WWE NXT TakeOver 31 Results: Winners, Grades, Reaction and Highlights
Without a main roster pay-per-view looming large over the weekend, NXT TakeOver hit the WWE Network Sunday night with the spotlight all its own and a main event match between Finn Balor and Kyle O'Reilly that became must-see the night it was made official.
That NXT Championship bout headlined a show that sought to build on the momentum the brand has created for itself in recent weeks.
Would it succeed? Could the men and women of WWE's most consistently great show produce another in a long lineage of spectacular live-event specials?
Find out now with this look at the October 4 blockbuster.
Announced before the spectacular:
- NXT Championship match: Finn Balor vs. Kyle O'Reilly
- NXT Women's Championship match: Io Shirai vs. Candice LeRae
- NXT North American Championship match: Damian Priest vs. Johnny Gargano
- NXT Cruiserweight Championship match: Isaiah "Swerve" Scott vs. Santos Escobar
- Kushida vs. Velveteen Dream
NXT North American Championship Match: Damian Priest vs. Johnny Gargano
The black-and-yellow brand wasted little time kicking things off in a big way as NXT North American champion Damian Priest defended against Johnny Gargano in the night's opening contest.
The champion rocked Gargano with a heel kick early and followed with a jaw-jacking right hand. The challenger recovered and teased the Gargano Escape, but Priest escaped and teased his own finish, the Reckoning, to no avail.
Priest crashed and burnt at ringside, allowing Gargano to seize control of the bout. A jumping knee to the back earned the challenger a near-fall. He followed up with a modified half-crab, looking to force a tapout from Priest.
Priest recovered and launched himself into the corner, catching Gargano with a back elbow. A Broken Arrow followed for a two-count as the commentary team put over the back-and-forth nature of the match to this point.
Priest set up for the Razor's Edge, but Gargano countered into a sunset flip bomb for a two of his own. As the fight spilled to the arena floor, Priest pulled off a Razor's Edge onto the ring apron but could only keep Gargano down for a near-fall.
The challenger capitalized on an opening and targeted the left arm of his opponent. Gargano countered an attempt at the Reckoning with a Sliced Bread No. 2 and followed with a running forearm to the back of the head.
Gargano mocked Priest and nearly ate a chokeslam, only to turn it into a roll-up for two. Priest finally executed South of Heaven but, again, could not put his opponent away. As the champion launched himself over the top rope, Gargano alertly pulled two members of NXT security in the way, leaving them obliterated at ringside.
A low blow from Gargano and superkick made for a great false finish as Priest still managed to kick out at two. Dragging him back to the center of the ring, the challenger applied his trademark submission, only for the champion to battle his way to the ropes.
They teased a spot onto the ring steps, but Priest rocked his opponent with a big kick. He followed with a draping version of the Reckoning for the pinfall victory.
Priest defeated Gargano
This was a hard-hitting, hard-fought match defined by its counters and reversals, teases and false finishes, but in the end, it was Priest's resiliency, tenacity and ability to finally deliver his trademark maneuver that earned him the victory.
Priest continued his streak of red-hot, high-profile matches here and is rapidly developing into the brand's version of Scott Hall. Ironically enough, given his admitted fandom of Razor Ramon.
Speaking of irony, Gargano sported Shawn Michaels-influenced gear. The Cleveland native has developed into the best big-match performer and standard-bearer in NXT. He is the guy you turn to for a show-stealer, and that is as great a compliment as one can pay to Johnny Wrestling given the abundance of talent on the roster.
Kushida vs. Velveteen Dream
As he continues to find himself as a meaner, more aggressive and no-nonsense competitor, Kushida encountered the man who awakened his darker side: Velveteen Dream, who countered his opponent's Time Splitter persona by dressing as Doc Brown from Back to the Future.
Kushida wasted little time, attacking his opponent before the bell. Dream ultimately slowed his opponent's momentum, using his emotions against him. Dream uncorked a wicked uppercut that floored Kushida and then followed up with an insulting Bronco Buster as boos engulfed the Capitol Wrestling Center from the limited number of fans in attendance.
Dream applied the sleeper as Wade Barrett reminder fans that "despite all of the hoopla that surrounds him," there is an astute wrestler beneath.
Kushida recovered and pulled Dream shoulder-first into the ring post as fans chanted "one more time!" He obliged and then dropkicked the stairs into the arm of his opponent, causing Dream to scream in agony.
Dream tried for the Purple Rainmaker, but Kushida caught him with an armbreaker. Dream made it to the sanctuary of the ropes and then poked his opponent in the eye. A powerbomb followed as Dream scored a near-fall. Kushida, seamlessly, grabbed another armbar, but Dream broke it up.
