Rushonrock’s favourite WWE brand returns to the big stage this weekend. For too long NXT has been restricted to the confines of the Capitol Wrestling Center. Ahead of WrestleMania Saturday, the up and coming Superstars will experience the spotlight and, for most on the stacked card, it will be their first time in front of this large a number of the WWE Universe. With so much change in the last year, will NXT Stand & Deliver? Or will they pale in comparison to the Takeovers from yesteryear? Andy Spoors shares his verdict and breaks down what to expect from a huge night of action…

When the first bell of Stand & Deliver sounds, 777 days will have passed since the last NXT Premium Event in front of an arena other than the intimate surroundings of the WWE Performance Center/ CWC.

In that time the entire world has seen their day to day lives flipped upside down and changed potentially forever. So exactly what has changed for NXT? In a word? Everything.

Gone is the black and gold colours associated with the brand since its inception. Replaced with vivid splashes of colour akin to a Skittles advert. A glance at the card from that last event paints an even better picture of the scale of change seen on WWE’s third brand.

Of the 14 Superstars that performed at Takeover: Portland only two now remain with the brand. Dakota Kai and Tomassa Ciampa represent a whisper of what was widely regarded as the best show WWE had to offer. The change hasn’t ended there either, with the latter of those two announcing his intention to leave his beloved home of NXT following his match on Saturday.

Shockingly, not a single champion that walked in or out of Portland as a winner that night remains with the brand. Even the very sound of NXT has changed dramatically with the commentary team of Mauro Ranallo, Nigel McGuinness and Beth Phoenix now replaced by Vic Joseph and Wade Barrett.

Undisputed Era? Gone. Johnny Gargano? Gone. Cruiserweight Championship, William Regal screaming ‘War Games’, Takeovers and Metal music? Gone, gone, go…you get the picture.

So with this much change, it may be fair to question exactly what there is left to enjoy? Well…a lot actually.

It may have taken a few weeks to find their stride, but NXT 2.0 as the brand has been referred to since the wholesale changes, seems to be back on course. It may not be the polished product that once emanated from Full Sail and the CWC.

A heavier focus on developing the Superstars of tomorrow is evident. Don’t expect five star match after five star match that previous Takeover events have served up. NXT is a place for talent to find, create and hone their larger than life personas.

The best example of this mantra is undoubtedly Bron Breakker: a Performance Center graduate and son of soon to be Hall of Famer, Rick Steiner. A physical specimen, with a drive and determination to be the best in the industry, Breakker has already captured the NXT Championship once and looks to recapture the title from current champ Dolph Ziggler.

Ziggler himself has sprinkled a little main roster pedigree to proceedings, a veteran foil for the green Breakker as it were. It may have come as a shock to see Ziggler — a Superstar who’s been on WWE’s books for 18 years not only appear on NXT but won the brand’s championship too.

However, for large periods of time, it was Dolph who was entrusted to ‘bed in’ NXT talent moving to Raw and SmackDown, a prolonged rivalry with Shinsuke Nakamura living long in the memory. He is, without doubt, a safe pair of hands that can make talent look great but there are very few that can legitimise a finishing move quite like The Showoff.

Talking of showing off, the trio of Toxic Attraction has every right to do just that. NXT Champion Mandy Rose and NXT Women’s Tag Team Champions, Gigi Dolin and Jacy Jayne have been riding high in the women’s division.

Involved in one of the most talked about storylines back in 2020, Rose moved over to NXT and has transformed her character. More than just a change of hair colour, the leader of Toxic Attraction has developed both her promo skills and in-ring work. Becoming the face of not only a division but the brand, stands her in fantastic shape should a move to Raw or SmackDown occur in the near future.

Teaming up with the fantastically charismatic Dolin and the talented Jayne, has proved invaluable and don’t bet against the trio appearing together on the main roster. Not quite as over with the WWE Universe as Undisputed Era were in the pomp, but not far off, a call up could breathe fresh life into a women’s division that could do with some new Superstars.

Rose will defend her championship against the fresh faced Cora Jade, who has been in the business for less than five years. An intriguing twist just last week saw NXT veteran Io Shirai and the longest reigning NXT UK Women’s Champion, Kay Lee Ray, added to the match.

Another example of blending new talent with safe hands to deliver a product that is easy to consume, but just as unpredictable as it has always been. The same can be said for the North American Championship Ladder Match that jumps out on the Stand & Deliver card.

Packed with talent, each Superstar will not only be looking to capture the championship on offer, but will be out to prove why they could be the next in line for a shot at NXT’s top title. Expect fireworks as Carmelo Hayes (touted for a huge future in the industry) puts his title on the line in the always exciting ladder match. This match is undoubtedly our one to watch this weekend and would not look out of place on a future WrestleMania card.

One of the last signings of the old school era of NXT, LA Knight has become a firm fan favourite. A throw-back of catch-phrases and charisma, Knight is a bonafide Superstar who will, in all likelihood, move to the main roster sooner rather than later.

Facing off against one of the most revered talents in the business, Gunther (FKA WALTER), gives fans a chance to see how both men cope in a clash of styles. This could be the start of an era of dominance for Gunther in WWE. A possible feud with the previously mentioned Breakker is a mouth-watering proposition.

With a host of other up-and-coming talent not even on the card for S&D, the future (and colour scheme) is extremely bright for NXT. The chance to perform in front of a big audience is the next logical step in the brand’s development.

Takeover events used to be the hottest ticket in town during WrestleMania weekend. However, a somewhat death-slot time of midday, just hours before night one of Mania, isn’t the kindest of starts.

The WWE Universe may be settling in for a feast of wrestling this weekend but before the main course is served up on Saturday, there will be more than just a few people looking forward to the appetiser NXT has to offer…         

Full NXT Stand & Deliver Card

NXT Champion Dolph Ziggler vs. Bron Breakker

NXT Women’s Champion Mandy Rose vs. Cora Jade vs. Io Shirai vs. Kay Lee Ray

Carmelo Hayes puts North American Championship on the line in Ladder Match vs Cameron Grimes, Solo Sikoa, Santos Escobar and Grayson Waller

NXT Tag Team Champions Imperium vs. The Creed Brothers vs. MSK

NXT Women’s Tag Team Champions Toxic Attraction vs. Raquel Gonzalez & Dakota Kai

Tommaso Ciampa vs. Tony D’Angelo

LA Knight vs. Gunther

You can watch all the action of NXT Stand & Deliver on the WWE Network from the special start time of 6pm BST.