Quite a bit has changed over the course of the past three months and the last NXT TakeOver event in Chicago. We've seen rivalries come and go, new superstar debuts and character iterations. But through it all, there have been three constants in NXT -- its champions.
Bobby Roode, Asuka and the Authors of Pain have held their respective championships longer than any current reign on either Raw or SmackDown, but new challengers pose greater hurdles than each has yet seen -- especially with the NXT landscape due for some changes.
For the third straight year, NXT TakeOver will be at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. The two preceding TakeOver: Brooklyn events have exceeded expectations and provided an unparalleled live platform for everyone involved on just about every level, to the point at which the show can be considered the premier event on the NXT calendar.
"In some ways Brooklyn, for NXT, has become our WrestleMania," Paul "Triple H" Levesque, executive vice president of talent, live events and creative for WWE, told ESPN. "In that, even though we do a show at WrestleMania, I think that at Mania, no matter what we do, we're in the shadow of the stadium, and we're in the shadow of the week; it's 'WrestleMania week.'
"At SummerSlam, in Brooklyn, it's a little bit different. We're all at the same venue, we're all kind of working in front of a similar crowd, and when we go back, Brooklyn is what put us on the map. ... All of a sudden this brand got built up and it became this moment in time that was like, 'Wow, NXT has arrived.'"
This year's card has the potential to not only measure up to its predecessors, but also to outshine them. The event also presents a major challenge to those on all WWE rosters to evaluate where they stand in the company and what's next.
For Levesque, someone whose role is to continue to build the talent for the entire company, TakeOvers present an opportunity for NXT talent to shine. That's particularly true in Brooklyn, with NXT's event held in the same venue as SummerSlam on back-to-back nights.
It's a rare opportunity for a side-by-side comparison between NXT and the main roster.
"I want to make this better than any of them," Levesque said. "It's a challenge, right? My goal, and I'll give a speech to those kids right before they walk to the ring. We've done it every year. Every year we pushed the main roster. Every year we've made the main roster watch TakeOver and think, 'Man, I've got to step up tomorrow.'
"If you're on the show on SummerSlam or you're not on the show at SummerSlam, and I'm looking at Bobby Roode. I'm looking at Drew McIntyre. I'm looking at Asuka, Ember Moon and all the people that are in that show. I'm thinking, 'They're right behind me. They can call those talent up at any time and there's only so many spaces on Raw and only so many spaces on SmackDown."
With a number of superstars seemingly on the brink of a call-up, the energy and excitement should be palpable. Let's look at the card.
NXT Championship: Bobby Roode vs. Drew McIntyre
The NXT championship picture is in a state of turmoil. On Wednesday night's go-home show ahead of TakeOver: Brooklyn III on Saturday, Roode turned the tide in his favor by interrupting the main event between McIntyre and Roderick Strong to lay both of his rivals out.
Roode and his 200-plus-day title reign will face off with McIntyre at TakeOver, but where Strong, who's remained in the picture for the past six weeks, fits into the equation remains to be seen.
Despite an unsuccessful attempt at dethroning the champ last month, Strong's focus has not shifted away from Roode, who has made a habit out of verbally taunting Strong and his family.
General manager William Regal offered an attempt at clarity, scheduling a match between Strong and McIntyre on Wednesday night. The TakeOver: Brooklyn match was set in stone, but a win for Strong would have earned him another chance at revenge on Roode.
The outcome Wednesday night was far from clear.
As McIntyre and Strong were battling it out, Roode did everything in his power to muddy the waters. He attacked both men, forcing the bout to end prematurely. So where does that leave us for Saturday?
Right now we still have a one-on-one championship match in place between Roode and McIntyre, but Strong's potential involvement is still very much in the picture.
It would not be a surprise to see Strong inserted into this match last minute, or at least get involved in the outcome. Levesque believes this particular main event should truly stand out among all of the Brooklyn offerings.
"This is one of the matches that I think in some way is really, in my opinion, is going to surprise a lot of people and be something more," said Levesque. "I think people expect it to be good, but I think it's going to be something more than they even expect."
Both Roode and McIntyre have paid their dues elsewhere, but after joining NXT, Levesque is thrilled with the development they've made. Roode, as the champion, has continued to develop, even as he's led NXT as the champion.
"Bobby is a guy who came in with a long history behind him and a long pedigree behind him of being other places and being successful," said Levesque. "He came in here [with] a lot of flash, but he had a long way to go in a learning curve, and an arc of where he wants to be and in things he wants to accomplish in his career. Even when he had the role, it was still taking him time to put his feet solidly on the ground. I feel that now his feet are solidly on the ground. ... He's where he needs to be."
