NXT women's division takes center stage as Cross, Riot push Asuka to the brink

It's taken a long time for the NXT women's division to become more than a one-woman show, post-Four Horsewomen, but as Asuka's NXT women's championship reign stretches to uncharted heights, she's getting stiffer competition. Provided by WWE (@WWENXT)

For over a year now, Asuka has been the primary attraction in the NXT women's division, and quite possibly the entire brand. Yet to be pinned or submitted in any way, Asuka is in the midst of the longest title reign of any kind in NXT history and has held the NXT women's championship three times as long as any current champion in the WWE has held a title.

Within her division right now, she's found herself in the middle of a heated rivalry between two terrific talents in their own right, SAnitY's Nikki Cross and Ruby Riot. The two have engaged in brawl after brawl with each other, and with neither of them able to separate herself as the true challenger to Asuka's reign, they've both ultimately gotten multiple opportunities in multi-way matches to dethrone the Empress of Tomorrow.

The first shot came at TakeOver: Chicago in May, but as has been the case since her NXT arrival, the champ reigned supreme by making a dramatic statement in pinning both contenders at the same time. Wednesday night marked another opportunity for Cross and Riot, in an elimination triple threat match, and each of the three ladies got her licks in early on as the pace accelerated quickly from the start.

The first elimination came at the hands of Cross, who draped Riot over the top rope and delivered a swinging neck breaker to secure the pinfall. It was at that point that the ferocity level skyrocketed. Asuka and Cross took the action outside the ring, up the ramp and all around the arena to the point where the referee called for the bell, ruling the match a no-contest.

Both ladies beat each other down in as vicious a fashion as we've seen on NXT television. The culmination of the fracas saw Cross splash Asuka from an elevated section of the tech area through a table.

It appears that Cross has finally separated herself as the top contender, and that this rivalry is far from over. The women's division has never fully recovered from losing all of its pioneers, the Four Horsewomen, along with Alexa Bliss, Nia Jax and Carmella, and Asuka's reign has been one of domination. But as talents like Cross and Riot continue to elevate their game, and Ember Moon waits in the wings, it can only mean great things for the division's future.

What's next for Drew McIntyre?

McIntyre has been impressive since his return to the WWE as part of NXT. His brute physicality is a joy to watch, and he appears poised to rise to the top of the brand. He's taken something of a back seat in recent weeks, though that's unlikely to last long, and McIntyre returned to action this week against the unfamiliar Rob Ryzin.

This was simply another showcase of McIntyre's ability, as he controlled about 95 percent of the match, finishing it with his Claymore running single leg dropkick. So where does McIntyre go from here? He was left off the main TakeOver: Chicago card, and has no legitimate rivalry in sight. While I'm sure we'll get there, McIntyre has been in NXT for a few months now. One has to wonder what the holdup to is, in terms of giving him something meaty to dig into.

The Authors of Pain prepare for their next challenge

Not since The Ascension's 364-day run as NXT tag-team champions has a team truly dominated the division the way the Authors of Pain have. They entered Full Sail unbeaten on Wednesday night and left the same way with ease. With opponents like Anthony Dominguez and Wilmer Freyday, there wasn't much doubt.

In fact, Akam handled everything on his own. He didn't need his partner to score the win for his team. Rezar remained on the outside of the ring as Akam defeated both men single-handedly, ending things with a modified version of a death valley driver. Rezar did join the fun afterward, though, as he and Akam put an exclamation point on the assault by nailing a double collider powerbomb.

As dominant as Akam and Rezar were on Wednesday night, and as overpowering as they have been since they stepped foot in an NXT ring, there's a team similar in stature and as physically imposing waiting in the wings in Heavy Machinery. Authors of Pain mastermind Paul Ellering addressed the two goliaths after AoP's match:

"Heavy Machinery is as foolish as they are large. We have been here one year and are still undefeated. Have you not read the book of pain? We beat American Alpha. We beat TM-61. We beat The Revival. And we beat #DIY."

He went on to proclaim that Heavy Machinery wouldn't even be a footnote in their book of dominance.

Otis Dozovic and Tucker Knight had heard enough and confronted the champs. However, it was not the time or place, and the Authors of Pain retreated.

The eventual battle between the two super heavyweight duos will be intriguing, in the sense that the majority of the Authors of Pain's conflicts have been with teams that have been much smaller in stature. Stylistically, it's a great opportunity for the tag champs to show some versatility and should prove to be something completely different from what we've ever seen in NXT's tag-team division.

The Velveteen Dream gives Raul Mendoza nightmares

Patrick Clark might just have something here. A few weeks ago, he debuted his new mystifying and vibrant character, the Velveteen Dream, and looked fantastic in the ring -- the best he has looked in the WWE, in fact.

That trend continued this week when he faced off with Raul Mendoza.

Displaying a combination of flashiness and intensity, the Velveteen Dream snagged another victory with his impressive-looking top elbow drop on the reportedly newly signed NXT talent, who was one of the 32 competitors in last year's Cruiserweight Classic.

On tap for next week

- Kassius Ohno collides with Aleister Black in next week's main event.

- The electric Ember Moon makes her in-ring return following a significant shoulder injury that caused her to be excluded from the TakeOver: Chicago NXT women's championship match. She'll take on longtime rival Peyton Royce.

- Sonya Deville (formerly known as Daria Berenato) will also be in action.

This week's bests

Match of the night: Asuka vs. Cross vs. Riot

Move of the night: Overhead belly-to-belly suplex by McIntyre, tossing Ryzin all the way across the ring.

Moment of the night: The culmination of the Asuka/Cross melee.