WWE NXT 9/12/2023: 3 Things We Hated And 3 Things We Loved

Welcome to Wrestling Inc.'s considerably wild and comparatively young review of "WWE NXT," the show we didn't actually review last week for extremely boring schedule-related reasons. We're back this week, though, and just in time for a massive main event whose results are sure to have long-term ramifications, and which our writers and editors most certainly had opinions about!

We're definitely talking Becky Lynch vs. Tiffany Stratton in the column, along with Ilja Dragunov vs. Wes Lee, the upcoming Women's Breakout Tournament, and several other things that happened on Tuesday's episode, but keep in mind that we can't cover everything. If you want everything, check out our live coverage. If you want opinions and analysis from across the width and breadth of the Wrestling Inc. staff (or at least the ones who work nights) here are three things we hated and three things we loved from the 9/12/23 episode of "WWE NXT."

Loved: Ilja Dragunov & Wes Lee Slug It Out In NXT Opener (Ella Jay, WINC News Writer)

Wrestling fans are often hard to please, but after delivering a banger of a match on "WWE NXT" tonight, Ilja Dragunov and Wes Lee rightfully earned their "holy s***" chants.

Heading into the contest, both men had suffered recent losses to "NXT" Champion Carmelo Hayes. Naturally, both men were hungry for another title shot, so when a number one contender opportunity presented itself, Dragunov and Lee cranked up the intensity. In an entertaining opening contest, the two men battled in a brutal war of resiliency. While Lee utilized his fast-paced momentum to wear out Dragunov, Dragunov responded back with his usual arsenal of hard-hitting moves.

In the end, only one man could win. After Lee shockingly kicked out of Dragunov's H-Bomb, the Russian superstar attempted to set up the Torpedo Moscow, but was countered by a high knee from Lee. Dragunov quickly bounced back though, nailing Lee with a second H-Bomb for the win. Thanks to his hard-fought victory, Dragunov will now challenge Carmelo Hayes in a rematch for the "NXT" Championship at "NXT" No Mercy.

Understandably, Lee was devastated by his loss, as he was later seen cleaning out his locker backstage before saying he was "going home." While the loss may sting now, it may fuel Lee to produce even hotter matches, possibly against Dragunov, in the future. That excites me.

Hated: Baron Corbin's Current Character Is An Empty Void (Matthew Carlins, WINC News Editor)

Let me get this out of the way first: I don't hate Baron Corbin. But the character he's currently portraying on "NXT" keeps leaving me scratching my head.

Long gone are the days of "Down On His Luck" Corbin, which later gave way to Happy Corbin, not to mention all the other incarnations we've seen during his decade-plus in WWE. If he's proven nothing else, he's proven to be a very versatile performer for the company. So why, upon his return to "NXT," has his on-screen persona been stripped almost entirely of any character traits at all? He's turned into just a generic guy who wears "normal" clothes and talks about being a veteran who wants respect, but doesn't seem to be sure whether he's a babyface or a heel anymore.

Take Tuesday night's episode, for example. Corbin starts out the segment begrudgingly concerned for Von Wagner. He calls out Bron Breakker, and I'm expecting some kind of turn from Corbin to set up a match between the two. However, moments after Breakker arrives on the scene, he and Corbin are yucking it up over Wagner's injury. Now I think we have a new mentor-mentee pairing, but the segment then takes another turn with Breakker rejecting Corbin's advice, and that leads to a pull-apart between the two, and yes, a match at No Mercy.

I just don't get what they're going for. It appears to be nothing, because that's the only word I can think of to describe Corbin's character right now. He's a big, empty void, and he's capable of more than that. He just feels directionless, like a blank slate that the "NXT" creative team hasn't taken the time to fill.

Loved: NXT Women's Breakout Tournament Is A Light On The Horizon (Ross Berman, WINC news writer)

The lineage of WWE's tournaments can be hit or miss. For every King of The Ring Steve Austin or Bret Hart, there's also King of The Ring Billy Gunn, or King Corbin. This is not the case, however, with the "NXT" Breakout Tournament. Established in 2019, the tournament winners over the last four years feel like a who's who of current stars.

Current "NXT" Champions Carmelo Hayes and Tiffany Stratton are both Breakout Tournament finalists, with Hayes winning the 2021 tournament and Stratton coming up just short after losing to former "NXT" Women's Champion Roxanne Perez in the finals last year. Inaugural winner Jordan Myles, better known as ACH, had a bitter falling out with WWE, but is nonetheless one of the best junior heavyweights of the 2010s, with his Breakout Tournament win initially feeling like the start of something big for the former IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Champion.