For McIntyre, his return to prominence seems a bit more personal to Levesque, and Saturday night will be another chapter in a career that has been filled with highs and lows.
"I feel that Drew has finally gotten into a place in his life where he is willing to work hard enough to be what he should have always been," said Levesque. "He's had a look, he'd had charisma, he's had talent, he's had all these things, but he'll be the first guy to tell you that it didn't work out the first time for a lot of reasons. ... I was thrilled to call him months ago and say, 'It's time.' I couldn't be happier for him and the spot he's in."
NXT Women's Championship: Asuka vs. Ember Moon
One of the most anticipated matchups on the TakeOver card will see Asuka put her historic 500-plus-day reign on the line when she defends her NXT women's championship against Ember Moon. This is a rematch from TakeOver: Orlando in April, a bout that Asuka won because of shenanigans involving the referee.
"I feel like Askua has done a lot to change stylistically, and the impact and intent of the women's division," Levesque said. "I watched her in Japan, just the limited amount of stuff that she was doing and I would think ... she's a game-changer for me. ... Asuka has done amazing things, but she can do more."
Just three days before their matchup, the two met in the middle of the ring alongside Regal to take part in the frequently combustible contract-signing segment.
Moon admitted that Asuka's run as champion has been remarkable.
"Asuka, you've had an incredible journey here in NXT. You are considered to be one of the most dominant champions to have ever stepped foot in NXT -- no, no, no. The WWE."
Moon also offered her prediction for their match at TakeOver. "At TakeOver: Brooklyn, I am going to end your reign of dominance. I, Asuka, I am going to end your undefeated streak. And I, Asuka, I am going to beat you to become the next NXT women's champion."
If that is the case, Levesque would have no problem with seeing Moon leading the way for foreseeable future.
"Ember Moon took a long time [to develop her character], but all of a sudden, man, she has come into her own as this amazing performer that is really ready," Levesque said. "When I look at the locker room and I look at the people that are ready to take that mantle, and to headline a women's division in NXT, she's at the top of the list."
NXT Tag Team Championships: Authors of Pain vs. SAnitY
"AOP has been here for a year and a half, all-in," Levesque said. "I remember recruiting those guys on an international recruit and I don't think either one of them had been in the ring more than for a second. ... I don't even know if they actually even ever had a match. ... To be where they are, at that level, doing that in that a short period of time, it makes me think, man, does this system work?"
The Authors of Pain have owned the NXT tag team division since they debuted last summer. Rezar and Akam will have been the champions for more than 200 days by this weekend, tearing down high-profile opponents including #DIY and The Revival on multiple occasions in the process.
They face a different type of challenge on Saturday in SAnitY. From a size perspective, Killian Dain and Alexander Wolfe stack up more than AOP's previous foes. The group also holds the numbers advantage.
Last week, SAnitY leader Eric Young made his return, which allowed them to gain the upper hand on the champs. While there is a lack of true contenders in the tag team division, is it time for a change?
AOP's greatest strength has been their undeniable dominance and taking a loss at TakeOver, even against formidable opponents in SAnitY, would hurt their image a bit. The outcome will be crucial as it pertains to their development as an unstoppable force. The one potential loophole would be SAnitY's utilization of their aforementioned numbers advantage as they look to become the only blemish on the otherwise untarnished resume of AOP.
Aleister Black vs. Hideo Itami
An altercation two weeks ago that saw Aleister Black interrupt an angry rant by Hideo Itami, leading to a Black Mass spinning heel kick to Itami's face, sparked this fresh feud full of potential.
Later that night, a WWE.com exclusive revealed Itami's pursuit for vengeance in the parking lot, taking the conflict to the next level.
The two will battle it out on Saturday night in a match that favors Black, as he's been as strong or stronger than anyone on the NXT roster since his debut in Orlando. It's tough to fathom him losing in this situation.
Johnny Gargano vs. Andrade "Cien" Almas
When Johnny Gargano returned to NXT TV for the first time since the demise of #DIY last month, he stated, "TakeOver: Brooklyn is the biggest show of the year and I have to be there no matter what. I need to be Johnny Gargano again. More importantly, I need to be Johnny Wrestling."
Gargano will get his wish in a showdown with the new and improved Andrade "Cien" Almas, who is in the middle of tossing out his lackadaisical habits in place of a more focused demeanor thanks to his new associate Zelina Vega.
This is an important match for both men.
For Gargano, it will be the first big step in establishing himself as a bona fide singles star. Getting off to a winning start would go a long way in shining a positive light on the beginning of this stage of his career.
Almas has floundered a bit in NXT, especially throughout the past year. He has won a few matches but hasn't graduated to an elite level within the brand. His recent dealings with Vega and the modifications of his persona might be just what he needs to climb the ranks. A win would kick start that process.