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WWE NXT preview (Jan. 11, 2022): Destined for more

NXT 2.0 returns tonight (Dec. 28) live from the WWE Performance Center in Orlando!

Advertised for the show:

  • Grayson Waller vs. AJ Styles
  • Santos Escobar vs. Xyon Quinn “for the heart of Elektra Lopez”
  • Pete Dunne vs. Tony D’Angelo in a Crowbar on a Pole match
  • Solo Sikoa vs. Boa
  • Kacy Catanzaro, Kayden Carter & Amari Miller vs. Indi Hartwell, Persia Pirotta & Wendy Choo

As usual, here are our five questions about NXT tonight:

1) How long will new champ Bron Breakker be in NXT?

While it’s not as clear cut as some think, NXT 2.0 is more aligned with the brand’s current marching orders — producing main roster-ready talent that appeals to Vince McMahon & his current braintrust.

And though Grayson Waller is the one working an angle on Raw (that will give us tonight’s main event with AJ Styles), and MSK worked a match with a now-former red brand champ at New Year’s Evil last Tuesday, there’s no better argument for the success of the new approach than Bron Breakker.

Breakker has been such a success, however, there were calls to promote him to Raw or SmackDown even before he made Tommaso Ciampa tap out last week and took the NXT championship from the black-and-gold era standard-bearer. How long should WWE wait to pull the trigger on a guy many are already tabbing as Roman Reigns’ successor, the next face of the company?

Royal Rumble presents an obvious opportunity for Bron and others to dip their toes in the main roster water. I’d be pretty shocked if we didn’t hear a Steiner siren during the men’s match. But while that can be Breakker’s official introduction to the larger WWE Universe, it doesn’t need to be the end of his NXT run.

If WWE is smart (and this is the company that just fired William Regal, so... it’s debatable), they’d use the blueprint from Kevin Owens’ 2015 arrival to Raw. KO kept his NXT title while feuding with John Cena, in a program where got lots of shine and even picked up a win before Cena eventually stood tall. It let audiences know that NXT was part of the same storytelling universe as the red & blue brands, and that while it wasn’t quite an equal brand, it was where the stars of tomorrow would come from.

Much as I loved it at the time, what they should avoid is replicating 2019’s invasion push where NXT was presented as equal or even superior to the main roster. Because especially as it’s currently constructed, it’s not — nor is it supposed to be. They also can’t do what they did post-WrestleMania 36 until current angles like Waller/Styles and act as if talent arriving from NXT didn’t have any history in the company.

It’s not clear (to me, anyway) who Breakker’s first challenger will be, so the clock may already be ticking. We’ll see what match WWE uses to determine how long Big Poppa Pump’s nephew stays on the paint splatter brand.

2) Crowbar on a pole? What is this, late 90s WCW?

Personally, I get a kick out of Tony D’Angelo. But he may be the most divisive 2.0 act not named Joe Gacy. If you’re like me and dig his PG-ified Sopranos role playing character, a match where he and Pete Dunne try to get a crowbar they’ll probably use to “break” their opponent’s fingers probably sounds like goofy pro wrestling fun. If you think Tony D’s gimmick is outdated, offensive, or just plain dumb — or that “on a pole” should remain a meme rather than returning as match — this probably won’t be your particular plate of gabagool.

In light of reports he and Ciampa are working matches before Raw and SmackDown, the bigger question is whether or not his will be the Bruiserweight’s NXT write-off... and then whether his next stop will be the main roster, or free agency.

3) “For the heart of Elektra Lopez”? What is this, late 80s WWF?

The 2.0 era has been full of romance and sex comedy schtick, and it can be pretty eye roll-inducing. But unlike a classic Randy Savage/Ms. Elizabeth angle, at least the ladies of NXT are empowered enough to book the matches where their fates are decided. Lopez set-up this week’s match between Santos Escobar and Xyon Quinn to decide whether she sticks with her Legado Del Fantasma family or follows her... let’s just say heart... and moves on to the former rugby pro.

As with every high-profile signee of the Triple H regime, I’m a little worried about Escobar’s WWE future over the next few weeks and months. Feel free to read into the result of tonight’s match in that regard. I almost certainly will.

4) Who are the front runners to win this year’s Dusty Classics?

NXT’s done a good job establishing lots of players in their men’s tag ranks. There it’s not a question of how they’ll fill out the bracket for the tournament that starts next week, it might be about who doesn’t make the cut. Assuming reigning Dusty Cup winners MSK are getting a separate shot at Imperium after last week’s trios win, you still have Grizzled Young Veterans, Jacket Time, Brooks & Jensen, LDF’s Raul Mendoza & Joaquin Wilde, The Creeds, Carmelo Hayes & Trick Williams, and probably a few others I’m overlooking.

Don’t sleep on Harland & Joe Gacy, either. They didn’t get a New Year’s Evil vignette offering to prove themselves as a team for nothing.

The February-starting Women’s Dusty might be a little trickier, but tonight’s trios match will give us a look at a couple of the frontrunners in Kacy Catanzaro & Kayden Carter and Indi Hartwell & Persia Pirotta. Maybe their thirds will decide to pair up for a run? Speaking of Hartwell & Pirotta’s partner Wendy Choo...

5) Did the Tian Sha gimmick actually work out well for all involved?

I’ll always be a little bummed we didn’t find out more about the 1000 year old dragon Mei Ying defeated and/or was possessed by, it seems we may have been premature in shoveling dirt on Tian Sha. It was a 1.0 gimmick that really feels like it would have been at home in 2.0 — and it still is kind of living on with Boa, who tonight will again struggle to contain the “dark powers” Choo taught him while working her former character. But, hey. Everybody involved not only still has a job, they’re getting television time.

Xia Li missed last Friday’s SmackDown, but she got a big rollout and seems headed into a program with Natalya. Boa’s feuding with a shoot member of The Bloodline. And now Karen Q (Choo, fka Ying) is getting another chance when it wouldn’t have surprised anyone if she’d just been cut.

Tian Sha 4 Life.

Give us your questions and answers in the comments below. Then join us in our live blog, and we’ll see what Qs and As tonight’s show gives us.

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