This week’s WWE NXT featured Ilja Dragunov in action, Tiffany Stratton taking on Fallon Henley and more.
I’ll do this summary style and play-by-play for one or two matches. This episode was taped last week. They are back to doing a live show next week.
The commentary team was Vic Joseph and Booker T as usual.
Tiffany Stratton vs. Fallon Henley
There were some pin attempts early on. Henley kicked Stratton to the ropes and Henley sent Stratton into the apron. When Henley went to the turnbuckle, Stratton pushed her so Henley bumped to the floor. Stratton was in control with a hard whip into the turnbuckle. Henley came back with the ten punches against the turnbuckle that babyfaces like to do. Stratton hit a spinebuster for two. They exchanged pin attempts again. Henley flipped Stratton over and pinned her with a sunset flip style pin. It went about four minutes.
Winner by pinfall: Tiffany Stratton
Analysis: **3/4 A shorter match to give Henley a big win over a former NXT Women’s Champion. Henley hasn’t been pushed that much in two years, so maybe it’s time for her to move up the ranks a bit.
After the match, Stratton attacked Henley. They left the ring where Stratton rammed Henley’s head into the commentary table and threw Henley into the barricade. Stratton used a mop on Henly’s body and Stratton dumped a trash can full of garbage on Henley. Referees showed up to stop it.
Analysis: The feud is going to continue obviously. Stratton brags about being rich while Henley is a hard-working family girl, so Stratton calling her trash is a way of saying that Tiffany doesn’t think Henley could ever be as good as her. I also think that Tiffany Stratton is a candidate to debut on the main roster around the Royal Rumble so I can see her losing a few more NXT matches before that.
Trick Williams and Carmelo Hayes were backstage in the locker room. Trick congratulated Melo on his Smackdown win. Melo apologized for accidentally hitting Trick with the NXT Title and Trick said that accidents happen. Trick wondered if Melo saw who attacked Melo. That led to Melo admitting he never saw the guy but the only person to hit him that hard was Dragunov. Melo suggested making the Dragunov-Trick match at New Year’s Evil a triple threat match with Melo in the match. Trick asked why. Melo said that there was no Dragunov would retain. Trick said he won Iron Survivor Challenge so he could get a title shot. Trick said when Melo won his titles, he won those matches one on one. Trick said he wanted to face Ilja one on one. Melo understood. Trick said they had to do this the right way and he wanted Melo to help him train. Melo said okay, he’ll help him.
Analysis: This was an interesting segment that will continue the heelish behavior of Melo, who is jealous of Trick having a title match. Melo couldn’t beat Ilja Dragunov to win back the title, so Melo is trying to worm his way into another title shot and Trick is denying him.
Ilja Dragunov was shown walking with the NXT Title.
Let’s Hear from Ilja Dragunov
Ilja Dragunov made his entrance with the NXT Title. Dragunov was in a suit while the fans applauded him as the fighting babyface champion. Ilja said he didn’t know how he was involved in the Trick-Melo drama and felt like he was in a bromance movie. Ilja said that he showed the whole world who he truly is. Ilja said that he uses his body as a weapon, he sacrifices himself and said that this championship deserves it. Ilja said he’s going to start 2024 by defeating the fastest rising star…and here’s an interruption.
Ridge Holland arrived at ringside in a black shirt and black pants along with sneakers. Ridge walked into the ring saying he was there to rewrite his story. Ridge said he was back in NXT and Ilja asked what he wanted. Ridge said he knows what it’s like to be weighed down by a stigma. Ridge said he’s had a series of unfortunate events while speaking about accidents and injuries. Ridge said he was here to prove himself and redeem himself. Ridge told Ilja he could help him find redemption and earn it. Ridge said he needs to prove he belongs in the main event. Ridge said that championship makes Ilja for a title shot. Ridge said he had too much respect to ask for a title shot, but he needs to prove himself and prove they can have this moment once more. Ridge said that when it happens it will be his honor. Ridge said that this is the first chapter in the redemption of Ridge Holland.
Ilja said that he’s so tired of people getting into his face and questioning his integrity. Ilja said that Ridge will find out where he stands tonight. They shook hands leading to a match coming up later in the show.
