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NXT TakeOver36 preview: The Undisputed Finale

Editor's Note: The following is an opinion-based preview and reflects that of the writer and not of our website.

So, a lot has happened since we last shared some internet space, hasn’t it?

Saying NXT is "just going through it" undersells what’s been happening, especially when a realistic possibility is the brand not existing in a few months. What has happened over the past few weeks that makes anyone feel good about the future of NXT? Was it their champion being jobbed out on Raw? Was it the swaths of releases that touched every part of the card? Was it the cancelling of the pre-TakeOver media call? Or was it when this site reported that Triple H is being blamed internally for "losing the war" with AEW? Everything seems bad!

All of this makes it tough to get invested in both these matches and these characters. Are they even going to be around? Will the show even be live, pal? There are a whole bunch of questions and scarily, very few answers. This whole thing feels like going to a wedding when you’re in the middle of breaking up with your significant other. You wear a big smile, pose for some pictures, and act like everything is okay, but on the inside, everything hurts and you’re dying.

This Sunday's NXT TakeOver has to put on a brave face and pretend like everything is just fine. They will blow off a long-term feud and maybe even have some titles change hands -- anything to distract from the band softly playing in the background. This might not be the actual end, but NXT as we know it is going to look fundamentally different in the immediate future.

Anyway, let’s preview the card like nothing is wrong. They're about to cut the cake!

Million Dollar Champion LA Knight vs. Cameron Grimes (w/ Ted DiBiase) title match

The stipulation here is that if Grimes loses, DiBiase must become Knight’s butler.

Grimes, God love him, is doing absolutely everything in his power to make this whole thing work. Our guy getting a corny butler gimmick over in 2021 is proof that God exists and that he doesn’t totally hate us. 

Knight continues to be a perfectly acceptable foil for Grimes and that's probably all he will ever be. He’s got the whole gimmick down pat and his skills on the stick really can’t be questioned. He might not be for everyone, but denying either his usefulness or his talent is simply lying to yourself.

Did DiBiase really come back to be a recurring TV butler? This whole program probably could have been blown off at a regular episode of NXT TV, but hey, who knows how many more of those will even exist? Grimes gets the win, and his freedom, this weekend. 

NXT UK Champion WALTER vs. Ilja Dragunov title match

There is so much intrigue here and so much promise, but if someone is becoming a star on NXT UK, does anyone care? The United Kingdom version of NXT is fine, I guess. If something compelling happens, maybe I’ll seek it out. Maybe I won’t. That is a very polite way of saying that I hardly ever watch it.

When I do watch, it’s for one of these two guys, particularly Dragunov. What a manic, frantic, and captivating presence he is and someone well worth all of our eyeballs. There’s certainly no one else like him in all of WWE. His energy and style are unmatched and wholly unique. It feels like that if he stops or slows down, even for a second, it’s all over for him. Everything that he is, everything that he stands for, all goes away. He can’t let up. He won’t let up. This is all he has.

WALTER, on the other hand, requires less of an introduction even though he more than deserves one. A singular entity in wrestling, not unlike his opponent this weekend, the Ring General is a generational performer. No wrestler makes their audience wince quite like WALTER. His signature move is as basic as it gets -- it’s the peanut butter sandwich of moves. But, my God, does it feel like the most powerful move in wrestling. His chop forces souls out of their bodies. He’s as good as it gets and Dragunov isn’t far off. Their last match was preposterous and my hopes are sky high for this rematch.

Dragunov is the only wrestler on the roster that can make a compelling case to beat WALTER, the guy who ate Pete Dunne’s lunch a few years ago and has largely been unchallenged since. If he doesn’t lose now, when does he lose? He’s held the belt for 865+ days. He’s established it as a title that means something, but he loses it on Sunday.

NXT Women's Champion Raquel Gonzalez vs. Dakota Kai title match

I personally love it if my champions believe that a normal presidential election was fraudulent. I love it even more if they really, really, wish they could have been at the "peaceful protests" at the US Capitol. The last few years have, if nothing else, proven just how badly people want to show you who they really are. In a vacuum, that is wonderful. We should all try to be our full, authentic selves at all times. I just wish that when people go full mask off, that the person underneath was a little more accepting. That’s all.

