By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
Roderick Strong vs. Keith Lee for the NXT North American Championship: The match looked great on paper and more than lived up to expectations. Lee’s win is interesting. He’s been a fairly popular pick to win the Royal Rumble match and I’m not sure if winning his first title in NXT is a sign that he won’t win or a red herring. My guess is that he’s not winning the Rumble and isn’t going to the main roster. By the way, I’m not a big believer in the idea of having an NXT wrestler win the Rumble and then announce that he’s challenging for the NXT Championship. Sure, it helps to further establish NXT and its championship, but I could also see it backfiring with a lot of Raw and Smackdown fans who expect the Rumble winner to challenge for the WWE Championship or the WWE Universal Championship. Also, I’d love to comment on the post match brawl between Undisputed Era and Imperium, but the show ran longer than the overrun was listed for on DVRs. Come on, guys, the eight-minute overrun should be more than enough.
Toni Storm vs. Io Shirai: The DQ finish was logical in that it wouldn’t have made much sense for either woman to lose clean, particularly with Storm challenging Rhea Ripley for the NXT Women’s Title at Saturday’s Worlds Collide. It was disappointing to see the first match of the night end with a distraction finish and the second match conclude due to outside interference by Bianca Belair, but Storm and Shirai produced a good match leading up to the finish. Storm hasn’t clicked in NXT the way she did in the Mae Young Classic or in NXT UK. Her introduction has left a lot to be desired in that it felt like the creative forces just assumed everyone knows her rather than giving her a proper introduction. As such, it was not surprising to hear the live crowd boo when Storm held up the NXT Women’s Championship belt afterward.
Matt Riddle and Pete Dunne vs. Fabian Aichner and Marcel Barthel in Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic semifinal match: Sensational action. If you didn’t know better, you’d think Riddle and Dunne have been teaming together for years. The post match verbal exchange with the Grizzled Young Veterans was entertaining thanks to Riddle’s stoner humor.
Shayna Baszler vs. Shotzi Blackheart: Top notch in-ring storytelling. It started with Baszler patronizing Blackheart by patting her on the head multiple times after getting the better of her to start. Blackheart eventually used a charging Baszler’s momentum to send her over the top rope while the broadcast team noted that it was similar to the week before when she eliminated Baszler from the battle royal. As such, it was perfectly fitting for the Baszler character to return the favor by tossing Blackheart over the top rope just to show that she could. Blackheart showed good heart throughout the match and nearly escaped the Kirafuda Clutch before tapping out, and it was perfect to have Baszler punish her by refusing to release the hold immediately. Baszler played her part brilliantly and Blackheart gained something in defeat.
Finn Balor vs. Joaquin Wilde: Balor destroyed Wilde in a glorified squash match. And with Wilde bringing back the awful DJZ gimmick with a bad WWE name, I’m all for his character’s destruction.
Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish vs. Zack Gibson and James Drake in Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic semifinal match: A Hit for match quality, but the finish was puzzling in that Imperium’s distraction allowed the team that was made to look inferior advance to the finals. Drake even flashed a look of shock when he scored the winning pinfall. So while the Imperium distraction finish plays into the build to the Worlds Collide main event, it didn’t make the winning tag team look strong going into the tournament finals. All of that said, while I’m not a fan of this finish in the moment, it would actually be funny and even somewhat fitting for the characters if Gibson and Drake fluke their way to another win in the finals, perhaps due to Riddle and Dunne self destructing.