There's no doubt about it. The pressure is on the main roster to deliver at Survivor Series.
The card for NXT TakeOver: War Games the night before Survivor Series is chalk full of exciting talent, compelling rivalries and one particularly noteworthy stipulation. For the first time in nearly 20 years, the dangerously unique structure featuring two rings with a cage encompassing them known as War Games will make its return. The popular match-type, made famous in the 80's and 90's by the NWA and WCW, provided a multitude of memorable moments. NXT's version will look to add to that list on Saturday night in a match that Executive Vice President of Talent, Live Events and Creative, and the brains behind the NXT operation, Paul "Triple H" Levesque, said fits the NXT brand and carries on the legacy of Dusty Rhodes. Rhodes played a crucial role in the development of NXT and was also on the winning side of the first seven War Games matches in history.
"I've always been a fan of the concept. I've always been a fan of that match," Levesque told ESPN. "The time was just right. It was right, with the right brand. It fits the NXT brand. NXT is slightly different than RAW and SmackDown, but it fits. It kind of has its own unique personality which I think works within NXT, but also, it allows NXT to have something that is its own. And I think that's a really cool opportunity especially considering the fact that it was Dream's. Having that legacy carried on by NXT doing it is really meaningful as well."
In addition to that will be Drew McIntyre's second NXT Championship defense and first at a TakeOver event, the crowning of the first NXT Women's Champion since Asuka began her 523-day reign back in April of last year and a sizzling showdown between two of the brand's most promising superstars. This weekend's TakeOver is the definition of a can't miss event.
War Games: SAnitY vs. The Undisputed Era vs. The Authors of Pain & Roderick Strong
War Games matches of the past have featured some of the most identifiable names in the history of professional wrestling. The Road Warriors, the Four Horsemen, Sting, Dusty Rhodes and countless other top names created a spectacle that amounted to over 30 matches of its kind between 1987 and 2000.
However, while War Games is smothered with historical significance, look for the three teams participating in NXT's version of the match on Saturday to create something different than anything we've seen before.
"It's history, but it's the future. It's the past, but it's tomorrow," Levesque said. "It's very cool that our talent get to go back and participate in something that is very historic, but at the same point in time, they get to create something new and kind of make their own mark with it."
How did we get to this point?
Adam Cole, Bobby Fish and Kyle O'Reilly -- The Undisputed Era -- have made quite an impact since their debut as a unit back at TakeOver: Brooklyn III. They've interfered in matches, blindsided opponents, orchestrated attacks and as such, have made a great deal of enemies. Six of those enemies in SAnitY, the Authors of Pain and Roderick Strong will be in the ring with them on Saturday.
Following SAnitY's tag team championship victory against the Authors of Pain in Brooklyn, Fish and O'Reilly ambushed both teams, making their presence felt in a big way. Cole and company attempted to shift the odds even more in their favor with their bid at recruiting Roderick Strong as their fourth member, but Strong didn't bite and instead joined forces with the Authors of Pain creating the final piece of the puzzle.
"I'm a big fan of what we're about to do with it. I know our locker room is. I know our talent base is," Levesque said. "There's a lot of excitement around it."
Drew McIntyre (c) versus Andrade "Cien" Almas for the NXT championship
It didn't take too long for Drew McIntyre, in his second run with the WWE, to cement his name into the NXT history books. In his first TakeOver match in August, he became the 11th superstar in history to become NXT champion with a win over Bobby Roode. He'll enter his second TakeOver event looking to defend that title.
It didn't always come this easy for McIntyre. While McIntyre experienced some success during his initial term with the WWE including becoming Intercontinental champion, it wasn't until he departed, matured and then returned that he grew into the superstar he has become today.
"I think he knows what he's got to do, and he knows what he wants as opposed to thinking he should be given what he wants," Levesque said. "He got a lot handed to him early and it didn't all pan out. He's been very open about that and honest. It takes a big person to look at themselves honestly. Very few times, somebody doesn't succeed at something and they look at themselves and go 'Yeah, that was on me.' Very few. I can count those probably on one hand how many times I've seen that in the business when a guy leaves and it's not somebody else's fault," Levesque continued. "There's just a maturity there now. And sometimes that failure can make you mature fast if you're open to it."
Andrade "Cien" Almas' NXT journey has taken a bit longer. While Almas has consistently dazzled from an in-ring perspective, a lack of character development seemed to be holding him back. That changed when he was paired with Zelina Vega, who has brought a no-nonsense, intense approach out of Almas. Her addition has been the key ingredient in Almas' recent winning streak and elevation to the main event level. His brewing rivalry with McIntyre, which has seen him gain the upper hand from a physicality perspective in recent weeks, has been compelling in large part because of his newfound poise.
While it would be surprising to see the NXT championship change hands at TakeOver, one thing's for sure: Both McIntyre and Almas have become two of the premier pieces within the NXT brand.
Ember Moon versus Nikki Cross versus Peyton Royce versus Kairi Sane for the NXT Women's Championship
While the post-Asuka era technically began after her memorable NXT send-off in September, a new champion within the division has yet to be crowned. That will change at War Games when four of the most talented women in NXT clash to determine just the sixth women's champion in the title's three-plus year history.
Despite the most notable star in the division heading to the main roster in Asuka, the division is thriving.
"What's really cool is to see all these girls, that a very short period of time ago, weren't anything here. Now all of the sudden, Asuka goes on and now you realize, wow, that [the women's division] is thick. There's a lot of people there and that's what excites me about the women's division right now," said Levesque.
Four members of that deep women's division, Ember Moon, Nikki Cross, Peyton Royce and Kairi Saine each individually earned a spot in what could be considered the most unpredictable match of the night. Moon and Royce each won a triple threat match, Cross won a battle royal and Sane qualified as a result of her winning the inaugural Mae Young Classic tournament. The unpredictability of the match's outcome is a testament to the abundance of talent within the division, even with Asuka gone, but will the new champion be able to reach the level that Asuka achieved?
"No matter who walks out as champion, it then comes down to what does that champion do and how does that story evolve," said Levesque.
Aleister Black vs. The Velveteen Dream
Flying under the radar on a this card is a match with some serious show-stealing potential. The stoic and calm, yet explosive Aleister Black will go one on one with the Velveteen Dream. The rivalry has been built on Dream's ability to showcase his flashy persona to perfection, counteracting the seemingly unflappable composure of his opponent. Dream's psychological aptitude has allowed him to get the better of Black on multiple occasions in the weeks leading up to TakeOver. The pinnacle of his command of the situation occurred a few weeks back when Dream tied Black up in the ring ropes, slapped him and exclaimed, "Say my name!" It brought the dispute to its boiling point.
This rivalry has truly allowed the Velveteen Dream persona shine.
"He took a piece of his personality and way amplified it," Levesque said. "It's this uniquely flamboyant, over the top character. Characters like that, if you're not all-in, it's doomed. And he's all-in with it.
"It's the kind of thing, if you don't go all in, it's done," he continued. "You've got to be there at all moments. You can't come in and out of that character. And he does it really, really well. For a guy who's as young as he is and as relatively inexperienced as he is and is just kind of learning on the fly, it's exceptional. It's remarkable to see. I think he's done a wonderful job with it."
Add on the impeccable athleticism of both Black and Dream and this is the type of rivalry that has the ability to elevate both men equally, win, lose or draw.
Kassius Ohno vs. Lars Sullivan
This match seems like nothing more than a way to get the up and coming Sullivan on a big stage against a more credible opponent. Sullivan has been dominating his competition as of late and while Ohno should get his share of roaring elbows in, expect Sullivan to continue to roll towards more prominent programs.