We've almost reached WrestleMania, and for the first time, NXT has an official spot on the "Grandest Stage of them All."
For the past couple years, NXT has been an important part of WrestleMania weekend. A ring has been set up at the Axxess events, and the NXT stars had a chance to wrestle in front of the fans. However, two things are different this year. In addition to the matches throughout the day at Axxess, NXT is putting on their own show on Friday night in San Jose. And, more importantly, one NXT wrestler will earn a shot to compete in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal.
The wrestler will be determined as part of a tournament that will take place on Thursday, the opening day of Axxess. The format hasn't been revealed just yet, but we do know the four wrestlers who will be gunning for their 'Mania spot. And, as is usually the case with NXT, all of them make sense – to not just represent the fledgling promotion at the year's biggest event, but give fans a peek at the future of WWE, too. So here's a look at the four men set to compete at Axxess, and why each could end up wrestling at Levi's Stadium on Sunday night.
Neville has to be considered the favorite, and is probably the most logical choice to win a spot in the Battle Royal. People have been waiting for him to get his call up to the main roster since he dropped the title to Sami Zayn back in December. It seemed like they were just waiting for the right spot to debut him – and what better spot than WrestleMania? But here's the thing: If he enters the fray, Neville won't just be fodder for the big guys; he might just win the whole thing.
A victory here would give a debuting wrestler instant credibility, and could propel them forward. And that's the trick with Neville – he would either have to win, or at least be booked strong. He couldn't just be treated as another guy, or it could hamper his early run on Raw and SmackDown. It would probably be better for him just to debut after WrestleMania if that were the case. However, used properly, he would be the perfect choice.
He's a truly interesting case: Clearly Bálor is bound for bigger things, and could stay on the main roster if he gets the call here. But he's also valuable to NXT, because he could remain there for the time being and it wouldn't feel like he was being held back. He received his NXT title shot this week (more on that later) and while he certainly could continue to go after the title, being called up at this point wouldn't seem to mess up any plans for NXT. However, the real reason to put him in this spot would be for one reason: his entrance.
People can't stop talking about it, and to see Bálor do his nightmarish best at WrestleMania would be a true spectacle. Only a few wrestlers got mega-entrances last year, but I think it's safe to say that if Finn Bálor were to be in the match, WWE would do their best to blow him up. I can't think of a better way to get an unfamiliar fanbase buzzing than to have him do a phenomenal entrance, whether it's with paint or not.
Itami is dark horse to represent NXT in the Battle Royal. He is still developing his character in NXT, and doesn't seem ready for the main roster just yet. He also isn't quite as flashy as some of the other wrestlers that could be chosen. However, if they are willing to keep whomever it is in NXT for the time being, and just use the spot to showcase the promotion more than the wrestler, Itami makes sense for one big reason. To quote Triple H, Itami might be what's "Best for business."
While people would be excited for any of the wrestlers, Itami is the only one of the four that would likely draw viewers to the event. Some people still don't realize just how huge a star KENTA was in Japan. If the WWE announces Thursday night that KENTA is going to be making his WrestleMania debut on Sunday, they might be able to draw some last-minute buys or Network subscriptions. This would be a situation where Itami almost certainly wouldn't win the Battle Royal, but if they've already decided not to have the NXT person win the match, then Itami wouldn't be a terrible idea.
It's safe to say that Breeze is the underdog here. He's easily the least notable of the four, but he has been working dark matches on the main roster recently, and if they are thinking about bringing him up soon, this would be a way to do it. However, if they were to go that route, then Neville would make much more sense. I would be fairly surprised if Tyler Breeze was the choice – my love for his selfie stick notwithstanding.
Any of these four would represent NXT well. And, while it would've been nice to get a showcase match for NXT at WrestleMania, fans of the product will be happy to see somebody get their chance to shine on wrestling's biggest stage.
- On last night's episode of NXT, Finn Bálor was unable to capitalize on his shot for the NXT Championship, as Kevin Owens beat him in a 25-minute match. While the match itself was great, as expected, the most interesting part of the show when it came to Bálor was the talk about whether or not he would decide to wear the paint out to the ring. They kept referring to it as bringing out the demon, so to treat it as a separate personality, or at least something that boosts his abilities, is rather fascinating. You have to think a big reason he didn't do the paint is because they want him to remain undefeated while he wears it. Add to they mystique and whatnot. Also, if they want, this allows him to set up a natural rematch with Owens, both because of how close he was to winning the title (Bálor hit the Coup de Grâce on the champ, though was too injured to get the cover) and because he can say that he would've won had he worn the paint.
- Both Sasha Banks and Alexa Bliss continued to impress and progress in the ring. I really enjoyed how they built on last week's contest. At one point last night, Bliss seemed like she could have won by count out again, but instead went to the outside to break the count, because she knew she wouldn't win the title that way. Going from counting along with the ref to quickly shaking her head and going outside was a very nice touch. They focused on Bliss showing more of an edge, and I'd like for them to build on that a little bit, to really round out her character. It will be interesting to see what they do with her after losing cleanly to the champion.
- If there was some ambiguity on whether Emma would be a face or heel in her return to NXT, this week ended that. She talked with Bayley, saying that she was right to tell the Huggable One that playing to the crowd was hindering her rise. When Bayley said that Emma was wrong, Emma slapped Bayley in the face. So this seems like the next big feud in the NXT women's division.