An NXT of a different color is set for war this Sunday as the newest generation of WWE’s future collides with the once and perhaps future kings at WarGames. While the “TakeOver” name is noticeably absent from the marquee, it’s likely another casualty of NXT’s 2.0 rebranding.
Several talents have been released with an eye towards the future, and WarGames looks to distance NXT even more from the previous black and gold era. Men’s and Women’s WarGames Matches headline the card along with two title matches, and someone will lose their hair.
Between all of the changes to NXT and Beth Pheonix leaving the broadcast booth following the show, WarGames might represent out with the old and in with the new.
-Hair vs. Hair Match: Cameron Grimes vs. Duke Hudson
Poker stud Duke Hudson was bluffed out of a hand of Texas Hold’Em by Cameron Grimes, snapped, assaulted Grimes, and cut his hair. Most of the matches on the card must be examined through the lens of WWE’s youth movement and rebranding.
Grimes is a remnant of the Triple H helmed NXT, while Hudson embodies the brand’s new modus operandi. Logic says Hudson wins, but that’s not as clear-cut here. While Hudson is 6’5″ and 270 lbs., the Australian native is 32 years old.
He’s certainly not a senior citizen, but his opponent is 28 years old, has a wealth of experience, and can get it done on the microphone and in the ring. Grimes’ richest man” character is great, but he’s five inches shorter and fifty pounds lighter than Hudson.
If Grimes is someone WWE has main roster hopes for, he’ll get them here. If not, Hudson will get the nod for what should be an opening 8 – 10-minute affair where the Aussie keeps his good looks intact while Grimes loses even more hair.
Hot Take: Place your bets on the future – Hudson.
-NXT Tag Team Championship: Imperium (Marcel Barthel & Fabian Aichner) © vs. Kyle O’Reilly & Von Wagner
The story of the match is more about the behind-the-scenes machinations than anything on television. Marcel Barthel and Fabian Aichner are a strong duo between the ropes and rarely disappoint. Barthel is one of the most underrated wrestlers in the industry.
Kyle O’Reilly and Von Wagner are the odd couple thrown together to get Von Wagner some reps. O’Reilly’s contract is reportedly up later this month, and all signs point to him moving on. Von Wagner is a big, young athlete whose push since debuting on the brand and recent appearance on SmackDown are signs of a promising start to his career.
Regardless of who wins this match, it is all about Von Wagner, and he will be booked to look strong, regardless of the situation. O’Reilly will take the fall for Imperium to retain the titles since Von Wagner’s future is as a singles act.
-NXT Cruiserweight Champion Roderick Strong © defends vs. Joe Gacy
Joe Gacy’s all-inclusive rhetoric has attacked the cruiserweight championship by claiming the division’s weight limit is a negative form of toxic exclusivity and body shaming.
Gacy is not a cruiserweight, but Diamond Mine’s mouthpiece Malcolm Bivens waived the weight-in requirement. The Creed Brothers and the rest of Diamond Mine will accompany Strong’s while the Brock Lesnar Esque Harland will loom in the shadows for Gacy.
For all of Roderick Strong’s superb technical know-how in the ring, the timing of his casting as the Diamond Mine leader couldn’t be worse. Age, height, weight, and charisma are all in the opposite direction that WWE is looking for in talent.
Furthermore, the cruiserweight division is the antithesis of a Bruce Pritchard and Vince McMahon helmed product. 205 Live is no longer an exclusive showcase for the division. It’s indicative of the company’s direction, and the storyline fits the mold of Gacy’s character. Harland looks impressive and should shine in a display of domination that will serve as the last stand for the Cruiserweight Title in WWE.
Winner: Joe Gacy
-Women’s WarGames Match: Io Shirai, Raquel Gonzalez, Cora Jade & Kay Lee Ray vs. Toxic Attraction (Mandy Rose, Gigi Dolin, Jacy Jayne) & Dakota Kai
Toxic Attraction has made waves as Mandy Rose’s move to NXT has proven the best thing for her career. She’s improved as an overall performer with room to grow. Dolin and Jayne are new to the national spotlight, leaving Kia as the only WarGames veteran on the squad.
