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Cook’s NXT TakeOver: Vengeance Day Gambling Picks

Valentine’s Day becomes Vengeance Day when NXT presents the latest Takeover, and Steve Cook is here with your gambling (and more) picks!

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WWE NXT Takeover Vengeance Day

Valentine’s Day becomes Vengeance Day when NXT presents the latest Takeover, and Steve Cook is here with your gambling (and more) picks!

If there’s one good thing about NXT TakeOver becoming an Orlando-only event, it gives us more fun names for the show. Weren’t you getting tired of every TakeOver being named after whatever city or state they happened to be in? Vengeance Day is an awesome name for a Valentine’s Day event and a throwback to many classic WWE Vengeance PPVs from the 2000s.

As usual, we’ve got a stacked card. Three championship matches and two tag team tournament finals. There were only odds for two matches available from betwwe.com when I submitted this column, so make sure to keep your eyes out for other odds for entertainment purposes.

Dakota Kai/Raquel Gonzalez vs Ember Moon/Shotzi Blackheart

The winner of the first Dusty Rhodes Women’s Tag Team Classic will receive a shot at the Women’s Tag Team Championship. As it stands, the current Women’s Tag Team Champions are Nia Jax & Shayna Baszler, so Ember & Shotzi would make more sense as a match for them. However, the current top contenders are Lana & Naomi, and their winning the championship prior to the winner of this match getting a shot would definitely change my thought process.

It seems like big things are in store for Gonzalez, and a win here would give Dakota & her an accomplishment they can point to. Which, to be honest, Dakota doesn’t have that many of during her time in NXT. Some are speculating they’ll split prior to Raquel getting a push, which would put them in the same boat as the first winners of the men’s Dusty Classic: Finn Balor & Samoa Joe. Dakota & Raquel are the pick here.

MSK vs. Grizzled Young Veterans

We’ve got two tag teams here that have extensive experience teaming with each other & have won gold most places they’ve been. MSK were formerly two-thirds of the Rascalz, and their performance in this tournament briefly after their arrival at the PC tells you that there’s a bright future for the men now known as Wes Lee & Nash Carter. That being said, I think it’s James Drake & Zack Gibson’s time, and the Grizzled Young Veterans will add another tournament championship to their mantle.

NXT Women’s Championship: Io Shirai vs Toni Storm vs Mercedes Martinez

NXT does love their triple threat women’s title matches. Io won the championship in a match against Charlotte Flair & Rhea Ripley, where most of the attention prior was focused on Charlotte & Rhea. Nowadays, all the attention is focused on Io, as she has two dangerous competitors vying for her strap.

They’re certainly deserving contenders as well. Mercedes says this is twenty years in the making for her, and winning the NXT Women’s Championship would be the culmination of her career. Toni is in her twenties and sees the championship as a springboard to bigger & better things. I see both women coming up short, as Io Shirai has already proven her worth in this style of match and can overcome any opponent.

NXT North American Championship: Johnny Gargano (-225) vs Kushida (+165)

There was some concern that Johnny Wrestling’s injuries would lead to him being held out of this show and this match would be postponed. Either his right or left arm was injured, he was in a wheelchair, it was the talk of the Internet. Fortunately, Johnny Wrestling will be ready to go this Sunday against Kushida, who’s pretty stiff competition even when you’re 100%.

Unfortunately for Kushida, Johnny Gargano is on quite the roll. He’s also got a good amount of backup in Austin Theory, Indi Hartwell & Candice LeRae. My prediction: The Garganos have a Happy Vengeance Day while Kushida looks for a time machine so he can find some old friends to even the sides.

NXT Championship: Finn Balor (-200) vs Pete Dunne (+150)

I know it’s kind of whacky to consider Balor’s current title reign as “lengthy” since we’re not even a year removed from Adam Cole finally losing the championship after 403 recognized days. Not even 160 feels like a drop in the bucket compared to that. But doesn’t it feel like Balor’s been champion for a long time? Besides “another Kyle O’Reilly match”, what are we clamoring for here? He does have more name value than your average NXT competitor, but has he added that many eyeballs to their show? The evidence doesn’t exactly show that, which is kind of a shame because he’s had some really good matches.

Pete Dunne would be a fine choice to take the belt off of Balor. My wish is that Pat McAfee returns at this show and helps Dunne win, so McAfee can cut promos on NXT television every week. It was my favorite thing about the show for a minute there. I think it’s more likely that Balor wins, but putting the title on a heel heading into WrestleMania season isn’t the worst idea. I don’t think anybody in the world believes that Edge is challenging for the this title at WrestleMania, so that doesn’t even factor into my thinking here.

I’m rolling with Pete Dunne.


