Though there was a quick build and questions surrounding whether the show would deliver on short notice, NXT TakeOver: 31 put forth such an incredible 2.5 hours that it should be in contention for major show of 2020 in any year-end awards that are given in the world of professional wrestling. Every match on the five-bout card was strong, and while there were no title changes, WWE found a way to offer plenty of intrigue for its NXT brand going forward.
The show began with the debut of the Capitol Wrestling Center, a set build inside the WWE Performance Center from which NXT will broadcast for the foreseeable future amid the COVID-19 pandemic. With chain link fencing surrounding the plexiglass barriers, sectioned pods for fans and massive video boards, the setting somehow felt simultaneously underground and futuristic.
As far as what happened in and around the squared circle, as mentioned, no titles changed hands on Sunday night. Still, all four title matches were tremendous with major storylines surrounding the NXT championship main event and women's championship co-main event. Two female superstars -- one a former member of NXT and one a prior member of NXT UK -- are now part of the brand just as it is preparing to potentially be raided during the WWE Draft starting this Friday.
CBS Sports was with you the entire way updating this story with everything that went down from NXT TakeOver: 31. Keep on reading for a full set of results along with grades from the show.
NXT TakeOver: 31 results, grades
Complete highlights from the show can be found below this recap in the live updates application.
North American Championship -- Damian Priest (c) vs. Johnny Gargano: Gargano got in a lot of offense early, including a missile dropkick and flying senton with Priest wrapped up in the ropes. Priest eventually retained the momentum with a flatliner and the Broken Arrow, though two Razor's Edge attempts were countered by Gargano. After missing a roundhouse kick, Priest was thrown into the post and brought outside, though he roundhoused Gargano in the shin to knock him off the ring apron before hitting the challenger with a Razor's Edge onto the hardest part of the ring for a 2.7 count. Gargano and Priest traded counters with Gargano landing an impressive standing version of Sliced Bread, but he could only manage more near falls. Priest eventually managed to hit Gargano with South of Heaven but was unable to capitalize.
Gargano threw a couple security guards in his way as Priest missed a tope cannonball senton, low blowed the champion while the referee was distracted and hit a superkick back in the ring but was only able to manage a 2.9 count. Priest nearly submitted to the Gargano Escape but would not subdue. Gargano hit the champion with a barrage of superkicks, but while tussling over the ropes, Priest was able to overpower One Final Beat and hit Gargano with a draping version of The Reckoning for the 1-2-3. This concluded a tremendous opening match that set the tone for the evening. It was well-wrestled, included plenty of potential finishes and ultimately ended with the proper booking decision as Priest was elevated by taking down one of the top superstars in NXT history. Priest (c) def. Gargano via pinfall to retain the title -- Grade: A-
Kushida vs. Velveteen Dream: Kushida attacked Dream before the bell as Dream entered dressed like Doc Brown from "Back to the Future," a nod to Kushida's Time Splitter gimmick. Though Kushida is a junior heavyweight, he was aggressive and hard-hitting the whole match, stomping Dream in the face and running his shoulder twice into the steel post before dropkicking his hand between the steel steps and the ring. An eye gouge, Dream Valley Driver and Purple Rainmaker looked to do Kushida in, but Dream was unable to capitalize due to his injured shoulder. As Dream looked for another elbow drop, Kushida locked him in the Hoverboard Lock on the top rope and slammed him to the canvas, maintaining the submission; when Dream found the ropes, Kushida rolled through. Then Dream looked to have broken the the submission with another DVD, but Kushida rolled through that, too, and maintained his finisher for the quick tap out and victory.
As his hand was being raised after the match, Kushida instead decided to attack Dream and apply an armbar with wrist action until they were separated by referees. There was never a dull moment in this match, and Kushida looked the strongest he has in NXT thus far. The storytelling of his newfound aggressiveness was clear, and the inventive finish plus the post-match attack was fantastic. Well done across the board. Kushida def. Velveteen Dream via submission -- Grade: B
Cruiserweight Championship -- Santos Escobar (c) vs. Isaiah "Swerve" Scott: Escobar was the clear aggressor and in control of the match early, hitting Swerve with a frankensteiner that stunned him. After some taunting from the champion, Swerve found his momentum with a roundhouse clothesline, jumping elbow from the middle rope, rolling flatliner and a DDT with Escobar squatting on the middle turnbuckle for a couple near falls. Just as Swerve was set to capitalize, Legado del Fantasma ran interference, shifting the momentum back to Escobar. Swerve then leaped from the middle rope and stunned Escobar with a huricanrana off the ring apron to the outside. Ashantee "Thee" Adonis ran in to help Swerve, but as Swerve attempted another rolling flatliner, Escobar caught him with a superkick. A Phantom Driver followed, but Swerve kicked out at 2.9 to the shock of everyone.
