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The short journey to NXT TakeOver 31 from the last pay-per-view felt rushed, but the card still had considerable promise.
Even without having a proper build for some of the matches, No. 1 contenders were determined and it presented an opportunity to do something different, if not just to experiment.
Kyle O’Reilly against Finn Balor for the NXT Championship was a first-time-ever affair that promised to be a great in-ring show, Candice LeRae and Io Shirai as well as Damian Priest and Johnny Gargano have certain proven themselves and more.
This show could have been a sleeper hit or a dud that should have been skipped. What ended up being the case?
Which segments stood out as the best and worst of the event? What disappointments fell short of the hype, and which matches exceeded expectations?
Presented in order of appearance, here are the highlights and low points from WWE NXT TakeOver 31.
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WWE NXT TakeOver 31 Results
- Damian Priest defeated Johnny Gargano by pinfall to retain the North American Championship.
- Kushida defeated Velveteen Dream by submission.
- Santos Escobar defeated Isaiah “Swerve” Scott by pinfall to retain the NXT Cruiserweight Championship.
- Io Shirai defeated Candice LeRae by pinfall to retain the NXT Women’s Championship.
- Finn Balor defeated Kyle O’Reilly by pinfall to retain the NXT Championship.
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Triple H had promised there would be a new look to NXT going forward, despite how it would be airing from the WWE Performance Center. That was realized with the announcement that the building had been gutted and repurposed, as well as renamed the Capitol Wrestling Center.
NXT TakeOver 31 was the first show in this new environment, similar to how Arrival was the first show on the WWE Network.
While it’s not the same as having a full-scale arena with normal lighting, thousands of fans and all the standards, it’s a step up from Full Sail University for the time being.
Having some people ringside helps the energy level, as the sound isn’t entirely manufactured. The addition of the ThunderDome-style screens with fans filling out the “stands”, of sorts, also boosts the lighting and makes it feel more packed.
On top of that, the cage surrounding the ring gives it a unique vibe not seen for any other WWE programming these days. That in and of itself is a win and it should be fun to see what WWE does with it over time to add or tweak things going forward.
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Starting off the night was the North American Championship match with Damian Priest successfully retaining the title over Johnny Gargano.
This was a match that could have gone either way. Gargano has more than proven himself the anchor of NXT, while Priest has held his weight as champion so far.
But since he hasn’t held the title too long, the right call was made to keep the belt on him. It wouldn’t have killed his career to lose it—especially if the match had ended with Gargano’s low blow—but retaining means even more.
This was a rock solid match from start to finish that had the right energy to kick things off, but still build to something better throughout the night.
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Since coming to NXT, Kushida hasn’t had the best run. It hasn’t been atrocious by any means, but it’s been far from the meteoric rise promised with his signing.
Instead of having a debut where he’s already at the top like some have had in NXT, he was brought in as a midcard act that needed to work his way up the card. Before he had a chance to do that, he was sidelined creatively and with an injury that set him back many months.
This match, as well as most importantly the fact that he beat Velveteen Dream, may be the start of turning things around. He looked better here than he’s looked at any point so far in WWE.
Perhaps this will lead to a Cruiserweight or North American Championship run in his future after he builds even more momentum. Maybe the sky’s the limit for him. But at least by looking strong here, it helped recalibrate his credibility and reposition him as someone to watch.
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Calling this match a low point sounds harsh, but that’s not to say it was bad. It was a perfectly fine match.
Even the biggest hiccup—Santos Escobar’s lackluster shoulder breaker—was balanced out by a great hurricanrana from Isaiah “Swerve” Scott.
But the reason this is a low point is because it didn’t serve all that much of a purpose. Escobar’s retained over Scott before and simply did it again here.
Outside of establishing Ashante “Thee” Adonis as a definitive babyface going forward, rather than having him go back and forth as a tweener, nothing changed with this situation.
Had Scott won the title, it would have justified going back to this well. Since he didn’t, this was just a repeat of what we’ve seen before.
What this boiled down to was just another rerun—something WWE has gotten far too comfortable doing this year—where two people fought again for the sake of eating up time and not doing something different.
Here’s hoping Escobar has a new challenger going forward and Scott moves on to something else, too, as both are very talented and deserve to not keep spinning their wheels stuck in this feud that won’t go anywhere else.
If that’s the worst part of the card, you know it was a good show.
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From their past matches, we knew Io Shirai and Candice LeRae had the chemistry to pull off a good match here. That was already expected.
What made this even more of a highlight was the booking around the finish.
One referee bump has become so standard that it’s almost expected in title matches these days. To do two in a row was a shock, as well as Shirai kicking out of a fast count from Johnny Gargano, sporting a referee’s shirt.
That set up LeRae striking Shirai with the title belt, but the champion kicked out of that, too.
After that series of surprises, Shirai managed to score the win, but the shocks weren’t over.
Toni Storm appeared on the screen to say she’s coming back to NXT and puts everyone on notice. Immediately following that, it was revealed that the former champion the vignettes have been hyping is actually Ember Moon.
The return of two former champions and great competitors like Storm and Moon breathes new life into the NXT women’s division and will certainly help keep the roster going after the draft snatches a few Superstars away.
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You can’t ask for too much more than what Finn Balor and Kyle O’Reilly gave in this match. They had an evenly-fought contest where both men came out looking like strong warriors.
O’Reilly never stopped being the underdog, but he wasn’t punked out. Balor never stopped having the edge, but wasn’t just toying with his challenger like how WWE books some other Superstars in similar situations.
By the end, Balor retaining the title felt like it was earned, instead of a given, and O’Reilly isn’t just some tag team guy anymore.
As a bonus highlight after the match, a bit of mystery was tossed in. Ridge Holland appeared with Adam Cole limp on his shoulder and promptly tossed the former NXT champion over the barricade toward Balor and O’Reilly.
Did Holland go from babyface on Wednesday night to heel this quickly? Is this a message to The Undisputed Era, Balor, or both?
That’s a hook for the next episode of NXT so that this didn’t just end with everyone agreeing we all knew Balor would retain.
Anthony Mango is the owner of the wrestling website Smark Out Moment and the host of the podcast show Smack Talk on YouTube, iTunes and Stitcher. You can follow him on Facebook and elsewhere for more.