NXT North American Champion Johnny Gargano and Austin Theory def. Leon Ruff and Kushida
This marked the tag team debut of Gargano and Theory and they worked really well together. This was an enjoyable opener with everyone getting their time to shine. I figured Kushida would win to earn himself a shot at the NXT North American Championship, but Theory pinning Ruff was a better finish seeing as how he's lost almost every match he's had in NXT up to this point. Kushida wasn't beaten, so I assume he's still next in line for a title opportunity against Gargano.
Tommaso Ciampa def. Tyler Rust
Rust was a part of the latest class of Performance Center recruits and recently appeared as one of Thatcher's students on the show. I figured this would be a straight-up squash for Ciampa, but I'm glad Rust was able to get in plenty of offense before eating defeat and that this was given am ample amount of time. This was a hell of a hard-hitting affair. Thatcher and Ciampa are still going at it, but I wouldn't be surprised if their feud ends with them joining forces as some fans have speculated. I'd give both guys something to do, could be a ton of fun, and would further bolster the tag team division. As for Rust, him teasing an alliance with Malcolm Bivens (who we haven't seen in ages) is a promising sign for his future.
Kyle O'Reilly def. Pete Dunne in an NXT Championship No. 1 Contender's Match
The Ladder match these two had a few weeks ago was wild, so you had to know this was going to be equally exceptional. Sure enough, they did not disappoint and delivered TakeOver main event-worthy worthy. Both of these guys are great and bring a certain intensity to all of their matches. That was on full display here and the action was exciting throughout as a result. Dunne was my pick to win because Finn Balor and Dunne have never faced off one-on-one before, but I'm totally fine with O'Reilly getting a rematch against Balor at New Year's Evil. O'Reilly has a genuine shot of winning the title this time and I can't wait for it.
Shotzi Blackheart def. Indi Hartwell by Disqualification
Hartwell has had potential from the moment WWE signed her late last year, but putting her with the Garganos was the smartest thing NXT could have done because now she has more of a purpose. This was kind of a nothing match, which was fine coming off the barn burner that was O'Reilly vs. Dunne, but it did further the feud between Blackheart and Candice LeRae. The post-match stuff was odd with Hartwell hesitantly attacking Blackheart after getting disqualified. I don't think it was a botch, but it came off awkwardly.
Karrion Kross def. Desmond Troy
Kross was out of action for almost four months and he and Scarlett still have one of the best entrances in all of WWE. It's an absolute spectacle. He shined in the short-and-sweet squashes earlier this year and that's exactly what this was as well. It was good to see Troy (the former Denzel Dejournette) back and I hope he'll be utilized as more than an enhancement talent at some point. Back to Kross, he called out Damian Priest afterward and it was then made official for New Year's Evil. Much like Balor vs. O'Reilly, that should be a banger.
Toni Storm def. Rhea Ripley
I liked how the history between Ripley and Storm was recapped earlier in the evening. Remember, Ripley beat Storm to become the inaugural NXT UK Women's Champion, and Storm beat Ripley at the first NXT UK TakeOver in January 2019 to win the title from her. Their chemistry was obviously excellent and the face and heel roles being swapped this time around made for a fresh dynamic. This continued the trend of surprising finishes as I assumed Ripley would go over but Storm won instead with help from Raquel Gonzalez. Ripley vs. Gonzalez II would be wonderful after how well their first encounter went and a win for Gonzalez would make her even more of a threat to the NXT Women's Championship than she already is. In the meantime, Shirai vs. Storm feels like a lock for New Year's Evil in a what would be a rematch from the finals of the Mae Young Classic in 2018.
I enjoy NXT most weeks, but this felt like a more streamlined show than usual with zero filler and a clear focus in setting the stage for New Year's Evil, which is shaping up to a mini-TakeOver on January 6th. We had four above-average matches on this show, successful storyline progression, and Kross' return to the ring. This just might have been my favorite episode of NXT since Halloween Havoc with pretty much everything firing on all cylinders. My only complaint is that I wish more was announced for next week, though I am interested in seeing what the Gargano Christmas stuff will entail.