Nothing of consequence seemingly happened during Takeover Vengeance’s card Sunday night.
No titles changed hands. Dusty Rhodes Classic winners were crowned. That’s not to say the matches were not great. Finn Balor and Pete Dunne was everything you’d expect, as was Johnny Gargano and Kushida in their North American title clash. Both Dusty Classic matches were good, and the women’s title triple threat showcased three of the best females in WWE’s women’s divisions.
That all pales in comparison though to what occurred at the end of the show, after the final bell, when Adam Cole seemingly turned on Kyle O’Reilly, shocking Roderick Strong and leaving his longtime friend-turned-enemy-turned-friend-turned-enemy O’Reilly and Balor laid out in the ring.
Since the original trio arrived from NJPW and ROH and attacked Drew McIntyre in 2017, Adam Cole, Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly have been anchors within the NXT brand through all the ebbs and flows, ups and downs, “call ups” and returns, and from being a showcase of talent on the WWE Network to debatably being the showcase of USA Network’s relationship with WWE.
They’ve held titles, all of them in fact at once, and have taken part in a number of momentous or critically-acclaimed matches both as singles and inside the tag team division. There is literally nothing the group has not accomplished, so the only course left — in the absence of renewed Golden Prophecies being fulfilled and with their Era in dispute — is for the group to implode in a move reminiscent of when HBK superkicked Marty Jannetty and threw him through the Barber Shop window.
The Undisputed Era as we knew it is gone.
Cole Turning Makes Sense
When you take a look at the trajectory of the group in NXT, there’s nothing left for them to accomplish as a unit. As we’ll recall the group held all of the men’s titles at one point, have claimed Dusty Cups and competed in multiple War Games matches. Something began to shift within the dynamic of the group following Cole’s loss of the NXT title last year and his subsequent failures to recapture it following his feud with Pat McAfee. Upon Balor reclaiming the NXT title in a match also featuring Cole, it was his running mate O’Reilly who eventually found himself in the thick of chasing Balor and the NXT championship with Cole left to look on and cheerlead.
That visual right away should send alarm bells. If there’s one thing Cole as a character does not do is take a backseat to anyone; he’s an arrogant egomaniac, so it ultimately doesn’t matter whether it’s a friendship caught in the crossfire, Cole puts himself first always.
From a pure WWE/NXT standpoint, Cole turning on O’Reilly (at the very least) needed to happen. It remains to be seen where Strong will fall, or where Fish sides once he returns from his injury, but Cole has always been the alpha and O’Reilly has developed into one over the last few months so much so that he deserves an opportunity to break out from the identity of the group. There are otherwise no more stories to tell with them as a unit that do not retread old ground. Even if they remain paired (Cole/Strong and Fish/O’Reilly), they need to move on from each other as a quartet so that Cole and O’Reilly especially can forge their own singular identities on the show. Cole being the catalyst was the simple solution because him being jealous, even of his friend, makes sense; it bordered on bitterness as Cole stood over him after he super kicked him.
Not only does the group need to move on, but so does NXT from them. That doesn’t mean they should head to Raw or Smackdown, rather the group has been such a focal point in the power dynamics of the show that their identity is NXT’s; they’ve been one in the same. In order for the show to move forward with its new veterans arriving, combined with the new crop of recently-signed talent, HHH and company need to reformat the show around a new identity. That won’t fix all of NXT’s issues, but taking a step in a new direction not just for the group but NXT as a whole is long overdue. It gives the singles titles room to breathe, but more than anything it potentially fractures the group in a way that takes them out of the tag team division title hunt to allow groups like MSK or the Grizzled Young Veterans time to shine without the spectre of the Undisputed Era looming. It freshens up the divisions and opens up new creative avenues for all involved.
Not Their First Rodeo
Presumably most know that O’Reilly and Cole have known each other for quite a few years, having competed in singles tournaments in Chikara, teaming together as Future Shock in Ring of Honor, and competing over the Ring Honor world title at ROH’s Final Battle 2016 where O’Reilly beat Cole, and later again at NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom in January 2017 where Cole reclaimed the ROH title to become a 3-time champion.
