Welcome to part 3 of a 3-part series I’m doing this week to break down the top potential candidates who might walk away victorious for the 4th annual Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania 33.
So far, the match has not even been announced, let alone has the field of competitors been set, so many elements are up in the air, but that’s what makes speculation fun, right?
We’ve already run down the Raw options and SmackDown options, so for this post, we’ll be setting our sights on the outsiders from NXT and elsewhere in WWE’s talent pool. Keep in mind that tonight’s show could change everything as they may make some announcements regarding the status of any of these men that could sway things one way or another.
As I see it right now, these are the most likely wrestlers from the yellow brand to be standing tall at the end of the night (in no particular order):
Caution: this section contains some spoilers for upcoming episodes of NXT, so if you’re not aware of those and you don’t wish to know what happens, skip it and go to the next part.
With that warning out of the way, we’re now free to talk about the elephant in the room with the set of tapings that happened recently.
Elias Samson was challenged to a “Loser Leaves NXT” match by Kassius Ohno, who was victorious. This came somewhat out of the blue as the two weren’t feuding, nor was Samson building toward any kind of upward momentum. Quite the opposite was going on, in fact, as he had just recently returned from an injury that put him on the shelf for many months.
Why do this? Why now? Why with Samson of all people?
It’s very suspicious, as it implies one of three options are going to happen: 1) he is going to continue to wrestle in NXT but under a different gimmick like the masked El Vagabondo character he’s worked as on some live events, 2) he’s being released from the company and this was just an interesting way to do it, 3) he’s being called up to the main roster soon and will go to Raw or SmackDown post-WrestleMania.
To be fair, the masked gimmick doesn’t necessarily force him to stay in NXT, so this may be applicable to the third option as well, but I would bank on door #2 not being the case. Because of these scenarios and how Baron Corbin was a surprise entrant last year who ended up winning the whole thing, I wouldn’t be too shocked to see Samson set up for this type of win. He’s nowhere near a big enough name to call him any sort of favorite to win, but perhaps that’s just what WWE wants.
Part of me thinks although Dillinger has a better shot than the majority of the NXT roster or the other people who could be brought into the mix, the fact that he was in the Royal Rumble negates his chances. This is probably a case of overanalyzing the minutiae WWE’s creative team themselves don’t even think about, though. If they want someone to win it, they either have plans well enough in advance or they just narrow their picks down to a few and choose close enough to the time it happens, so Dillinger could very well be eligible to win.
Sooner than later, he has to come up to the main roster again. His short stint in ECW was a lifetime ago and since then, he’s proven himself as a viable asset. Not only has he gotten over with the crowd in NXT, but that has translated to a more widespread popularity as evidenced with how often the audience will chant “ten” in situations that don’t call for it despite how we haven’t seen him anywhere on Raw or SmackDown since that Royal Rumble appearance.
If he’s on the list of call-ups for the post-WrestleMania season, what better way to hit the ground running than for him to be a standout performer who has a major victory to his name? He hasn’t won the NXT Championship, so he doesn’t have that to brag about, nor is he a heel who can start things off by attacking someone to make an impression like Samoa Joe. Of course, he doesn’t need something like this, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.
I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here in saying I think Bobby Roode will retain the NXT Championship at NXT TakeOver: Orlando. Nakamura is a 2x champion, he’s had his time with the title, and Roode shouldn’t be dropping it this soon—particularly not to someone who is ready to move up to the main roster and to do other things.
Really, what is left to accomplish in NXT for Nakamura? A feud with Eric Young and SAnitY? A couple of matches with Andrade “Cien” Almas? None of that is worth keeping him away from AJ Styles, Dolph Ziggler, Cesaro, Seth Rollins and plenty of others.
Many times in the past, WWE has booked someone to lose a match only to follow it the next night (or even later on that same evening) with a big win to offset it. Likewise, people have won titles just to drop them the next night, like Zack Ryder from last year’s WrestleMania. Perhaps Nakamura will come up short against Bobby Roode, but to compensate for that, he will win the battle royal and move up to either Raw or SmackDown.
He’s certainly the biggest star from NXT ready enough to make the transition and I don’t think you’d see many people upset with him outlasting the likes of the rest of the participants.
The easy pick for someone in the United Kingdom division would be Tyler Bate, but he already has the championship, so there’s no need to give him a second win like that. It’s an unnecessary stacking and wastes the opportunity to give someone else a chance to shine.
Ignoring him, they’ve also gone out of their way to pretty much throw Mark Andrews, Wolfgang, Trent Seven and Pete Dunne onto the NXT roster until they sort out their plans, but the one who has had the most spotlight on him is definitely the latter.
Dunne was the runner-up in the tournament and he had a lot of attention going his way when he attacked Sam Gradwell after the first round had concluded. Clearly, they see something in the bruiserweight, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest bit if he’s either the next man to hold the title or he’s given some other kind of pat on the back.