title match is the third most hyped match on a five match card, which is odd, but also perfectly fine. This will be a good match that a lot of people will sleep on. Black retains.

Prediction: Aleister Black

Chicago Street Fight - Johnny Gargano v. Tommaso Ciampa

Pierce: This rivalry is destined to end in Brooklyn, so it's only right Tommaso wins, probably through some fuckery involving Candice Lerae. These two put on the match of Wrestlemania weekend and could do the same in Chicago.
Prediction: Tommaso Ciampa

T.C.: Usually when someone's wife or girlfriend gets injured in a personal storyline, that's a red alert to me that they'll be turning on their partner down the line. Ciampa wins after interference from Candice LeRae, setting up a Hell in a Cell battle in Brooklyn.
Prediction: Tommaso Ciampa

Markus Howell.: Ciampa is the best heel in the business and possibly the best heel we have seen in YEARS. Everything about this man just oozes evil and he does not care one bit. Using simple wrestling logic here though, it says he will pull out the win in a brutal, yet satisfying match and set up the final installment in this epic rivalry at Brooklyn.
Prediction: Tommaso Ciampa      

Chris Novak: Ciampa wins because Candice LeRae incidentally costs her husband, Johnny Gargano, the victory. No heel turn here, but she'll try to save Gargano from himself and he'll pay for it. Hell in a Cell cometh in Brooklyn.
Prediction: Tommaso Ciampa

Robert O'Neill: How poetic. It all comes back to Rosemont, where Ciampa turned on Gargano in the first place. It kills me to say it, but I think Ciampa wins and sets up a rubber match with all the stakes in Brooklyn.

Prediction: Tommaso Ciampa

mitb.gif

Women's Money in the Bank
Charlotte v. Sasha Banks v. Natalya v. Ember Moon v. Becky Lynch v. Alexa Bliss v. Naomi v. Lana

Pierce: Booking history tells me Natalya wins & probably cashes in on Ronda, but the superstar who needs the briefcase the most is Becky. She talked on Smackdown about falling to the back of the pack since being the first SDL Women's Champion. She needs something to reinvigorate her character, so give her the briefcase and let her have fun with it.
Prediction: Becky Lynch

T.C.: If Natalya doesn't win this, then I don't see the point in them making her a focal point with the biggest star in the division the past few weeks.
Prediction: Natalya

Markus Howell.: Okay so look, I think everybody knows I'm not a fan of this person but I'd be hard pressed to find someone who is a more "That's so WWE" pick to win this match than Ember Moon. Yes, they are setting Natalya up for another turn (she's like the female Big Show when it comes to that I swear), but Ember just screams "safe pick".                                                                Prediction: Ember Moon

Chris Novak: Have to agree with T.C. here. The obvious choice based on EVERYTHING they have put out there is Natalya, as terrible a wrestler and performer that I find her. Alexa and Charlotte have no business winning this, and neither does Lana. Ember hasn't been here long enough. And while Becky, Sasha and/or Naomi would be great choices because of the kinds of performers they are, well... it wouldn't be the first time or the last time they overlooked ability.
Prediction: Natalya

Robert O'Neill: This one certainly has me more hyped than last year’s version. I really want to see Sasha or Becky win, but it will likely be Natalya which will be dumb.  

Men's Money in the Bank
Braun Strowman v. The Miz v. Finn Balor v. Samoa Joe v. Kevin Owens v. Rusev v. Bobby Roode v. Big E/Kofi Kingston/Xavier Woods

Pierce: All of these guys would make for a great winner besides Bobby Roode, but the Awesome one has killed it the last two years and will get his long-deserved second run with the belt in due time.
Prediction: The Miz

T.C.: My head says Samoa Joe, but I'm selecting my choice with full stan mode enabled: The Miz wins. 
Prediction: The Miz

Markus Howell: Ahem. Click here
Prediction: Samoa Joe

Chris Novak: Mike "The Miz" Mizanin wins MITB for the second time in his career. I would say that he'd cash in later in the night, but this match will probably main event the show. 
Prediction: The Miz

Robert O'Neill: This is probably the hardest match of the night to pick because I could see any of the eight men winning. If I had to pick one, it would be The Miz, and I'm not even super sold/confident on that.  

