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NXT recap & reactions (Jan. 8, 2020): Return to Form

NXT returned to us last night (Jan. 8) from Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida. You can find the results at the live blog here.

Still a kickin’ division

The show opened with Rhea Ripley to address the prior advertised “What’s next for Rhea Ripley?”

I don’t know if we got a concrete answer to the question, but there’s some intrigue for a couple programs.

It was the standard “Everyone interrupts the champ wanting a title shot” segment, one it feels like we just did building to WarGames not too long ago. This one involved NXT UK Women’s champion Kay Lee Ray and one of her opponents at TakeOver: Blackpool this Sunday in Toni Storm.

Of all the interruptions, Bianca Belair was the star. “You don’t even go here” directed at Toni Storm was the line of the segment. Though I also Candice LeRae’s shrug that answered Rhea’s “Do you want to fight too?” with “Yeah, I kinda do” without any words was a strong contender.

This led into a tag match with Io Shirai teaming with Ray and Belair, not a random team as they all fought on Shayna Baszler’s WarGames team together, against Rhea, Candice, and Toni.

The good gals won. Bianca Belair’s blind tag to Io Shirai as the Evil Genius of the Sky was setting up her moonsault enraged the joshi superstar. So she delivered a springboard dropkick to Belair, which led to the EST taking an L to Rhea Ripley.

Candice LeRae handed the champ her title after the match, but took a few moments to look at the title first. That feud is the frontrunner for what’s next for Rhea... probably.

I say that because prior to this match, Toni Storm challenged Ripley for a title vs. title match at World’s Collide. But she’d need to defeat Kay Lee Ray on Sunday for that to happen. Unless that’s a match regardless the winner. That wasn’t made clear.

That aside, Candice LeRae is positioned as the real next challenger and that’s great. Candice deserves a title program and has earned one by standing at the Nightmare’s side during WarGames. It’ll be a strong program, and while I don’t like Candice’s chances, it could continue to propel her up the card even in a loss.

It should be noted that Shayna Baszler was nowhere to be seen in all of this. Maybe she’s going to lick her wounds a bit longer before coming back for her Waterloo match. But in her absence, NXT’s women’s division still is as strong as ever and remains NXT’s biggest strength.

Bask in this Main Event

The main event of the show was the fatal 4-way match between Keith Lee, Dominik Dijakovic, Cameron Grimes, & Damian Priest to decide the #1 contender for the North American championship.

It was also the Keith Lee show.

No doubt all four men are talented and put on an entertaining main event, but NXT knows which of these men needs to be elevated. It’s Keith Lee. So the match was built around different spots making the big man look like a star. It wasn’t at the expense of the other three, but Lee is the one you’ll remember most about this match, and not just because he won.

Lee gets Roderick Strong in two weeks and they may just go with the title change then and there. You can’t wait too long without cooling off the Limitless One. While they may try to find a way to stretch to Portland and make that TakeOver a terrible night for Undisputed, pulling the trigger on the promotion’s hot act in two weeks may be the right move.

Dusty Classic

In the first Dusty Classic match, Imperium went over the Forgotten Sons.

This tournament had the Sons looking the best that they ever had last year and this match reminded us of why. But unfortunately, Marcel Barthel & Fabian Aichner had their number. It wasn’t a long one but it never let up, setting the standard for what’s going to be a fun tournament.

The big match of the Dusty Classic this week was Gallus against Undisputed - champions vs. champions.

This was pretty much a heel vs. heel match so they decided to forego the typical style where one team dominates before a hot tag. Instead, they traded their brands of offense throughout. With no true babyface, a prolonged beatdown isn’t going to work. So they switched it up a bit.

I was surprised to see Undisputed go over just because they’re pretty bulletproof right now and Gallus has to defend their titles this Sunday at TakeOver: Blackpool II. They feel like they need the rub a bit more, especially because it seemed like part of the purpose of this show was to promote Sunday’s UK show.

Johnny Promo

After costing Finn Bálor the NXT championship last month, Johnny Gargano dropped his first promo on him.

It started slow, with the crowd rejecting him a bit. But Gargano turned it around when he started to cut a bit deep. He attacked Finn’s legacy in NXT, something that the current Prince may not actually care about, but it’s something that Johnny Gargano certainly does.

He claimed that Finn couldn’t wait to leave when he got the call to move to the main roster, but when Johnny got that call, he stayed. So when Bálor was being the “ordinary man doing extraordinary things” Johnny took NXT to heights like never before.

It was one of Johnny’s stronger promos, given he’s not a especially a promo guy. The material really helped as Gargano has played the role of Mr. NXT. But when Bálor came out, it was clear he just felt more natural with his words.

That itself is kind of funny because it wasn’t too long ago I’d argue that Finn wasn’t a promo guy either. But with this new character, that’s not an issue at all.

I’m a sucker for two people feuding getting on the microphone and advancing their program with words alone. This did that and it has me more excited to see what’s to come for these two men.

All the Rest:

- Chelsea Green finally debuted on NXT TV with Robert Stone as her manager. She attacked Kayden Carter after Carter’s match with Mia Yim. (Mia won, but I’m continually impressed with the young Carter.) Stone implied this is just the first of many, so we may have another stable coming our way. I’m a fan of stables. While I’ve learned not to say “You can’t have too many stables” because you can, this is a good way to finally start introducing those waiting in the wings for awhile.

- Austin Theory defeated Joaquin Wilde in another showcase match for the young man. Full disclosure, I didn’t catch his match with Roddy Strong on Christmas night. It’s on my DVR and I plan to watch that episode at one point, but you know... work and life and such. So this was my first impression of the man. And that impression was that he was impressive in the ring but we don’t have enough to go personality wise. Also, I was distracted because he was either unevenly tanned, Brock Lesnar liked flushed, or a bit too shiny on his forehead and I was trying to figure out which one it was.

- We had some pretaped Tommaso Ciampa videos where he pretty much told Adam Cole he’s not a real champion because he hasn’t beaten him. That Cole has his life and he’s taking his life back. Ciampa is so good and even these brief videos were stellar.

- All it took was a ridiculous Bro promo to sell me on the team of Matt Riddle & Pete Dunne... excuse me... the Broserweights. Just watch it.

This was a solid episode that seemed to get stronger as the night went on.

Grade: B+

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