Before the men and women of the WWE main roster take the stage for the 2019 Royal Rumble, their peers on NXT will do the same for NXT TakeOver: Phoenix. Despite being the developmental show and getting only a portion of the publicity, TakeOvers tend to blow their pay-per-view counterparts out of the water. Since these events only happen every three months, there’s more riding on the line for each competitor. The programs have had more time to build up and usually are more driven by the characters and storytelling than on the main roster. With that in mind, we’ve ranked each wrestler from most to least likely to win Saturday night.
10 Tommaso Ciampa
This NXT Champion may have been an unlikely superstar, but he is not giving up the belt anytime soon. He is the most hated man in NXT (maybe the most hated man in all of WWE) and he’s doing a great job as champion. Above all, his feud with Jonny Gargano needs the belt. If it doesn’t, then their feud becomes above the belt, more important than a championship, and that’s a slippery slope. This has the potential to be one of the best feuds in recent memory (if it isn’t already). Their final standoff seems likely to come at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn, so Ciampa will hold on tight to the belt until then.
We may not be looking at a whole lot of title changes this time around, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. North American Champion Richochet has held the title for as long as he has for a reason. He is stunning in the ring and powerful on the mic. His most recent feud with Gargano has been interesting and the match will surely be exciting, but it’s serving a larger program in Gargano vs. Ciampa. Ricochet has a distinct advantage here, that his sole focus is on defeating Gargano and retaining his championship. It’s just not meant to be the feud that takes the North American Championship off Ricochet.
8 Bianca Belair
The first championship change to make our list comes at the hands of the undefeated Bianca Belair. Shayna Bazsler may have two flunkies in her corner, but Belair is the hottest thing in NXT right now and everyone knows it. It’s quite likely that the reason she didn’t come up with Nikki Cross and Lacey Evans is that she’s close to a championship reign. She is also so close to a face turn, as is obvious from the pop she gets every time she walks down the ramp. This is the perfect opportunity to accomplish both those goals at once. By overcoming Bazsler and her Horsewomen, showing her heart and winning over the crowd, Belair will be a bonafide star.
7 Kassius Ohno
Since returning to the WWE, Kassius Ohno has not exactly been a huge star. Instead, he’s slid very nicely into a gatekeeper position on NXT. Undoubtedly, his leadership in the locker room is helpful to have around the performance center, and his veteran instincts can help take young talent to the next level. That said, a gatekeeper needs to occasionally win in order to maintain their status. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter that you knocked off Ohno, everyone did. That’s why it would be wise to give him back this win against Matt Riddle. His opponent may go onto do bigger things, but it will give Ohno his teeth back to have gotten one over on Riddle first.
6 War Raiders
When it comes to the NXT Tag Team Championships, it could possibly go either way. After all, the War Raiders came into the WWE as one of the most sought-after tag teams in the industry. It was a foregone conclusion that they would hold the championship soon enough. With Heavy Machinery out of the way, the path is clear for War Raiders to be the ones to finally give Undisputed Era their comeuppance. The question is whether Saturday is the night. We give them a slightly better chance than their opponents because of their recent momentum. The production value of their vignettes alone speaks to how much WWE is putting behind them.
5 Undisputed Era
On the other side of that equation is the super-dominant and dastardly Undisputed Era. Kyle O'Reilly and Roderick Strong have had a strong hold on those NXT Tag Team Championships, only briefly losing them to Mustache Mountain a few months ago. We put their chances just bellow War Raiders, it really could tip either way. However, if the ultimate goal is to have Undisputed Era hold all the gold at once, they first have to lose all the gold. It’s far more impactful if each of the members wins a championship on the same night. Right now the Tag Championships are all they’ve got left, so we could see Undisputed Era hitting rock bottom this Sunday.
4 Matt Riddle
Matt Riddle is one of the most recent big signings for WWE, and for good reason. The former MMA fighter is legit, and he knows it. He will be a star in the company and should be looking at a title reign before long. For now, though, he can eat a loss against Kassius Ohno. There is something to be said about not over-pushing new stars. Wins are important, sure, but overpowering new debuts too quickly can lead to serious burnout. Riddle has one of the most important things in wrestling: he’s cool. A loss here won’t take that coolness away from him. Winning too much too early can turn even the most charming babyfaces into insufferable ones. Plus, Ohno is a star in his own right, so there’s no shame in losing to someone of his caliber.
3 Shayna Baszler
We all know that WWE wants to get the Four Horsewomen of WWE vs. the Four Horsewomen of MMA on the table within the near future. Shayna Baszler is probably the most equipped wrestler out of all of them, and she shouldn’t hang around NXT waiting for Marina Shafir and Jessamyn Duke to be ready. It’s okay that they need more time, but it seems silly for Baszler to stay on NXT with them. Point blank, Baszler is ready for prime time; she’s one of the best characters NXT has produced. It’s time for her to come up to the main roster, and to do that, she’ll need to drop the NXT Women’s Championship. Baszler can enter the Royal Rumble, and the Four Horsewomen can reunite when the time is right.
2 Johnny Gargano
The new Johnny Gargano seems more aggressive and determined than ever. In theory, that would make him the extremely prepared to win the North American Championship; but in wrestling, not everything goes down the way it should on paper. If Gargano has proven anything in the last year, it’s that he’s quite easily distracted. That could easily be his undoing against the Ricochet. For him, he’s only fighting one person: Gargano. For Gargano, he’s fighting Ricochet and the ever-present threat of Tommaso Ciampa. The NXT Champion could play a crucial role in this match because the truth is, he doesn’t want Gargano to move on from their feud.
1 Aleister Black
Last on our list is the former NXT Aleister Black, and for much the same reason as Baszler. He’s ready for the main roster. Black didn’t have the world’s greatest championship run, but he’s more than capable of taking on major programs in WWE. He has a presence unlike anything else on the roster, and his flair for the dramatics will work in his favor on the main stage. It just hasn’t mattered much in the main event scene in NXT. For as long as Gargano and Ciampa are there, they will be center stage — everyone else will be an afterthought. It’s time for Black to move on.