NXT results, recap, grades: Finn Balor shocks, Tommaso Ciampa returns, three tile matches

Up against stiff competition from the debuting AEW Dynamite program just a couple channels away on the dial, NXT swung for the fences in its first two-hour live edition on USA Network ... and WWE's third brand hit a home run. With three top-notch title matches, two major returns and plenty of good action in between, NXT told fans potentially interested in another product that they have no reason to venture elsewhere if they want the best top-to-bottom professional wrestling on the planet.

While the action was great and storylines were developed and advanced both in and around the ring, the NXT product for the third straight week chose to do little else. There were once again no significant promos nor was there much in the way of backstage content. And that's OK because NXT is clearly shying away from the WWE formula. At the same time, it would not hurt to have some additional elements besides the lit-up ring and dark arena.

One must also wonder whether -- after seeing the competition -- WWE will ultimately choose to keep NXT at Full Sail in Orlando, Florida each week. The crowd both visually paled in comparison, and the dark arena made the product feel far more intimate than what "regular" wrestling fans are used to. But perhaps that is the point for WWE, which has two bright, lit-up and storyline-filled shows already each week in Raw and SmackDown.

Still, NXT delivered in a major way, and the first 30 minutes of the program were arguably better than anything the competition put on the air Wednesday night. It's official. The Wednesday Night Wars have begun whether either company wants to say it or not. Overall show grade: A

NXT results, grades

NXT Championship -- Adam Cole (c) def. Matt Riddle via pinfall to retain the title:  The match started at a quick pace with Riddle hitting multiple gutwrench German suplexes on Cole before being rounded by the champion. Riddle answered with numerous penalty kicks, a Broton, a Rain Trigger and a fisherman's buster before nearly getting a three count with a deadlift German. A mid-air backstabber counter by Cole was the beginning of a thrilling back-and-forth that included a V-trigger (Riddle), enzuigiri (Cole), release German (Riddle) and ushigoroshi (Cole) all in immediate succession. Riddle caught a flying Cole with a knee outside, but Cole got his knees up to counter a Floating Bro back in the ring. Cole took advantage of a prone Riddle with a Panama Sunrise for a 2.8 count that threw the crowd into hysterics. Riddle caught an ensuing  Panama Sunrise attempt, countering with a Bro To Sleep, powerbomb, Kamigoye and Floating Bro for a 2.8 count of his own.

Riddle's attempt to flip over the top rope for a lariat was countered with a pair of kicks by Cole, who added a Panama Sunrise for good measure. But when Cole went for the Last Shot, Riddle ducked and locked Cole in the Bromition. Cole countered with a pinning combination, but Riddle immediately locked the champion in the fujiwara armbar twice, though Cole rolled out both times. Cole then smacked Riddle in the back of the head with his casted right hand and nailed a dazed and confused Riddle with the Last Shot for the 1-2-3. This was, simply put, one of the best matches in NXT television history and an insane way to start the show. It delivered in every conceivable way as non-stop action for 20 minutes. Grade: A+

Finn Balor returns to NXT: As Cole was celebrating, Balor's music hit and a stun crowd lost its mind. The longest-reigning NXT champion in history slowly and confidently walked to the ring, staring down Cole and declaring, "As of now, Finn Balor is NXT!" Later in the show, Cole refused to acknowledge that his cast was the reason he won the match. Undisputed Era approached Cole about Balor, and he wanted none of it. Instead, he told his team to focus on their goals of defending the tag team titles later in the evening.

Velveteen Dream issues a challenge: Complete with a half-dozen ladies by his side, Dream rose from his velvet and challenged Strong to a rematch for the North American championship. Dream said this would give Strong a chance to stand on his own and step out from the shadow of Undisputed Era, proving he can be his own man.

