The scope and reach of NXT has reached dizzying heights the past two years. It was a big deal when the WWE's developmental brand ventured out of Florida for the first time, as part of the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, Ohio, in March 2015. It reached yet another level when the NXT championship received a featured position on the WWE live special "The Beast in the East," as Finn Bálor defeated Kevin Owens for the title, and NXT proclaimed its validity as a worthy third WWE brand when one of its TakeOver specials took place outside the confines of Full Sail University for the first time that August in Brooklyn.
At this point, touring the United States has become a fairly regular occurrence for NXT superstars, with multiple tours throughout the east coast and midwest in the past 12 months, to say nothing of a TakeOver special in Dallas during WrestleMania weekend and a return to Brooklyn in August. They traveled to London for their first major standalone TakeOver special without WWE support in December and returned to the UK for a second tour the past summer.
NXT is set to take yet another step in the final months of 2016. A nine-stop tour of Japan, Australia and New Zealand is set for December, with the roster set to make its longest trip to date. Before that can happen, however, there's the matter of another big announcement made in the past few days -- an NXT TakeOver special in Toronto.
The night before Survivor Series emanates from the Air Canada Centre, NXT TakeOver hosts its second international WWE Network special in the very same building on Nov. 19. It's another major milestone for the brand, and it provides another platform for NXT to show that it can still thrive after losing a large chunk of the top of its roster in the WWE brand extension draft.
A lot can happen over the next two months, but things have already started to take shape post-TakeOver Brooklyn II. There's a lot to unpack from that show and a lot of questions to be answered in the coming weeks, but the exercise of trying to predict how the TakeOver: Toronto card will play out provides an opportunity to both highlight the best things going on in NXT and explore some of the greatest challenges they face going forward.
NXT champion Shinsuke Nakamura
Since he signed with the WWE and subsequently joining the NXT roster, Nakamura hasn't lost a match. He has had numerous high-profile victories, including dispatching Sami Zayn, Austin Aries, Finn Balor and, most recently, Samoa Joe. But there's also Elias Samson, Tye Dillinger, Alex Riley, Blake and Murphy and Steve Cutler, all of whom he defeated one-on-one on an episode of NXT.
It doesn't stop there. Nakamura has been a regular presence at NXT's live events, and he hasn't lost a singles match in any of those shows, either. He has wins over the likes of Chris Jericho, Kevin Owens, Tyler Breeze and Bobby Roode, to name a few. Even in tag matches, he has been on the losing side only twice (and in neither instance did he take a fall).
If it isn't obvious from those numbers, Nakamura has been made to look like an utterly unstoppable force on his path to becoming champion. He might continue to look this strong for a while yet, but at some point, a believable challenger to his crown has to surface.
The other big question surrounding Nakamura is his long-term health. The prevailing theory is that because of his style in the ring, his clock is ticking at 36 years old. It's clear that Nakamura has met and even exceeded expectations as far as crossover appeal -- his entrance in Brooklyn, with fans singing along to a song with no words, should be a strong indication of his connection to the WWE Universe -- but if the WWE hopes to get a substantial run with Nakamura on either Raw or SmackDown, they might have to accelerate his progress. It isn't just 14 years of wrestling miles on his body that the WWE should be concerned about. Nakamura isn't the only one on the roster dealing with that kind of damage, but his signature "strong style" and a series of MMA fights add further concern about his long-term durability.
Likeliest challenger: Samoa Joe
It's pretty clear that this story isn't quite over yet. After Nakamura defeated Samoa Joe in a brutal-looking match in Brooklyn, they slowed things by having Joe sidelined with a jaw injury. It shouldn't take long for this rivalry to reignite, with Joe having to receive his contractually obligated rematch, and with the scale and grandeur surrounding their first showdown, it makes little sense for this to happen anywhere other than a TakeOver main event.
A two-month build to a rematch sounds just about right, with the original matchup not requiring a lot of buildup, having relied heavily on the excitement surrounding the novelty and excitement of the match. It's about time for Nakamura to have a more developed and nuanced rivalry, and the next few weeks of NXT should help both Joe and Nakamura as they further progress toward the main roster.
Each of these guys could be Raw or SmackDown Live-ready by the time NXT TakeOver: Toronto rolls around, and the way this feud plays out could very well give us a hint as to what's next for each of them.
NXT women's champion Asuka
As dominant as Nakamura has been since his April debut, Asuka has been on the same kind of run for twice as long. In addition to her pair of NXT women's championship match wins over Bayley, Asuka has beaten Nia Jax, Dana Brooke, Emma, Eva Marie, Billie Kay, Cameron, Deonna Purrazzo, Santana Garrett and Aliyah in televised matches.
The problem is she has been so good that she has run through all the serious contenders remaining in the NXT women's division. Jax, Bayley, Alexa Bliss and even Eva Marie are gone and off to Raw and SmackDown Live, and if this past week's episode of NXT is any indication, there will be some growing pains as the next generation of women get themselves to a level where they could be considered serious contenders.
Although age and wear-and-tear aren't nearly as big of issues with Asuka, SmackDown Live could certainly use one more main event-level woman on its roster to contend for the brand's new title. If it's going to take a few months for there to be serious challenges to her title reign, Asuka can simply pick off also-rans one by one and bow out gracefully at or immediately following TakeOver: Toronto.
