NXT North American Champion Carmelo Hayes def. Ricochet
It's been three years since Ricochet last wrestled in an NXT ring and he has been missed, especially with the way he's been booked on the main roster. There was no reason to think he'd be taking the title with him to SmackDown, but he gave Hayes a hell of a fight and they had as entertaining of an outing as I thought there would be. Yes, it was mostly a spot-fest, but it was super fun and everything I hoped we'd get from these two. Hayes won clean but the roll-up protected the main roster star in defeat.
Pre-Show Match: NXT UK Champion Kay Lee Ray def. Mia Yim (Non-Title)
Much like the NXT Women's Championship (which I'll address later), the NXT UK Women's Championship is being shortened to simply the NXT UK Championship. It's an odd move that I wish would be explained to avoid confusion. Putting that aside, this was a well-wrestled pre-show match that made sense from a storyline standpoint after Ray cost Yim the WarGames advantage two months ago. Yim didn't waste any time in going after Ray once the bell rang, which was a nice touch. It would have been silly for Ray to lose to someone who isn't even a part of the NXT UK Women's division, but despite the obvious outcome, they had a very good matchup and Yim was protected in defeat. My only nitpick is that the referee came across like a total idiot for not seeing that Ray clearly used the ropes to give herself an advantage during the finish.
Finn Balor def. Ilja Dragunov
The crowd didn't seem to be overly familiar with Dragunov, but they should be. I realize he hasn't appeared on NXT TV at all, but he's a terrific talent and has a bright future ahead of him. He and Balor had strong chemistry and kicked off the night on a high note with an awesome match. They worked a consistent pace, the crowd was into it, and the aggression and intensity from both men was appreciated. There was no way Balor was losing so close to his clash with Johnny Gargano at TakeOver: Portland, but I liked that Dragunov scored as much offense as he did over Balor and looked credible in defeat.
Bianca Belair Won the Women's Battle Royal
Although this had less competitors in it than the men's, I found it to be a way more convoluted. Most of the ladies weren't thrown out until much later on, so the pacing was off and some of the eliminations felt rushed. As a result, this felt like it lasted way longer than it did. On the bright side, the closing stretch was strong with Belair and Io Shirai going at it before Belair ultimately won. They have history from when they both contended for the NXT Women's Championship at TakeOver: New York (and lost).
Roderick Strong Won the Men's Battle Royal
As noted, I enjoyed this more than than the women's because of how everything just seemed to click a lot better. There were a handful of people who shined at various points and, similar to Belair and Shirai, I loved the final few minutes with Strong and Tyler Bate. They have worked very well together in the past, so I was thrilled that they were able to rip it up once again here. It'd be interesting if Strong brought up this victory on an upcoming episode of NXT TV with all the Undisputed Era turmoil going on right now, but I doubt it will ever be mentioned again.
Candice LeRae def. Kay Lee Ray
Ray vs. LeRae? Please tell me that was done on purpose. In all seriousness, this was an enjoyable outing that was given a solid chunk of time. I realize these matches don't matter much, but I was slightly surprised LeRae went over, just because she isn't doing anything in NXT at the moment whereas Ray recently debuted in NXT UK and is in the midst of a push.
Piper Niven def. Zelina Vega
All right, so the outcome was never once in doubt, but this was still fun while it lasted. Vega is great at being a slimy heel and trying to dodge her opponent's offense. She used Niven's size against her at various points, but it wasn't enough to earn her the victory. Niven debuted in NXT UK earlier this month, yet I already have a good feeling about her future on the brand.