Daniel Bryan v. Big Cass

Pierce: Daniel doesn't need a win here. He made Cass submit last month. I hate even steven booking but if Daniel wins here, what am I supposed to make of Cass?
Prediction: Big Cass

T.C.: Part of me wants to think they'll give Daniel Bryan the win again (especially if there's still some backstage heat on Cass as reported a few weeks back), but I'm gonna assume there's a swerve in the making with Cass evening the score against his tiny foe.
Prediction: Big Cass

Markus Howell: Outside of not giving two shits about this feud.......yeah that's all I got man. It's a warmup feud for the both of them returning from their respective injuries so whatever. Prediction: Daniel Bryan

Chris Novak: I didn't think Bryan needed the win over Cass at Backlash. But they gave him it in emphatic fashion. I don't think he needs the win here at MTIB either. But Cass has been written as kind of a dickheaded goof. So maybe Bryan will make him tap out anyway. I gave Cass a chance, and he hasn't exactly been great. Just put Bryan over again.
Prediction: Daniel Bryan

Robert O'Neill: I guess Cass could use a win over Bryan, but I'm also not sure Cass can be saved at this point. He just doesn't have "it". Whatever happens, I hope this is the last match these two have.

Prediction: Big Cass

Roman Reigns v. Jinder Mahal

Pierce: Is it fine to say I just don't care where they go with Roman anymore?
Prediction: Roman Reigns

T.C.: Contrary to public opinion of these two, I actually think they're really good workers. But the chemistry between the two isn't working for me as a fan. Hope this is a one and done and they both move on to something else next month. 
Prediction: Roman Reigns

Markus Howell: NOW THIS IS WHY IM HERE BABY. CONTENT. THE MAHARAJA HIVE IS HERE. DON'T HINDER JINDER. I DON'T GET WHY PEOPLE HATE JINDER. THE MAN HAS DONE NOTHING BUT WORK HIS ASS OFF TO GET BETTER AND PEOPLE HATE HIM. The Maharaja ain't losing to no dude who wear Brett Favre wranglers in his downtime man. Hell no. Prediction: Jinder Mahal

Chris Novak: This will be a better match than the crowd gives it a chance to be. I will side with Markus here and say that the Maharajah is successful.
Prediction: Jinder Mahal

Robert O'Neill: Contrary to what the likely crowd reactions will lead you to believe, this should be a perfectly fine match. Each man cost the other a spot in the MITB match, so the motivation for this match is clear and smart. I think Jinder wins with underhanded tactics and Roman gets him back at Extreme Rules.

Prediction: Jinder Mahal

Bobby Lashley v. Sami Zayn

Pierce: This is my piss break.
Prediction: Bobby Lashley

T.C.: Absolutely pointless and terrible feud. Hopefully this doesn't go more than 7 minutes.
Prediction: Bobby Lashley

Markus Howell: #FreeElGenerico
Prediction: Sami Zayn

Chris Novak: God, this feud sucks.
Prediction: Bobby Lashley

Robert O'Neill: Lashley wins and we never have to think about this feud again.

