By John Moore, Prowrestling.net Staffer (@liljohnm)
Join John Moore for live coverage of NXT Takeover: New Orleans as the show airs tonight at 7CT/8ET. Dot Net Members will hear his exclusive audio review after the show. Get ready for NXT Takeover with Will Pruett and Jake Barnett’s free audio preview at PWAudio.net.
Starting from most to least confident, I’ll be going over my confidence picks as to who will end up being the first NXT North American Champion. The announcement came out of nowhere and the build has been rushed in order to make the TakeOver deadline, but I feel NXT had done a good job maximizing their limited time to build up credibility for all of the wrestlers.
NXT North American Championship Confidence Picks
1. Adam Cole – I keep flip flopping with this one. Part of the flip flopping comes from the Bobby Fish injury and if they decide to have Cole focus on tag team action. Cole’s guaranteed to work the ladder match, but I don’t fully buy into him as a double champion. Maybe that’s how they get him hella over? Put all the eggs in the Undisputed egg basket? After the end of this week’s NXT, I came to the conclusion that the Undisputed Era was dropping the tag titles due to the funky nature of the Dusty Classic trophy being involved and that Cole was going to win this title to put some steam behind him. Part of what set him up for this big push was his strong match against Kassius Ohno. Adam Cole’s NXT run has been filled with a ton of losses so a big win like this can push him into relevance.
2. EC3 – If NXT wants to run with a strong heel champion at the top of the card, EC3 would be your man for the job. The reason I say the words “top of the card” is because I don’t see this North American Championship as a dedicated mid-card title, at least for now. I see them trying to make the belt run side-by-side with their world title. EC3, formerly Derrick Bateman, has improved immensely and has a proven track record in being a credible champion. EC3 has been a heel champion that prefers to cheat but can be resourceful if his cheating avenues are taken away from him. The guy is a money talker. Think Bobby Roode in terms of character but much better. Where EC3 might struggle a bit is in his mobility. He’s solid in the ring and showed that during his first WWE run. He’s gained a lot of muscle bulk and it has caused him to get a bit clumsy. Hopefully he cuts just a little bit to retain some of that mobility. There are just so many good feuds that you can line up for EC3 and he would be my favorite to win. EC3 would be a great pick but I think Adam Cole NEEDS the belt more than Ethan.
3. Ricochet – Ricochet is my dark horse pick to win the whole thing and if I were running NXT I would put the belt on him to be the workhorse champion. Just like EC3, I’m basing my confidence on my prior knowledge of his work. Ricochet, who was known as Prince Puma in Lucha Underground, was Lucha Underground’s inaugural top champion and I thought it was a real asset to have him be the fighting champion with heel contenders lining up to try to take him off the high pedestal. Ricochet had really entertaining feuds and matches with the likes of Johnny Mundo, Drago, Brian Cage, Hernandez, Fenix, Chavo Guerrero, and King Cuerno (El Hijo Del Fantasma) before losing the title in a match against Mil Muertes (Judas Mesias). It was cool to have a champion who would defend the belt every three weeks or so and have that anticipated match deliver at a fun level. Ricochet sells well enough to make his nearfalls mean something. Cage was his first hurdle, and Cage looked like the guy who was going to take the belt off of him. So was Hernandez. Drago even lost a career vs. title match to him. I know I’m going on a Lucha Underground tangent but it’s my experience with covering it on-air and in-person that I know how Ricochet works as a fighting champion. He has one glaring weakness and that’s his mic work. One thing that he benefited from immensely was having Konnan has his babyface manager. Once LU had him start talking at points in season 3 he seemed lost. Less is more with him on the microphone and I like the way that they have him be confident and “a man of few words” so far in NXT.
4. Lars Sullivan – I feel like I have Sullivan higher than a lot of people would. I talked about Ricochet being a great babyface champion based off of my experience with reviewing Prince Puma matches. In the same universe, I feel Lars Sullivan can be the Mil Muertes of NXT. The Heel overlord of NXT. He’s strong and affluent, it can work. Cole needs the title more and I think EC3 makes a better fit for the WWE style of heel champion. Lars Sullivan is like a boss character from the Dark Souls video games. Just look at his matches. He squashes like no other. Right before he got injured, they were putting him up against credible people like Kassius Ohno, Lio Rush, and Roderick Strong and they told great stories of warriors trying to overcome the monster only to come short. Sullivan would be a King of the Mountain type of champion for me and can have a similar effect as Ricochet, except you have a cavalcade of babyface challengers instead of predominantly heels.
5. Velveteen Dream – Based off of what I’m seeing online and fan reactions, I feel like Velveteen Dream is “The People’s favorite” pick to win the NXT North American Championship. I have gone on record in saying that Velveteen Dream and Aleister Black’s feud was my favorite feud to watch in 2017 due to how rapid Patrick Clark was growing as a character on a week-to-week basis. What usually wins me over is when I see a bad character, like the bad Prince cosplayer Velveteen Dream beta, and that character makes a 180 and becomes amazing. I get nervous when I hitch my credibility wagon to someone and I’m glad he caught on with others just like he did me. That said, I can see him winning if NXT wants to capitalize on his popularity, but personally I wouldn’t put the belt on him for three reasons. One, he doesn’t need it yet. Two, other people need it more. Three, there are still fun undercard feuds he can have before he gets to championship status.
6. Killian Dain – Dain’s an amazing wrestler. He’s a big ol’ dude who weighs over 300 lbs yet moves like a cruiserweight. He does flip dives, sentons, dropkicks, and slingshot moves. Think of him as a modern day Vader. He doesn’t need the belt. I see him getting called up soon. Plus, no offense to the UK, but I think the fact that Dain comes from the UK works against him becoming the inaugural North American Champion. I can see him being the “swerve” pick or the guy who beats the champion, but here’s hoping they do not put the belt on him.