WWE’s flagship developmental brand NXT delivered a fantastic live show of the new year, where the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic tournament kicked off Wednesday followed by a Fatal 4-Way No.1 contender main event.
The annual Dusty Classic began where NXT’s best tag teams were paired against each other to compete for the Tag Team Classic trophy and a title shot. The women’s division were all aiming for a shot at new Women’s Champion Rhea Ripley. The midcard NXT North American Championship contender was decided in an explosive Fatal 4-Way between Damian Priest, Cameron Grimes, Dominic Dijakovic and Keith Lee.
In the opening segment, Rhea Ripley basked in her newfound memories of her wonderful 2019 after dethroning the unstoppable former champion Shayna Baszler. Former NXT UK Women’s Champion Toni Storm interrupted her, reminding her she beat Ripley twice and aims to be a double champion in 2020. Numerous favorites interrupted after, leading to an opening brawl and turning to a six-woman tag. Each woman (Io Sharai, Candice LeRae, Bianca Belair, Kay Lee Ray) got to show off a piece of their in-ring acumen teasing potential great matches for Ripley. Dissenting egos among Sharai and Bianca led Rhea to hit the Riptide on Bianca for the win.
The Dusty Classic, a tag tournament in honor of legendary pro-wrestler Dusty Rhodes, began with NXT UK tandem Imperium (Fabian Aichner and Marcel Barthel) against Steve Cutler and Wesley Blake of Forgotten Sons. There was a clear back and forth tandem offense of multiple tag maneuvers but the might of Imperium’s ‘sacred’ wrestling got the win with a European Bomb. Later on, we saw NXT/NXT UK respective tag team champions square off as the Undisputed Era versus Gallus. Mark Coffey and Wolfgang (Gallus) were delivering unorthodox power against veteran striking tacticians Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish. There was the usual strength in numbers in the Era’s leader Adam Cole interfering for Fish & Reilly to finish Gallus with Chasing the Dragon.
All the promos in this episode were straight fire, most notably from Tommaso Ciampa’s video package stating he wants his “life” back in the NXT Championship with fear of what he’ll become without it. Ciampa relinquished the title due to a severe neck injury - but now he’s here to reclaim “Goldie” back from new champion Adam Cole (who unarguably had the best 2019 run in NXT). Cole and The Undisputed Era won all the gold and most year-end awards last year but Cole’s reign is a little tainted until he beats the man who never lost the title (which I can’t wait for.)
Keith Lee and the other 4-way competitors had a package but Lee’s was most sensical, pointing out multiple setbacks from NXT management. Lee is a hybrid powerhouse unlike anything I’ve seen in wrestling and his vow to pounce on everyone in his way is his ticket to make them "Bask In His Glory.”
Johnny Gargano and Finn Balor’s promo battle was cool in a sense of past v. present. It was set up to decide who is the real flag-bearer of NXT as Finn tells him they’ll have their match at NXT Takeover: Portland (although he might not make it there 100%.)
The main event, Fatal 4-Way, to determine the next challenger for Roderick Strong’s North American title was excellent. There were fast and furious displays of striking from Grimes and Priest and unbelievable power with cruiser-weight agility by Keith and Dominic. The best moments of the match were Lee and Dijakovic’s mutual compatibility, Lee catching Priest in mid-air and using him as a wrecking ball and the high-flying dives. Keith literally choke-slamming two 6’7 men simultaneously was like something out of a motion picture! Lee got the victory with a Spirit Bomb to Grimes, proving why he’s the NXT Breakout Star of the year.
As an avid pro-wrestling adherent that always looks for refreshing content and new types of athletes, NXT never disappoints. From a roster that’s very overcrowded, the current standout and buildup stars find their moment somehow through the right booking. Look out for NXT on the USA Network every Wednesday from 8-10 p.m.
Echo Grade: 4 out of 5 Swoops