Prediction: Bobby Lashley

Smackdown Tag Team Championship - The Bludgeon Brothers (c) v. Karl Anderson & Luke Gallows

Pierce: The Bludgeon Brothers finally got some competition in Anderson and Gallows, and while I think the Good Brothers will get the strap eventually, now's not the time.
Prediction: The Bludgeon Brothers

T.C.: Harper and Rowan have been built up as THE guys in the Smackdown Tag Team title division (rightfully so, they're the champs), and it doesn't seem like the Good Brothers have enough momentum right now to start another reign right now.
Prediction: The Bludgeon Brothers

Markus Howell.: The Good Brothers and The Bludgeon Brothers. The Brothers against The Brothers. Which sounds better? Good or Bludgeon? Cool hand gestures and a dude with a nickname like Machine Gun or dudes with fake ass mallets and horrible ring gear? Yeah, exactly. Prediction: Anderson and Gallows

Chris Novak: SmackDown Live's tag division is not nearly as dead as Raw's is, but for a division that has Bludgeon Brothers, Good Brothers, The Usos, The New Day AND The Bar as well as Rusev Day, this should be a hell of a lot better than it is. I digress. The Bludgeon Brothers will likely win on the kickoff show.
Prediction: The Bludgeon Brothers

Robert O'Neill: There's been a surprising lack of build to this match, but it should be pretty solid provided you enjoy watching four big dudes beat each other up. If you don't, well, it's not for you. Bludgeon Brothers retain.

Prediction: The Bludgeon Brothers

RAW Women's Championship - Nia Jax (c) v. Ronda Rousey

Pierce: I was back and forth on this until Ronda's UFC Hall of Fame induction was announced. WWE would be smart to flex her as their champion at the event.
Prediction: Ronda Rousey

T.C.: I'm sure WWE caught some early rumblings about Ronda Rousey getting inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame next month, and decided to hot shot her into the title picture ahead of the time they wanted to. Always thirsty for mainstream attention, they'll slap the belt on Ronda, get some press the following Monday, and then have Natalya cash in the following night.
Prediction: Ronda Rousey

Markus Howell: This match gonna be trash. Nia, as fine as she is, aint that good in the ring and Ronda just too green in the ring. Ronda can legitimately beat Nia ass so idk man. Having Ronda win is a real slap in the face. To who? Take your pick. Also kinda dumb how they just randomly made Nia a heel in this feud. Also dumb how much Rousey smiles and taps hands with the fans. It's annoying. Idk who wins here but for kicks and giggles.......
Prediction: Nia Jax

Chris Novak: I still don't understand why this match is happening so early but, like T.C. said, this probably has a lot to do with fishing for mainstream press. Ronda wins, but I don't think she makes it out of Rosemont with the championship. Nattie's going to cash in and win it, meaning Natalya vs. Ronda Rousey will be the summer women's program. God help us all.
Prediction: Ronda Rousey

Robert O'Neill:  Well, Ronda certainly isn't going to lose her first singles match. The big thing to watch is if there's a cash in after.

Prediction: Ronda Rousey

Smackdown Women's Championship - Carmella (c) v. Asuka

Pierce: Carmella has no business losing the belt two months in, no matter how good Asuka is.
Prediction: Carmella

T.C.: I have no idea what is going to happen here. When Carmella had the MITB briefcase, I always looked at her as a transitional champion and nothing more than that. However, she's GOLD as a character, and the belt only enhances that. I'll be safe here and say Asuka comes out with the W.
Prediction: Asuka

Markus Howell: I. Love. Carmella. As. Champ. There I said it. She's been looking better. Her mic skills are gold. Her character has improved. And her in ring skills....well......she don't need to show them because of her heel work. I love it. Asuka has lost her aura since losing at Mania and I just don't get what the payoff was for that. Not sure what's gonna happen here but Asuka aint winning.
Prediction: Carmella

Chris Novak: Carmella wins because James Ellsworth is going to return and help her get the W.
Prediction: Carmella

Robert O'Neill: Carmella’s run has been delightful and I think it continues either by countout, DQ, or underhanded tactics

Prediction: Carmella

Intercontinental Championship - Seth Rollins (c) v. Elias

Pierce: The Walk With Elias Intercontinental Title Tour is about to heat up all summer '18! Elias is crazy over... some times gimmicks don't click in NXT but they work in the Federation, and Elias has made the most of his time up. Rollins is a great guy to take the belt off, and it doesn't hurt him to lose; it only propels him to that inevitable championship match with Brock.
Prediction: Elias

