After losing Shinsuke Nakamura to the main roster, NXT has been in somewhat of a rebuilding period; which is almost ironic, considering it’s originally meant to be a farm system. But the modern day NXT resembles less and less of a developmental subdivision and more of a bona fide independent organization, where ring vets from around the globe can come to hone their craft. Wrestlers like Bobby Roode, Kassius Ohno (Chris Hero), Hideo Itami, Roderick Strong, Andrade Almas, and Drew McIntyre now run the show. It’s a pretty impressive roster, but NXT has lost some momentum since the days of Sasha Banks and Kevin Owens.
It’s not all that surprising that NXT might have some difficulty maintaining a consistent fanbase. They have a die hard following, for sure. But some fans who loved the characters from the peak of NXT have to constantly lose their favorites to the main roster. It shouldn’t make too much of a difference, being all under the WWE umbrella, but the revolving door of talent leaves little for the casual fan to hold onto. This, of course, is what also makes NXT so unpredictable and unique.
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It’s only a matter of time before Asuka drops the NXT Women’s Championship and gets called up to Smackdown or Raw. It was also great to finally see some character development with Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano. Yes, DIY is no more. After being defeated by The Authors of Pain in the main event match for the NXT Tag Team Championship, Ciampa brutally assaulted his partner; and I couldn’t be happier. While they put on some great tag matches, the DIY personas never really caught fire. It will be interesting to see Ciampa’s heel side develop in coming weeks, and if the two will feud in NXT or go their separate ways on the main roster.
UK Championship; Tyler Bate and Pete Dunne
But, by far, the highlight of the night was the bout for the UK Championship between Pete Dunne and Tyler Bate. For anyone who followed the UK Tournament on the WWE Network, the in ring expertise of these two shouldn’t come as a shock. However, last night in Chicago, these two Brits tore the house down. In what has been hearing whispers of “Match of the Year candidate” from internet smarks, this match exceeded any expectations as the second match of the night. In the spirit of Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat at WrestleMania 3, this match once again proved that no matter where you are on the card, you can be the real main event. These two had clearly been working together for years, and even though Bate is only 20 years old, he showed the proficiency of a seasoned performer. Everything was perfectly crisp, smooth, and stiff and put the British style of wrestling on the map.This was a match that one can enjoy over and over again.
Alongside NXT chants of “This is awesome” and the less common “Fight forever,” the Chicago audience didn’t need to exaggerate their praise for the performers in the ring (as the Full Sail crowd is often wont to do). This match genuinely received more than one standing ovation, and several legitimate pops from yours truly. As a wrestling fan, these are the moments that you live for. Congratulations to Dunne for picking up the victory and winning the UK Championship, but also to both men for taking full advantage of an opportunity on TakeOver, cementing their value in the company, as well as making the new UK Division look like mandatory viewing.
In Joey Styles’ memorable worked shoot on Raw from the mid-2000s, he rightfully argued, “I’m not good enough to call Backlash?!”
Backlash has rarely been on anyone’s must see list. The Smackdown exclusive payperview usually suits its minor event status. Although, tonight may be a bit different. I’m actually pretty excited about tonight’s installment of Backlash, with unlikely title contenders Breezango and Jinder Mahal, and of course, the in-ring Smackdown debut of Shinsuke Nakamura. While the card doesn’t look so amazing on paper, this show is full of Superstars with something to prove. The Fashion Police have all the momentum in the world right now and might have the funniest segments in WWE at the moment. Jinder seems to slowly be finding comfort in his new position as a top heel in the company, and I’ll be curious to see how he performs under this new pressure.
Now, the King of Strong Style, Shinsuke Nakamura is sure to put on a fantastic performance. Dolph Ziggler is a great guy for him to work with and there’s no way either of them will squander the chance to have an unforgettable match. Even though the Championship will likely be the main event, the real attraction is Nakamura. He’s the sole Superstar feature on the Backlash poster and Backlash promos. Just Nakamura. It’s clear that WWE is investing a lot of stock into Shinsuke, and Ziggler needs to look his best as well. While the rest of Backlash looks like it will be up to snuff, the potential for an unforgettable match between Ziggler and Nakamura wafts in the chicago air.