NXT TakeOver: New Orleans was already shaping up to be a tremendous show on paper. Both singles title matches -- Andrade "Cien" Almas defending his title against Aleister Black, and Ember Moon once again facing Shayna Baszler with the NXT women's championship on the line -- have plenty of history and heat behind them, to say nothing of the long-awaited showdown between Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano (more on that later).
But with NXT's growing, increasingly deep roster, it seemed as though the spotlight wouldn't be big enough to include some of the brand's biggest stars. Enter William Regal, who opened Wednesday's show with an announcement that will have tremendous consequences in both the short and long term. A second men's title, the North American championship, will become the fourth official title of the NXT brand.
Before Regal could detail how the inaugural NXT North American champion would be crowned, a catchy new theme song hit as EC3 made his first official appearance at Full Sail as part of the NXT roster. We first saw him in the crowd at TakeOver: Philadelphia two months ago, and it was finally time for him to make his presence felt.
"I did not know you were so logical," EC3 slyly said. "To go out of your way and create a brand new championship, the NXT North American championship, and award it to me on my very first day!"
Regal embraced EC3's enthusiasm, but broke the news to him and everyone else at once -- there will be a six-way ladder match in New Orleans, with the title hanging above the ring for the first champion to claim it.
Throughout the rest of the show, Regal announced the rest of that match's lineup. Shortly after EC3 left the ring, Adam Cole was added to the match, followed by Velveteen Dream, Lars Sullivan and Killian Dain. As Wednesday's edition of NXT concluded, the last addition to the match stepped out of Regal's office; Ricochet, who also made his first WWE appearance at TakeOver: Philadelphia, will round out the field.
For the moment, TakeOver: New Orleans has what should be an absolute spectacle of a match to round out the card. In the long term, a new title brings an opportunity and a prize to center stories around for everyone outside of the two or three people directly vying for the NXT championship. It should increase the perceived importance of rivalries outside of the NXT championship picture beyond personal rivalries and tests of pride. While there's always the fear of "watering down" the value of the other titles, or having the secondary slip down in importance over time, the six men in this match prove that this title is destined to be a big deal right out of the gate.
Johnny Gargano gets his shot at Tommaso Ciampa
Since Ciampa cost Gargano his last shot at the NXT championship and his job in one fell swoop, the path to a match between the two men seemed unclear. Ciampa walked out to deliver a celebratory speech three straight weeks before he could get any words out, and then Gargano, holding up a sign and wearing a mask, struck from the crowd. Ciampa had the clear upper hand, having vanquished Gargano, but then Gargano unleashed a psychological war against his best-friend-turned-bitter-rival.
Gargano waited at the WWE's Performance Center for Ciampa to arrive and attacked him before he even got out of his car. Then he took to stalking Ciampa wherever he could find him, even going so far as to bang on the front door of his home all night. So as NXT TV began, Ciampa found William Regal and pleaded for a way to end the onslaught. Regal offered a simple solution -- at TakeOver: New Orleans, it will be Gargano vs. Ciampa in an unsanctioned match. If Gargano wins, he gets his job back. If Ciampa wins, Gargano is gone for good.
It's the payoff to 10 months of waiting, after Ciampa put his #DIY tag team partner through a table following an unsuccessful tag team title challenge in Chicago and then went off to heal an injury. On a night where there will be plenty of competition for bragging rights, this match should be something special.
Beginning to lose my mind... pic.twitter.com/Yr2uE4TDna
- BLACKHEART (@ProjectCiampa) March 28, 2018
Andrade "Cien" Almas gets physical with Aleister Black
The build to the TakeOver: New Orleans main event between NXT Champion Andrade "Cien" Almas and challenger Aleister Black has been entertaining, but lacked the sizzle that the main event for the brand's biggest show of the year needed until recent weeks. The intensity factor shifted into the next gear on Wednesday night, as verbal sparring and insults gave way to a vicious attack.
As Dakota Kai entered the ring for a match, cameras cut to a brawl outside of the arena between Almas and Black. The brawl was one-sided as Almas tossed Black around the parking lot, landed some stiff shots and beat him up to the point where his shirt got ripped up. Almas dragged Black inside and they eventually made it to ringside, where Almas continued to get the better of Black and ultimately employed a chair to leave his TakeOver opponent laid out in the middle of the ring.
This was the type of physicality this rivalry needed. Almas made a statement and Black now not only has his sights set on the NXT championship, but also on retribution.
The Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic final is determined
There was certainly a lot squeezed into an hour of NXT, and we haven't even gotten to the semifinal matches of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. The Authors of Pain made quick work of the Street Profits on Wednesday night to secure their spot in the finals, with a chance to repeat as tournament champions and a shot at the NXT tag team championships hanging in the balance. The short match ended when Ford lost focus on the outside of the ring while interacting with Paul Ellering. During that time, the Authors of Pain nailed Dawkins with the Last Chapter for the win.
Ford's loss of focus, which left Dawkins to take the loss, suggests a possibility of trouble on the horizon for the young team.
On the other side of the bracket, the unlikely duo of WWE U.K. champion Pete Dunne and Roderick Strong continued their journey as the Cinderella team in this tournament with a high-profile victory over former NXT Tag Team champions SAnitY in the main event. They earned a pinfall win after Strong and Dunne hit an assisted version of the Bitter End.
It all sets up for the tournament finals, which will air just three days before NXT TakeOver: New Orleans, with the winners moving on to face the Undisputed Era with tag team gold on the line.
During an interview with TM61 at the Performance Center, an altercation broke out between Ember Moon and Shayna Baszler as tensions continued to rise less than two weeks out from their NXT women's championship match at TakeOver.
Lars Sullivan scored a quick and decisive win over John Silver. Sullivan will go one on one with Killian Dain on next week.