T.C.: I've been huge on Rollins' run as IC Champ thus far, and a huge fan Elias' whole run on the main roster. I feel like it's time for Seth to move on to bigger and better things, but with Extreme Rules a month away, I can see them dragging this feud out until then.
Prediction: Seth Rollins by DQ

Markus Howell: It's Elias' time. Seth doesn't need the title anymore and I'm sure Elias can continue to elevate the IC title. Also, the IC title > Universal title. But anyway, this match should be a great one. I wouldn't be surprised to see Elias win clean, but I also wouldn't be surprised to see a DQ. Prediction: Elias

Chris Novak: It's time for everyone to walk with Intercontinental Champion Elias. Seth won't lose anything by dropping the belt to him. Depending on what you read into with the rumors about Brock, this could free him up for a feud at SummerSlam with him. If not, then we get a summer feud between these two. Either option is OK with me.
Prediction: Elias

Robert O'Neill: If they're going to do Seth/Brock at Summerslam, which seems to be the natural plan, why not have Elias get the win here? He has the fanbase and ability. I would like to see it

Prediction: Elias

Last Man Standing match for the WWE Championship
AJ Styles (c) v. Shinsuke Nakamura

Pierce: Well we know the prediction below won't happen because the men's ladder match will reportedly end the show, but it's Nakamura's time. He's waited long enough, and the heel turn set in motion at Wrestlemania has done well in turning him from one of the most beloved babyfaces to one of the most interesting heels to watch in the company. He'll watch out of Chicago with the championship.
Prediction: Shinsuke Nakamura

T.C.: This feud hasn't been nearly half as interesting as I thought it would be, but it's picked up a bit in the past few weeks. Please, no more. AJ Styles gets the W in a hard fought battle, but gets booked in an impromptu match with The Miz. Both MITB briefcase holders cash in within 24 hours, as WWE tries to freshen up the gimmick a bit.
Prediction: AJ Styles, The Miz cashes in and walks out champion

Markus Howell: I'm tired of seeing this. Leave it to WWE to take something good and ruin it. I don't know how they do it but dammit they are talented. Shinsuke should've been champ months ago yet they turned him into a dick punching japanese dude who picks and chooses when to speak english. I hate this company sometimes.
Prediction: Shinsuke after he hits a super kinshasa on AJ's family jewels

Chris Novak: I don't have a clue about this one. I'll say Shinsuke because they've given him enough chances over the last year to win the WWE Title and he hasn't. If not, I have no idea what they do.
Prediction: Shinsuke Nakamura

Robert O'Neill: I think Shinsuke has to win eventually, so why not this one? He picked the stipulation so it would make sense for him to get the win.

Prediction: Shinsuke Nakamura

The fallout from Wrestlemania plays out as superstars debut, return this week in WWE

Robert O’Neill: We’re off and rolling with the post-Mania Raw! Stephanie McMahon is out putting herself over and has invited Ronda Rousey to the ring. Business is about to pick up.

Chris Novak: Andddddd Steph’s arm was ripped off again! This crowd chanting “You Deserve It!” and the “Na Na Na Na (Hey Hey Hey, Goodbye)” sing-songing is just outrageous. Away we go!

Robert O’Neill: Nia is in a tag match with… someone! Facing Alexa and Mickie. I think I know what’s coming here.

Chris Novak: EMBERRRRRRR! Ember Moon is on RAW! Heck of an addition to the division. Good little showcase here. She dropped Alexa Bliss with the Eclipse and pinned the former RAW Women’s Champ. Nice debut for her. A very nice debut.

Robert O’Neill: We now cut to Kurt Angle who… is on the phone. That’s new and refreshing. Anyway, Braun and NICHOLAS are here and they’re giving up the tag titles, because NICHOLAS has a scheduling conflict. Because he’s a child. And still in school.

