Opportunities are aplenty within the NXT women's division. However, outside of its champion, Shayna Baszler, no superstar has truly stepped up as a candidate to be considered the face of the division, despite a plethora of incredible talent. Three of those talented superstars had the opportunity to separate themselves from the pack on Wednesday night.
Kairi Sane, Nikki Cross and Candice LeRae battled in a triple threat match to determine who would move on to face Baszler for the NXT women's championship at TakeOver: Brooklyn IV. Bianca Belair, who is undefeated in NXT, was originally scheduled to be a part of the match, but dropped out due to injury. A strong case could be made for all three of this week's combatants. Sane holds a victory over Baszler, Cross took Baszler to the limit at TakeOver: Chicago and LeRae is quite possibly the most popular superstar in the division. The match was a true pick 'em.
The finish saw Sane drop her insane elbow from the top rope onto LeRae who was attempting a cover on Cross. Sane then pinned LeRae making her the new number one contender.
With that, the first official match on the TakeOver: Brooklyn card is set and it's a good one. It's a rematch from the Mae Young Classic final last summer in which Sane defeated Baszler to win the tournament. The two also faced off on NXT TV earlier this year, and Baszler was able to even the score. Sane was an underdog in both of those matches, and she'll likely be built up as such in this one.
As last year's Mae Young Classic tournament progressed, it seemed as if no one could stop the dominant Baszler, yet Sane stepped up and pulled out the unlikely victory in the final. That fueled Baszler's character, who made Sane her first target in her NXT debut back in February. She snuck up behind Sane and choked her out, leading to the aforementioned second bout in which Baszler seized revenge.
Stylistically, much like both of their previous encounters, Baszler and Sane couldn't be more different. The champion is a rough and tough submission artist. Sane, on the other hand, relies on her quickness and aerial ability. That gives both competitors plenty of options in putting forth a compelling match.
Baszler and Sane have become cornerstones of the NXT women's division, with Baszler serving as the ruthless champion and Sane as the endearing fan favorite. Despite the history between the two, there are many more layers of the onion still yet to be peeled. The pieces are there for this feud to be among the best the division has seen since the great Asuka/Ember Moon showdowns last year.
Lacey Evans improves her standing
While anyone not named Kairi Sane is on the outside looking in, as far as NXT women's championship opportunities are concerned, Lacey Evans and Dakota Kai looked to put themselves on the map when they squared off in their first one-on-one bout.
Evans picked up the win and, as evidenced by her showing this week, has consistently impressed in the ring. Her switch to the heel role earlier in the year was a turning point in her brief career thus far. She has done well with portraying an arrogant character with a vicious side and there's a lot more potential there. I wouldn't be surprised if we're talking about Evans as a title contender at this time next year, possibly sooner.
News and notes:
At this point, it seems like Kassius Ohno's purpose in NXT is to simply help develop younger talent. That's the only explanation I can come up with as to why he continues to be absent from any meaningful storylines. Ohno is an excellent worker, the fans love him and he's got charisma. His usage is a peculiar situation. The stagnant direction of his NXT career continued on Wednesday night as he went one-on-one with Rick Romero and picked up a quick win. Where Ohno goes from here is anyone's guess at this point.
Perhaps the biggest NXT match not on a TakeOver card will take place next week when Aleister Black puts his NXT Championship on the line against Tommaso Ciampa. As good as the match figures to be, the biggest question will revolve around the role Johnny Gargano will play. [If you don't want to wait for next week's broadcast, here's a spoiler].
Ricochet cut a promo regarding his intentions on becoming the next NXT North American champion. It certainly appears that we're headed for a Ricochet versus Adam Cole match as we continue to travel the road towards TakeOver.
A backstage confrontation between EC3 and Kona Reeves looks to be leading to a match between the two in the coming weeks, though nothing has been made official. Prior to the encounter, EC3 addressed his recent scuffle with the Velveteen Dream. An EC3/Dream bout figures to be a money match for EC3, perhaps on the TakeOver stage.