Fans of World Wrestling Entertainment have a lot of choices in 2018. In an average week, they can watch three hours of Raw on Monday, two hours of Smackdown on Tuesday, one hour of 205 Live on Tuesdays after Smackdown, and one hour of NXT on Wednesdays. That’s seven hours on average, not even including other shows like Main Event or recap shows like This Week in WWE. I’m not going to mention other wrestling promotions, but companies like New Japan Pro Wrestling and Ring of Honor are also putting on incredible shows on a regular basis.
During a week like this one, WWE is also producing NXT Takeover Chicago on Saturday night, which usually runs for about 2.5 hours, but it could make its way to three hours because the last Takeover went a few minutes past the three hour mark. Money in the Bank is on Sunday, which has an expected run time of about four hours. Add in the one-hour Kickoff Show, and you can make it five hours. That’s 15 hours all together that WWE might expect their fans to watch. It’s not realistic to expect every WWE fan to watch all of that.
If you could only watch one of those shows, the best one of the bunch is clearly NXT Takeover Chicago and I’m here to tell you why. I’m a huge fan of the NXT brand, which started about six years ago and really took off in February 2014 when WWE Network was launched. Last month here at The Comeback, I wrote about some current NXT stars that can be huge stars on the main roster and many of them have big matches at NXT Takeover Chicago.
The WWE NXT brand is run by Triple H, who is Vince McMahon’s son in law and the husband of Stephanie McMahon. Triple H took over as WWE’s head of talent relations in 2012, which essentially means he would be like a General Manager of a sports team. Shortly after taking over, WWE built the Performance Center in Orlando that they use to train their wrestlers, including those in NXT. The creative decisions in NXT are made by Triple H and his team, while what you see on Raw and Smackdown is still run by Vince McMahon. A lot of hardcore WWE fans that love NXT praise Triple H for what he’s done with the brand while wondering if the main roster product would be better if Triple H was in charge. Who knows? All we can do for now is continue to enjoy the NXT product while hoping the main roster shows get better soon.
I’ll offer up some predictions for NXT Takeover Chicago at the bottom of this post, but first, let’s get to those five reasons why you need to be watching NXT Takeover.
5. NXT Takeover always leaves us wanting more
The card for NXT Takeover Chicago is pretty good, although there are two names missing from it – NXT North American Champion Adam Cole and EC3. Cole won the NXT NA Title in an incredible 30+ minute ladder match at the last NXT Takeover event in New Orleans that EC3 was also a part of. You would think that WWE would make it a point to get Cole on the Takeover Chicago card, but as of this writing, he’s not even a part of it.
When it comes to EC3, I think highly of him as a guy that is ready to be a main eventer on the main roster. He really doesn’t “need” to be in NXT, but if he’s going to be there, then he needs to be featured more.
Are there wrestlers in NXT that are upset that they aren’t on a Takeover card? Probably, but NXT is like a team where everybody roots for the others. Women like Alexa Bliss and Carmella didn’t wrestle at a single Takeover when they were in NXT, yet they are thriving on the main roster. It just shows how deep the roster is.
The reason I included this point is to simply say that when you can leave the fans wanting to see more and wondering why certain people were left off the show, that’s the sign of an interesting product.
4. Five Takeover events per year allows for better storytelling than what the main roster does
There are currently five NXT Takeover events scheduled for the 2018 calendar year, with all of them taking place on Saturday nights during the weekends of major WWE events. Those events are Royal Rumble in January, WrestleMania in April, Money in the Bank in June, SummerSlam in August, and Survivor Series in November. It’s possible that WWE could add another event this year, but most likely it’s going to be five events in a year.
On the main roster, which has nearly 100 people combined on Raw and Smackdown, you get one major pay-per-view per month. In past years, WWE tried doing 14, 16, or 18 PPVs in a year, but they have settled on doing just 12 PPVs this year. Is it for the best or is it too much? There’s no right answer to that question.
By having more time between shows, it allows NXT to properly build up a matchup like Ricochet vs. Velveteen Dream. They have been talking trash about eachother for two months coming off the NXT Takeover New Orleans event. They have also wrestled at many live events over the past two months, so I’m sure by the time Saturday night gets here they will do everything to impress us.
Look at current NXT Champion Aleister Black as another example of taking the time to build matches up and characters into huge stars. If WWE rushed putting the title on him, it would have hurt him. However, they waited until NXT Takeover New Orleans to do it. That was the perfect time for him.
A big problem with last month’s WWE Backlash event, which was one of the worst PPVs in years, was the lack of a build to a lot of matches. There just wasn’t a lot of interest in most of that card. For NXT Takeover events, you don’t really have that problem.
3. Five matches on a card gives the talent more time to have better matches
Here were the match times for the five matches on the last NXT Takeover event in New Orleans two months ago during WrestleMania weekend: 31:24, 12:56, 11:38, 18:30, and 37:06. That’s an average of about 22 minutes per match. You can’t find any main roster WWE event in the history of the company that could come close to that.
I’m not going to say that every show should have long matches and that every match needs to go 20 minutes. However, they seem to get it right every time during NXT Takeover events.
Let’s compare NXT Takeover Chicago to Money in the Bank in terms of matches. NXT Takeover has five matches announced for a show that may run three hours, so it’s likely that the average match time will be around 20 minutes or more. Meanwhile, Money in the Bank has nine matches on the main card (the Smackdown Tag Team Title match is on the Kickoff Show) that will run 3.5 to four hours. There will probably be two or three matches at MITB that get over twenty minutes, but some of the other matches will be cut short due to time.