Chris Novak: That’s No Way Jose! A good squash to debut him with. So, Cesaro and Sheamus are facing the winner of the “Tag Team Eliminator” in Saudi Arabia. Two matches tonight, one next week. Hmmm…

Robert O’Neill: Ahem. TOP GUYS WATCH! They’re facing The Club, which will be a hoot. They’ve had a lot of fun matches this year.

Chris Novak: The Top Guys *won* the match, no less, with a Shatter Machine on Karl Anderson. Solid win for them. Alignment of this match though says their luck might run out next week. Alas. Anyways, here’s the new Intercontinental Champion, Seth Rollins!

Robert O’Neill: BURN IT DOOOOOWWWWWWWNNNNNN. Remember how dumb that was?

Chris Novak: And now everyone loves it!

Robert O’Neill: So after like 10 minutes of great back and forth banter between Seth and Miz, Miz challenged Balor and Rollins to a 3 on 2 match against the Miztourage and Jeff Hardy came out to defend Balor and Rollins! Miztourage retreated, but I’m here for this.

Chris Novak: It’s always great to see Jeff Hardy. I’m glad he’s back. The Raw midcard is pretty awesome.

Robert O’Neill: Alright we’re gonna just keep rolling right along. Mandy vs. Sasha. Mandy’s out with Absolution. Sasha is out alone. Here we go… oh. Bayley’s coming out. Alright then.

Chris Novak: And then Bayley knocks Sasha down!

Robert O’Neill: Have we considered that Bayley is the bad friend?

Chris Novak: I’m not getting into this.

Robert O’Neill: After the match, Paige got on the mic and announced her retirement. These promos are always gut-wrenching to watch. That one was right up there with Edge’s. I hope WWE finds something for Paige in another role.

Chris Novak: Just tragic for her. She started four years ago in NOLA and now has to retire in NOLA. What a sad story, man.

Robert O’Neill: Elias performed a nice song for the fans and got interrupted by BOBBY LASHLEY! That was certainly unexpected.

Chris Novak: Lashley looks like an absolute tank. My goodness. Hopefully this turns out to be pretty great.

Robert O’Neill: Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn were in Kurt Angle’s office posturing for a job. Kurt told them TNA was hiring. I’m not even making that up. It was amazing. Anyways, they’re facing each other later and the winner gets a Raw contract!

Chris Novak: That TNA rib was the hardest I’ve ever laughed about anything in wrestling in a long time. Maybe ever. It was just so out of nowhere and delivered so well that it was freaking incredible.

Robert O’Neill: Heath Slater and Rhyno are out for a tag match and MY GOD. THAT’S THE AUTHORS OF PAIN. AOP wins it fairly easily and symbolically dump Paul Ellering. This was the right move. Paul wasn’t going to go on the road with them, and he did more than anyone could have ever dreamed for them. They’re in good hands now.

Chris Novak: It’s great that the big boys are finally on the main roster.

Robert O’Neill: Roman’s out to cut a promo. It’s kind of the same promo he’s been cutting the past few weeks about how Brock Lesnar isn’t there, because he wasn’t there. A short time later, SAMOA JOE comes out, and this is apparently going to be your feud of the spring, and I’m here for it. Joe is excellent on the mic and I can’t wait to see him get back in the ring.

Chris Novak: Samoa Joe cut an absolutely money promo. As always.

Robert O’Neill: Titus Worldwide has a tag team eliminator match against… Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt! That’s new and exciting, I guess. Hardy and Wyatt win and will face The Revival next week.

Chris Novak: I’m willing to give Hardy and Bray a chance here. So far, so good, honestly.

Robert O’Neill: Time for Owens vs. Zayn. The winner gets a Raw contract! They had a good match, as the previous five hundred matches between them have been, and it ended in a double countout, so neither one gets a contract!

