It’s just about time for TakeOver: WarGames! And I have to be a little honest, with the announcement that the WarGames match itself won’t have a roof on the cage, my excitement has diminished a little. That, to me, is what makes this not a WarGames match, rather than the other rule changes. So because of that, in this Spotlight I’m going to write about a championship that has become slightly secondary over the last couple of months – the NXT Championship.
I’m essentially going back to Bobby Roode’s reign here. He had a really strong run as champion, beating Shinsuke Nakamura for the title, and Roode always made sure to use the championship as a means to exemplify his control of the brand as it’s top guy. The lineage of the title, the quality of matches that have followed it, and touches like Roode establishing it as a prize worthy of everyone’s desires, they have all made it a coveted prize. But after five years of growth, for the first time, the NXT Championship has become secondary.
Think back to when Bobby Roode eventually lost it to Drew McIntyre. McIntyre was a deserving challenger, and should have been red hot having recently returned to the WWE umbrella and still being undefeated. But going into that match, Bobby Roode’s personal grudge was with Roderick Strong. Roode had been defeated when he got his title opportunity via shenanigans just a couple of weeks earlier, and it was difficult to shake the feeling that it was Strong – not McIntyre – that the fans wanted to see dethrone the Glorious One.
Now had things turned out differently, I could have been praising that as a masterstroke. Potentially, it was a secondary story that gave Strong character development, crowned a new champion, and would have seen Roode put over the top two faces he was leaving to carry NXT as he moved to SmackDown. Instead, Adam Cole debuted in the aftermath of McIntyre’s championship win, and the Undisputed Era was formed. That stole the headlines, and rightfully so.
Cole, O’Reilly and Fish went on to attack Sanity, Wolfgang, Trent Seven, Tyler Bate as well as McIntyre in the next few weeks – establishing their dominance as the hot new faction on Wednesday nights. But what that left us with was a champion who was, at best, the third most interesting thing on the show.
That had never happened before. McIntyre’s predecessors were all the focal point of the show: Roode, Nakamura, Samoa Joe, Finn Balor, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Neville – the list goes on, right back to the very beginning. But coming out of SummerSlam weekend, Roode vs Strong and the Undisputed Era had moved ahead of McIntyre fulfilling his chosen destiny, and the Scot has never really recovered since.
Yes, Roode moved on to bigger and bluer things, but from the word go McIntyre hasn’t been portrayed as a bigger personality than anyone else on the show. In all honesty, I think we can call his return to NXT in 2017 a disappointment – at best it’s been underwhelming so far. McIntyre felt like a far bigger star when he returned than he does now, and that’s worrying. Since Roode left NXT, the long term stories have been surrounding the Undisputed Era in various incarnations, the journey to find the next NXT Women’s Champion, and even Aleister Black vs the Velveteen Dream.
And look, I get it, WarGames is the main attraction for this TakeOver, and it had to take centre stage. But the lack of real interaction between Adam Cole and Drew McIntyre over being the best NXT has to offer has really hurt the championship in comparison to it. It’s certainly not that it’s impossible to feature several feuds prominently and importantly at any given time – Sasha Banks vs Bayley and DIY vs The Revival were fantastic, but they never made NXT’s top prize feel secondary.
Because the reality of TakeOver: WarGames is this – the NXT Championship feels like it’s being contested in a mid-card feud. Andrade “Cien” Almas, who in fairness has found a new lease of life since turning heel and aligning with Zelina Vega, doesn’t feel like a top contender yet. Challengers of the past have felt like champions in waiting, and while NXT gold may certainly lie in Almas’ future, it feels too soon to be believable. Stronger contenders at this moment in time would have been Roderick Strong, who instead received a title match on NXT, Aleister Black, or Adam Cole.
And interestingly, NXT are running a house show tonight in San Antonio ahead of TakeOver tomorrow night in Houston, and tonight’s show is headlined by Drew McIntyre vs Adam Cole for the NXT Championship, with Shawn Michaels as the special guest referee. If that had been what the last two months had been building to for TakeOver, it could have been something special. As it is, I actually wouldn’t rule out a title change on the house show. It would realign things championship-wise to how NXT programming has portrayed them.
Part of my lack of reverence for the NXT Title match could come from the strength of the undercard granted – there are six matches announced for Saturday night, five on TakeOver and one to be taped for next Wednesday, and the NXT Title match is probably fourth for my anticipation level, maybe even fifth at a push. But as I said before, previous strong undercards haven’t taken anything away from the significance of the NXT Title – and so you have to put at least some responsibility squarely on the shoulders of McIntyre and Almas.
That’s why I think there’s a chance they take the title off McIntyre tonight. Almas is on the up after circumstances conspired against his initial face run, and McIntyre is if anything on the down. That means he’s the one that’s more likely to be blamed for a lack of interest in the match.
In fairness to McIntyre though, this is a trap we’ve witnessed many a champion fall into in WWE. When the importance of championships take a backseat, the holder inevitably suffers, and it takes a significant concerted effort to restore its prestige. That it has taken five years for that to happen to the NXT Title may actually be impressive, but nonetheless its not a good sign for the immediate future. Come the turn of the new year, heading into Wrestlemania, it has to be a primary focus to put that right. If not, what we get is a lame duck champion. And that does nobody any favours.
If McIntyre gets past Cole tonight, I would fully expect him to retain against Almas. But I can’t see the fans buying a title change there, and I don’t imagine the match itself will be anything special. These two just haven’t seemed to click. Which would make a show stealing match all the more impressive, and all the more important for these two as future top guys. But that I’m talking about the NXT Championship “stealing the show” instead of being it’s focal point makes my point for me.