This week’s show saw the start of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. Grizzled Young Veterans took on Ever-Rise, new signings MSK were in action against Jake Atlas and Isaiah “Swerve” Scott, and the UE boys faced Breezango. We heard from “The Prince” Finn Balor, watched Timothy Thatcher sit down with Tommaso Ciampa ahead of their match in the fight pit next week, and plenty more. The action kicked off with Candice LeRae against Shotzi Blackheart, so let’s jump right in.

Shotzi Blackheart vs Candice LeRae W/ Indi Hartwell

A bit of back and forth started the match off until Shotzi flew off the top turnbuckle and hit a flying crossbody. She managed to get LeRae in an arm lock, but she broke out and got back to her feet. Shotzi jumped off the apron and landed a flying boot into LeRae, but Hartwell stopped her from gaining any kind of momentum. LeRae seized the opportunity and flew from the ring to knock Shotzi off her feet. After the break, Shotzi floored LeRae with an enzuigiri,

She continued to wear down LeRae, hitting a cannonball as she rested on the second rope. She hit a DDT off the apron, then flew through the ropes and took both LeRae and Hartwell out. LeRae hit a superkick, then put Blackheart in The Gargano Escape, but Shotzi dropped her with a face to the knee and another big DDT. She climbed to the top of the rope, but after yet another distraction from Hartwell, LeRae ran up and hit a spinning neckbreaker from up high and followed it up with a pin for the victory.

Winner: Candice LeRae Rating: 6.5/10

A Target On The Champ

Finn Balor walked to the ring with his head held high after a successful title defence last week. He started off by giving Kyle O’Reilly credit but said he wasn’t on his level. He said that whoever wants to come after him next, remember they stopped manufacturing the cloth that he’s cut from. As he continued to talk, Pete Dunne’s music hit and out he came with the current tag team champions, Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch. Dunne said, “are you really going to question what’s next when you know what’s next.” He said he knew his career would come down to just him and Balor. The only reason he has that title is that he hasn’t taken it yet.

He said that he’s not waiting anymore and went after him. All three attacked Balor, and whilst he managed to fight them off for a while, they ended up overwhelming him. Kyle O’Reilly ran out to even the odds followed by Undisputed Era. Dunne, Burch, and Lorcan managed to escape as UE stood tall in the ring. Balor got to his feet and stared at UE. He then rolled out of the ring as his music hit. Both parties continued to stare at each other.

Grizzled Young Veterans vs Ever-Rise

Before the match, William Regal appeared on the big screen, officially kicking off the tournament. Gibson started off against Matt Martell, but the coward tagged in Chase Parker, only to be worked on by GYV. Drake entered the match and took Parker to the ground with a headlock. Parker stomped down Drake and managed to frustrate him, but Gibson calmed him down. Drake got back in the ring and focused himself, dropping Parker with a bulldog. GYV attacked Parker on the outside until Gibson threw Parker back in the ring.

Gibson locked in a single-legged crab, but Parker got out, only to be the victim of some nice teamwork by GYV. Parker fought to get to Martell, eventually tagging him in. He took out GYV with multiple forearms, followed by a belly-to-belly on Drake and a clothesline on Gibson. Ever-Rise almost got the win, but Gibson stopped the tag. Drake tagged in Gibson and they landed Ticket to Mayhem for the victory.

Winners: Grizzled Young Veterans Rating: 6.5/10

Johnny Gargano W/ Austin Theory vs Dexter Lumis

Gargano approached Lumis with his caricature and ripped it up in front of him. Lumis chopped him down and followed up with a Lou Thesz press. Gargano stood on the apron and booted Lumis, but he jumped up and punched Gargano in the throat. He tried to hit a superplex on Lumis, but Lumis hit a couple of headbutts and a chop to knock him off. He went for a senton, but Gargano moved out the way. After the break, Gargano landed some knees into Lumis’ back followed by a couple of elbows into his lower back. Lumis landed a spinebuster and managed to grab a few moments of brief respite.

