The bar is going to be set mighty high for Backlash after WWE's third brand brings the house down at NXT TakeOver: Chicago.
Saturday's live special has the parts in place to be NXT's best effort all year. Asuka will face two rising stars in the women's division. Bobby Roode will defend his NXT title against the electric Hideo Itami. Plus, an invasion from two of WWE's UK stars is sure to thrill.
It may be tough for SmackDown's Backlash pay-per-view to keep up. The pressure is on, Jinder Mahal.
TakeOver will first rock Chicago's Allstate Arena on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on the WWE Network a night before Backlash emanates from the same building.
Will we see new titleholders emerge from The Windy City? Will Sanity stumble? Will Asuka's historic reign end?
Read on for a full dive into those questions and more ahead of TakeOver: Chicago.
Roderick Strong vs. Eric Young Tyler Bate vs. Pete Dunne (U.K. Championship) The Authors of Pain vs. #DIY (Ladder match for NXT Tag Team Championship) Asuka vs. Ruby Riot vs. Nikki Cross (NXT Women's Championship) Bobby Roode vs. Hideo Itami (NXT Championship)
Young over Strong Bate over Dunne The Authors of Pain over #DIY Asuka retains Itami over Roode
Strong Clashes with Sanity
When Tye Dillinger stood up to the maniacal Sanity faction months ago, Strong eventually found himself involved in the ensuing battles. Now that The Perfect 10 has moved on to SmackDown, Strong is charged with maintaining the fight against Young's posse.
Sanity pounced on Strong in March and have since hounded him in and out of the ring.
It's not yet time for Strong to issue payback. There is more to explore with this story, giving The Messiah of the Backbreaker a chance to connect with fans as the hero tangling with a crew of miscreants.
Alexander Wolfe and Killian Dain are bound to get involved. That will spell defeat for Strong and set up the next chapter.
Bate vs. Dunne II
The WWE UK division doesn't yet have a permanent home, so NXT is acting as a temporary host.
Bate, the inaugural WWE UK champ, won his title by defeating Dunne in a tournament final this February. Dunne has earned himself another shot at the gold.
And so Bate will have to fend off The Bruiserweight in a potential show-stealer.
The Bate-Dunne rematch will be a display of viciousness and technical skill. Bate said of the bout in a B/R interview this week, "Both of us have plenty more tricks in the bag that we can pull out. It's just going to be balls to the wall."
The Authors of Pain have been unstoppable since storming onto the NXT scene.
Led by Hall of Famer Paul Ellering, Akam and Rezar have beaten up every foe in their path—that includes Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano of #DIY, whom the powerhouses dethroned in January.
The babyfaces will get the added benefit of having ladders at their disposal in their quest to reclaim the titles. Ciampa, though, won't be 100 percent. He turned his ankle at a live event on Thursday night, as Raj Giri of Wrestling Inc noted.
Justin LaBar of Upgruv shared Triple H's comments on the situation during a media conference call on Friday:
Assuming Ciampa is good to go, this will be excellent. #DIY has made a habit of getting the best from its opponents.
Asuka Continues to Conquer
Asuka is 1997 Goldberg all over again. She hasn't lost since joining NXT and has had a white-knuckle grip on the women's title since last April.
The unhinged Nikki Cross from Sanity and the tattooed scrapper Ruby Riot are out to end that historic run. Cross, Riot and Ember Moon were the last women standing in a recent No. 1 Contender's Battle Royal. Asuka attacked all three to prevent a clear winner from emerging.
Riot, Cross and Moon were all set to challenge Asuka at once, but injury is keeping Moon out of the contest.
As good as Riot and Cross have been, WWE isn't going to crown either woman right now. The eventual fall of Asuka will be a huge deal and change one wrestler's career forever. It doesn't feel like that time is now.
Itami Takes the Throne
The Glorious One is about to suffer a knee to the face that will leave him sans title.
Itami's return from a neck injury has left the Japanese warrior looking more focused and fiery than ever before. Getting hurt has halted his previous pursuits of the mountaintop, but now we'll finally get to see what Itami looks like as the face of the NXT brand.
After finishing off the likes of Kassius Ohno and Shinsuke Nakamura, Roode grew extra cocky, believing no one could test him.
In came Itami, kicking ass in sockless loafers. Itami knocked off Strong to become the No. 1 contender to the NXT title. And with that, TakeOver: Chicago's main event was set.
Itami's high-octane style will force Roode to go at a faster pace than normal, leading to a stirring showing in front of a raucous Chicago crowd.
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