Likeliest challenger: unclear
It could be Liv Morgan, who scored the victory on NXT, or it could be one of the longer-tenured women, such as Billie Kay or Peyton Royce. Perhaps it might be a wild card such as Daria Berenato or Mandy Rose.
Then there's the possibility that it could be the one and only woman presently on the roster who has been built up as a serious competitor: the recently debuted Ember Moon. We didn't get to see much of her move set in her brief showdown with Billie Kay in Brooklyn, but her movement in the ring and finisher make her far and away the most compelling challenger.
There's only one problem with that: No matter how strong a competitor has been portrayed upon his or her entry into the company, a competitor always has to first fight through the challengers ahead in pursuit of the championship. Paige won a tournament, as did Charlotte, and Sasha Banks, Bayley and Asuka all fought their way up. I'm not saying two months isn't enough time to build up Ember Moon, but it would be a dramatic departure from previous history.
The solution here appears to be a multi-way match, most likely including some combination of Morgan, Billie Kay and Ember Moon. That would give Asuka a chance to look strong, requiring two or more women to challenge her dominance, and whether she wins or loses, Asuka would come out of the match having gained something, either an extra element of vulnerability and personality or a one-way ticket to the main roster.
NXT tag team champions The Revival
You could have heard a pin drop inside the Barclays Center at the conclusion of the NXT tag team championship match between The Revival and Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano. Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson had been pushed to the brink a great many times in that match, but in using the kind of underhanded tactics that led to their two championship reigns, The Revival was able to take the wind out of the sails of a collective crowd that was convinced the good guys were going to pull it out.
It's a testament to just how good a heel tag team Dash and Dawson have been that they can elicit these kinds of reactions. In a world where the best and brightest bad guys are often cheered for how well they work, their move set and their personality, The Revival has been able to get crowds to genuinely dislike them while making all the teams they face look better.
Likeliest challengers: DIY (Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano)
As mentioned, the Brooklyn crowd was electric for this match, and with each progressive near-fall, the crowd hit a new plateau. It only seems right that they get one more chance on the biggest NXT stage to display how well these two teams can work together. Every indication -- from Gargano's continued selling of his bum knee in the Cruiserweight Classic to Ciampa's beatdown last week on NXT -- seems to indicate they'll get that shot.
Even with both Ciampa and Gargano joining the cruiserweight division on Raw, it's likely they'll split time between the two rosters for the foreseeable future. With teams such as the Authors of Pain and TM61 coming up the ranks, there are a few more factors working in their favor when it comes to the possibility of at least a transitional championship reign. It seems unlikely that the heir-apparent Authors of Pain would run through The Revival on their way to the titles, and TM61 has already been dispatched by both the Authors of Pain and The Revival.
If DIY gets the victory this time, be ready for the roof to come off in Toronto.
The championship matches aren't all we should concern ourselves with. Most of these competitors have at least some grudging argument working in their favor, as far as a title shot in Toronto (or soon thereafter) goes, but each can benefit from the right kind of opponent under the bright lights of a show taking place during Survivor Series weekend.
Hideo Itami vs. Austin Aries
The groundwork for this battle has been well-laid, with Itami hitting the Go-2-Sleep on Aries immediately following his victory in Brooklyn. If you're looking for the next contender for the NXT championship, you'd do well to pay attention to this showdown, as the winner can seemingly punch his ticket to that match.
We have yet to see the full complement of attacks from Itami since his return, and Aries is a wonderful counterpart, as both men look to put on a potential show-stealer in Toronto. Itami was on the verge of the main roster before he went down for more than a year because of injury, and it's going to take him some time (and some powerful opponents) to prove that he can get back to where he was, from a physical standpoint.
Bobby Roode vs. Tye Dillinger
There was no way to know just how popular Roode would be upon his NXT debut, but between his swagger and his incredibly catchy entrance theme, the NXT faithful have immediately thrown their support behind Roode, despite his heelish tendencies. On the other end of the spectrum, Dillinger has been picking up some victories and some momentum since embracing the crowd and their enthusiastic "10" chants. Putting two guys as over as Roode and Dillinger into the ring at the same time could prove to be one of the more compelling scenarios for Toronto.
Roode getting a victory seems inevitable here, but if Dillinger can put on a 15-plus-minute match and prove he can more than hang with the best NXT has to offer, he might finally gain some momentum toward a move up to the main roster. It's worth mentioning that fans and colleagues believe Dillinger has what it takes; a long list of current and former WWE competitors, including Kevin Owens and Cody Rhodes, have singled out the long-time developmental talent as being the total package.
No Way Jose vs. Andrade "Cien" Almas
This one takes a little more explaining, but hear me out. Despite being brought in as a good guy, Almas has had the unenviable task of facing off with two of the most beloved bad guys NXT has to offer to begin his career. First it was Dillinger, with fans' reactions immediately turning against him. Then Almas took on Roode at TakeOver: Brooklyn II, and despite an impressive performance, he never really had a chance to get the fans behind him.
It's time to take that organic reaction and turn it into a positive for Almas by making him the bad guy he is so naturally suited to be. In his previous run as "La Sombra" in CMLL and New Japan, Almas was able to draw genuine anger and disdain from the crowd, and both his moves and his swagger tend to give him a leg up in that regard.
Jose has far exceeded expectations since his over-the-top introduction to NXT, and he put on a great showing in defeat against Aries in Brooklyn. He'd play the perfect foil for either the culmination of a heel turn for Almas or the final exclamation point to such a move.