Once again, with the lights shining brightly on NXT this past Saturday at TakeOver: Philadelphia, the brand delivered. NXT is full of talent and has been very active in acquiring more of it throughout the years. As a result, it has been able to consistently put forth excellent shows like the one we saw Saturday.
However, if there's any downside to the abundance of talent, it's the lack of room on a TakeOver card to fit every deserving performer. That was the case in Philadelphia where top acts including Roderick Strong and Nikki Cross were left off the card. Instead, they took part in taped matches before TakeOver began to possibly begin rivalries that could elevate them to main card status once TakeOver: New Orleans rolls around during WrestleMania weekend.
Despite his absence from the TakeOver card, Strong found himself in an important match with championship implications. He battled former UK champion Tyler Bate, who was coming off a first-round loss in the Cruiserweight championship tournament broadcast on 205 Live. The winner would become the number one contender to Pete Dunne's UK championship.
On one side, you've got Bate who has as much chemistry with Dunne in the ring as anyone in the world. Who wouldn't sign up to see a rematch of their classic match of the year encounter from TakeOver: Chicago last year? On the other side would be the unknown matchup between Strong and Dunne who have never squared off on television.
Bate and Strong put together a powerful effort and won over the Philadelphia crowd. Strong came out victorious after he nailed his End of Heartache vertical suplex into a backbreaker finisher.
As appealing as another chapter between Bate and Dunne would have been, it's hard not to get excited about the potential that exists with a Strong/Dunne match. The two will clash at a date yet to be determined.
The wild card in that upcoming match will be Lars Sullivan, who Strong called out before TakeOver: Philadelphia. Could the man who has been built as an unstoppable man factor into Strong's pursuit of the title?
TM61 makes in-ring return
Coming off a two-part series highlighting Shane Thorne and Nick Miller's journey to NXT, the two Australians made their collective NXT in-ring return this week. The duo was away from the ring while Thorne was recovering from a knee injury suffered early last year.
Before the injury, TM61 was part of some fantastic matches in NXT, including the wonderfully chaotic Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic final at TakeOver: Toronto in 2016. But the two-part series was a shrewd move in reintroducing them to the NXT audience and showcasing their personalities, which was a missing piece of the puzzle during their initial run.
They got off to a good start on Wednesday night as they join the hunt for the NXT tag team championships with an impressive win over the Ealy Brothers. They've got a long way to go, but it's certainly possible that Thorne and Miller will capture tag team gold by the end of the year. They've got all the tools to succeed as a team.
Nikki Cross' ascent begins
Nikki Cross is championship material. That has been evident ever since her fiery debut as part of SAnitY, and was further illustrated when she and then NXT women's champion Asuka thrilled Full Sail with a Last Woman Standing match last summer. While she may be out of the title picture for the time being, she's still as magnetic a superstar as there is in the division.
On Wednesday night, she faced one of NXT's up and coming superstars, Lacey Evans, who was coming off a win against Aaliyah and is as assuming a new heel persona. Her new demeanor was good, but Cross secured the win as she continued to climb the ladder leading to NXT women's champion, Ember Moon.
Despite her loss to Ember Moon at TakeOver: Philadelphia, Shayna Baszler had the following to offer regarding her performance in a video on WWE.com, "Ember didn't beat me," claimed Baszler. "She survived. And barely." This rivalry figures to push forward based on these comments as well as Baszler's post-match attack on Saturday.
In a backstage interview following Andrade "Cien" Almas' successful NXT Championship defense and his participation in the Royal Rumble match the next night, he and his associate, Zelina Vega exuded arrogance when Almas proclamed, "This is only the beginning." It remains to be seen who'll be the next to step up and vie for Almas' title.
Next week's episode of NXT TV will truly feature an Undisputed Era versus SAnitY theme. In one match, Eric Young and Alexander Wolfe will look to reclaim the NXT tag team championships from Bobby Fish and Kyle O'Reilly. In another match, Adam Cole will face Killian Dain.