07th Oct2020

‘NXT Takeover 31’ PPV Review (Oct 4th 2020)

by Chris Cummings

It’s easy to look forward to a TakeOver show, because time has taught us that way more often than not these events are packed with drama, action and lots of wrestling. NXT TakeOver 31, taking place at the newly renamed and remodeled into the Capitol Wrestling Center, a tribute to Jess McMahon and Vince McMahon Sr, a respectful nod to the roots of where WWE, and NXT, began. With fans on LED boards (much like the Thunderdome) and pods featuring groups of fans, this was a new look in a year filled with shows that take another step forward in adapting to how we currently are all living. NXT TakeOver 31 was, as is the case most of the time, a five match card, with three of the NXT Championships on the line.

Match 1: Damien Priest (c) versus Johnny Gargano – NXT North American Title Match.

Gargano, a fully fledged heel, and Priest, a newly appointed babyface, have been feuding on NXT TV for a few weeks, since Priest won the ladder match for the vacant North American Championship (after former Champion Keith Lee vacated the belt). This was a top notch opener here. Something I always love about NXT TakeOver events is the way they attempt to set the bar high right away with opening matches that are often breathtaking, exciting and action-packed. This was a good one, with Gargano taking a beating but still finding ways to slime his way back. Gargano is a wonderful seller, and I wasn’t sure how his style would work as a heel back when he turned, but it does. He has jumped fully into the role, and comes off as an arrogant, whiny fella who just happens to be incredibly talented. Priest is a great big-man, both agile and powerful, and these two styles meshed very well here. The classic storytelling as well as the contemporary ring-work made for a really good start to the show. In the end, Priest reversed a slingshot DDT from Gargano to put Johnny Wrestling away with The Reckoning, his reverse spinning DDT. A clean finish to a clean opening bout.

Winner (and still NXT North American Champion): Damien Priest

Match 2: Velveteen Dream versus KUSHIDA – Singles Match.

This was a match I was a little confused about them having on the show, but without going into the controversies surrounding that, I’ll just talk about the actual match-up. The feud, which built in the couple of weeks previous, has been a way to help build up KUSHIDA as a bigger and more serious threat in NXT. The talented Tokyo veteran has a lot to give, so this could be the first step in him becoming a bigger name on the brand. This was a back and forth match with the two selling for each other and hitting high spots and signature moves. An enjoyable thirteen minute bout, KUSHIDA continuously worked on Dream’s arm to set him up for his “Hoverboard Lock”, a Kamura-lock style armbar, which he would, by reversing Dream’s “Dream Valley Driver” to win the match by tap-out. A strong and decisive victory for KUSHIDA, the post-match saw KUSHIDA continue his beating on Velveteen Dream, grasping the arm-lock further on to his opponent as referees attempted to stop the assault. This appears to be a heel-turn for KUSHIDA, which would, I believe, be the first time he has worked as a heel in his fifteen year career. Interesting stuff.

Winner: KUSHIDA

Match 3: Santos Escobar (c) versus Isaiah “Swerve” Scott – NXT Cruiserweight Title Match.

Next up was the first time the Cruiserweight Title has been defended on a TakeOver show, as Champion Santos Escobar defended his title against Isaiah “Swerve” Scott. A high-flying and exciting fifteen minute clash, this was excellent. Swerve is a hugely talented wrestler, able to do some magnificent and outstanding things in the ring, and Escobar is wonderful in his current role as a leader of the faction, Legado Del Fantasma. He’s confident, cocky, smooth and cruel, all the traits for a strong heel. The action here went back and forth, with each man getting a chance to show their capabilities. From dives, springboards, submissions and mat-wrestling, it was a showcase for both Swerve and Escobar. Interference from Escobar’s stable-mates Joaquin Wilde and Raul Mendoza also led to a stunning sequence featuring Scott hitting a frankensteiner onto Escobar on the top rope, sending him flying out of the ring and onto his crew. Swerve came close to victory here, close to becoming the new Cruiserweight Champion, and when he hit a 450 Splash perfectly on Santos Escobar it looked like he was about to win, but Escobar kicked out, and the finish saw Swerve fall backwards on the ring apron and hit his head on the ringpost which allowed the Champion a chance to put Scott away with his shoulder-breaker finish. Entertaining and riveting, these two have chemistry and I’d like to see them work more together.

Winner (and still NXT Cruiserweight Champion): Santos Escobar

Match 4: Candice LeRae versus Io Shirai (c) – NXT Women’s Championship Match.