Escobar then hit Three Amigos, but Swerve avoided a sloppy frog splash. The challenger snapped back Escobar's left arm with a stomp, hit House Call to the side of his head and then nailed a 450 splash -- only for Escobar to kick out at 2.8 to his surprise. With both men fighting on the ring apron, Swerve was pushed backwards and hit his head on the ring post. Escobar immediately brought him back in for a double underhook shoulderbuster for the win. Though this was an incredible match, the random help from Adonis gave away the finish as it made it clear these two would likely be operating as a tag team. Still, the action was top-notch and Escobar won without cheating, which is always nice for a heel. Escobar (c) def. Swerve via pinfall to retain the title -- Grade: A-
Women's Championship -- Io Shirai (c) vs. Candice LaRae: The action was fast and furious early with Shirai landing on her feet from a monkey flip and hitting a springboard Asai moonsault off the middle rope to the outside. LaRae focused on being aggressive, but Shirai answered with a stomp to the midsection, flapjack, 619 and springboard missile dropkick ... only for a two count. Shirai then hit a double underhook backbreaker, but after her moonsault attempt was countered into a sit down powerbomb, she immediately responded with a meteora. LaRae then ate a German suplex, but she responded with a snap German, backstabber and lionsault for a 2.5 count. When LaRae was forced to break an extended Gargano Escape, she elbowed the referee and knocked him out. Shirai hit an Air Raid Crash, but LaRae got her feet up to block the moonsault and the referee got thrown from the ring.
LaRae took advantage of Shirai and hit her Wicked Stepsister finisher, but there was no referee to count so Johnny Gargano ran down with a referee shirt. He tried a fast count, but Shirai still kicked out before three. Gargano then stole the women's title and brought it in the ring, but the referee came to and was distracted by Gargano's arguing. This gave LaRae the opportunity to hit Shirai in the face with the title ... but she surprisingly kicked out at 2.5, sending the married couple into a fit. Shirai drilled LaRae with a Spanish fly from the top rope and then nailed her moonsault for the 1-2-3. A title change here would have made all the sense in the world, and Shirai had two outs to drop it, so it was surprising to see a retention. Still, this thing kicked into high gear over the final third of the match, and Shirai looked incredibly strong overcoming all that adversity for the win. Shirai (c) def. LaRae via pinfall to retain the title -- Grade: B+
Women's roster grows: After the match, NXT UK star Toni Storm appeared on the big screen, announcing that she would be joining the brand and going right after Shirai's title. Moments later, NXT paid off the Call of Duty-style vignettes it had aired over the last two weeks with Ember Moon making her return to the brand coming off an extended absence from the ring due to injury. Moon looked like a "Mad Max" character, wearing a leather jacket with spikes as her hair was shaved into a mohawk.
NXT Championship -- Finn Balor (c) vs. Kyle O'Reilly: Lots of technical wrestling and hard strikes early before the first big moment, a pair of double underhook suplexes and a double underhook DDT by O'Reilly. Balor and O'Reilly continued exchanging brutal strikes with O'Reilly taking a running turnbuckle to the chest lot of punishment in his ribs before taking Balor down with a suplex nearly on his neck. Balor dropped O'Reilly with a slingblade, but the challenger took Balor's knee out on an attempted missile dropkick. O'Reilly began bleeding from the mouth and screamed as Balor locked him in a Sharpshooter, though he eventually got to the ropes. O'Reilly hit Balor with a ton of MMA strikes and a lariat, but Balor countered with a guillotine. Balor eventually hit his 1916 finisher, but O'Reilly kicked out at 2.8. The champion paused before going for his Coup de Grace, and O'Reilly was able to block it with a kick and then a dragon screw with Balor straddling the top rope and then the middle rope. O'Reilly worked on Balor's left knee all match, hitting a knee dive from the middle rope and then knocking Balor in a heel hook that nearly resulted in a submission.
Balor ducked away from continued onslaught by O'Reilly and caught the challenger with two stomps to the chest as the champion began to gush blood from the mouth. In a bit of a slow finish, Balor climbed to the top rope and hit his Coup de Grace for the 1-2-3. Balor refused to allow the referee to raise his arm as he limped and continued bleeding from the mouth as he stared O'Reilly down in a mixture of anger, shock and respect. Balor eventually offered a hand, lifting O'Reilly up. This match absolutely ruled. It was hard-hitting, violent and filled with fast-paced action. Balor was cemented as a strong champion, and O'Reilly proved to be far more than one half of a tag team. If the finish had been a bit smoother, this may have reached perfection. Balor (c) def. O'Reilly via pinfall to retain the title -- Grade: A
Surprise attack: Out of nowhere, Ridge Holland appeared over the barricade with Adam Cole over his shoulder and dumped Cole into the ringside area. Roderick Strong and Bobby Fish ran down acting like they did not know what was happening, asking if anyone saw what happened as NXT TakeOver went off the air.