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Opinion

Steve Cook’s Fave Five: April 2021

It’s a little more than halfway through April! You know what that means…

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It’s a little more than halfway through April! You know what that means.

It’s time to talk about my current five favorite wrestlers like I’m Booker T. Let’s break down the Fave Five!

5. Samoa Joe

I figure what happened between Samoa Joe & WWE was the following: WWE offered Joe an announcing contract since either they didn’t want to use him in the ring or their doctors wouldn’t clear him to wrestle. Joe looked at the contract, noticed the financial discrepancy, realized he could probably get NJPW to let him train young boys in California for that kind of money and said “thanks but no thanks”. Nothing else really makes sense to me.

Unfortunately, those who thought that WWE wouldn’t utilize Joe to their fullest potential were right. It wasn’t all WWE’s fault though. Joe had a lot of miles on his tires when he got there. Injuries are always more of a concern with larger wrestlers the older they get. And when Joe was healthy, he did get to do some good stuff and show people a glimpse of the Samoa Joe that people like me raved about back in the mid to late 2000s.

In any event, Joe got his WWE run. It was a thing that happened. I’d be shocked if he doesn’t wind up in AEW because he seems like the kind of guy Tony Khan would throw all the money at. Should be fun!

4. Kris Statlander

AEW does have a pretty insane number of factions right now. It risks the possibility of all of the groups blending together, with none of them really capturing the attention of fans. However, there are positive things about AEW’s faction warfare that shouldn’t be overlooked. It makes booking fresh matches to fill cards pretty easy. You can have groups facing off each week, but in different combinations that keep it fresh.

Another good thing: It can help us decide how we feel about characters that we might be on the fence about. Kris Statlander’s character was a topic of discussion from the moment she entered AEW. A lot of people weren’t sure how to take her. Wrestling aliens, or wrestlers who think they’re aliens, aren’t exactly common. Its the kind of thing that gets over in the indies, because those feds attract fans that are more willing to buy into unique concepts. Mainstream is a tougher sell.

Aligning Kris with the Best Friends makes sense to those in the know, since she came up working shows with them. It also helps people that don’t know about her figure out more. The Best Friends are a happy go lucky group that are the whitest of white meat babyfaces you’ll find in AEW, and that’s a good thing. They’re welcoming to people with unique personalities, as Orange Cassidy’s presence establishes. A friendly alien couldn’t ask for a better group to surround herself with, and from their appearances so far she seems like a perfect fit.

Add in the fact that the time on the shelf helped her get into better shape and refine her look & presence, and the sky’s the limit for Statlander. As long as she can stay in the ring, I’m expecting big things from her in 2021.

3. Tay Conti

Sometimes, all one needs is a change of scenery to approach their true potential. Tay spent a few years at the WWE Performance Center learning how to be a professional wrestler. During her time there, Tay never showed much in the way of potential. Even though she had a combat sports background and had the type of physical appearance that gets attention, Conti’s TV time was very limited and uneventful. She seemed like one of those wrestlers that was bound to stay in developmental until WWE gave up on them, then drop off the face of the earth without most wrestling fans noticing.

Tay’s story took a different route. She ended up being one of the cuts that AEW took an interest in, and was brought in for the Deadly Draw Women’s Tag Team Tournament. Her teaming with Anna Jay worked well on & off-camera, and she pretty much fit right in with the group immediately. She started training with Dustin Rhodes, and pretty much immediately started looking better in the ring & figuring out what worked for her. Now, she’s one of the people helping AEW’s women’s division go to a higher level.

This isn’t meant to denigrate WWE’s Performance Center or its methods. There just isn’t a wrestling training center out there that’s going to work for everybody. Tay had to find what worked for her. The people that recently got cut will have to do the same. Hopefully, the people that recently got signed by WWE will thrive in that environment.

2. Bianca Belair

We’ve recently seen three new Women’s Champions under the WWE umbrella, all of whom are great in their own way. I’ve talked about Rhea Ripley before, she’s got unlimited potential and so far she’s done very well on the main roster. Raquel Gonzalez is doing very well on NXT and her push to the championship made perfect sense & got over. I do think the best of the title changes was Bianca’s defeat of Sasha Banks in the main event of WrestleMania Saturday. It was a special moment for Bianca, a very fun match to watch, and a great performance from both Bianca & Sasha Banks, who did everything she could to make Bianca in that match.

You see the video of the NXT segment up above, with the three current Women’s Champions under the WWE umbrella celebrating together. Apparently there was a picture taken in 2019, and there were pictures taken after this week’s NXT, with Triple H making sure to get in there as he likes to do with all new champions. I’ve never really been a fan of that sort of thing, even the “Horsewomen” celebrations on previous NXT shows didn’t do much for me.

