Five things to watch for at NXT TakeOver Portland

For the first time since June 2019, NXT is out on its own for a pay-per-view-level event in Portland, Oregon. On paper, Sunday’s show reaches the caliber of a WrestleMania weekend supershow, and yet we’re only seven weeks out from what’s historically been the biggest NXT show of the year.

TakeOver: Portland will go a long way in showing us what’s in store for Tampa, Florida, and with the spotlight all to itself, here are the five biggest points of order heading into Sunday night.

Should we read anything into NXT expanding to a six-match card?

Dakota Kai burned her friendship with Tegan Nox to ashes at NXT TakeOver: War Games, and they’ve since taken turns attacking one another in increasingly violent ways. WWE

NXT TakeOver: Portland features an expanded six-match card — the first time there will be more than five matches on a TakeOver since NXT Brooklyn II in August 2016.

Are we seeing the wave of the future? With four titles in play in NXT, two hours of weekly TV to fill and a roster that seems to just keep on expanding, it’s easy to see an altering of the equation that better suits NXT’s needs. In fact, only 19 out of 28 (including Portland) NXT TakeOvers have featured five matches; for a long stretch, from the second TakeOver (Fatal 4-Way) in September 2014 until October 2015, six was actually the standard.

Whether this is a temporary adjustment or a new way forward, each of the six matches on the card has had plenty of time to simmer and eventually boil over. It would seem as though something was lacking on a major show to see any of them go.

The story between Tegan Nox and Dakota Kai is a wrestling tale as old as time, told well in short, incredibly emotional chunks. After each of them went through injury struggles that derailed them as a team, Nox was included in the women’s War Games match and Kai, formerly one of the purest babyfaces this side of 2015 Bayley, was cast aside and into darkness. Kai’s betrayal at TakeOver: War Games, followed by the knee brace as a totem and a brawl around Full Sail Arena, and Sunday’s Street Fight is a sleeper that should turn a lot of heads.

Johnny Gargano and Finn Balor will set a high bar for the rest of the night

Johnny Gargano and Finn Balor have each been a part of some of the best matches in NXT history, and putting them into the same ring to go one-on-one has the makings of an instant classic. WWE

The only other non-title fight on the Portland card pits the heart of two different generations of NXT. You couldn’t tell the story of NXT without either Finn Balor, whose rivalries with Samoa Joe and Kevin Owens built the foundation for all that followed, or Johnny Gargano, who rose from nothing to become the first NXT Grand Slam champion. Each has rightfully gained a reputation for everything he is capable of doing inside the ring.

Gargano’s injury, tied to Balor’s reintroduction of 1916 (a.k.a. Bloody Sunday) as his finisher, was unfortunate — but it ultimately had a tremendous silver lining. Balor ending Gargano’s streak of appearing on 16 straight NXT TakeOvers — a stretch that lasted three full years — sunk even more emotion into what was already a can’t-miss battle of the generations. It also allowed for another big moment when Gargano returned and cost Balor the NXT championship.

Balor is tapping into his dastardly best to a degree he never had since he signed with WWE in 2014. Gargano has an opponent and a story away from the world title picture that he can really sink his teeth into. It’s hard to say what the NXT championship picture will look like when the night is done, or if the winner has the fast track to TakeOver: Tampa. But what we can say, with near-certainty, is that whoever must follow this match will have a near-impossible task at hand.

Keith Lee and Dominik Dijakovic finally settle their business under a TakeOver spotlight

After a year of doing battle inside the confines of Full Sail University, Keith Lee and Dominik Dijakovic have a chance to show what they can do in front of an NXT TakeOver audience Sunday in Portland. WWE

Believe it or not, the story of Keith Lee and Dominik Dijakovic stretches back a full year, at least as far as the world of WWE is concerned. It all started with a whirlwind, seven-minute match that opened a lot of eyeballs as to why both men — thanks in part to their pre-WWE battles with one another — had reached the promised land of NXT.

That ended by double countout, and injury concerns delayed a rematch until August. Dijakovic scored a victory in their return bout, but less than a month later Lee evened the score at 1-1-1. Roderick Strong stepped into a North American championship No. 1 contender’s match to make sure it ended in a no contest, pushing the tally to 1-1-2, and then both men fell victim to Strong in the ensuing triple-threat title match.

The giants briefly joined forces with a shared enemy on the way to War Games, and then Lee went off and broke out to an even broader Raw and SmackDown audience along the way, with star turns at Survivor Series and the Royal Rumble. Lee capped it all off by winning a Fatal 4-Way No. 1 contender’s match that also featured Dijakovic, then overcame the numbers game of the Undisputed Era to win the North American title.