Chris Novak: Kind of a silly and expected way to do it. I imagine we’ll keep seeing these types of matches happen as time progresses. We’ll see, though.

Robert O’Neill: We cut backstage to see Seth and Finn and Jeff Hardy coming to the ring, and they come across Matt and Bray, which leads to a very entertaining segment. My god. Am I gonna get sucked back into Bray Wyatt?

Chris Novak: That was an extremely entertaining segment! I might be getting sucked back in too...

Robert O’Neill: The faces pick up the victory in the main event, and it seems safe to say that Miz is either going to Smackdown or taking some time off to spend time with his new daughter given the amount of finishers he and the Miztourage ate following the match.

Chris Novak: My guess is paternity leave. But we’ll see! Fun Raw.

Quick Results

Ember Moon and Nia Jax d. Alexa Bliss and Mickie James
No Way Jose d. John Skyler
The Revival d. Balor Club
Mandy Rose d. Sasha Banks
Authors of Pain d. Heath Slater and Rhyno
Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt d. Titus Worldwide
Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, and Jeff Hardy d. Miztourage

Final Thoughts

Robert O’Neill: The Raw after Wrestlemania seldom disappoints, and this was no different. I really enjoyed everything they did, and the call-ups and returns mixed with next week’s shakeup are going to make for even more new and exciting matchups. Rollins will continue making the mid-card title feel important, and I have to imagine Reigns wins the title and brings it back to the fold at some point in the near future, right? A-

Chris Novak: God, what you said. That was a fun episode of Raw. Wegot call-ups, returns, surprises, etc. Some really good wrestling, too. Owens-Zayn was, as always, quite good. The six-man was entertaining. Looking forward to seeing what the Raw brand has dished out going forward. A-

Chris Novak: Time for the fallout of WrestleMania, SmackDown! Live edition! Daniel Bryan’s now a full-time superstar, per the Commissioner, Shane McMahon. He reveals the new GM and it’s… PAIGE!!! Outstanding. Very glad that she’s gonna be sticking around here. Her talking skills can’t really be denied, and she definitely has a very strong presence on the mic. This is a home run choice.

Robert O’Neill: Yeah this is awesome. Everyone was expecting Hogan or Jarrett, so this was kind of out of nowhere. It’s awesome to see her still being utilized.

Chris Novak: Paige says she wants to give the fans a night they won’t ever forget. So she announces that Daniel Bryan will compete for the first time on TV in three years… AGAINST AJ STYLES! Oh my God, I need a cigarette already.

Robert O’Neill: New Day/Usos #234728937 is a go! I’m not complaining, either. These two should fight forever. They’re two of the 10 best tag teams in WWE history.

Chris Novak: Two things could happen here… a call-up interferes, or The New Day win and essentially write The Usos off of SDL. Time will tell to see how this plays out. Anyhow, The Usos wound up winning. Them and New Day delivered yet again, as if that’s a surprise. Bludgeon Brothers came out and pointed their mallets at The Usos. INTIMIDATION~!!!!~!~!

Chris Novak: Nattie and Naomi had a verbal spat backstage earlier today, so now they’re going to be in a match. Hoping this is more than passable.

Robert O’Neill: It won’t be. Natalya sucks.

Chris Novak: Hahahahahaha, that Nakamura interview was just TREMENDOUS!

Robert O’Neill: Anyways, here’s Charlotte! She’s talkin’ about her match and what not and OH MY GOD IT’S THE ICONIC DUO

Chris Novak: Peyton and Billie cut a promo, running Charlotte down. They knocked that out of the park and then some. Then they proceed to beat the absolute hell out of Charlotte and leave her laying in the ring… AND THAT’S CARMELLA’S MUSIC!! She cashed in and kicked Charlotte in the head, and got the pin fall! Carmella’s the new SmackDown Live Women’s Champion!

Robert O’Neill: For as much shit as they got for seemingly not having a plan for Carmella’s eventual cash-in, that was excellent.