Having known each other for years, the two have great in-ring chemistry together and performed on big stages in high-stakes situations. There’s no doubt we should see a repeat here as the UE implodes and the two set off on another collision course in front of more eyes than previously, and even more importantly with far more emotional investment into their story.
While they did compete elsewhere before, the stakes weren’t what they have become. Before it was simply two former partners at odds competing for the same prize. Now though? Now the story has changed. Now their bonds are stronger, now they’re family and now all that exists is heartbreak with one strike. The break from the Era creates tension. That perceived tension creates a story you can sink into as a fan to the extent a title is dessert to the main course of a meal. Cole and O’Reilly are consummate professionals who have shown time and again they can perform and perform well, so what lays ahead is an impassioned story certainly worth watching, with matches that will pay off.
Next Steps In Dispute
The knee-jerk presumption is that Cole is bound for Raw or Smackdown now, or will be in the near future. However, there is a fair amount of mileage in running this story on NXT programming so this may not be a short-term arc.
In the immediate term, Strong siding with Cole is likely if the purpose of this story over the last few months has been to build up O’Reilly as a serious threat to the brand’s singles titles. It wouldn’t make much sense for Strong to side against Cole in this scenario, especially when a byproduct of O’Reilly’s push is he and Balor gaining respect for each other. For the time being, we’ll probably see Cole/Strong dueling vs. Balor/O’Reilly building toward an eventual match between Cole and O’Reilly for the first time on the WWE/NXT stage.
The real questions without accounted-for-answers are what plans are for the oft-injured and currently sidelined Bobby Fish, who has longtime ties to both Cole and O’Reilly in Ring of Honor, although obviously Fish and O’Reilly have more history. While Cole and Fish have been stablemates, across WWE, NJPW and ROH Fish and O’Reilly have held 7 tag team championships and won NJPW’s Super Juniors Tag Tournament in 2014. They have history, and they have the bond you’d expect longtime partners to have. Because of that they can play either card with O’Reilly and both work. Fish turning on O’Reilly would be the obvious move to make, but NXT doesn’t really ever fall into the same narrative tropes Raw and Smackdown do, so Fish turning on his partner feels like less of a lock. There are arguments for both avenues, but there are two additional things to consider.
First and foremost, whether or not this is where NXT creative is headed is up for debate, but it feels like they’re building O’Reilly up for an NXT title win — anchored by the old Irish luck, third-time’s-the-charm booking we have ourselves in right now. After this portion of the Balor/O’Reilly and Cole/Strong story concludes, since their bond is formed out of respect it’s very likely Balor and O’Reilly will have a third match, which I’d expect Kyle to win. It’s hard to imagine Fish not being in the corner when his longtime friend secures his second world title, and all that’s needed for the story is that one celebratory, elated moment that you can’t plot or manufacture. That’s also where you can have Fish turn on O’Reilly either directly after the win or in the following weeks to reignite Cole and O’Reilly’s feud for the title, which he’d successfully defend.
Secondly, we’re kidding ourselves if we think Karrion Kross won’t be looping back to the title before too long, and while convention would dictate you’d just have Kross vanquish Balor, there’s more prospective story in having O’Reilly — who has become a serious babyface — overcoming Balor to win and later drop it to Kross in an aggressive, hard-fought match that sprints right up O’Reilly’s stylistic alley (before Kross decimates him in the final moments). And because his story is a sympathetic good guy arc, there’s no damage that can be done to him long-term upon losing to Kross, whereas part of Balor’s aura as a competitor takes a hit. Therefore, it protects everyone, tells a good story and lets the former champion regain his title in convincing fashion.
Once the dust settles, Cole may very well be Raw/Smackdown-bound. Who knows? For now, the foundation of NXT has been upended and we’re left with a number of scenarios that had been roadblocked with the group intact. What we do know, however this story plays out weekly and into the company’s major events, is the NXT we’ve known for the last 3.5 years is no more. It’s a new era ripe with fresh solo stars, a revamped tag division and a restocked women’s division. Cole’s turn last night was a shock, and it wasn’t all the same, because it’s the natural progression of their story. It’s also something that will benefit the show long-term because of how it opens up stories for the roster to pursue. Although Cole might have broken some hearts last night, most great things in wrestling tend to begin with a little drama before great stories can be told.