WWE NXT TakeOver 31: Should Io Shirai or Candice LeRae win?

WWE NXT, Io Shirai (photo courtesy of WWE)
WWE NXT, Io Shirai (photo courtesy of WWE) /

At WWE NXT TakeOver 31, Candice LeRae and Io Shirai will have their second TakeOver title match. But this match is even more unpredictable.

Since winning the NXT Women’s Championship at TakeOver: In Your House in a Triple Threat match against Charlotte Flair and Rhea Ripley, Io Shirai has been an excellent champion. She is one of the top five wrestlers in the world heading into WWE NXT TakeOver 31, but she will face her most difficult opponent as a champion.

And that opponent is a familiar foe to Shirai. She and Candice LeRae had one of the best matches in TakeOver history at last year’s TakeOver: Toronto, blowing everyone away with a technical masterpiece. There was no title on the line, but it was a main-event quality match that Shirai won via submission.

A lot has changed since then. Shirai is the champion. LeRae, meanwhile, is the Poison Pixie of NXT. She turned heel in the spring and has been pursuing the title since then. And before Tegan Nox’s torn ACL, it looks liked LeRae could win the title at WWE NXT TakeOver 31 and eventually put over Nox for her big babyface title win.

As it stands right now, LeRae’s path to winning the title against Shirai is still there, but, storyline-wise, it has gotten even more difficult – and maybe a little more intriguing. LeRae vs. Nox has been bubbling as a major program in NXT, but LeRae is such a big name for the brand that she’ll always have something to do. And WWE could be looking to move Shirai up to the main roster during the upcoming draft – she is absolutely ready and can be a big star on Raw or SmackDown – which, logistically, increases LeRae’s odds of winning.

Candice LeRae is due for a title win at WWE NXT TakeOver 31

LeRae officially signed with NXT in early 2018, but she hasn’t won any title in her nearly three years with the company. So she’s due for a title win, considering she was one of the most accomplished wrestlers in the world before signing with NXT. LeRae has won seven championships in wrestling around the world, so it’s about time she held the gold in WWE.

But Io is Io. Again, it isn’t hyperbolic to state that she may very well be the best wrestler in the world inside that ring. Her athleticism, awareness, and strikes are top-notch. Shirai’s matches are clean, suspenseful, and always leave you with a couple of highlights.

She’s so good, though, that you can’t help but think she’s ready to win a title on the main roster by the time WrestleMania 37 rolls around. Every match she’s in, including this one with LeRae, feels like a huge deal. No television match this year felt bigger than her battle with Sasha Banks, even though no title was on the line. A lot of that was Banks – one of the biggest stars in this era of wrestling – but that the hype came specifically against Shirai should tell you a lot about Shirai’s trajector in WWE.

In terms of storytelling in the ring, LeRae is going to have to get a little underhanded to win, but she should win clean if she’s being put over as the next top star in the prestigious NXT Women’s Division. Heel wins don’t have to be cheap, especially not crowning victories like this one.

Next. An interview with WWE NXT's Candice LeRae. dark

My pick remains LeRae, but it’s never easy to pick against someone like Shirai, who could hold that title for more than a year and almost nobody would dare complain.