Analysis: I didn’t expect Ridge Holland to return to NXT, but it makes sense to try to build him up again after being in a tag team on Smackdown. What Ridge was referring to about injuries is that he was the guy that hurt Big E and also hurt Elton Prince in a tag team match, but that wasn’t as ad as the Big E injury obviously.
Lexis King was shown walking backstage saying he’s already the breakout star of the year and he’ll win the tournament to get the contract.
Trick Williams walked up to NXT Champion Ilja Dragunov. Trick was upset about Ilja taking on a match so Ilja talked about taking on a challenge. Trick said you’re the champion until New Year’s Evil and Ilja said we’ll see about that.
Men’s NXT Breakout Tournament Quarterfinals: Dion Lennox vs. Lexis King
Lennox has the kind of physique that many people in wrestling love. King was aggressive early with a clothesline and a chop. King clotheslined Lennox in the back. Lennox made the comeback with running shoulder tackles and a dropkick. Lennox hit a corner splash followed by a Northern Lights Suplex. King tried to leave, so Lennox brought him back in. King sent Lennox into the turnbuckle followed by the Coronation neckbreaker for the pinfall win after three minutes.
Winner by pinfall: Lexis King
Analysis: **1/4 A decisive win for King. I would have liked to see more from Lennox to see more of his athleticism, but there wasn’t that much of it here. We’ll see more of Lennox in the coming months, I’m sure.
After the match, Trey Bearhill showed up with a chair and King left the ring.
Analysis: Bearhill is the guy that King attacked to get into the tournament, so Bearhill was there for revenge. I can see Bearhill interfering in King’s next match to prevent King from winning.
A video aired about Eddy Thorpe talking about being in the fight of his life against Dijak. Thorpe said Dijak took him out of action so Eddy took Iron Survivor away from Dijak. Thorpe said he wanted an NXT Underground Match with no ropes.
Jacy Jayne and Thea Hail entered for tag team action.
Kiana James & Izzi Dame vs. Thea Hail & Jacy Jayne
Jayne punched James off the apron and did a “suck it” gesture. Jayne got a couple of rollups on Dame until Dame hit a clothesline to take over. James hit a running kick to Jayne’s head for a two count. Dame hit a flatliner off the shoulders for a two count. Jayne and Dame did a double clothesline leading to Hail tagging in against James. Hail kept on looking at Riley Osborne in the Chase U section since she had a crush on him. Hail hit a springboard splash on James. Dame made a blind tag, Hail did a Kimura Lock on James, who tapped out, but Dame was legal and Dame hit a boot to the face of Hail to win. It went four minutes.
Winners by pinfall: Kiana James & Izzi Dame
Analysis: **1/4 A decent match to put over the new alliance of James & Dame. I don’t know much about Dame, but she looks like a good athlete. Jayne really hasn’t been utilized that well in the second half of the year as part of Chase U. I’d like to see Jayne being more of a singles heel again.
There was a women’s locker room scene. Arianna Grace tried to tell Roxanne Perez it’s not about wins and losses, it’s about good sportsmanship. Perez said it is about wins and losses and Perez slapped Grace. Grace sold it while screaming about her precious faces.
Dragon Lee was up next for an NXT North American Title game.
Andre Chase & Duke Hudson were playing a game for money with the OTM team with Scrypts. Chase was winning lots of money, so Chase offered a tag match with Chase & Duke facing Bronco & Lucien. Chase wanted to double his money if they won. Scrypts said fine but if OTM wins then he wants them to get a Tag Team Title match. Adriana Rizzo from Tony D’s family was there calling Tony D. Rizzo said that Scrypts had a deal. Chase told Duke that next week they’ll pay their debt in full.
NXT North American Championship: Dragon Lee vs. Joe Coffey vs. Charlie Dempsey
It was originally going to be Lee against Dempsey, but Joe Coffey inserted himself into the match and Lee was okay with it. I’ll go play-by-play here.
Lee threw Dempsey into Joe and got a rollup. Lee gave Dempsey a headscissors into the turnbuckle. Joe was back in with a forearm for Lee along with a backbreaker. Joe hit a backbreaker on Dempsey. Wolfgang and Mark Coffey grabbed Lee’s leg, so the referee ejected the Gallus boys from ringside. Lee hit a German Suplex and superkick on Joe. Dempsey hit a gutwrench suplex on Lee leading to a break.
