When Ember Moon made her transition to the RAW roster, the NXT women's division faced a challenge in identity. Atop the division as champion was the ruthless Shayna Baszler, and rather than creating legitimate threats for the title, Baszler has maintained her bully-based persona through intimidation, most notably with Dakota Kai.
Baszler's path of terror hit a fork in the road on Wednesday night.
Kai, aided by a unique pep talk by Nikki Cross last week, mustered up the courage to go to battle with Baszler with the NXT women's championship on the line. If you've followed Kai's career through the independent wrestling scene, or even just watched her perform in the Mae Young Classic, you know she has a ton of talent. But few, if any, could have expected her to dethrone the dominant champion on NXT TV this week -- and she didn't. That's not the story here though.
Following a dominant victory by Baszler, the champ reapplied her Kirifuda Clutch submission hold on the helpless Kai. Enter Cross, who ran in to make the save, but she wasn't there just to chase Baszler off. As Baszler retreated, Cross chased her up the ramp, snagged her title and challenged her to an impromptu match with Kai as the referee. Without accepting the match, Baszler was met by Cross' Purge swinging fisherman's suplex finisher. She then covered Baszler and Kai made the three count. The match wasn't official and no title change occurred, but Cross celebrated her mock victory regardless.
This is the type of rivalry the NXT women's division needs. Losing Asuka and Moon in a matter of about eight months was a tough blow to the division, but a Baszler/Cross showdown could be the perfect recipe for a revival.
Based on Wednesday night's happenings, it would seem that we're on a path to Cross challenging for the NXT women's championship at TakeOver: Chicago in a few weeks, though that has not yet been confirmed. As dominant as Baszler has been since her arrival to NXT, Cross adds the perfect amount of abnormality to the fray, as seen during this episode, creating an element of unease as far as Baszler's title reign is concerned.
That's a good thing. Unpredictability generates fascination as far as pro wrestling is concerned and we're on the fast track to what should be an ultra-compelling feud.
Aleister Black vs. Lars Sullivan at TakeOver becomes official
Over the past couple of weeks, multiple superstars have declared their NXT championship aspirations. Ricochet was the first such superstar, followed by the Velveteen Dream, but they have canceled each other out by way of their own simmering rivalry. The one superstar who has truly stood out as a potential contender for Aleister Black's title as TakeOver approaches has been Lars Sullivan, who is one week removed from a handicap match victory over both Ricochet and Dream. The situation reached an official state on Wednesday night.
Black addressed the Full Sail audience regarding his next challenger.
"Now, I understand that there's some dispute over my next challenger in Chicago," Black said. "But remember, I only need one shot to knock my opponents down. I only need one shot to make my opponents fade to black."
Cue Sullivan's music, who made his way to the ring.
"The dispute is over!" proclaimed Sullivan. "Per general manager William Regal, in Chicago, I will be your first challenger."
Sullivan had some more ominous words for Black.
"You've never faced anyone like me, because there is no body like me! No one with my strength, no one with my size and and no one with my dominance!" Sullivan added a physical statement to the encounter. As he grabbed Black by the throat, the champ broke free and attempted to nail his Black Mass spinning heel kick, but Sullivan caught his leg with one hand and connected with his Freak Accident slam.
Sullivan has tons of potential. He's got a rare combination of incredible size coupled with agility. An NXT championship feud with Black will be the biggest test of his NXT career to see if he can take that potential and turn it into superstardom. While a run with the title this early in his professional wrestling career seems unlikely, Sullivan figures to be a major player as the year progresses.
Chris Dijak, otherwise known as Donovan Dijak most notably in Ring of Honor, made his anticipated NXT television debut. He took the loss to Ricochet in a quick, but impressive bout. Following the match, Ricochet had some words for the Velveteen Dream, who interrupted Ricochet mid-sentence. The two proceeded to have an incredibly entertaining war of words leading to their match at TakeOver: Chicago becoming official. The segment came to a close with Ricochet flipping over the top rope and landing perfectly on the outside of the ring, something you'd see in a video game, to get in the face of Dream.
EC3 picked up another victory, this time over Fabian Aichner. In the middle of the match, while both combatants were outside of the ring, Johnny Gargano emerged from the crowd, microphone in hand, and announced that he has signed a contract for a rematch with Tommaso Ciampa at TakeOver: Chicago, which will be a street fight. Shortly after Gargano left, EC3 nailed his One Percenter fireman's carry neck breaker for the win.
The War Raiders continued their path of destruction with a win over George Hickson and Cody Vincent.
The rubber match between Kairi Sane and Lacey Evans will take place next week, along with Roderick Strong facing Danny Burch.