While a longer match doesn’t always mean a better match, it is something most wrestlers would prefer because it gives them a chance to tell more of a story. No wrestler wants to be cut short on time, but it happens especially on the main roster. At NXT Takeover events, everything that needs to go long is given the time. That’s what makes these shows so fun.
2. The NXT crowd is more vocal than nearly every crowd for the main roster
Being in the crowd at a NXT event is a nice reminder of why we became wrestling fans in the first place. It’s unlike anything else in the business.
I have attended two NXT Takeover events. The first one was in October 2015 at Full Sail University in Orlando because I wanted to fly all the way across the country (I live near Toronto) to witness an NXT event and a TV taping with that crowd. It was a such a fun night where we ended up standing up for about 20 minutes of the 30 minute Ironman match that saw Bayley retain the NXT Women’s Title against her rival Sasha Banks.
In November 2016, I went to the NXT Takeover event in Toronto during Survivor Series weekend. That show was incredible with the #DIY team of Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa (in happier days) beating The Revival in an epic Tag Team Title match that is probably the best match I’ve ever seen in person. The crowd was loud all night. I’ll never forget it. One night later at Survivor Series, most of the card was boring and the crowd was only loud for a few matches while leaving in a disappointed manner when the main event of Lesnar vs. Goldberg was so short.
The clip above is one minute of the crowd booing Tommaso Ciampa heavily. Keep in mind that NXT fans are the most hardcore “smart” fans in wrestling, yet they boo this man like the scum of the Earth because of the storyline that WWE is telling with him and his rival Johnny Gargano. Nobody on the main roster can get booed like that…except maybe Roman Reigns in a WrestleMania main event and it’s not like WWE wants the crowd to react that way. In Ciampa’s case, this is the desired reaction, which is another example of how much fun it is to watch and attend a NXT event.
If you watch a NXT Takeover event and a WWE main roster event, the crowd at the NXT is always going to be louder the whole show. There will be some guys on the main roster that can elicit a loud reaction, but a lot of Raw and Smackdown events are in front of quiet crowds too because there are just not a lot of interesting characters right now.
1. Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa is the best feud in WWE in the past decade
The best feud in WWE right now is easily a rivalry between two cruiserweight wrestlers that doesn’t involve a title: Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa. It’s been a long story between them with having success as a tag team, then one year ago in Chicago, Ciampa attacked Gargano after they failed to win back the Tag Team Titles. Ciampa missed about eight months of action with a Torn ACL and when he came back, he cost Gargano a chance to win the NXT Title. That led to their five star match at NXT Takeover New Orleans that was the best WWE match during WrestleMania weekend.
There’s nothing about this feud that is different from other traditional wrestling feuds. It’s basic stuff with two guys as a team, they break up, one guy becomes a bitter jerk, the other guy is robbed of winning a major title, and this Saturday at Takeover Chicago, we get to see them have another brutal match that will be one of the best of the year.
Gargano vs. Ciampa is going to be remembered as one of the best NXT rivalries ever. The only one that I would rank as being at the same level in NXT history is Bayley vs. Sasha Banks from 2015, because that was exceptional and also elevated women’s wrestling in WWE.
There’s really nothing else on the main roster this decade that is close to it. I would go back ten years ago to Chris Jericho vs. Shawn Michaels in 2008 as a long, personal rivalry with great matches that could compare to Gargano vs. Ciampa. CM Punk vs. Jeff Hardy in 2009 was also outstanding.
I’m not sure when Gargano vs. Ciampa will end or if this rivalry will be taken to the main roster and given the bigger spotlight. All I know is I’m going to enjoy it while it’s here, because this is the kind of storyline that reminds us why pro wrestling at its best can continue to be a huge success.
Predictions for NXT Takeover Chicago
Here are my picks for the advertised five match card.
NXT Championship: Aleister Black (c) vs. Lars Sullivan – I expect Black to retain. I’m sure WWE management is high on Sullivan because of his size, but he doesn’t feel like a huge star to me. Black should keep his title while having a feud later in the year with a better heel like Velveteen Dream, EC3, Adam Cole or Ciampa.
Chicago Street Fight: Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa – This is not for a title, but it should be the main event for the second straight Takeover. I think because Gargano won the match at the last Takeover, it makes sense to have Ciampa get the win here. That can lead to a third and perhaps final match at the next Takeover during SummerSlam weekend. You could also move these two into a triple threat with Black at that show too.
Ricochet vs. Velveteen Dream – I’m intrigued by this match because of the excitement of Ricochet while Dream continues to develop at a fast pace and has the makings of being a major star one day soon. It would be fine if either man won because there’s a lot to like about both, but I’m going with Dream due to being in NXT longer and his need for a big win like this. This should be a lot of fun with a really hot crowd.
NXT Tag Team Championships: The Undisputed Era – Kyle O’Reilly and Roderick Strong (c) vs. Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch – It’s nice to see Lorcan and Burch on a Takeover show because they are hard workers. I think the Undisputed Era should retain. There’s no reason to take the titles off them right now.
NXT Women’s Championship: Shayna Baszler (c) vs. Nikki Cross – It’s another match where I can see it going either way. Cross is a bit of a loose cannon, which makes her unique while Baszler is more of a grounded submission wrestler. I think Baszler retains, but Cross beats her for the title at the next Takeover.
You can watch WWE NXT Takeover Chicago this Saturday on WWE Network at 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT. I’ll be back later in the week for some predictions for WWE’s Money in the Bank pay-per-view event.