The match returned with a Tower of Doom spot off the turnbuckle with Joe giving Dempsey a Powerbomb while Lee took a superplex from Dempsey. Lee was launched in the air leading to Lee hitting a hurricanrana on Dempsey. Lee kicked Joe against the turnbuckle. Lee hit running dropkicks on both opponents against the turnbuckle. Lee went for a double DDT, but instead, Coffey & Dempsey hit a double team suplex on Lee. Dempsey and Joe exchanged strikes, Joe jumped off the top, but Dempsey hit him with an uppercut. Lee tried a sunset flip, so it led to Dempsey hitting a German Suplex on Joe while Joe tossed Lee across the ring. The fans chanted “this is awesome” as the three guys exchanged strikes. Lee hit a Tornado DDT on Dempsey. Lee charged, Joe hit him with an uppercut and Joe hit a running forearm on Lee that also knocked Dempsey out of the ring. Joe got a two count. Lee set up Joe upside down against the ropes leading to Lee hitting a double foot stomp. Lee hit a suicide dive on Dempsey on the floor. Lee delivered a kick to Joe’s jaw for a two count. Dempsey and Lee were brawling on the floor, so Joe Coffey hit a dive onto them. Joe Gacy was hiding under the ring. Joe Coffey sent the guys into the ring, but there was Joe Gacy to pull Joe C under the ring. Lee superkicked Dempsey. Lee charged, Dempsey caught him and hit a fallaway slam into a pin for two. Lee landed on his feet during a suplex attempt. Lee spun around Dempsey leading to the Operation Dragon reverse DDT slam for the pinfall win after 12 minutes.
Winner by pinfall: Dragon Lee
Analysis: ***1/4 A very good match as Lee continues to prove he’s a fighting babyface champion who wants to take on all comers. I didn’t expect Lee to lose a match like this, but I think it was smart to have Dempsey and Joe get plenty of offense in the match. Lee continues to have entertaining matches. Dempsey really impressed me too. I hope he can be used better in 2024.
After the match, Joe Gacy emerged from under the ring and went running away. Dempsey’s buddies attacked Lee, but the LWO’s Cruz Del Toro & Joaquin Wilde made the save for Lee. The LWO and Lee made the save.
Analysis: That should set up a six-man tag team match.
Trick Williams was in the locker room with Carmelo Hayes. Trick complained about Ilja Dragunov facing Ridge Holland. Trick complained that if Ridge wins then it might be a triple threat match at New Year’s Evil. Trick said he’s supposed to be the one to take the title off Dragunov, which is something nobody else has been able to do. Melo looked a bit frustrated by that line. Trick left.
The women’s locker room was shown with Cora Jade doing her mean girl routine about how she was back. Jade put her name on a locker and threw down the gear of Carmen Petrovic. Jade left. Petrovic wasn’t happy about Cora taking her locker. Gigi Dolin said there was a way to deal with somebody like Cora.
Analysis: That should lead to a match that Cora will win. I think Cora will be NXT Women’s Champion in the first half of 2024.
Men’s NXT Breakout Tournament Quarterfinals: Tavion Heights vs. Luca Crusifino
Heights is an energetic babyface while Luca is a lawyer character. Heights hit an impressive spinning slam into the mat. Luca dropkicked the leg to take over for a bit. Luca hit a back elbow followed by a neckbreaker. Heights countered a hiptoss into a hiptoss slam of his own. Heights did an overhead toss and a German Suplex. Heights did an impressive capture suplex. Heights caught Luca leading to a spinning belly-to-belly slam for the pinfall win after three minutes.
Winner by pinfall: Tavion Heights
Analysis: ** That was an impressive showing by Heights while Crusifino did some classic heel moves. Heights hit several suplexes in a row to get the win. I think Heights could certainly win this tournament.
The two NXT Breakout Tournament Semifinal matches are Lexis King vs. Riley Osborne and Oba Femi vs. Tavion Heights. Booker said he picked Lexis King.
