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NXT TakeOver 31 Preview

Match graphic for Io Shirai Vs. Candice LeRae at NXT Takeover 31

NXT TakeOver returns for its 31st event this Sunday, presenting one of the strongest TakeOver cards of the year. Despite the vast shake-up of the NXT Championship picture due to Karrion Kross’s relinquishment of the title, NXT have managed to recover the ball and run with it – crowning Finn Balor a two-time champion shortly after by defeating former champion Adam Cole. Now, Cole’s Undisputed Era comrade Kyle O’Reilly looks to dethrone ‘The Prince’ in the main event.

Elsewhere on the card: Isaiah ‘Swerve’ Scott gets a second chance at Santos Escobar’s Cruiserweight title; ‘The Poison Pixie’ Candice LeRae hopes to defeat Io Shirai for the NXT Women’s Championship and a former champion of the black-and-gold brand is set to return.

It all takes place this Sunday, October 4th, live from the Capitol Wrestling Center within the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida at 12 am BST with the pre-show kicking off at 11:30 pm. Catch up with the full card and check out my predictions below:

A Champion Returns?

Over the last two weeks, NXT have unveiled video packages teasing the return of a former champion to the brand. The two videos have been short, but jam-packed with details for speculation over. At their core though, they explain the person is a former champion of the brand, that they consider NXT their home after going to RAW & SmackDown and that they believe the brand has changed for the worse since they left.

With all this in mind, discounting people who are currently active on the main roster, you can feasibly narrow it down to just two: Bo Dallas and Ember Moon. Moon is a former NXT Women’s Champion who would defintely have an attachment to the brand, but we’ve had no recent updates on her ‘potentially career-ending’ Achilles injury that’s kept her sidelined for over a year now. Therefore, I see the chances of her returning anytime soon – let alone to NXT – very slim.

That leaves us with Bo Dallas: The third-ever NXT Champion definitely fits the bill of an NXT original who sees the brand as their home. Dallas last appeared for the black-and-gold brand over six years ago and since his departure, NXT has changed wildly. There are more risky bets here if you include superstars who’ve been active on the main roster recently – such as Kevin Owens, Robert Roode and the former Chad Gable – but Dallas makes the most sense with all the information we’ve been given and hey, it would be nice for Bo to get a proper singles shot again.

Return: Bo Dallas

Kushida Vs. Velveteen Dream

Here’s a fun fact for you: Despite debuting in NXT over 17 months ago, this is Kushida’s very first NXT TakeOver match. ‘The Time Splitter’ has had somewhat of a stop-start career in WWE so far – the biggest highlight being a short TV feud with NXT UK Champion WALTER just under a year ago – but now, finally, he seems to be getting on track as he takes on NXT staple Velveteen Dream.

The two began feuding in August when Dream turned heel and attacked Kushida, after failing to qualify for the NXT North American Championship Ladder Match at TakeOver XXX. Kushida returned in kind, injuring Dream’s arm a few weeks later with a rope-assisted Cross Armbreaker. Dream then cost the six-time IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion a shot at the NXT Championship most recently, hitting a Dream Valley Driver and inadvertently allowing Bronson Reed to eliminate him from the bout. Kushida now looks to get even with Dream one last time.

From my perspective, Kushida desperately needs this win. This is his first real shot on a big stage and fans need a reason to believe he can credibly defeat big names, something which NXT has unfortunately dropped the ball with since his debut. This can thankfully be redeemed by having him defeat Dream in a hard-fought match as Dream has gone toe-to-toe with the likes of Aleister Black, Ricochet and Tommaso Ciampa. If anyone can give Kushida the kick-start he needs to push him to that next level, Dream is the man to do it.

Winner: Kushida

Santos Escobar (c) Vs. Isaiah ‘Swerve’ Scott (NXT Cruiserweight Championship)

Another first-time TakeOver appearance occurs in this bout as NXT Cruiserweight Champion Santos Escobar defends his title in his first-ever NXT TakeOver appearance. He takes on Isaiah ‘Swerve’ Scott who similarly has very little TakeOver experience, having only appeared on the pre-show of NXT TakeOver: WarGames III last November – losing to Angel Garza.

The two have one of the more long-standing feuds of the card, with the build dating all the way back to April. In the NXT Cruiserweight Champion Tournament, Swerve was the only competitor to defeat the leader of Legado Del Fantasma – whilst Escobar was still under his masked alias El Hijo Del Fantasma. So when Escobar was crowned the new champion, Swerve was naturally first in line for a shot but was defeated when Escobar used a loaded luchadore mask to knock the challenger out for the three count. Swerve managed to pin Escobar in a 6-Man Tag Street Fight a few weeks later however, earning him this title shot.