But there’s still a score to be settled, and this matchup finally rises to its deserving TakeOver platform in Portland. The shared history, their seemingly impossible acrobatics and their willingness to push everything to the edge should be a showcase for each man to prove why he represents an evolution in what big men are capable of.

Has Charlotte Flair’s shadow taken away from Bianca Belair vs. Rhea Ripley?

The shadow of Charlotte Flair and a potential WrestleMania match hangs over Bianca Belair, Rhea Ripley and the NXT women’s championship, but Flair’s presence might ultimately be a positive for everyone involved. WWE

Count me among those who greatly enjoyed Rhea Ripley’s recent appearances on Raw but felt that her first challenge to Charlotte Flair took some of the shine off of her upcoming title defense against Bianca Belair in Portland. The subsequent moments, which included Ripley and Belair joining forces to attack Flair, have alleviated some of those concerns. But Flair’s presence and the potential of a WrestleMania match still loom large over the NXT women’s champion and this match.

Belair and Ripley have both enjoyed considerable attention on big stages in recent months, starting during the buildup to Survivor Series. Ripley beat Sasha Banks and Flair in a match, and captained a Survivor Series team that included Belair and went on to victory. Then she defeated Shayna Baszler to become NXT women’s champion. Belair tied Baszler for the most eliminations in the 2020 Women’s Royal Rumble match with eight, and slid naturally into becoming Ripley’s next challenger for the NXT women’s title.

They were well on their way to building up Sunday’s match when Ripley challenged convention and laid out an opportunity for Flair to cash in her Women’s Royal Rumble win title opportunity on the only current champion she’d never defeated. It seems to telegraph a Ripley win and a scenario in which an NXT title is defended on a WrestleMania card for the first time ever, but it might actually add something to Ripley and Belair.

After chafing against Flair stepping into the frame and proclaiming, “You don’t even go here,” Belair has been positioned as a substantial underdog in a match she was already unlikely to walk out of with the title. And there’s always a chance that she’s folded into the story on the way to WrestleMania 36, whether that was the initial plan or not, and it’s clear from her Rumble performance that WWE is high on her potential.

You also cannot discount the possibility that Flair’s interactions with Ripley have been simply misdirection. By the time the next edition of NXT TV is over, and perhaps earlier, we’ll know for sure.

Does the Undisputed Era continue to spiral and lose their gold?

It wouldn’t be surprising to see Tommaso Ciampa reach the apex of his comeback by winning the NXT championship from Adam Cole — even if it doesn’t happen in Portland and he has to wait until WrestleMania week in Tampa. WWE

The Undisputed Era fulfilled Adam Cole’s prophecy when they collectively captured the NXT championship, tag team championships and North American championship. That façade of power began to crack in hurry once Roderick Strong lost the North American title, sending the Undisputed Era into an apoplectic tirade through Full Sail and several key members of the NXT roster.

With both the tag team titles and NXT championship on the line in Portland, it’s easy to wonder if that’s the night when the dam will burst and all of Undisputed Era’s power and clout comes crashing down in one sweeping motion.

Since Nov. 27, 2017, when the Undisputed Era defeated SAnitY for the NXT tag team titles, they have spent 75% of that period (603 days out of 806) holding those belts. Outside of brief title reigns for Moustache Mountain, War Raiders and the Street Profits, Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly (among other combinations) have lorded over the division, and for good reason. But the lineup for the 2020 Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic revealed a deficiency of challengers for the Undisputed Era to trounce.

The Undisputed Era shouldn’t wait around for the tag team ranks to refresh themselves in NXT, and that likely means wrapping up their business on Wednesday nights. On paper, it might seem a little bit strange for the recently former Bro-serweights to storm through the Dusty Classic and then on to the tag titles, but putting singles stars together as a top tag team can be a great way for a division to transition and regroup. Matt Riddle and Pete Dunne have formed a surprisingly effective tandem, and there’s a lot that a tag team title reign could do for them — think Shawn Michaels and John Cena in 2007, ahead of their match at WrestleMania 23.

I expect Cole to hold onto his belt for a little bit longer, if only because it would represent Undisputed Era’s last grip on power in NXT if Fish and O’Reilly fall. All hands will be on deck, and Strong, Fish and O’Reilly will likely go to any lengths to keep the title on Cole. It wouldn’t be out of question for Tommaso Ciampa to win the title and fulfill the culmination of his remarkable comeback, but Tampa would offer a bigger platform and bigger opportunity for triumph — especially if there are some added stakes in play, like a stipulation on Ciampa or a specialized match type, such as a steel cage or ladder match.

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