A video aired about the NXT Women’s Title match at New Year’s Evil when champion Lyra Valkyria faces Blair Davenport. They have never wrestled before even though they were in NXT UK together.
Nikkita Lyons walked up to NXT Women’s Champion Lyra Valkyria saying that Lyons came back for Blair Davenport, but she also came back for that NXT Women’s Title.
Nikkita Lyons entered for singles action. It is her first singles match in nearly a year.
Noam Dar and Meta-Four were interviewed by Kelly Kincaid, who asked Noam if he wanted to give Josh Briggs an NXT Heritage Cup match. Dar said that he will be defending the Heritage Cup against Josh Briggs next week.
Nikkita Lyons vs. Tatum Paxley
It is Nikkita’s first singles match in about a year since she tore her ACL earlier in the year. Paxley has been taunting Lyra Valkyria recently, so that’s her current gimmick. Paxley hit a running forearm to the face to take control. Paxley delivered knee drops and elbow drop to the ribs for two. Lyons came back with a series of kicks to the body along with a punch that looked great. Lyons hit a spinning lefty kick and the splits leading to a leg drop for the pinfall win after three minutes.
Winner by pinfall: Nikkita Lyons
Analysis: *1/2 Easy win for Lyons to give her momentum now that she’s back in action. Lyons is easy to like due to her positive attitude. Lyons also has some good offense with the strikes she has.
Hank & Tank were backstage getting hyped up about their match against Gallus up next.
Fallon Henley was backstage with her friends Josh Briggs & Brooks Jensen. Henley said she was not done with Tiffany Stratton. Henley left. Briggs said he’s ready for the Heritage Cup match next week. Brooks said since Noam Dar has Meta-Four with him, Brooks & Henley wanted to be there for Briggs for the match. However, Briggs said he wanted to do this on his own. Brooks was okay with it. They shook hands.
Analysis: That makes it seem like a split is coming for Briggs & Jensen. They will probably do it where Jensen is jealous of Briggs having success.
Gallus – Wolfgang & Mark Coffey vs. Hank & Tank – Hank Walker & Tank Ledger
Hank knocked down Wolfgang with a shoulder tackle and senton splash. Tank hit a jumping back elbow on Mark. Hank & Tank hit a double clothesline to knock Wolfgang out of the ring. Wolfgang made a blind tag, Hank was sent out of the ring and Wolfgang shoved Hank into the ring post. Hank created some space with a shoulder tackle to knock Mark down. Tank left the corner to make the tag, but the referee made Tank hold the tag team rope. Mark hit Hank with a jumping kick to the face for the pinfall win while Wolfgang prevented Tank from making the save. It went four minutes.
Winners by pinfall: Gallus – Wolfgang & Mark Coffey
Analysis: ** A very average tag team match where the ending was booked that way because Hank & Tank are inexperienced. They are too inexperienced to know that you have to make a tag while holding the tag rope and staying in your corner. You don’t see endings like that often. Anyway, I guess it will be a slow build for Hank & Tank before they start getting wins.
After the match, Joe Gacy was sitting in the Chase U student section staring at the Gallus boys.
Dijak spoke about his rivalry with Eddy Thorpe and how Dijak put him in the hospital when they wrestled before. Dijak bragged about beating up Thorpe last week. Dijak said he’ll see Thorpe in the underground.
Ridge Holland was shown walking backstage while NXT Champion Ilja Dragunov was also shown walking backstage. That main event was next.
Tiffany Stratton did a promo trashing Fallon Henley for being a servant in society. Stratton told Henley she will never be like Stratton and Henley will always be trash. Stratton challenged Henley to a match at New Year’s Evil where if Stratton wins, Henley will become her servant.
Next week on NXT:
* Eddy Thorpe vs. Dijak in an NXT Underground Match
* NXT Breakout Tournament Semifinals: Riley Osborne vs. Lexis King
* NXT Breakout Tournament Semifinals: Oba Femi vs. Tavion Heights
* Cora Jade vs. Karmen Petrovic
* NXT Heritage Cup: Noam Dar vs. Josh Briggs
Ilja Dragunov vs. Ridge Holland
This is not for Ilja’s NXT Title. I’ll go play by play here.
