It’s a wrestling weekend you never saw coming, but here we are.
Literally, too, as while fans knew that SmackDown Live-exclusive PPV Backlash was happening on Sunday, May 21 (Monday morning Manila time, as always), many people also weren’t aware that NXT Takeover: Chicago was happening tomorrow, local time. Chalk it up to a lot of things going on in the WWE Network, including the beginning of the WWE United Kingdom division show, as well as NXT struggling to find its footing with regard to its storytelling.
Thankfully, the nature of these two shows make it a little easy for us to predict them.
NXT Takeover: Chicago
For NXT, the issue with its big show is that none of its matches feel big enough to anchor an entire card. Hideo Itami challenging for Bobby Roode’s NXT Championship was only really finalized a couple of weeks ago despite the obvious buildup hinting that this would be the case. Asuka’s dominant winning streak, coupled with relatively fresh faces in the NXT’s women division and Ember Moon’s injury, make it hard to feel compelled about their title match. The only potential showstealer here is the NXT Tag Team Championship match, as usual, while the United Kingdom Championship isn’t present enough on the show to retain viewers.
Roderick Strong vs. Eric Young (with Alexander Wolf and Killian Dain)
A throwaway match—and honestly, if Strong was going to be reviving his part of the feud against Eric Young’s SANitY, I would’ve rather seen a matchup with the more interesting Killian Dain. It’s not that Young isn’t an interesting wrestler, as he definitely is, but I feel that that particular matchup would be more intriguing and fresh. It’d also help get the group over as a unit that holds up their weight no matter what, and it would allow Strong to get a believable win and SANitY to get a reasonable loss. Otherwise, there’s no way Young loses here.
Winner: Eric Young
Pete Dunne vs. Tyler Bate (c) for the WWE United Kingdom Championship
A rematch from the United Kingdom Championship Tournament, if they’re going to jumpstart the division with its own Network-exclusive show, it should be time to change the status quo. Tyler Bate is an amazing young wrestler and you should definitely check out his work if you haven’t yet, but the villainous hooligan Pete Dunne as the champion going into the new show would make it must-watch.
Winner: Pete Dunne (new United Kingdom Champion)
#DIY vs. The Authors of Pain (c) for the WWE NXT Tag Team Championship
This one is certainly interesting, as the outcome hinges on what’s next for #DIY. They absolutely have to stay as the NXT tag team division is shallow after the Revival’s call-up, but are they prepared to suffer another clean loss at the hands of the Authors of Pain? My money is that they figure out a way to overcome their demons without hurting the Authors too much in the loss, as another dominant Authors win would contribute to the division’s plateauing—until new tag team Heavy Machinery get the right amount of build they need. There needs to be a shakeup here, for sure.
Winner: #DIY (new NXT Tag Team Champions)
Ruby Riot vs. Nikki Cross vs. Asuka (c) for the NXT Women’s Championship
While it’s easy to say that Asuka’s chances of losing are higher in a multi-woman match, we had one last time at NXT Takeover: Orlando and she still retained the championship. The competition is a little stiffer this time around as the Australians are not in the match. They’ve been priming Nikki Cross for a big win lately, and if Asuka is to remain interesting as a chaotic anti-heroine, Cross has to finally win this one and put the Empress of Tomorrow back in the chase.
Winner: Nikki Cross (new NXT Women’s Champion)
Hideo Itami vs. Bobby Roode (c) for the NXT Championship
Interestingly, NXT’s upper midcard is incredibly stacked with the recent additions of Kassius Ohno and Drew McIntyre, as well as the middling Andrade “Cien” Almas—but you never would know it from the way they don’t show up at all on the card and how single-minded this main event is. It’s only a short diversion for the champion Bobby Roode, and I really just wish they’re building up to something bigger here come SummerSlam weekend.
Winner: Bobby Roode
Meanwhile on the SmackDown side, the big story is Jinder Mahal’s ascension as the top contender for the WWE Championship. Everyone knows that he isn’t really going to win, so the true test is whether he can actually work and hang on the level he’s been set in—all that matters is that he carries his own weight as other more skilled wrestlers help him have good matches. So far, with Sami Zayn and AJ Styles doing good work with him the past couple of weeks, the prognosis seems positive, but Orton’s track record has been proven to be a bit spotty and highly dependent on chemistry. We’ll see.
