NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia comes into focus as Authors of Pain and Shayna Baszler secure title shots

The Authors of Pain punched their ticket to TakeOver: Philadelphia and an NXT tag team title match against the Undisputed Era with their victory over the Street Profits. Courtesy of WWE

The impact that the Undisputed Era has made in NXT since the trio's arrival last summer cannot be understated. They ruined the NXT championship celebration of Drew McIntyre at TakeOver: Brooklyn III the night they debuted together, won the first War Games match in nearly 20 years and, most recently, singled out one of the brand's other hottest stars in Aleister Black as a target and derailed him from reaching his NXT championship aspirations.

Bobby Fish and Kyle O'Reilly closed out 2017 by becoming NXT tag team champions in their first attempt at the titles last month with a win over SAnitY, immediately making them the top dogs in what's becoming a hungry and talented division. With so many hungry tag teams in NXT already nipping at their heels -- teams like Heavy Machinery, the Street Profits and the soon to be returning TM61 who hope to break out, and teams like the Authors of Pain and SAnitY who have unfinished business with the Undisputed Era.

And so, in the penultimate week of NXT TV leading up to TakeOver: Philadelphia, a battle for who would step up and face Fish and O'Reilly at one of NXT's biggest yearly showcases highlighted Wednesday night's broadcast. On one side were the charismatic upstarts, the Street Profits, taking on a team in the Authors of Pain who had already held the NXT tag team championships for more than 200 days.

After a series of wins over predominantly lower-profile teams that put them on a roll toward the end of 2017, this was far and away the toughest test to date for the Street Profits. While they showcased some offensive flurries throughout the match, they ultimately fell short to a team in the Authors of Pain who had largely disappeared from TV since their hellish battle inside of the War Games cage back in November.

Despite the loss, the future looks bright for Montez Ford and Angelo Dawkins. They are one of, if not the most charismatic teams on the roster, and their in-ring work is top notch thanks in large part to Ford's athleticism; he's as crisp a performer as you'll see in the ring, especially considering he got his start in wrestling in NXT. He's something special.

For now, their opportunity at championship gold will have to wait. The Authors of Pain have some unfinished business with the Undisputed Era, as they look to become just the second team in history to win the NXT tag team championships a second time in Philadelphia.

A potential shakeup in the NXT Championship match at TakeOver: Philadelphia?

The Velveteen Dream made a point last week when he questioned the legitimacy of Johnny Gargano's place as the No. 1 contender for the NXT championship. Sure, he beat Kassius Ohno and won a Fatal 4-Way, but Gargano was only in the tournament to fill in for an injured Dream in the eight-man tournament. When he interrupted Gargano's interview last week, he let it be known that "The Dream deserves his spot."

Zelina Vega, on behalf of NXT champion Andrade "Cien" Almas', reiterated that point in a backstage segment with General Manager William Regal and claimed that Gargano would be embarrassed at TakeOver: Philadelphia. After two losses to Almas, if Gargano truly wanted to prove himself, he'd put his championship opportunity on the line against Dream.

Despite Regal's hesitance, Gargano took to the ring to address the situation with the most passionate promo of his NXT career.

"I am done being doubted around here. I am not a broken man. I am not a loser. This, this is not a fluke. This, this is my time. This is my opportunity and no one... No one is gonna' stop me," Gargano exclaimed. "Velveteen dream, you want me to put my opportunity on the line? Fine. You got it next week."

Gargano closed by proclaiming, "For the first time in a very long time, I know exactly who I am. I'm Johnny Gargano. I'm Johnny frickin' Wrestling and I am the next NXT champion!"

The stakes couldn't be higher for Gargano, who could lose the opportunity to fulfill his dream before he even gets the chance to try to live it out. From Dream's perspective, he's got the opportunity to move on to TakeOver: Philadelphia and solidify the notion that he is the fastest rising star in NXT. From the fans' perspectives, get your popcorn ready because these two are about to put on a show.

Elsewhere in NXT

  • One week after her decisive NXT in-ring debut against Dakota Kai last week, Shayna Baszler made her presence felt again. Following a match that saw Lacey Evans score a victory over Aaliyah, Evans began to deliver a heel-ish promo when Baszler made her way to the ring to illustrate her dominance yet again, which sent Evans fleeing from ringside. She locked in a rear naked choke on the defenseless Aaliyah, prompting Ember Moon to make the save just like she did last week.

    Moon was pushed over the edge and challenged Baszler, who predictably targeted Philadelphia and the NXT women's championship. Regal made it official, and Baszler officially pushed her way into the No. 1 contender slot.

  • Coming off of a loss in an impromptu tag team title match against the Undisputed Era last week, Roderick Strong rebounded with a strong effort and a win over the consistently improving Fabian Aichner. Following the victory, Strong issued a challenge to the monstrous Lars Sullivan. This comes just one week after Sullivan issued a challenge to SAnitY's resident bruiser, Killian Dain. With challenges being thrown in all different directions, it will be interesting to see where this situation leads. Perhaps they'll be combined into a triple threat? There's still room for one more match on the TakeOver card.

  • In what has to be considered an upset, the duo of Tino Sabbatelli and Riddick Moss scored a victory over Heavy Machinery when Moss used the ring ropes to his advantage as he pinned Tucker Knight. They've been punching bags to this point, but could that finally be changing?

  • We were treated to a wonderful video package highlighting the journey of Nick Miller and Shane Thorne of TM61 to NXT, which was reminiscent of the Roderick Strong feature from last year. Similarly, there will be a part two to that series, which will air next week.

  • No Way Jose returns next week. It will be his first televised match since a loss back in August to Lars Sullivan.