As proven by Stratton's current popularity as Women's Champion, the tournament is clearly a boost to the losers, as well. Tournament matches are great obstacles for wrestlers to overcome, and the story possibilities are endless. Much like the current Global Heritage Invitational, tournaments are a great way to create instant stakes for televised matches. A new tournament is set for this year, and while details are scant, the women's division in "NXT" is full of hungry wrestlers who are champing at the bit for an opportunity like this. The Thea Hails and Ava Raines of the world are hoping to join the list of bonafide young stars that have won — or at least, they should be.

Hated: Back to the balcony (Miles Schneiderman, WINC senior lead news editor)

When Angel Garza and Humberto Carrillo returned to "NXT" back in June, I remember at least one episode (might have been two or even three) in which they hung out on a balcony overlooking the ring, observing the tag team action below. It felt like the kind of thing you do when you want to acknowledge someone's existence and want the fans to see them, but don't really have much creative for them yet.

Turned out that was more true than we could have imagined. Not only did "NXT" not have much creative for Los Lotharios, the only creative they did get involved them breaking up after their first match back. Then, instead of following that up with the traditional "former partners" feud, they spent the next two months texting each other dramatically and sharing a weeks-long fever dream involving their grandfather before waking up with bloody claw marks on their chests, evoking the imagery of lucha libre's famed Perros del Mal, to which their family is connected. It appeared they were ready to re-debut, this time with some real creative juice behind them.

And on this week's "NXT," there they were, back on the balcony.

On the one hand, it's legitimately cool that "NXT" is sporting a healthy tag division right now, and there seems to be a real interest in highlighting the tag teams again (now that the Creeds have returned, anyway). On the other hand, calling attention to how many teams there are means you're not really showcasing anyone, and it's not the ideal environment in which to introduce the repackaged version of Garza and Carrillo. So here they are, just barely squeezed into the picture, looking basically the same as they did before. Obviously I do expect them to focus in on Angel and Humberto eventually, and they did confront the tag champs backstage last week, but after literally months of set-up, their on-camera re-debut should have been so much more than this.

Loved: Becky Lynch and Tiffany Stratton Deserve Their Flowers (Olivia Quinlan, WINC news writer)

Anyone who knows me knows that I have been a longtime fan of Becky Lynch, and she has undoubtedly become one of the biggest stars in all of WWE (not just the women's division). Tiffany Stratton is someone who I think has a very bright future ahead of her. Needless to say that I had high expectations for this match, and it certainly did not disappoint.

Right out of the gate, they didn't waste any time with the usual "going back and forth locking in submission holds on one another" main event routine, getting right into trying to one-up each other. The match only got better from there, with both women bringing their "A" games in a hard hitting, fast paced bout that didn't let up until the very end. The crowd in the Performance Center only added to the excitement of the contest.

Stratton proved tonight that she can go with the best of them, a feat all the more impressive when you consider that she has just under two years of experience under her belt.

Hated: NXT Won't Make A Star If They Keep Losing To The Real Stars (Berman)

A star could've been born Tuesday night, but instead, she was snuffed out.

Tiffany Stratton has never had a better opportunity to have a big moment, facing off against a bonafide star and former WWE Women's Champion, who is –for lack of a better term– in between feuds and seemingly in limbo right now. But Stratton came up short, like numerous "NXT" stars before her. If ever there was a time to give a young up-and-comer a chance to be a star, it was now, and "NXT" chickened out. The match was a thrilling contest between two of the brightest talents in any of WWE's women's division, but the outcome was depressing.

In defeat, Stratton has a long climb back to the top, essentially putting a popular young star back at square one; in victory, Lynch has all the appeal of someone in their twenties attending a high school party. Sure, maybe she can buy everyone booze, but it doesn't change the fact that she's a grim, haunting reminder that this is the best it's ever going to get. What is the point of WWE success if all it means is that you'll get to show up back in the place you started, crushing some young girl's dreams? Sure, you could wrestle in the first women's WrestleMania main event and dress up glamorously for big-time interviews on red carpets, but in the end, you will never escape the WWE Performance Center.

Lynch is simply too big of a star for "NXT," a carpetbagger who's come down to profit off of Stratton mistakenly calling her a former "NXT" Women's Champion. The idea of her winning every single title a woman can win in WWE is alluring, but much like New Day's tenure as "NXT" Tag Team Champions, it undercuts the division to have a star like Lynch on top. Stratton could've won the match and held that win over Becky's head for the rest of their respective careers, but instead, she'll be a statistic in a video package, sacrificed at the altar of Lynch's already long and illustrious resume.