For the past month, tensions have certainly risen between Keith Lee and Karrion Kross.
It all started before NXT: The Great American Bash, where Kross made it perfectly clear that he had his sights set on the NXT Championship. Once Lee defeated Adam Cole in a winner-take-all match for the NXT and North American Championships, he ensured that the target was painted firmly on his back.
To get the champ’s attention, Kross went after Lee’s frenemy, Dominik Dijakovic, on the July 15th episode of NXT. The following week, the two clashed in a brutal match that wasn’t for the faint of heart.
After smashing Dijakovic’s head between the ring post and the steps, Kross continued the assault on his defenseless opponent. Lee made his way to ringside and prepared to throw in the towel, but Dijakovic didn’t let him. Kross kept his eyes on the champion as he locked in the Kross Jacket to pick up the win.
Then, on the July 29th episode of NXT, Kross gave Lee an ultimatum. Either they did things the easy way or the hard way; if Lee didn’t give him a shot at the NXT title, then everyone would suffer. A match didn’t happen, so last week Kross attacked several people backstage and laid the blame at Lee’s feet.
While there is still no official announcement, a title match between the two at TakeOver: XXX seems likely.
So, that leaves us with one question: What are they going to do with the NXT Championship? Are they going to keep it on Lee or give it to Kross?
To be honest, NXT might have put themselves in a bit of a creative pickle. On one hand, Lee has only held the title for a little over a month. A superstar of his caliber deserves to have a lengthy run, especially with how they have booked him since the beginning of the year.
Before he relinquished it on the July 22nd episode of NXT, Lee held the North American Championship since Jan. 22nd. That stands as the second longest reign (175 days/182 days recognized) only behind The Velveteen Dream (231 days/209 days recognized).
Even before he held any gold, Lee was already one of the more popular superstars on the NXT roster. Clearly, both the fans and the brand saw the star power he possessed, and it was only a matter of time before he became the top dog.
Taking the belt off him now is a huge mistake, but it won’t benefit Kross if he retains. Kross, along with Scarlett, have carved out a path of destruction since their debuts on May 6th. He even defeated Tommaso Ciampa with relative ease, something we had never seen done to the Blackheart before.
He’s being built as this unstoppable force that is a legitimate threat to Lee’s title reign. A loss here could stop his momentum dead in its tracks and be difficult to recover from.
This kind of situation reminds me too much of Shayna Baszler’s recent booking. She destroyed the competition in the months leading up to WrestleMania 36, and finally looked like the woman who would dethrone Becky Lynch. But she lost, then failed to win the Money in the Bank ladder match and disappeared from TV for almost two months. I hated when it happened to her, and I would hate to see it happen to Kross as well.
It’s safe to say that this isn’t going to be a one-off encounter between Lee and Kross. That’s why I think the ending to their match at TakeOver: XXX must have a dirty finish. Perhaps Scarlett gets involved somehow, or even Ciampa or Dijakovic makes an appearance. Regardless, neither man should lose clean.
Does that mean that I think Kross beats Lee for the title next time around? Honestly, it’s hard to tell; Lee deserves a longer title reign than one or two months, but at the same time I want Kross to remain a dominant competitor for the foreseeable future.
It’s a creative tightrope that I’m glad to not be a part of. Lee and Kross are at the top of their games right now, and will certainly put on quite a show next weekend.
We’ll have to wait and see how this all goes down over the next several weeks. While both men won’t walk out of TakeOver: XXX unscathed, let’s just hope they both leave looking strong when the dust settles.