Tye Dillinger vs. Aiden English in a kickoff match
Come on, you know where this is going. However, I do wish SmackDown would book its lower midcard better and find places for the rest of its talent on the show.
Winner: Tye Dillinger
Luke Harper vs. Erick Rowan
Like this particular match—if you follow SmackDown, you know why it’s happening, but they don’t get enough time every week to explain things. They’ve been able to manage and balance these things well, but haven’t been doing so lately. We do need some great TV action, but it would also be great if we were reminded that these people are on the roster.
Winner: Luke Harper
Baron Corbin vs. Sami Zayn
This is particularly interesting. You’d figure that both Corbin and Zayn would be hovering around the United States Championship scene, so the outcome of this match would directly contribute to how that would play out for both of them in the proverbial rankings. While it’s very likely that we’re going to get a straight finish, I wouldn’t rule out extending this feud for a little while just for the chance that Zayn makes Corbin look good. I’d like to see a double countout ending here.
Winner: Double countout, Sami Zayn by DQ, or Baron Corbin by countout
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Dolph Ziggler
It’s also highly interesting that they’ve sort of removed Nakamura from the final buildup here, instead having Ziggler cut a pretaped backstage promo instead of building up to a climactic first meeting. Yes, that’s kind of what they did before Nakamura’s debut on NXT Takeover: Dallas, but that’s NXT, a show supported by hardcore fans who know what Nakamura is capable of. You really can’t assume the same for SmackDown, so I wish they had a proper confrontation this week that would make this midcard match must-see. That said, you know Ziggler’s in over his head here.
Winner: Shinsuke Nakamura
The Welcoming Committee (Natalya, Carmella, and Tamina) vs. Naomi, Charlotte Flair, and Becky Lynch
It’s a nice way to get everyone up to speed on the current SmackDown women’s division, and it’s also a good, creative way for them to distinguish which of the women really matter moving forward. Naomi, Flair, and Lynch will be beating them to make sure that everyone knows who the real championship contenders are.
Winner: Naomi, Charlotte Flair, and Becky Lynch
Breezango vs. the Usos (c) for the WWE SmackDown Tag Team Championship
SmackDown definitely knows how to unearth diamonds in the rough, and Breezango has been the newest gem taking the blue side over by the storm. The Usos have also found a renewed fire since turning heel and winning the championships from American Alpha (who’s nowhere to be found recently, by the way), turning this feud into one of the low-key hotter things going on in the show lately. I’d like this feud to be extended to maximize the Fashion Files segments and flesh Breezango out as fan favorites, so the Usos retain for the time being—but don’t be surprised if WWE pulls out the feel-good win here.
Winner: The Usos
AJ Styles vs. Kevin Owens (c) for the WWE United States Championship
The Phenomenal One is back as a babyface, which could only mean great things for anyone he’s in a feud with—especially for one Kevin Owens, who isn’t quite fully established yet on SmackDown. I’m personally still getting used to seeing him exclusively on the blue show, and it may take a successful title defense against AJ Styles to seal the deal. Also, there are a lot more interesting options while Owens is champ, what with Sami Zayn, Baron Corbin, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Dolph Ziggler hanging around; Styles can wait a little longer before winning the title.
Winner: Kevin Owens
Jinder Mahal (with the Singh Brothers) vs. Randy Orton for the WWE Championship
This little championship feud has been chugging along nicely since Mahal was named the #1 contender a few weeks back, and as mentioned earlier, all eyes are on it solely to see if the Maharajah can hang in the position he’s been in. His performance in this main event will be the barometer to see whether he gets to stay in at least the US title scene or shipped back to jobber territory afterward. I’m personally thinking that he gets enough experience to stay in the upper midcard, considering the wonderful job they did with him. (All it takes is effort and some political will.)
Orton will have a lot on his hands to make sure that their match isn’t a clunker, and after this week’s main event on SmackDown against Baron Corbin, I’ve got some confidence that he could also squeeze a decent outing from Mahal.
Winner: Randy Orton
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