WWE Hall of Famer Beth Phoenix appeared in person at the Capitol Wrestling Center, not only back at the WWE NXT announce desk but on hand to introduce the first-ever Dusty Rhodes Women’s Tag Team Classic. It was another step in WWE’s evolution of its women’s division, and in her intro Phoenix pointed out NXT’s integral role in this expansion, launching female Superstars like Bayley, Sasha Banks, Bianca Belair, Shayna Baszler, Alexa Bliss, Becky Lynch, and Asuka. The tournament, a stepping stone to the NXT tag team championship, was inaugurated in 2015 to commemorate Dusty Rhodes, the WWE luminary and NXT producer and trainer. The first iteration of the Classic for the NXT women’s division kicked off with a match between the teams of Mercedes Martinez and Toni Storm, and Kacy Catanzaro and Kayden Carter.
The fresh-faced Catanzaro and Carter were the underdogs heading into the ring to face the veteran Martinez and Storm. Martinez’s long in-ring history extends beyond WWE to promotions like SHIMMERand Ring of Honor, while Storm was the bete noire of Rhea Ripley in NXT UK before bringing the pain across the Atlantic. Unsurprisingly, in the bout’s opening moments Storm dominated, unleashing a clothesline and a basement dropkick on Carter. Both tagged in their respective partners, putting Martinez in play against Catanzaro. Martinez quickly got the better of Catanzaro and unleashed several punishing ploys. Martinez hit Catanzaro with a hard slap to the mat, a headlock which Martinez manipulated into a lift and slams, a kick, and then for good measure Martinez manipulated Catanzaro with the ropes and trapped her in her grasp, hoisting her into an overhead lift and dropping her into a power slam.
Carter slid in for the save, breaking Martinez’s cover, keeping their team alive. Martinez tagged in Storm, who pummeled Catanzaro into the corner. From there, Storm and Martinez traded tags rapidly to employ a strong and well-choreographed offense. The wind started to change as Martinez placed Catanzaro on the ropes and then took to the ropes herself, setting up an overhead throw. Catanzaro climbed Martinez’s shoulder and manipulated Martinez up and over instead. Martinez hit the mat hard on her lower back, unable to immediately get back on her feet and instead shakily sliding within range of Storm, and tagging her in with trembling hands.
Catanzaro took a breather after her spectacular maneuver, and tagged in Carter. Carter came in fired up, and not only evaded all of Storm’s attempts to get hold of her but delivered blows, kicks, and rolled Storm through to a shoulder’s down cover. Martinez was alive and revitalized enough to crash in on Carter’s cover. Catanzaro woke up, and kicked Martinez, who rolled, inert, out of the ring. Catanzaro added insult to injury, taking the ropes to barrel fly into a splash on Martinez’s prone form as she lay between the apron and the announce desk.
Storm made a last stand for her team, unleashing a headbutt and German suplex on Carter, and locking her into a punishing single crab hold on Carter’s leg, provoking screams of agony through resiliently gritted teeth from her opponent.
Help came for Carter and Catanzaro unexpectedly, in the form of returning NXT women’s champion Io Shirai. Shirai blocked Martinez’s onslaught, leaving Storm isolated between Catanzaro and Carter. Carter swept Storm’s footing out from under her, while Catanzaro climbed the ropes for a high flying finisher, barrel rolling into a slam on the inert Storm, for a cover that finished the match. It was official: Catanzaro and Carter had their place in WWE women’s history as the victors of the first night of the first Dusty Rhodes women’s tag team classic.
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