NXT: Gargano and Ciampa continue to escalate rivalry, Cross steps up as first serious challenger to Baszler

Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa fought all over the arena at Full Sail University on Wednesday's edition of NXT TV. Courtesy of WWE

As we draw closer and closer to NXT TakeOver: Chicago II, it appears that Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa are intent on once again defying all expectations, as they bring their rivalry full circle in the same building where the partnership that was #DIY fell apart.

Week after week, Gargano and Ciampa have found ways to elevate their already intense rivalry to another level. The chemistry these two possess with one another as each new chapter of their masterful rivalry has been written is uncanny, and the culmination of everything they've done is less than two weeks away.

Tensions reached an all-time high a couple weeks ago when Ciampa goaded Gargano into a physical confrontation despite Gargano's wife, Candice LeRae, objecting vociferously. Consequently, Ciampa knocked Gargano off the ring apron directly onto LeRae, knocking her out cold. LeRae has played a key part in this rivalry as well, attacking Ciampa and serving as proxy while Gargano was injured before taking the fall in that moment.

So how could this conflict possibly escalate further than that, you ask? We found out on Wednesday night.

Ciampa, who has become the undeniable top heel in NXT, addressed Gargano directly.

"This whole Gargano fairy tale? It is coming to an end, and it will not be a happy ending," Ciampa proclaimed. "Your wife is broken. You will be broken. I win."

That brought a furious Gargano out, and all hell broke loose. Gargano unleashed a vicious attack on Ciampa, which culminated with him whipping his former partner headfirst into the LED entrance set multiple times, leaving Ciampa a bloody mess.

The brawl was reminiscent of the assault that started this war at last year's TakeOver: Chicago, when Ciampa turned on Gargano, as well as the attack a few weeks ago when Ciampa similarly sent Gargano headfirst into the boards again.

There's no telling the lengths Gargano and Ciampa will go in their TakeOver street fight in Chicago. If the NXT TakeOver: New Orleans main event is any indication, there's something very special in store for us all.

Nikki Cross establishes herself as a legitimate threat to Shayna Baszler's title

Since the departures of former NXT women's champions Asuka and Ember Moon to the main roster, the NXT women's division has been dominated by current champ Shayna Baszler. For months, Baszler has asserted her dominance as the division's resident bully. But as former WWE and ECW star Tazz used to say, "The mood is about to change."

Following Baszler's win over her most recent challenger, Dakota Kai, last week, Baszler continued the assault post-match until the unpredictable Nikki Cross made the save. Cross was a brilliant add to the NXT women's championship picture for multiple reasons. First, with SAnitY's shift to the SmackDown Live roster -- though they have yet to appear on TV -- Cross had been absent from television for the most part. It remains to be seen if she'll join her comrades on the main roster down the road, but for the time being, the spotlight is shining squarely on her.

Despite prominent positioning throughout her time with SAnitY, outside of her November Fatal 4-Way title match in Houston, Cross hasn't been a real factor in the women's championship picture since her memorable Last Woman Standing title challenge against Asuka over a year ago.

Most importantly, though, Cross instantly becomes the ultimate babyface within the division by serving as the savior to the women's locker room at a moment when few were standing up for themselves. Throughout Baszler's title reign, no superstar has established herself as a true contender -- and Cross changed that and in a hurry.

Baszler took to the ring this week to address the situation.

"Let me tell you something, Nikki," Baszler began. "If you ever get in my face again, I swear, it will be the last thing you ever do."

That brought Cross out as Baszler continued the verbal taunting.

"Are you crazy? Is she crazy?" Baszler asked the Full Sail crowd. "You ever -- ever -- pull a stunt like that again, you have to know, I can put you to sleep in a heartbeat."

With that, Baszler tossed the microphone at Cross, who then proceeded to beg Baszler to back up her words and things got physical. Cross took the fight to Baszler like no one has in NXT. She dominated the majority of the scuffle that culminated with a cross-body block off the top rope. Baszler retreated up the ramp with a busted lip.

While it seems unlikely that Baszler would drop the title this quickly, stranger things have happened and Cross's momentum has never been rolling like it is right now. We'll see how it all plays out in Chicago.

The build to the TakeOver tag title match continues

Though the rivalry surrounding the NXT tag team championships hasn't quite caught fire the way some of the other premier feuds have heading into TakeOver: Chicago II, the build has been solid. The underrated challengers, Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch, will get their chance to shine on a big stage against the Undisputed Era. The opportunity comes on the heels of Burch picking up a pinfall victory over Kyle O'Reilly a few weeks ago in a 6-man tag team bout.

Burch looked to add another big win to his resume when he went one-on-one with O'Reilly's current tag team partner, Roderick Strong. However, an ensuing melee between the Undisputed Era, Lorcan and Pete Dunne broke out around the ring and caused Burch to become distracted enough for Strong to capitalize and pick up the win. The chaos continued post match, and the Undisputed Era stood tall.

While the build to the TakeOver tag title match has taken a back seat to scorching rivalries including Ricochet vs. Velveteen Dream and Baszler vs. Cross, we're guaranteed one thing in this match -- stiff physicality. Lorcan, Burch, Strong and O'Reilly are all known for their hard-hitting approaches, and that in itself should make this match entertaining. The intrigue factor gets a boost as well when you consider Adam Cole and Dunne's potential involvement, considering neither seems to have anything planned for the show at this moment.

In the meantime, O'Reilly put out a challenge to Dunne for the U.K. championship, for a match we may well see before action reaches Chicago.

Other notes

-- Kairi Sane defeated Lacey Evans in the rubber match of their series of three.

-- TM61 scored a pinfall victory over enhancement talents Mike Hughly and Robbie Grand and cut a promo about their championship aspirations.

-- Aleister Black will appear in NXT TV next week, and EC3 will battle Kassius Ohno.