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NXT recap & reactions (Dec. 19, 2023): This is trash

Ridge Holland returned, wrestled Ilja Dragunov, and NXT made a questionable decision.

Part Time Suckers

Let’s just get this out the way: I don’t like NXT’s closing angle this week. It felt crass, tacky, and even a little insulting to the very real thing that happened between Big E and Ridge Holland.

What am I talking about? Keep reading.

Ridge showed up during Ilja Dragunov’s promo and told the world he’s back in NXT. He announced his arrival along with his intentions: Prove himself and figure out Ridge. This is wrestling though, so that last part doesn’t involve a therapist.

Ridge told a compelling story. His entire career thus far feels defined by accidents and injuries. He never fulfilled his potential and needs to do things for himself. That means establishing Ridge outside of the Brawlin’ Brutes. It also means wrestling NXT’s current measuring stick: Ilja Dragunov.

Ilja, tired of people questioning him and disrespecting him, accepted Ridge’s challenge.

Fine, I thought. Ilja defeats Ridge, but the big man makes him work for it and earns his respect.

At leas that’s what I predicted. That’s not what we got.

The match itself, at least the parts we got, worked. Some of it worked really well. But then that ending came and it put an awful taste in my mouth. Ridge dropped Ilja on his neck (but not really) and the champ didn’t move. His arms froze in place while he just made noises. The trainers rushed the ring while Ridge sat in a corner stunned and clearly angry at himself.

Then the stretcher game out while the audience just sat stunned and eventually clapped once it looked like Ilja might survive this unfortunate accident.

I’m not too sensitive where I don’t understand what they’re going for. NXT took a real-life incident, along with Ridge’s history, and turned it into an angle. That’s wrestling and I get it. But it’s different when something similar happened to Big E and he may not wrestle again. Alluding to that for an angle, especially one on the Christmas go-home home show, seemingly belittles the actual incident. To say nothing of potentially pissing off Big E fans and reminding them about a very sad Friday night.

Wrestling should mix real life with stories but also exercise better judgment. Turning this into just another story feels like NXT making light of what happened. And if the goal is to get Ridge from point A to point B through an existential crisis, they can accomplish that using what already happened rather than recreating it.

Maybe I’m being sensitive here. Maybe my sensibilities changed since I’m officially entering my “late 30s” in two months. But E barely survived, miraculously got back on his feet, and may not wrestle again. Who benefits from digging up any of that and turning it into cheap television?

If you disagree, that’s perfectly fine. As I said before, these are my thoughts. Right or wrong, it’s how I felt at the time. And right now, I feel like NXT made an unforced error while looking tactless, tasteless, and tiny in the process.


B-Sides

X-Mas

Fallon Henley vs. Tiffany Stratton didn’t last long enough to even be a thing. I loved how they started with fire and the ref keeping them from killing each other, but didn’t love the abrupt finish that saw Fallon get the win. I figured shenanigans might go down and indeed they did. Some might even say Tiffany played...dirty.

Ms. Stratton beat her opponent into the back, mopped the floor with her using an actual mop, and then emptied a trash can over her laid out body. Props to Tiffany for willingly getting trash on her. None of the can’s contents looked pleasant.

The saga continues...

King Back

The way Lexis King wormed his way into this tournament has potential. But it also says a lot about him; he wants attention and knows exactly how to get it. He’s an opportunist and a snake; crazy like a fox.

He defeated Dion Lennox pretty handedly. And he should. Lexis went toe-to-toe with a former NXT champ and the territory established him as a big deal. Dion showed his athleticism and some pretty offense, but yeah, this was all about Lexis outsmarting the system.

Trey Bearhill came back with vengeance on his mind, which also makes sense. Let’s not lose the plot here because Trey owes Lexis a chin check or three.

Super Kick Party

I still like Jacy Jayne in Chase U. Her energy throws off everything and it’s just different. It helps that she’s better in the ring now than her Toxic Attraction days.

She and Thea Hail teamed against Kiana James & Izzi Dame. Solid but short match that illustrated one main point: Thea is distracted. She’s falling in love (lust) and can’t keep her eyes off the object of her affection long enough to truly capitalize on her offense. Or pay attention to the legal woman in the tag match. That’s why Izi kicked her in her jaw and that’s why Chase U walked home with an L this week.

The Gambler

Speaking of Chase U, there segment with Out the Mud tickled me. Just watch it. Pure entertainment from start to finish. And where did Adriana Rizzo come from?! Are there portals in this abandoned building where Reggie hosted this dice game?

Either way, we’re getting a tag match next week between Duke Hudson & Andre Chase and Out the Mud. If Chase U wins, Andre doubles his money. If they lose, Out the Mud gets a title shot and Andre gives back his money.

Stating how much money he has and might lose helps those stakes a bit, so I hope we get some numbers. But yeah, I loved it and can’t wait to see this ridiculous tag match.

Quarters

Drew Dempsey, member of the No Quarter Crew, accepted Dragon Lee’s open challenge. Oh, but so did Joe Coffey! Last week, I said that until they give Dragon some stories for his North American championship reign, dope matches might be enough.

Well, he’s two for two on that front.

Much like I said last week, just watch this match. Words won’t do it justice. All three men put on a show and not even Joe Gacy’s foolishness tarnished it.

Also? Less Joe Gacy foolishness. But he seemingly wants Joe Coffey so that’s a thing.

Legal Drug Money

Tavion Heights advanced to the second round. In fact, the NXT men’s breakout tournament’s first round is over!

I like Luca Crusifino’s move set and aggression, but the lawyer gimmick screams 1980s or early-mid ‘90s. It separates him, yes, but it also firmly sticks him in a bygone era where everyone seemingly left better careers, like dentistry, to wrestle.

Tavion wants the human suplex machine title judging from this match. He certainly executes them well; everything is smooth with him. I’m not sure if he wins his semifinals match but I see him becoming a fan favorite. He’s got the moveset and the energy that audiences normally love.

Take It Easy

After last week, it’s obvious Nikkita Lyons wanted Tatum Paxley. And she got her this week.

Tatum never stood a chance here. One goal in mind with this match: Reheat Nikkita and polish out that ring rust.

As I said last week, she looks good. She looks quicker than the last time we saw her and added a few moves to her arsenal. I’m surprised she’s still going with the leg-oriented offense and so much high impact stuff. But, gotta go to the dance with the one that brought you.

It’s only a matter of time before they put her and Lyra Valkyria in a title match. Hopefully that’ not soon but that styles clash intrigues me.


I thought about getting into Carmelo Hayes & Trick Williams since I know some of you love my rage at that madness. But the stuff at the end of the show truly rocked my world in a bad way.

Overall, I thought the show was fine. Nothing mind-blowing but possibly setup a much more important show next week. And, of course, built towards New Year’s Evil. But whatever goodwill the show did went out the door for me during that main event.

What say you, Cagesiders? Is all fair in love and wrestling or are there lines? If so, did NXT cross one here?

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