Shotzi Blackheart def. Dakota Kai
Blackheart's stock is higher than it's ever been coming off her stellar showing against Io Shirai a few weeks ago on the show, so it was wise to have her win here. Kai has won enough this year where I don't feel like she loses much in defeat, especially with her being distracted by Rhea Ripley and Raquel Gonzalez brawling at ringside. This was a fun opener, but that spot on the apron (where Blackheart could have seriously screwed up her neck) was completely unnecessary.
NXT Cruiserweight Champion Santos Escobar and Isiah "Swerve" Scott Exchanged Words
NXT doesn't do the split screen gimmick often, but when they do, it works and it was effective here. I'm stoked that we're getting a rematch between Escobar and Scott over the Cruiserweight title and that it will be going down at TakeOver 31. Escobar is such a natural on the mic that he unsurprisingly shined again here, while Scott getting the chance to further develop his character was appreciated.
Cameron Grimes def. Ariel Dominguez; Ridge Holland def. Grimes
Grimes was in the midst of hosting his very own invitational (leading to his fast win over Dominguez) when Holland came out and completely killed him. Holland was impressive when they first brought him in a few months ago, but this is what we need to see more of from him. He can and should be booked like a dominant monster and this was a nice step in that direction.
Kushida def. Tony Nese
I really liked the video package that aired for Kushida before the bout explaining his recent mean streak. It's been refreshing to see and I'm glad he's finally getting his just due. This was exactly what it needed to be with Kushida showcasing his skills in relatively quick fashion. Velveteen Dream keeping his post-match promo short and sweet was for the best, but I really hope Kushida beats him at TakeOver.
Adam Cole def. Austin Theory
Triple H and the rest of the important people behind the scenes must be pretty high on Theory if he's been on almost every episode of NXT since his return. Yes, he's lost every match he's had so far, but he always looks competitive in defeat and this was another quality contest from him. As for Cole, I don't know if I would call this an official face turn as much it was him showing support for his friend Kyle O'Reilly. I hope the plan isn't to split up Undisputed Era, but we may be headed in that direction based on how Cole came across here.
Kayden Carter def. Xia Li
I can totally understand the average viewer not caring about the last two matches Li and Carter have been involved in against each other, and normally I wouldn't either, but they're clearly trying to tell a story here and I'm intrigued. The match itself was nothing worth writing home about, but Li apparently turning heel afterward might be the best thing for her. The happy-go-luck entrance has got to go.
Shawn Michaels Hosted a Sit-Down Between NXT Champion Finn Balor and Kyle O'Reilly
Everything they did with O'Reilly on this show was stellar and it was important because his TakeOver match with Balor came together at the last minute. The mini Prime Target special showed off a side to O'Reilly viewers may not have seen before, while this sit-down featured some strong mic work from both Balor and O'Reilly. Michaels didn't really serve a purpose and probably shouldn't have been in this segment to begin with considering Randy Orton just attacked him (did they mention that this was filmed in advance, or did Michaels just recover that quickly again like when Orton punted him in August and he stood right back up?), but he was a fine moderator. Of all the matches scheduled to take place at TakeOver 31, I'm looking forward to this one the most.
Johnny Gargano and Candice LeRae def. NXT North American Champion Damian Priest and NXT Women's Champion Io Shirai
Priest and Shirai made for an awesome pairing here as their characters meshed perfectly together. Gargano and LeRae were excellent as always and thus this was a super fun main event. The in-ring action was entertaining and it served as a nice preview of what to expect from the two title matches at TakeOver. Gargano pinning Priest was necessary as I honestly can't remember the last big match he won, not to mention he's likely losing on Sunday.
I've praised NXT for the newfound energy it's had lately (even without anyone in attendance due to recent COVID outbreak), but this show seemed to lack that in my opinion. That isn't to say it was a poor episode, but there wasn't anything overly exciting about it. That said, there was plenty of effective hype for Sunday's TakeOver event. The build has obviously been rushed, but I have no doubt it will deliver like every other installment of TakeOver has. This show was highlighted by the final half hour with everything else being decent albeit unspectacular.