Karrion Kross def. Damian Priest
Kross and Priest wrestle similar styles, so you had to know this was going to be good. Sure enough, they had a hard-hitting affair and beat the crap out of each other. Both guys had great performances and it was an entertaining opener. I'm glad Kross' victory was as decisive as it was with Priest likely headed to the main roster soon. Hopefully they don't screw him up, but I'm not holding my breath. As for Kross, I assume attempting to reclaim the NXT Championship is what's next for him.
NXT Cruiserweight Champion Santos Escobar def. Gran Metalik
Despite Metalik's recent string of wins, there was zero reason to think that the title was going to change hands here. That said, this was a terrific match. Fans tend to forget how talented Escobar and Metalik are because Escobar doesn't wrestle often enough (or at least in competitive matches) and Metalik has been marginalized since moving to the main roster. They wrestled a hot pace and it was all action from start to finish. Curt Stallion has to be next in line for a shot at the strap after earning one in late November.
Xia Li def. Katrina Cortez
We've been seeing Li and Boa in vignettes for months, so it was nice to finally get them back on the show. We didn't find out how their master was, but whoever it is, they sat in a throne on the stage while wearing a mask the whole time. I've always found Li to be talented albeit generic, which is why I was blown away by her re-debut here. She came off as way more intense and her strikes looked fantastic. I can get behind this Xia Li if this is how she's going to be presented going forward.
Raquel Gonzalez def. Rhea Ripley in a Last Woman Standing Match
You could tell these two are super close in reality because their chemistry is exceptional. That was evident in their encounter at Halloween Havoc and they had another hell of an outing here. They took full advantage of the stipulation, used a variety of weapons, fought all over the arena, and produced some awesome-looking spots, including the finish with Gonzalez putting Ripley through the stage. If this was it for Ripley in NXT, she went out on a high note. I do fear how she'll be used on the main roster, but this felt like a fitting sendoff for her. Gonzalez' huge victory should propel her into the NXT Women's Championship picture before long.
Kushida and Shotzi Blackheart def. NXT North American Champion Johnny Gargano and Candice LeRae
The Way were celebrating Gargano's successful defense of the NXT North American Championship last week when they were interrupted by Blackheart and Kushida. That led to Dexter Lumis making an impromptu tag team match between the two teams. Gargano and LeRae obviously weren't dressed for competition, and I would have rather seen this saved for another week, but it was fun while it lasted. Kushida pinning Gargano should earn him a shot at the North American title soon.
NXT Champion Finn Balor def. Kyle O'Reilly
When you put Finn Balor and Kyle O'Reilly in the ring together, you can't expect anything less than excellence and this was just that. It helped that the outcome wasn't predictable and could have gone any number of ways. Much like at TakeOver 31, they pushed each other to their absolute limits and really laid their stuff in. Balor submitting O'Reilly felt a bit abrupt, but it was cool to see Balor use a submission to win for a change. The rest of Undisputed Era consoled O'Reilly following his loss while Balor gave him a nod of respect. I'm happy Adam Cole didn't turn on O'Reilly as had been speculated coming into this show, but I'm hoping it stays that way. It depends on where the group goes from here. Either way, O'Reilly capturing the championship down the road has got to be the ultimate endgame.
It's a shame the Fight Pit match between Tommaso Ciampa and Timothy Thatcher had to be bumped from the card due to Thatcher's injury, but this still ended up being a super strong show. All four advertised matches delivered, Li came back with a bang, Kushida presumably entered NXT North American Championship contention, and we found out we're getting a women's Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic in addition to the men's this year. My only nitpick of this episode was that Dexter Lumis didn't do much as the host aside from what he did at the very beginning, nor did it lead to anything significant like Blackheart at Halloween Havoc. Otherwise, this was a TakeOver-worthy edition of NXT that kicked off the new year on a high note.