This is one of the harder matches to predict on the card, as there are positives and negatives to both outcomes. In fact, if not for a title change I’m predicting for later in the show, I would have predicted Swerve dethroning the Mexico City-native. However, I believe there’s more potential in Escobar remaining champion especially when you consider Swerve has been the only challenger during Escobar’s reign so far. With so many interesting stars in the Cruiserweight division, I believe Escobar has a long reign to come.

Winner: Santos Escobar

Damian Priest (c) Vs. Johnny Gargano (NXT North American Championship)

NXT’s resident rockstar seems to have finally found himself since becoming North American Champion. Damian Priest’s recent antics of hot tub diving and interviewer flirting has given him that little edge of sleaziness to make him that little bit more endearing. His opponent for TakeOver has also underwent huge changes in the last few months since turning heel, with Johnny Gargano delivering excellent self-referential promos with Candice LeRae in their ‘Dinner With The Garganos’ segments.

Priest and Gargano have been on a collision course ever since TakeOver XXX when Gargano had the North American title reign literally slip through his fingers when the Archer of Infamy managed to knock him off the ladder whilst grasping the title before Priest claimed the belt for himself. Both men head into NXT TakeOver 31 with heaps of momentum: Priest fresh off a successful title defence over Timothy Thatcher and Gargano having defeated Priest and Io Shirai alongside Candice on this week’s NXT.

This is yet another difficult to predict match. On one hand, Priest only became champion last TakeOver and has barely had a chance to flesh out his reign. On the other, Gargano is the most accomplished NXT Superstar in history, having competed at 18 different NXT TakeOvers and becoming the first ever NXT Triple Crown Champion last year. Priest has beaten big names before though, managing to get a win over the current NXT Champion at TakeOver: In Your House in June, and that – alongside the freshness of his championship reign – leads me to believe that he’ll find a way to keep Johnny Wrestling down and retain the title.

Winner: Damian Priest

Io Shirai (c) Vs. Candice LeRae (NXT Women’s Championship)

Candice LeRae’s heel turn has been one of NXT’s best developments over the last few months. Despite her legacy as one of the best female wrestlers in the world going into WWE, something just didn’t click with LeRae as a face. But now, finally, Candice is getting to show the world why exactly she’s regarded as one of the best. She challenges Io Shirai at TakeOver 31, who’s title reign has given a fresh coat of paint to the women’s division which has been somewhat held down by its over-reliance on very dominant champions in the last few years.

The longest tenured story of the entire card, LeRae and Shirai’s history dates all the way back to July 2019 when the former ‘Genius of the Sky’ turned heel by attacking LeRae after failing to capture the NXT Women’s Championship for a fourth time from then-champion Shayna Baszler – leading to a match of the year candidate between the two at that year’s NXT TakeOver Toronto. Now, 15 months later, the roles are reversed and the championship is on the line.

Here’s a bit of a long-shot prediction: Candice LeRae will be the new NXT Women’s Champion coming out of Sunday. Whilst there are still plenty of challengers for Io to face down the line, I think LeRae as champion offers both someone who’s as solid a wrestler as Io on top of being able to portray stronger character work – something which Io unfortunately struggles with due to the language barrier.

Winner: Candice LeRae

Finn Balor (c) Vs. Kyle O’Reilly (NXT Championship)

Finn Balor’s second NXT Championship reign didn’t start how anyone would have imagined, defeating Adam Cole for the vacant title after Karrion Kross was forced to relinquish it following a shoulder injury. Now Kyle O’Reilly looks to get revenge for his Undisputed Era teammate and win his first WWE singles championship all the while, becoming #1 contender after beating out Bronson Reed, Cameron Grimes, Kushida and Timothy Thatcher in a Gauntlet Eliminator Match two weeks ago.

Much like the Clash of Champions’ main event, this feels like a match that will be phenomenal both in terms of story and in-ring action, but ultimately has one of the more predictable outcomes of the whole card. I find it very unlikely that Balor will lose the NXT Championship in his very first defence, especially to O’Reilly of all people. Despite his sizeable accomplishments as a singles wrestler outside of WWE, this is O’Reilly’s fifth singles match ever on WWE TV with Balor having had well over 200 across nearly all of WWE’s main brands.

O’Reilly in WWE is a tag team wrestler at heart (at least, for now) and whilst this may lead to a singles run in future, he will ultimately bow down to the Prince at TakeOver this Sunday.

Winner: Finn Balor

NXT TakeOver 31 is available to watch live and on-demand on the WWE Network. We’ll be posting all the results as they happen right here at Inside The Ropes.