Dream finally delivered the Purple Rainmaker, but the damage done to his arm did not allow him to capitalize. Kushida fought back and came off the top rope with Dream, applying the Hoverboard Lock. Dream fought out and delivered the Dream Valley Driver, but his opponent held on and forced the submission for the win.
Kushida defeated Dream
Well, no one wanted Dream to win anyway, so there's that.
The match was well-wrestled and featured some great storytelling surrounding Dream's injured left arm. Kushida sold, probably more than he should have, but hit that next gear as he punished his opponent with the Hoverboard Lock late.
After the bell, Kushida further assaulted Dream, targeting the arm. He ripped and tore at it. Dream cried out in pain as referees forced the New Japan Pro-Wrestling alumnus to the back.
It was further evidence of the change in personality Kushida has undergone in hopes of developing into the main event talent everyone already expected him to be.
NXT Cruiserweight Championship Match: Isaiah "Swerve" Scott vs. Santos Escobar
The months-long rivalry between Isaiah "Swerve" Scott and NXT Cruiserweight champion Santos Escobar came to a head Sunday night. With Legado del Fantasma members Raul Mendoza and Joaquin Wilde absent from ringside, Scott looked to earn his first title in WWE.
Fueled by that thirst for championship accolades, Scott fearlessly took the fight to Escobar early and often, soaring through the air and wiping him out on the floor. He worked over the champion's left arm and looked for an armbar, but Escobar took advantage of his overzealousness and wrested control of the match away from the challenger.
A huge Frankensteiner from the top rope put Scott down for two. Some trash talk from the champion, though, ignited a fire in Swerve, who exploded with a series of strikes and a jumping uppercut to the back. A rolling flatliner earned him a two-count, and a spike DDT out of the corner resulted in the same as frustration set in.
Wilde and Mendoza interfered, allowing Escobar to put Scott down, but he could only score a two. Scott recovered and delivered a big headscissors that sent Escobar off the top rope and into his teammates. Ashante Adonis made the save for Scott, fighting off Mendoza and Wilde.
Back in the ring, Scott rolled into a big superkick and Escobar put him down with the Phantom Driver. Scott kicked out, much to the chagrin of the champion, who followed up with the Three Amigos.
Scott survived, snapped Escobar's arm, followed with the House Call and executed a picture-perfect 450 splash...but Escobar still kicked out.
The fight spilled to the apron, where Escobar shoved Scott into what was supposed to be exposed steel from a turnbuckle. From there, he delivered a double underhook facebuster for the successful title defense.
Escobar defeated Scott
The finish hurt, but this was a great bit of business.
Scott's increasing frustration was the key to this one as everything he threw at the champion failed to put him down. Even when Adonis showed up to even things up a bit, Scott still could not put Escobar away. The bungled finish, with Escobar making good on his attempted removal of the turnbuckle pad earlier in the match, gives Scott an out for not winning but also highlights how he really failed to capitalize on his opportunities.
The question now is where Escobar and Co. go from here. Surely, the feud with Swerve is over, but might a series with Adonis be on the horizon?
Regardless of what awaits him, Escobar has been a huge help to the credibility of the cruiserweight title and is the sort of heel Triple H and NXT Creative can build the entire division around.
NXT Women's Championship Match: Io Shirai vs. Candice LeRae
Candice LeRae challenged Io Shirai in one of the most anticipated matches of the night, seeking to do what her husband could not, and that was to leave TakeOver 31 with gold. A prematch video package reminded viewers that it was LeRae whom Shirai betrayed nearly a year ago, not to mention it was she whom Shirai cost the No. 1 Contender's ladder match a few months back, establishing a lengthy backstory for this encounter.
Shirai punished her challenger early but ate a nasty lariat as LeRae looked to earn control of the bout.
She grounded Shirai and worked her over with a submission. The challenger tried a step-up senton, but Shirai rolled out of the way. The Genius of the Sky fired off a 619 and missile dropkick. She caught LeRae midflight with a boot to the midsection and followed that up with an underhook backbreaker a la Chris Jericho.
Shirai delivered double knees in the corner, a palm thrust and a German suplex. LeRae answered with a snap German and a backstabber. A springboard moonsault resulted in a two-count. Shirai applied a crossface, but the challenger countered into the Gargano Escape.
Shirai fought toward the ropes and after a brief delay finally forced the break. An errant elbow to the referee by the heel meant he missed the Air Raid Crash. LeRae got the knees up, preventing the moonsault, during which the referee was bumped again.