Shirai, Gonzalez, Jade, and Ray go in with the advantage thanks to Kay Lee Ray beating Dakota Kai in a ladder match on the go-home edition of NXT. Cora Jade is the only WarGames newbie but has a win over NXT Champion Mandy Rose.
Unlike the men’s match, the women have more of a constructive narrative devoid of any real-life implications of talent firings or new directives. No baggage will serve this match well, as the best outcome lies in establishing a new title contender. A few weeks ago, Kay Lee Ray confronted the champ and would make for an excellent opponent for Rose.
Winners: Io Shirai, Raquel Gonzalez, Cora Jade & Kay Lee Ray
-Men’s WarGames Match: (Team Old School) Tommaso Ciampa, Johnny Gargano, Pete Dunne & LA Knight vs. (Team New School) Bron Breaker, Carmelo Hayes, Grayson Waller & Tony D’Angelo
Nothing encapsulates all the drama surrounding the NXT reboot more than the men’s WarGames Match. NXT Champion Tommaso Ciampa leads Team Old School into battle against Team New School, captained by North American Champion Carmelo Hayes.
Perhaps the biggest question going into WarGames is will this be Johnny Gargano’s swan song.
Johnny Gargano’s contract expired on December 3rd, but he signed a 10-day extension. Reports state WWE has made a strong offer for Gargano to stay long-term because they’re impressed with his ability to help young talent better.
Whether Gargano stays or leaves, all depends on where his priorities lie. Does he want to earn a steady paycheck, or does he want to be a star? If he stays in NXT, with no main roster spot in his future, he will be a utility player at best.
Team New School has the entrance order advantage due to Bron Breakker defeating Gargano in a ladder match on the go-home edition of NXT.
WWE deserves credit here. Often, they shy away from stories with real-life implications that write themselves. The profound changes to NXT would caution putting talent such as Team New School in a situation where they are likely to get booed.
While many long for Triple H’s black and gold NXT that featured wrestling over sports entertainment, fans also understand it’s dead and not coming back. Jeering the new blood isn’t going change anything but might give the aggrieved parties a last chance to say goodbye.
However, that might not be the case.
NXT’s new crop of future stars has primarily gotten over with the audience. Tony D’Angelo’s mafia gimmick parody worked better than expected, Carmelo Hayes shines as NXT’s show stopper and “A Champion,” and just about everyone is excited about Bron Breaker and believes he’s the next big thing.
While there isn’t enough of a sample size to predict how Australia’s Grayson Waller will be received in the long run, right now, his social media influencer gimmick targets diehard fans by design, proclaiming “likes” mean more than wins and losses.
Ciampa, Gargano, Dunne, and Knight bring a wealth of experience into the cage. The same can’t be said for Team New School as Breaker and D’Angelo maybe have twelve matches apiece.
Waller worked Australia’s independent scene for 4 years prior to signing with WWE in April. Hayes garnered 6 ½ years of experience before signing with WWE in February. The high caliber of his ability permitted Hayes to start in the deep end wrestling the likes of Adam Cole and KUSHIDA.
Breaker and D’Angelo are green while Waller and, to a lesser extent, Hayes are still green to the WWE way of wrestling. Wrestlers with their resumes usually are not booked in WarGames matches. However, Hayes will be just fine, and Breaker catches on quickly and should be the last man to enter the cage for Team New School
The Men’s WarGames match has some concerning elements with green talent; however, this could be a memorable affair if managed well. Gargano and Ciampa can have one more DIY moment before Gargano’s expected departure; Breaker and Hayes are poised for breakout performances along with the “anything can happen” atmosphere of WarGames.
If this is Gargano’s last match in WWE, he will most likely take the fall giving Team New School the win. Breaker is expected to win for his team, setting up a rematch with Ciampa but don’t be surprised if Hayes gets the nod, further solidifying his status as the ‘A Champion.’
Winner: Team New School