The first installment of NXT TakeOver: War Games one year ago was sensational. Generally perceived as one of the best WWE events of 2017, there wasn't a weak link on the card. It's a tough act to follow, for sure, but this year's version is shaping up to rival its predecessor.
The show's success will rely heavily on the match in its title, War Games. The War Games concept was created over 30 years ago and became a staple in the history of the NWA and WCW. The unique multi-ring and cage design, combined with classic encounters featuring all-time greats including Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, Sting and the Road Warriors, helped create a professional wrestling experience like no other with quality that was tough to replicate. NXT met that challenge head on last year as The Undisputed Era, Authors of Pain, Roderick Strong and SAnitY put on quite a show.
Whether you're an NXT die-hard looking for a last minute refresher, or if you've fallen behind on your week-to-week viewing, here's everything you need to know ahead of Saturday night's show in Los Angeles.
War Games: The Undisputed Era vs. War Raiders, Ricochet & Pete Dunne
This year's War Games match will look a lot more like the classic format of War Games, as two teams of four battle in two rings encircled by a giant cage, with two competitors starting the match and each team introducing another member at a timed interval. This time around, the Undisputed Era, who won as a trio of Adam Cole, Kyle O'Reilly and Bobby Fish in last year's War Games match, add Roderick Strong (who was also in the match) to take on the War Raiders, NXT North American champion Ricochet and U.K. champion Pete Dunne.
It's an appropriate setting to blow off a rivalry that's raged for the better part of the last year. Cole has had heated battles with both Ricochet and Dunne, Strong betrayed his then-partner Dunne and cost him the NXT tag team titles to join Undisputed Era, and Fish added gas to the fire when he cost War Raiders their shot at the tag titles. Oh, and Ricochet and Dunne have had tensions of their own, having battled it out in a title vs. title match that Cole interrupted. Got all that?
While no titles are on the line, Cole enters Sunday looking to avenge his North American championship loss to Ricochet at TakeOver: Brooklyn IV over the summer. Cole, Ricochet and Dunne have engaged in multiple battles over the past few months, both in one-on-one scenarios and in a triple-threat match. Each contest along the way has shined and, in some cases, produced match of the year candidates.
The stories in this year's War Games match are interwoven in such a way that its unpredictability should create a fascinating turn of events. After snaking out a win to gain the man advantage on Wednesday's edition of NXT TV, will the Undisputed Era win their second War Games match in as many years? Or will the collection of talent on the other side find a way to gel as a team and make history of their own?
Prediction: The Undisputed Era win their second straight War Games match
NXT championship: Tommaso Ciampa vs. Velveteen Dream
Since his attack on former tag partner Johnny Gargano last summer, Tommaso Ciampa has delivered some of the best heel work in NXT history. His tactics in infiltrating the mind of Gargano over the past year have truly been villainous. His impeccable performance has made him one of (if not the) faces of the brand.
But there's another superstar knocking on that door. Enter the charismatic Velveteen Dream. His magnetism and alluring persona have catapulted him into NXT stardom, and he'll have the opportunity to take his career to the next level by becoming NXT champion on Saturday night.
The rivalry began with a simple challenge by the Velveteen Dream and has gained steam ever since. Ciampa cost Dream a match against Lars Sullivan a couple weeks ago, but the champion got his comeuppance by way of a Dream twisting DDT onto the NXT championship belt and a purple rainmaker elbow by the challenger.
After breakout performances against Aleister Black, Ricochet and in the six-man North American championship ladder match over the last year, Dream looks to carry that momentum into the biggest match of his young career. It feels a bit too early to take the strap off the flourishing Ciampa, but this should be a tremendous match.
Prediction: Tommaso Ciampa retains
Two-out-of-three falls for the NXT women's championship: Shayna Baszler vs. Kairi Sane
Shayna Baszler and Kairi Sane have created the longest and most storied rivalry in NXT women's division history, dating all the way back to the inaugural Mae Young Classic final last year. While Sane won that first match, it was Baszler who ran roughshod over the division upon joining NXT and won the women's championship first. Baszler dominated at every turn, until she faced Sane at TakeOver: Brooklyn IV in August. Once again, Sane defeated Baszler in a high profile match to become the champ.
Baszler flipped the script and asserted her dominance at WWE Evolution last month, as two of her long time compatriots, Marina Shafir and Jessamyn Duke, got involved on her behalf as Baszler became the first two-time NXT women's champion.
Saturday's match-up feels like the closing chapter to what has been a superb feud. This time, it will be a two-out-of-three falls match to determine a definitive winner in this rivalry. When you're looking at the future of the NXT women's division, it seems likely for Baszler to start another reign of terror with her compatriots at her side.
Prediction: Shayna Baszler retains (2-1)
Aleister Black v. Johnny Gargano
The story of who attacked Aleister Black, when he was written off TV over the summer due to an injury, was wonderfully told in a classic "whodunit" style. After months of predictions and theories, it was revealed that the consummate babyface, Johnny Gargano had made a move towards the dark side as the assailant.
Black will be out for revenge at TakeOver: War Games, but it's Gargano who needs this match more. Coming off two straight TakeOver losses to Ciampa, Gargano needs a victory to begin his restoration process and potentially shift back into the NXT championship hunt. The outcome of this match will likely tell us a lot about the next step in Gargano's long and winding journey.
It's sure to be an in-ring clinic, but with a loss, Black could well be headed to Raw or SmackDown in the not-too-distant future.
Prediction: Johnny Gargano wins by nefarious means