Chris Novak: Extremely happy for Carmella, who seems like a genuinely good person.

Robert O’Neill: Wow, Smackdown is taking place on Rusev Day. What are the odds?

Chris Novak: So, Rusev, Bobby Roode and Randy Orton are facing off to see who faces Jinder Mahal at Backlash for the United States Championship. This match is, pretty much, going as expected. And Randy Orton wins. They’ve managed to bungle this not once, but twice in three days!

Robert O’Neill: I generally don’t criticize booking, but yeah they’re being really stupid with Rusev.

Chris Novak: AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan are, really, for real, wrestling on TV. In 2018. First-run. This is incredible stuff.

Robert O’Neill: Good lord that was awesome to watch. And Nakamura interfering to make it a no-contest was awesome. I’m gonna like heel Nak,

Chris Novak: Heel Nakamura already looks awesome. This is exciting stuff!

Quick Results

Usos d. New Day
Naomi d. Natalya
Carmella d. Charlotte to win the Smackdown Women’s Championship
Randy Orton d. Bob Roode and Rusev
Daniel Bryan d. AJ Styles (DQ)

Final Thoughts

Robert O’Neill: I’ll be honest, I thought I wasn’t going to like Smackdown this week. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. I had just watched like 25 hours of wrestling content in the past week and was worried about burnout. It didn’t come though. Smackdown delivered and then some. Sure, Natalya having a match was stupid, and I’m not at all looking forward to Jinder/Orton #238579, but there was more good than bad here. Heel Nak, Iconic Duo, Paige as GM, Bryan/Styles, it all worked for me. I’m interested in seeing what happens next week in the shakeup. A-

Chris Novak: SmackDown Live hit it out of the park, besides the whole Jinder/Orton screwup. Everything about this show hit the right notes. The Iconic Duo look like absolute STARS on their first night and Carmella’s moment was fun. Bryan/Styles was better than Nakamura/Styles from the weekend, and even after three years, Bryan looks like the best wrestler in the world again. What a time to be alive. A-

NXT Takeover Philadelphia results

Andrade Cien Almas retains NXT Championship over Johnny Gargano

The best men's single's match in NXT history, maybe the best ever (I was there for Sasha-Bayley I so there's bias at play). Almas and Gargano have incredible chemistry in the ring. The pacing on this one was fast, with reversals and near falls galore.

NXT has done a brilliant job of building Gargano into the biggest babyface the brand has ever had, and every close fall made you even more invested in wanting to see him win. Zelina Vega got involved a few times, even hitting Johnny with a hurricanrana!!! Wifey Candice LeRae was having none of it and chased her from the ring. Philly erupted when Gargano got a near fall with the Slingshot and then he slapped the Escape on Andrade but he found the ropes. Almas later sent Johnny to CTE Medical Center with double knees to the ring post before putting him to bed with a DDT.

I haven't immediately rewinded a match that quickly in so long... not even for Omega-Jericho. This was an all-time classic, and the most-anticipated return of Ciampa sets up what's gonna be a wild ride to Takeover New Orleans.

Robert: Good lord. There’s so much to unpack about this match, I could go on for pages upon pages.

For starters, I have no reservations in saying it was the best NXT match of all time. That’s right. It beat Bayley and Sasha Banks’ Brooklyn epic in my eyes. In fact, it was the best WWE match since John Cena and CM Punk at the Rosemont Horizon back in 2011.

Literally everything about this match worked for me. Zelina Vega was eventually counteracted and equalized by Gargano’s wife, Candice LeRae, and every single near fall in the final ten minutes of the match (which went 32 minutes, by the way) felt like it was going to be THE ONE. The crowd made the match even better, living and dying with everything Gargano did.

Gargano was already a star heading into the night, but he’s a superstar now, even in the loss. Almas, on the other hand, was a perfectly good wrestler coming into the night that had lacked a big NXT moment. Not anymore. To top it all off, Tomasso Ciampa hit Gargano with a crutch at the top of the ramp to end the night. It was absolutely perfect storytelling.

