NXT TakeOver 31 was a return to form for the black and cold brand. Anyone who watches NXT knows that their pay-per-views are usually some of the best in the business. They are wall-to-wall well-booked matches filled with exceptional talent. But the last few TakeOver events haven’t felt the same.
It’s not that they haven’t been good but they haven’t had the same energy. This started well before the pandemic. The bleed of talent heading to the “main roster” made it difficult for NXT to get its own house in order. To make matters worse, the NXT talent heading to Raw and SmackDown just got misused.
NXT TakeOver 31 was the first time in a long time that a TakeOver felt big. Great matches. Big returns. A new venue. All of it combined to create the TakeOver vibe fans had been missing for a long time. As always, the only question was where the Tag Team Championships were.
The tag team division has fallen on hard times in NXT. It used to be the main event at a TakeOver event. Now, it isn’t even on the card. It’s almost like they’ve ceded tag team wrestling to AEW and have just given up on it entirely. Hopefully, that will change.
Capitol Wrestling Center
Some of the improvement shown at NXT TakeOver 31 was certainly because of the new-ish venue. The WWE Performance Center has gone under extensive renovations, transforming it into what the WWE is now calling the Capitol Wrestling Center.
To be clear, the WWE Performance Center is still called the WWE Performance Center. It just houses this new venue, now. It has an upgraded stage set up with video screens around the outside for online fans similar to the Thunderdome. Thankfully, there’s even still a small live audience.
All of this combined to bring back some of the energy TakeOver has been missing. The Capitol Wrestling Center seems like it will be a solid venue for NXT to come from week after week. At least until they can have full live audiences, again.
Damian Priest vs Johnny Gargano
It you aren’t going to put Johnny Gargano into the main event on a TakeOver, then you put him in the opening match to set the tone. That’s exactly what happened at NXT TakeOver 31 when Gargano challenged Damian Priest for the NXT North American Championship.
For a lot of fans, WWE took a while to clue into the level of talent they had on their hands in Priest. When he won the North American Championship, it seemed like the finally had figured it out. But the heel version of Gargano could have easily cut his title reign short.
Fortunately, Priest came out on top and he will continue on as the champion. It was an outstanding match between two game competitors who left everything in the ring. That match was how you start a pay-per-view right.
Kushida vs Velveteen Dream
Cheering for Velveteen Dream is still a dicey situation for a lot of fans. Many feel that the #SpeakingOut allegations against him have not been taken seriously by WWE or properly investigated. As such, watching him perform in the ring is questionable at best.
Taking a step back from those larger issues and focusing on the match, he did put on a good one against Kushida. Despite being with NXT for almost a year and a half, NXT TakeOver31 was Kushida’s first TakeOver appearance. That’s a real shame considering how talented he is.
Kushida came out on top of this grudge match, showing the level he should have been competing act for months. Making things weird was the fact that Dream was dressed like Doc Brown and Kushida was dressed like Marty. It was an odd moment to watch Doc get beaten up.
Santos Escobar vs Isaiah “Swerve” Scott
The entire Cruiserweight Division has struggled to find its footing in WWE since day one. The division hasn’t lacked talent, with several incredible performers working 205 Live. But there was still something missing. As it turned out, that something was NXT and Santos Escobar.
Renaming the title the NXT Cruiserweight Championship and folding the belt into NXT has done wonders for the division. More importantly, putting that title on Santos Escobar hasn’t hurt the situation. That man with that title on that show has certainly elevated the entire division.
Having competition like Isaiah “Swerve” Scott only makes it better. He and Escobar have been developing an incredible feud. It culminated in a show-stealing title match at NXT TakeOver 31, possibly one of the best in the relatively short history of the championship.
Naturally, Escobar’s associates, Raul Mendoza and Joaquin Phoenix got involved in the match. Much to everyone’s surprise, so did Ashante “Thee” Adonis. He saved Swerve from being destroyed by Legado Del Fantasma. Escobar might have won the match but “Swerve” confirmed he belongs in the spotlight.
Io Shirai vs Candice LeRae
NXT has a history of bringing in superb female wrestlers from Japan, including Asuka and Kairi Sane. Both women became NXT Women’s Champion, and deservedly so. They are two of the best in the world. The same is true of Io Shirai, the current and defending NXT Women’s Champion.
Io is an amazing wrestler, something she proved once again while defending her championship against Candice LeRae. Since her heel turn, LeRae’s game has been on point. Plus, her feud with Shirai goes all the way back to Io turning heel. Putting the two of them in the ring always delivers a great match.
NXT TakeOver 31 was no exception, with the duo lighting each other up. Io came out on top once again. Even Johnny Gargano’s incessant interference couldn’t get his wife the win. That being said, Candice will be champion some day and she’ll do it without Johnny helping her cheat.
The post match shenanigans put the NXT Women’s Division on notice. First, Toni Storm announced she was returning to NXT. Then, the mystery returning champion teased over the last couple of weeks turned out to be Ember Moon. She’s been out for a long time due to injury so it’s great to see her back.
Finn Bálor vs Kyle O’Reilly
After an injury forced Karrion Kross to give up the NXT Championship, Finn Bálor picked up the metaphorical ball and ran with it. NXT TakeOver 31 was his first title defense since becoming champion, again. He and Kyle O’Reilly put on the definition of a main event match.
Despite being with NXT for a long time, NXT TakeOver 31 was kind of a coming-out party for O’Reilly as singles competitor. He has almost exclusively been in tag teams for all of his run. O’Reilly might have lost to Finn Bálor but he proved he’s a viable singles competitor and belongs in the main event.
What was truly surprising about the match was that the rest of Undisputed Era did not involve themselves in it. They didn’t cheat. There have been rumors of both O’Reilly and Adam Cole turning face. Given their good behavior at TakeOver, all four wrestlers might be making an attitude change.
Like the Women’s Championship bout, the post match was interesting. Bálor and O’Reilly shared a moment of respect, then Ridge Holland dumped a beat down Adam Cole at ringside. The UE looks like it has a new problem on their hands. But it’s four against one so Ridge might need to make some friends.