Io Shirai def. Mia Yim via pinfall: Shirai added to her heel credentials by smacking away Yim's extended hand before the match. Though Yim got some offense in, Shirai hit a tiger fate kick and a springboard missile dropkick for a near fall. Yim responded with the Code Blue, but Shirai kicked out at 2.7. After some back-and-forth action, Shirai was able to knock Yim to the canvas and hit her slick moonsault finisher for the victory. Any match would have paled in comparison to the opener, but Shirai and Yim put together a good bout with a well-booked finish giving the heel another big victory. Grade: B-

Johnny Gargano def. Shane Thorne via pinfall: A tope suicida and slingshot DDT were not enough to put Thorne away, giving him an opportunity to nearly pin Gargano with a leg lariat, cannonball and tower sit-out powerbomb. Gargano soon picked up steam, however, hitting Thorne with a poisonrana and kneeling superkick for the clear win. Grade: B-

NXT Women's Championship -- Shayna Baszler (c) def. Candice LaRae via submission to retain the tile: Following an early flurry from LaRae, the challenger saw her left arm injured severely when Baszler threw her into the steel steps and then smashed the arm with her foot. LaRae then planted Baszler outside the ring and a trio of tope suicidas to retake the advantage. Baszler looked to lock LaRae in the Kirifuda Clutch, but the challenger reversed the move. The champion escaped and attempted to lock LaRae in the submission from the top rope, but she got out of it and hit a diving swinging neckbreaker for a 2.8 count. Another Kirifuda Clutch attempt was countered by LaRae into a pinning combination followed by an underhook DDT. However, LaRae missed an ensuing springboard moonsault, and Baszler caught her in the Kirifuda Clutch, this time until she finally tapped out. Top-notch effort from these two that was slow in the middle due to commercial break timing. Baszler remains a tremendous champion, and LaRae has put on some great matches recently with both the champion and Shirai. Grade: A-

WWE legends in attendance: Over the course of the night, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Mark Henry, Stephanie McMahon and Alundra Blayze were all shown in the crowd watching the true two-hour debut of NXT on USA Network.

Damien Priest strikes | Pete Dunne def. Danny Burch via pinfall: A short but brutal filler match that never left a doubt as to the winner ended with a Bitter End from Dunne. As he was celebrating, however, Priest slid into the ring, hit Dunne from behind and took him out before posing over the prone former WWE UK champion. Grade: C

NXT Tag Team Championship -- Undisputed Era (c) def. The Street Profits via pinfall to retain the titles: Wale surprised by bringing the Profits through the crowd and hyping them up on their way into the ring. Undisputed Era maintained control throughout most of the match even though a uranage by Montez Ford looked to swing the momentum. Instead, tandem offense by Bobby Fish & Kyle O'Reilly resulted in a near fall. Getting the hot tag, Angelo Dawkins hit a fantastic exploder suplex on O'Reilly but had his knee taken out by Fish behind the referee's back. O'Reilly climbed to the top rope and hit diving double knees on Dawkins before placing him in a leg lock as Fish placed Ford in a jumping guillotine. However, Ford broke both moves by driving an elevated Fish into the duo on the mat.

As Fish attempted a splash, Dawkins dove away from it and hit Ford with the hot tag; an ensuing frog splash by Ford did not get the fall, so he soon ran the length of the ring and dove over the ring post taking out the three other men into the barricade. With Ford back on the top rope, Roderick Strong pulled his leg to stave off another high-risk maneuver. Dawkins took out Strong with a spear onto the ring apron, but Fish knocked Ford off the top rope and the champions hit Total Elimination for the finish. Grade: B+

Tommaso Ciampa makes his return: Cole made his way out to the stage to celebrate with Undisputed Era, but before he could go down to the ring, Ciampa's music hit. The former NXT champion slowly stalked Cole, walking a circle around the current champion before staring him down as NXT went off the air 9 minutes late.

CBS Sports Staff

Adam Silverstein joined CBS Sports in 2014 as college football and golf editor. He also helps lead pro wrestling, boxing and mixed martial arts coverage. Adam still maintains that Tim Tebow could have... Full Bio

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