Aleister Black defeats Adam Cole

Pierce: Black and Cole put on a war of an Extreme Rules match. These two took some insane spots - off tables, ladders, chairs, oh my! Adam Cole is tremendous to be able to take some of the bumps that he did. The dual chair spot is a backbreaker, so hopefully the MDMA Shawn Michaels comparisons don't become factual.

Black hit a diiiiirrrtttyyyy double knee takedown through the announce table, and after the two superkicked the shit out of one another, Black caught Cole napping for the 1-2-3. Aleister Black is a future WWE Champion and Adam Cole should captain NXT for the foreseeable future.

Robert: An extreme rules match in Philadelphia was always going to have a ton of hype to live up to, but this did it. In 2018 WWE where headshots and other overly dangerous weapon spots are (rightfully) banned, you have to get creative. And they sure did that.

Black had the upper hand before Cole superkicked him off the top rope through two tables. Black got back in the ring and got the upper hand again, but Undisputed Era came out to help Cole. Sanity took down Fish and O’Reilly, and Black stomped Cole through the announce table for the eventual win. It seemed like the penultimate match would once again be the match of the night, a Takeover staple at this point. But…

Ember Moon retains NXT Women's Championship over Shayna Baszler

Pierce: The right story was told throughout the match. Shayna demolished her opponent to near submission, but Moon - who hasn't had that moment where the fans can get behind her - showed resilience and pinned Baszler's shoulders to the mat for the pin.

Afterwards, Shayna took the champ out. The storytelling makes this match; Ember gets her empathetic victory, Shayna establishes herself as the baddest bitch in NXT and next in line for the title. Shoutout to Philly for keeping with kayfabe on the Dallas hate.

Robert: The first (only?) real shock of the night. A lot was made about Ember’s character coming into the match, as she has yet to really been the babyface that people can get behind. That changed in a hurry as Baszler dominated most of the match, targeting Ember’s arm and looking to cinch the armbar and win the title. Even when she eventually locked it in, Ember fought through it for what seemed like minutes, and rolled Shayna up for the win.

Shayna will probably get the upper hand in New Orleans, but this was a big step for Ember’s progression.

Velveteen Dream defeats Kassius Ohno

Pierce: Dream is 23 and will be a WWE Champ by 26. He's got IT! with a bold capital exclamation point. Excellent awareness to come out to the ring with the purple airbrushed rocky fit. It was a sloppy match but it doesn't have to be perfect to be compelling. A talent like Dream can make a sloppy match matter. Also, can we get Dream and Jalen Ramsey to be the new Billy and Chuck?

Robert: This was awesome. From the crowd counting to 30 in response to Dream saying he would knock Ohno out in 30 seconds, to Dream actually doing it, to Ohno getting back up and beating the hell out of him for a while, to Dream eventually winning by jumping from the ringpost to the middle of the ring to hit the Purple Rainmaker. Things got a little sloppy towards the end, but it was a ton of fun. Dream is going to be a star, and probably soon.

Undisputed ERA (Kyle O'Reilly and Bobby Fish) retain NXT Tag Team Championship over Authors of Pain

Pierce: Par for the course. I loved the finish. AOP's finisher collapsing in what should be their last match in developmental is how they should go out. Undisputed ERA is just passing time until all three are holding gold.

Robert The one big takeaway from this match is that the Authors of Pain are ready for their WWE call-up. This was an awesome way to open the show, as both teams had the crowd behind them in a huge way. The ending was a little sloppy, but I liked how AOP’s resistance on double team moves eventually did them in. It seems like just a matter of time before Fish/O’Reilly/Adam Cole all have titles.

Quick Notes

War Machine, Richochet and EC 3 are here. NXT just got a whole helluva lot stronger on the road to Takeover NOLA.

(All photos courtesy of WWE)