Tensions Rise at NXT Before NXT TakeOver 36

NXT TakeOver 36
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With every passing day, the pro wrestling industry press is ever more awash with backstage rumors about powerplays, contract negotiations, and internal rebranding at WWE’s third and youngest television brand, NXT. While the black and gold brand began its life as a developmental territory, the successor to FCW and OVW, it developed a cult following and took on its own identity, crafted under the guidance of Triple H. Despite its recent flux in fortunes, NXT’s latest installment on Aug. 10 didn’t betray the stress of backstage goings-on. Rather, it continued to build momentum in each of its pivotal storylines heading into Aug. 22’s NXT TakeOver: 36.

Dakota Kai vs. Raquel Gonzalez

Dakota Kai has a big fan in WWE Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels, who has praised Kai often. Her ring psychology mirrors Michaels in his prime, with Kai making up for her slender build and small stature by being a gutsy and versatile fighter in the ring. The dissolution of her tag team also mirrored Michaels’s, with Kai attacking partner Raquel Gonzalez unexpectedly, as Michaels did his Rockers comrade Marty Jannetty. Kai not only declared her independence but elaborated that she had posed as Gonzalez’s buddy and helped her eliminate the competition in order to clear her own path for the NXT Women’s Championship.

On Aug. 10’s installment, Kai was tapped in to replace Ember Moon in Moon’s advertised match with the heretofore undefeated Sarray. Sarray put Kai through her paces in a match that she at times dominated, punishing the resilient Kai with acrobatically applied submission holds and unrepentant suplexes. Her perky demeanor belies a killer instinct, but Kai was able to scrape a narrow victory interrupted by Gonzalez. Their match for NXT TakeOver: 36 was made official, and Kai finally has the shot for the NXT Women’s Championship which she claims to have schemed for, for months.

LA Knight vs. Cameron Grimes

Grimes’s and Knight’s feud for the Million Dollar Championship has been consistently amusing. Grimes and Knight have shown great comedic chemistry as they fight to outdo each other, and for the affection of Ted DiBiase. DiBiase seemed to openly endorse Grimes, even though Knight is the current holder of the Million Dollar Championship, and Grimes has been serving as Knight’s butler after losing to Knight for a second time at The Great American Bash in June. Knight bristled at the idea that Grimes could beat him and added a stipulation to the third bout between them at NXT Takeover: 36: if he won again and Grimes lost, DiBiase would have to take Grimes’s place as his butler. The plot thickens!

Kyle O’Reilly vs Adam Cole

Life is beginning to imitate art in the case of one of NXT’s most heavily featured rivalries, that of former Undisputed Era stablemates Kyle O’Reilly and Adam Cole. The two have been allies and combatants across various promotions for over a decade, and their falling out has produced two brutal matches. It has also elevated both performers in singles competition, as potential contenders for the NXT Championship. Cole had held the championship once before and seems to be catching fire with his brash heel persona. Cole, whose contract has lapsed and is reportedly set to be renegotiated after SummerSlam, has been rumored to be bound for either the main roster at WWE or even outside ventures.

O’Reilly, on the other hand, has struggled to build a persona outside of his symbiosis with Cole and The Undisputed Era. His skills as a technical wrestler, informed by a background in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, always look great in the ring, but outside of it, he has vacillated between moral outrage at Cole and a quirky schoolboy charm similar to AEW’s Orange Cassidy but, of course, more verbose. That is all well and good, but NXT has a horrible track record with building babyfaces as Cole’s brashness has naturally taken center stage at NXT.

When Cole taunted O’Reilly in their face-to-face scene that he was better than him, had left him behind, and was moving onto bigger things, it had an eerie ring of real events considering their continuously divergent fortunes.

Along with NXT UK’s Ilja Dragunov and WALTER bringing their enmity stateside and the climax of Karrion Kross’s and Samoa Joe’s feud, NXT TakeOver: 36’s matches look set to be impactful bouts powered by well-crafted storylines. Only time will tell if the Aug. 22 event proves to be a swan song for the current inception of NXT, amidst talk of major changes to the brand.

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