It's official: Raquel Gonzalez will face Io Shirai, the NXT World Champion, in the main event of NXT TakeOver: Stand and Deliver on Wednesday April 7th on the USA Network. Night two will air exclusively on Peacock the following night.
The two-day NXT event is a key part of WrestleMania Week, culminating with two nights of WrestleMania 37 (live on Peacock Saturday April 10th and Sunday April 11th) from Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
For Gonzalez, Shirai, and the NXT squad, the opportunity to showcase their talents to the WWE Universe during the biggest week of the pro-wrestling juggernaut is not to be underestimated. WWE reported the number of viewers for WrestleMania Week last year with 967 million views on all platforms.
The opportunity was not missed by Gonzalez, the former 6-inch DII basketball player at Texas A&M Kingsville. Since her NXT debut at TakeOver in Portland last year, Gonzalez has gotten leaner, stronger, and faster to prove she's worth carrying the NXT torch.
Courtesy of WWE
"Physically, I'm more agile and run a lot more," she explains. “My stamina is higher, my jumping is higher. A lot of things just got a lot easier for me. "
She adds, “Io, you're a brave girl, but I don't think you're ready for a competitor like me. The last powerhouse she faced was Rhea Ripley - and that was months ago. I know that she's the best in the world, and to be the best you have to beat the best. So I come in with the most excited and expectant attitude I can. "
At the gym, Gonzalez switched from a full-body CrossFit routine to a more traditional bodybuilding workout style with the help of former strong man and current WWE Superstar Braun Strowman. She also added a lot of yoga and massage therapy to aid flexibility and recovery efforts.
"I've made a lot of moves that I know I'll use in the ring when it comes to throwing people around," says Gonzalez. "And Io is probably half my size, so I know I'll be throwing her around a lot for sure."
With less than three weeks to go to the big game, Gonzalez says, her prep credits her recent dietary change with the confidence that makes her feel like she is at the top of her game. She has started counting her macros more and is switching to a whole foods diet consisting primarily of lean meat, rice, red potatoes, and egg whites, plus at least a gallon of water a day. It has now risen from a high of 200 pounds to between 180 and 185 pounds.
Before the two battles for the title at Stand and Deliver, Gonzalez and tag team partner Dakota Kai, the first WWE NXT tag team champions after winning the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic in February at NXT TakeOver: Vengeance Day Another up-close and personal showdown with Shirai, who will team up with Zoey Stark in a tag team match on WWE NXT next week.
"This is going to be a way for me to check out the nature of the scene," says Gonzalez. "Mentally for me this will be an opportunity for me to really fill my arsenal with what I need to bring with me when it is time for this NXT Women's Championship game."