He knocked Gargano to the ground, then clotheslined him in the corner and dropped him with a bulldog. He hit a slingshot suplex, belly-to-back suplex leg drop, but only managed a two-count. Gargano went for a crucifix pin, but couldn’t grab the win. As Lumis got to his knees, Gargano hit a superkick into the side of his head. The two men traded blows. Lumis got distracted by Theory which allowed Gargano to land a step-up enzuigiri. Lumis locked in Silence, but again, Theory distracted him. Lumis grabbed Theory, but Gargano managed to roll him up and steal the victory. After the bell, Lumis locked in Silence on Theory, but Gargano broke it up. Gargano was about to hit him with a steel chair until Kushida ran out and attacked him. He put Gargano in the Hoverboard Lock, then stood tall over the North American Champion.

Winner: Johnny Gargano Rating: 7.5/10

Jake Atlas & Isaiah “Swerve” Scott vs MSK (Nash Carter & Wes Lee)

Carter started things off against Atlas and got caught with a flying back elbow by him. Carter hit a torpedo crossbody but only got a two-count. Lee tagged in and ended up getting caught with a knee. Atlas came back in, and chopped at Lee’s chest and back. Lee was knocked outside by Swerve from the apron which allowed Atlas to dive through the ropes and knock him into the announcer table. Chaos erupted at ringside as all four men went at it.

Lee jumped over the top rope and hit a picture-perfect tope con hilo. After the break, Swerve hit a DDT on Carter, but he managed to tag in Lee who came in and took out Swerve. Lee took out Atlas and tagged in Carter who hit a standing moonsault, but Swerve ran in to break up the pin attempt. Swerve threw Carter outside, then hit a suplex on Lee. He tagged in Atlas and he hit a superkick. Swerve threw Lee into Atlas who dropped him with a spinning powerslam. Swerve then hit a 450. Atlas went for the pin, but Carter managed to break it up at the last second.

Swerve and Atlas tried to hit a double suplex off the top rope, but Carter took out Atlas. Lee connected with a hurricanrana on Swerve as he sat in the corner with his back to him. MSK hit their finisher on Swerve for the victory. The former Rascalz had an incredible debut, and it’s great to see them in NXT. Although they’ve received name changes as a team and individually, they’re still the same fantastic tag team.

Winners: MSK Rating: 8/10

Xia Li W/ Boa vs Valentina Feroz

Xia Li hit her with a cyclone kick for the win. That’s it. That’s the match. Afterwards, Xia Li continued to attack Feroz at the behest of the mystery woman watching on from her throne.

Winner: Xia Li Rating: 1/10

Breezango (Tyler Breeze & Fandango) vs Undisputed Era (Adam Cole & Roderick Strong)

Cole started off against Breeze. They both went for superkicks at the same time but stopped short of connecting. There was some great back and forth between them, but neither got anywhere so they tagged in their partners. Strong controlled Fandango in the centre of the ring with a wrist lock until it was reversed. Fandango hit a flying kick on Strong as the show went into commercials. After the break, Breezango controlled Adam Cole. Cole was thrown outside the ring by Breeze. As he went to dive to the outside, Cole hit him with a kick. Cole and Breeze tagged in their partners. Strong landed a backbreaker, then hit Breeze with some big forearms before dropping him on top of Fandango.

UE got some teamwork in, with Cole landing a flying kick, but could only manage a two-count. He went for the last shot but Fandango moved. He tagged in Breeze, but Cole knocked him off his feet. Breeze hit an inverted backstabber and went for the pin, but wasn’t successful. Breezango almost got the victory after some great teamwork. Cole hit a big kick on Breeze, but Fandango hit Cole with a lariat. Dunne, Burch, and Lorcan ran down and attacked O’Reilly. The tag team champs held him against the scaffolding as Dunne was about to do some serious damage to him.

Balor ran down and knocked him out of the way, then went after Lorcan and Burch. Dunne came back and threw Balor into the scaffolding. He then attacked O’Reilly with a punch to his injured jaw. He then landed a running knee right into the side of O’Reilly’s head as he knelt with his head next to the barricade. Adam Cole looked on horrified, and whilst distracted he was caught with a superkick. Breezalngo double-teamed Cole, but Strong managed to knock Breeze out of the way.