Ilja and Ridge exchanged shoulder tackles leading to Ridge hitting a shoulder tackle to knock the champion down. Ridge delivered a lefty clothesline. Ilja came back with his own running clothesline. Ilja with chops, but then Ridge blocked the hand and delivered a headbutt. Ridge lifted up Ilja leading to an Alabama Slam. Ilja was back up with a jumping knee followed by two German Suplexes. Ridge hit a forearm to the head, Ilja with a kick and Ilja hit a third German Suplex.
The match continued with Ilja delivering kicks and chops to the chest. Ridge came back with a lefty clothesline. Ridge hit a running corner splash two times in a row. Ridge hit an overhead suplex across the ring. Ilja with elbow smashes, then he went off the ropes and Ridge hit a knee to knock Ridge down. Ridge thought about the forearm smashes, but he didn’t do it. Ilja hit elbow smashes to the head. Ridge lifted Ilja, who hit a DDT to counter. Ilja did a sunset flip pin for two. Ilja hit an H-Bomb forearm to the face. Ridge hit a back body drop, Ilja with a jumping kick and Ridge hit a pump kick for two. Ridge went for a suplex, Ilja fought out of it, Ilja delivered some headlines and Ridge caught Ilja in a cradle leading to a DDT into the match. Ilja sold it like he was unable to move while favoring his head/neck area. The referee checked on Ilja and the match was stopped. It went 11 minutes.
Match Result: No Contest
Analysis: **3/4 It was a physical match that told a story that Ridge was tough to beat while Ilja has a lot of heart, but then it just ended abruptly with the injury angle. There’s obviously some long term plan here.
Ilja was on his right side with his left arm in the air while a trainer checked on him. The announcers went silent for the rest of the show. Ilja was placed onto a stretcher while continuing to sell the head/neck/arm injury. Ilja was put on a stretcher while a neckbrace was placed on his neck. They strapped Ilja to the stretcher, put the NXT Title on him and wheeled Ilja out of there. End show.
Analysis: It looked like it could be a real situation, but it was a storyline. I know some fans don’t like it especially because Ridge legitimately broke Big E’s neck and Big hasn’t been able to wrestle since then. Plus, you have the promo that Ridge did earlier about how he has injured people, so then you book him in an injury angle? I assume there is something long term coming here with Holland either turning into a heel because he liked what he did or he becomes a likable face that has a lot of remorse about what happened. If it was me, I don’t know if I would book this kind of injury angle. I know it’s something Shawn Michaels did himself in 1995 when he had a concussion storyline. It’s not 1995, though. I don’t know if people will like this kind of thing especially considering Holland’s history injuring Big E. I get it from WWE’s perspective that it creates controversy to get people talking.
The key story will be about what kind of shape will Dragunov be in come two weeks when he’s against Trick Williams. I think Trick might win because Dragunov will work the match while he’s hurt and Trick will find a way to win. That can lead to Trick-Melo for the NXT Title with Hayes going heel leading into the match.
Three Stars of the Show
- Dragon Lee
- Ilja Dragunov
- Tiffany Stratton
This week: 6.75 out of 10
Last week: 7.25
2023 Average: 7.09
Final Thoughts on WWE NXT
It was a weaker episode due to the average matches throughout the show. It’s still entertaining to some degree, but they have had better episodes over the last month. They wanted to give some different people time in the ring and that led to shorter matches that just didn’t stand out that much. The triple threat match won by Dragon Lee was easily the best match on the show.
The biggest thing that happened was the Ilja Dragunov angle where he was “injured” by Ridge Holland, which put an end to their match without a result. Dragunov was taken away in a stretcher. As I wrote in the review, this angle is going to upset some people because we know Ridge legitimately hurt Big E nearly two years ago and now you do an angle with Ridge hurting a guy in a storyline. I get that it’s a big angle to do to get people talking, but I think in today’s era you’re going to upset fans that don’t want to buy into these kinds of things. Anyway, I think it might lead to Trick Williams beating Dragunov in two weeks, which could set up the Trick-Carmelo Hayes feud after that.
They have set up the New Year’s Evil episode well. That’s in two weeks to start 2024. There’s a new episode next week as well so NXT is not doing any kind of “best of” show like Raw and Smackdown are.
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