Kai is great, though, and it’s beyond time for her to get her shine at the top of the card. The timing has just never been quite right for the captain of Team Kick. But that’s showbiz, baby. Sometimes there is someone bigger, someone better, or someone with more of a name brand running the division. But not anymore. Shirai, for reasons that are entirely unclear, is off doing something else. Rhea Ripley isn’t around anymore. Gonzalez’ reign has been fairly underwhelming.

There has never been a better time for Kai to have a legit run at the top. She can work, she can talk, she resonates with the crowd, and her character is stronger than ever. She’s always had it all, just without the recognition. I wish I could say she gets that recognition this weekend, but I don't think that’s in the cards. She’s already jobbing out to Aliyah on WWE Main Event. Gonzalez stays champ.

NXT Champion Karrion Kross (w/ Scarlett) vs. Samoa Joe title match

Joe is so back and I am so happy. I am over the moon that the big man is returning to the ring for the first time since October 2020. You should be, too! We should all be happy that someone who is great at what they do is getting the chance to be great at what they do. It’s a beautiful thing. I love consuming content that starts off positive before taking a hard, hard left. Okay, here comes the hard left: even with Joe being one of the best wrestlers of the modern era, this match is extremely not it.

This match isn't interesting because of anything related to Joe. The only reason that this match has any level of intrigue surrounding it is because of Joe. I have made it 10+ sentences in this section and have yet to mention the actual champion in the match. There is a reason for that and it isn’t surprising and it isn’t anything you haven’t heard before. The reason the champion hasn’t come up, is because the champion is boring. The champion does not make you want to tune in. The champion is not great. The champion is milquetoast replaceable wrestler #328 and has all the hallmarks:

  • Muscle guy with tattoos
  • Pretty woman accompanies him to the ring
  • Is a "real fighter"
  • Likes suplexes 
  • Has a thesaurus and is really excited for you to know that

His name is Karrion Kross and he is the NXT champion. Strip the name and entrance away and what is there? Someone who is outclassed at every turn by just about everyone and someone who makes you feel empty inside. Wrestling’s purpose, if it's being done well, is to make the audience feel something. And I ask you, my dear and precious readers, what does Karrion Kross make you feel other than a yearning for someone, anyone, better?

Sometimes I use my big dumb brain to make these predictions. I just look at what’s been on my TV and connect the dots. Former WWE writer Kaz from The Masked Man Show says something that has always stuck with me: WWE shows you what they’re going to do before they do it. He’s right. Would Joe really come back to lose? Would Kross really stay the champ and wrestle on Monday night? Sure doesn’t seem like it! Kross goes away, and Joe is here to stay as the new NXT Champion.

Kyle O’Reilly vs. Adam Cole 2-out-of-3 falls

One way or the other, it’s all over this weekend.

Removing the uncertainty around NXT’s future, this has to be the end of Cole in NXT. Whether that involves him moving to Raw or Smackdown or to another company entirely, this has to be it. He has accomplished everything possible in NXT and then some. If the list of greatest male NXT performers starts with Finn Balor (which it certainly does) Cole is right behind him. In terms of match quality, he’s even ahead of him.

Balor's most recent run was an incredible stretch of matches. But Cole’s entire career has been matches like that. He has elevated every program he has been in and made them feel like the most important thing on the card. I love Kyle O’Reilly, you love Kyle O’Reilly, heck we all love Kyle O’Reilly, but if he’s in there with anyone other than Cole, how closely are we actually watching?

Kyle, I’m sorry, and I love you. You know that already, but I still feel compelled to state it publicly for the entire world to see. The talent has never been in question, but we certainly need to question the presentation. He had all the momentum in the world after the Great American Bash and then...nothing. He won some inconsequential matches, cut some unremarkable and kind of weird promos and got some egregiously bad entrance music. Those things do not a star make.

Cole staying would truly be a shock. Every report about Cole, the human, is that he is a sensational person who stayed well past his contract expiration to help the company. He’s about to help his IRL pal O’Reilly by giving him the biggest win of his career and leaving NXT on his back.