Besides the usual complaints people have about things like that, the thing that I didn’t like was how Rhea & Raquel came off. They were all smiling & happy like they were Big Daddy Cool Diesel after beating Mr. Bob Backlund in 1994. Completely against what Raquel has been up to this point, and what Rhea has been when she’s been at her best. Hopefully this is just a one-time thing for Rhea for the portion of the NXT audience that likes their lady wrestlers crying & happy after their performances, and hopefully it’s leading to Raquel getting dismembered by Dakota Kai, who can’t be happy about her heater winning the championship and then turning into Smilin’ Diesel.

Fortunately for Bianca, it does nothing to affect her character or our opinion of her. That’s why I think her title run will go best. I’m also putting her here because I’m pretty well convinced there isn’t a wrestling move or spot she can’t do well. Insanely talented, and the more experience she gets the better she’ll be.

1. Darby Allin

Sometimes you just want to watch something that’s stupid fun. Something that doesn’t need too much thought in order to enjoy it. Just people doing crazy things to entertain an audience. Darby Allin matches are just what you need when you’re looking for something like this. There isn’t anybody crazier in pro wrestling today than Darby, which is probably for the best. I’m convinced this kid has a death wish.

The one thing that kinda gets me about Darby sometimes is how he kicks out of everything. Poor Matt Hardy wasn’t going to beat that kid unless he shot him with a gun, and apparently there’s a metal detector at Daily’s Place. (Shoutout to Matt by the way, hell of an effort in that match.) But then I remember that Darby Allin is a daredevil and constantly posting videos online where he’s jumping off high places and doing crazy things. Obviously, it’s going to take a little more to beat a daredevil than your average pro wrestler.

What’s it going to take to beat Darby Allin? That’s a good reason to keep watching.


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Opinion

NXT Minus 6: About that Cole-O’Reilly match…

It was the Takeover match that held the most promise. Where did it go wrong? 

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It was the Takeover match that held the most promise. Where did it go wrong? 

Exclusive: Kyle O'Reilly is ready to renew his career-long rivalry with Adam Cole at NXT TakeOver: Stand & Deliver

6. I was jacked to 11 for Adam Cole versus Kyle O’Reilly. I was ready to give it a Tokyo Dome 6 stars. MOTY before the bell rang. A masterwork of storytelling. I correctly predicted it would be an unsanctioned match. Then the action started, and it quickly became “be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.”

NXT TakeOver: New Orleans | WWE

5. After the first few acts of violence, it was apparent that the problem with the match would be the stipulation. The last NXT unsanctioned match was Johnny Gargano versus Tommaso Ciampa in 2018. That was 3 short years ago, but things move quickly in today’s world. There is very little chance an unsanctioned match can deliver the level of violence it promises as long as NXT is on the PG-13 Peacock.

The Most Brutal Spots from Adam Cole and Kyle O'Reilly's Insane Unsanctioned Match at NXT Takeover - EssentiallySports

4. Fans are losing their minds over all the content Peacock is leaving on the cutting floor. A lot of it was offensive and would never work today, but that’s not the point. The fact is there’s only so much violence Peacock’s parent company NBC will tolerate from wrestling. Take the chain, for example. Other than the clothesline, it was practically useless. O’Reilly tried to make it work, but it fell flat. In an unsanctioned match, 20 feet of heavy duty chain should be all you need to decimate another human being.

The B Word: Did Pro Wrestling's Blood Dry Up? | Ring the Damn Bell

3. Maybe I’m a victim of my own wrestling memory. An unsanctioned match in Memphis in the 80’s would have been a bloodbath. Someone would have been hung over the top rope with the chain around his neck. Whipped across the back. Hog tied. Someone would have wrapped it around their fist for a few stiff shots to their opponent’s forehead. But that goes back to my original point. None of that would fly today even if NXT was only on the WWE network.

5 Hilarious moments from this week's WWE programming

2. I’ll go so far as to say the only violent-promising stipulation that interests me is Falls Count Anywhere. There is zero drama in wrestlers pulling chairs from under the ring. The chance to use the naturally occurring environment as a weapon still holds a world of suspense. Someone is going through windows, walls, off the stage, over the guardrail, stuffed in a locker. Honestly, I’m tired of people getting hit in the stomach with folding chairs. Of all the ways to hit someone with a folding chair, that’s the least practical. 

WWE Announces Multiple Injuries At NXT New Year's Evil - WrestlingRumors.net

1. I’m sorry to say Kyle O’Reilly versus Adam Cole didn’t deliver what I expected. Maybe I’m in the minority. Maybe I don’t need over-the-top violence to entertain me. Maybe I don’t need wrestling to keep pushing the envelope. Five of my top 6 matches of 2021 are straight up wrestling matches. Maybe all I need is two (or three or four) strong characters and a good story. Damn, I sound old. 


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