Cole attempted the Panama Sunrise on Fandango but wasn’t successful. Fandango jumped off the top turnbuckle, but Cole was waiting for him and dropped him with a superkick to pick up the win. Cole went to check on O’Reilly straight after the match had ended. Dunne, Burch, and Lorcan stood on the ramp and watched on as O’Reilly and Balor were hurt at ringside.

Winners: Adam Cole & Roderick Strong Rating: 8/10

What Else Went Down

– Johnny Gargano was being interviewed backstage. He said Candice was great tonight, and that he would beat the “mutant freak” Dexter Lumis tonight. MacKenzie Mitchell reminded him about his loss at New Year’s Evil to Kushida, and that The Way would be facing Kushida and Leon Ruff in the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. Gargano said he was wearing skinny jeans last week, and that there was no breathability in them, Austin Theory appeared with a brown envelope from “the guy.” It had two caricatures of both Gargano and Theory inside.

– A video package aired which featured Raquel Gonzalez talking about what a difference a year makes in relation to Rhea Ripley. She said she was looking ahead to the future, and to Io Shirai. There is a new badass in town, and her name is Raquel Gonzalez.

– Shotzi was interviewed about her loss. She said she was looking at the women’s Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. She said she knew LeRae and Hartwell were in it, and she needed a partner. Ember Moon appeared and said they would be entering to put their names on the trophy.

– MacKenzie Mitchell asked Dunne, Lorcan, and Burch to comment on what happened earlier. Burch said UE still think they run this place, but they don’t. Dunne said O’Reilly stood in the way of him and the NXT Championship, so it was time to take him out.

– A video aired from earlier in the day where Wade Barrett sat down with Timothy Thatcher and Tommaso Ciampa. Ciampa asked what the injury was that kept him out of their scheduled New Year’s Evil match. Thatcher said nothing was going to stop him from taking part in the fight pit match next week. Barrett asked if it was Ciampa’s request for a match with Thatcher in the fight pit. He said he knew how brutal the match would be, but Thatcher interrupted by asking if he really did. Ciampa called Thatcher a piece of garbage, and he would take every liberty against him. He said Thatcher didn’t know the kind of man he was, but next week Thatcher would get his answers.

– UE were backstage talking about the “boneheads” Lorcan, Burch, and Dunne. O’Reilly said he was going to be at ringside for Cole and Strong’s match tonight.

– We got a closer look at some of the teams who are going to feature in the women’s Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. Candice LeRae & Indi Hartwell, Kacy Catanzaro & Kayden Carter, Mercedes Martinez & Toni Storm, and Shotzi Blackheart & Ember Moon were announced, with it kicking off next week. The first match was announced with Martinez and Storm taking on Catanzaro and Karter.

– A vignette aired of Scarlett doing a tarot reading. She showed how Karrion Kross had Balor firmly in his sights.

– Kacy Catanzaro and Kayden Carter were backstage talking about how they would be the first winners of the women’s Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic.

– During a break, Atlas and Swerve were fighting backstage. Bronson Reed helped to break it up, then squared up to Swerve, but he walked away before anything happened.

After The Bell

It was a particularly explosive episode of NXT this week. The NXT title picture has really heated up, with Dunne throwing his hat in the ring. His attack on O’Reilly at the end did wonders for him as a heel, but having Balor show up to return the favour for earlier in the night was awesome. I’m loving this temporary alliance between The Prince and UE.

The Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic is always a great time of the year, and we got some great matches, especially the newly named MSK. They showed just why they are one of the best tag teams around, and I’d love to see them go all the way. The Way were once again fantastic. Gargano’s match with Lumis was pretty good, and I don’t think this is the last of their run-in.

I’m excited about the fight pit next week as well as the announcement tonight that the women of NXT will start competing in the first-ever female Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic next week as well. As for this week, there were some fun matches, but the highlight was seeing things unfold between Balor, UE, and Dunne. Roll on next week.

Star of the Show: Pete Dunne Overall Rating: 7/10

All images and videos courtesy of WWE

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