LeRae delivered the Wicked Stepsister, and Johnny Gargano hit the ring in a referee's shirt to make the count. Shirai still kicked out. Gargano grabbed the women's title and slyly slid it to LeRae as he argued with the referee.
LeRae blasted Shirai with it, but the champion still kicked out.
The heels threw a temper tantrum, leading to Shirai delivering a super Spanish Fly and moonsault for the successful defense.
After the match, a prerecorded message from Toni Storm announced her return to NXT, while the video packages promising a returning former champion paid off with an appearance from Ember Moon. Shirai appeared impressed with both impending challengers.
Shirai defeated LeRae
Another match, another really strong effort from the NXT competitors.
This was a bit overbooked late, but it worked within the context of the over-the-top heels, and Shirai overcoming only strengthens her reign.
The arrival of Storm and the return of Moon solidify the most talented portion of the NXT roster. With those new faces incoming and a WWE Draft on the horizon, one has to wonder how different the new division will look by the time the next TakeOver rolls around.
NXT Championship Match: Finn Balor vs. Kyle O'Reilly
The NXT Championship headlined Sunday's show as Finn Balor made his first defense of the gold against The Undisputed Era's Kyle O'Reilly, arguably the single most underrated performer under the WWE umbrella.
O'Reilly grounded Balor and worked his superb mat game early, targeting the left arm of his opponent. The champion rolled through a sunset flip and delivered a basement dropkick to the face of his challenger. The Prince proceeded to remind the audience that he is an accomplished technician, too, as he worked over his opponent on the mat.
A big knee to the midsection turned Balor inside out and allowed the challenger to seize the upper hand and refocus on the arm. He executed a flawless combo of consecutive underhook suplexes, followed by an underhook DDT, never once breaking his grip.
A wicked kick to the midsection by the champion preceded rib and midsection work by Balor. O'Reilly fought back with a jumping knee and an O'Reilly lock into a suplex for two. Nursing his arm and elbow, Balor again managed to seize control, downing O'Reilly with a Sling Blade and teasing the shotgun dropkick. Instead, the challenger delivered a basement dropkick that took the champion's knee out from under him.
Champion and challenger exchanged submissions, each looking to force a tapout from the other, culminating with the challenger forcing a break with a handful of rope.
Sheer physicality ensued as the competitors unloaded strike after strike, turning each other inside out with hard rights and kicks and a nasty lariat from O'Reilly.
The challenger grabbed hold of the armbar, but a desperate champion stomped his way out of the hold. Balor followed up with 1916, but O'Reilly kicked out. Seeking the Coup de Grace, Balor scaled the ropes, only to be crotched by his opponent. The challenger delivered a corkscrew in the ropes, exploiting the knee injury he perpetrated earlier in the bout.
A jumping knee from the top rope to the left knee of his opponent gave way to a heel hook as the Brazilian jiu-jitsu expert sought a submission win. Balor slugged away, looking to force the break. He finally did, upon grabbing the bottom rope.
Balor exuded a burst of energy, dropping O'Reilly and delivering a double stomp. He answered a rolling German with another double stomp. He delivered the Coup de Grace and scored the win in the extraordinarily hard-fought match.
His mouth bleeding profusely and nursing both a left arm and knee injury, Balor stood tall as the reigning and undisputed champion on NXT.
As Balor showed O'Reilly a sign of respect, Ridge Holland appeared with a battered Adam Cole and deposited him at ringside. Roderick Strong and Bobby Fish rushed the ring wondering what the hell happened as the show faded to black.
Balor defeated O'Reilly
Holy hell, what a professional wrestling match.
Teeth were almost certainly lost, bodies were beaten and internal organs were traumatized in one of the most physical matches you will see in a Vince McMahon-owned ring. It was every bit as good and compelling as advertised. O'Reilly proved his worth as a top guy in NXT, while Balor silenced anyone doubting that he was somehow not the same guy who rose to prominence a decade ago.
The champ and his top contender waged war in one of the best matches in NXT history and a clear Match of the Year front-runner. On top of that, their match served as a storyline progressor, as Cole's beating took place without his bestie O'Reilly by his side, creating an air of mystery surrounding it.
What happened? Did Strong and Fish have anything to do with it?
Is WWE really pulling the proverbial trigger with Ridge Holland already?
There are questions to be answered that will make this Wednesday's broadcast must-see TV.
Go out of your way to check this match out, though, because it is clearly the best match WWE has produced this year, and it's not particularly close.