Most fans will know just how great Candice LeRae is, so it was great to see her get another big shot at some gold in NXT, and the chemistry that LeRae and the Champion, Io Shirai, have together is something truly special, as we’ve seen before on both NXT TV and past TakeOver shows. This time around, LeRae is the villain, the Poison Pixie of NXT, she’s been a riot as the heel, working on TV with her also-villainous hubby Johnny Gargano. Io Shirai has now formed into an edgy babyface character, not dissimilar to who she was a few months ago, but just working against heels now. This was, as expected, another top class encounter between these two brilliantly talented performers. For over fifteen minutes they beat the heck out of each other, with LeRae doing all she could to attempt to win that Title. Shirai has been a great Champion, but if I’m honest, I was cheering for Candice a bit more here. I feel like she really deserved that opportunity as holding the gold. Still, I am a Shirai fan, as most wrestling fans are, so it’s easy to like whatever outcome here. LeRae was dominant for much of the match and when her husband, Gargano, interfered in the closing moments it looked like Candice was going to cheat her way to victory, but things didn’t go to plan, and the fortunes of LeRae went south, with Shirai hitting her patented moonsault finisher to put away Candice Wrestling in a fantastic battle. This was good, and a rematch is surely on the cards I hope. Post-match, after The Garganos angrily left the ringside area, we saw Toni Storm, former NXT UK Women’s Champion and Mae Young Classic winner, appear on the big screen at the Capitol Wrestling Center, and give a friendly warning to Shirai, saying she’s coming back to NXT. This was cool, Storm is great so it will be nice to see another talent injected into the already sterling women’s division. Things didn’t stop there, though, when the reveal of the mysterious biker vignettes from previous weeks was upon us. For a while we’ve seen promos for a return to NXT of an unknown talent, someone saying they were “coming back home”. As Shirai stood in the ring, a helmeted person came onto the stage, only to remove said helmet and show themselves as former NXT Women’s Champion Ember Moon. This was a great thing to see. There were concerns that Ember had suffered a career ending injury, so the fact that she’s back in NXT, where she began her WWE career, is fantastic. Another amazing talent to add to that big long list. NXT’s women’s division just gets better and better.

Winner (and still NXT Women’s Champion): Io Shirai

Match 5: Finn Balor (c) versus Kyle O’Reilly – NXT Championship Match.

Finn Balor won the vacant NXT Title a few weeks ago when the man who beat Keith Lee, Karrion Kross, had to give up his title after suffering an injury. Balor now sits atop the mountain again in NXT, the brand that he helped make famous back in the day. It’s a cool story, but not quite as cool as the story of Kyle O’Reilly making his way to this main event. O’Reilly, as we know, has been a tag-team wrestler for his time in NXT and a while prior to that. He, along with either Bobby Fish or Roderick Strong, has held Tag Titles in NXT and worked some of the best tag matches in the brands history. It was surprising, then, when O’Reilly had a chance to, and won, a shot at Balor and the NXT Title a few weeks back. The possibilities of where the match could lead, for O’Reilly and his career, for Balor and for the future of The Undisputed Era, made this something interesting and exciting. O’Reilly, in my view, has been one of the best, most consistent and exciting talents to watch for many years, and I was so happy to see him get this shot. The match was fantastic, too. Almost half an hour in length, this told a story that felt very old-school. The match built slowly, creating drama, allowing the more powerful and singles-experiences Balor to gain the upper hand for much of the time, as O’Reilly, the hard-working veteran who wants more for his career, scraped and clawed his way back from apparent failures, kicking out of whatever Balor threw at him. O’Reilly worked submissions on Finn, trying to tire and injure the Champion. It was masterful storytelling. Balor hit a kick on the midsection of O’Reilly, which was the beginning of the end, as O’Reilly sold the gut-shot like he’d been shot. Kicking out of the 1916 DDT, to Balor’s shock and disgust. Balor, here, worked in a heel role, while O’Reilly appeared as the valiant underdog hero, and it was strange, but something I really liked. In the end, O’Reilly couldn’t get Balor to submit to the knee-clutch that he’d been working on for much of the match, and Balor hit his Coup de Grace to pick up the victory, as both men appeared exhausted and beaten after the bell. This was a fantastic bout between two great talents, and I really hope this is just the birth of Kyle O’Reilly as a main event level singles star in NXT. He has all the tools and he showed here that, given the chance, he can really do something special with the top of the card. Post-match, as O’Reilly was nursing his injuries, we saw British wrestler Ridge Holland come to ringside with Adam Cole over his shoulder. He dumped Cole at ringside before leaving, as The Undisputed Era ran out to attend to their fallen leader. Balor appeared confused in the ring. This was a strange but kinda intriguing close to another excellent TakeOver event.

Winner (and still NXT Champion): Finn Balor

So there you have it, NXT TakeOver 31. It was a show in which not one match was poor. Every match was either good, very good or great, with a fantastic Women’s Title clash, a fantastic Cruiserweight battle, a fun opener and a brilliant and dramatic main event. What more could you really want from a night of professional wrestling?

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