It feels like it’s been a month since we had a meaningful, half decent episode of WWE NXT, and that’s because it pretty much has been a month. First came the Takeover: London leftovers and they were followed by two weeks of dreadful “Best Of” programming. Finally NXT viewers are treated to new programming, even though the build to Takeover: Dallas is going to last until April.

Tom Phillips and Corey Graves wish us a happy new year and a happy one it is as Byron Saxton is noticeably absent.

William “The Most Orderly Commissioner in WWE History” Regal opens the show proper and announces that tonight’s main event will be a battle royal to determine the No. 1 Contender for the NXT Women’s Championship. The commissioner leaves as quickly as he apperared, though, but not before introducing Sami Zayn and his return to Full Sail Arena.

Zayn comes to the ring and, after an extended cheer sesh, recaps NXT’s 2015 (because we haven’t spent two weeks navel gazing) and makes known his intent to become the first two-time NXT champion. Zayn, as usual, is easy on the mic and has a natural connection and cadence with the crowd.

Before Zayn can finish his statement, however, Samoa Joe interrupts the returning hero. Joe, apparently unsatisfied with his loss in London, says Zayn doesn’t deserve his shot because Joe had to “save his life” last time he had a chance at the NXT Championship.

Joe has a point.

But Joe oversteps his point and tells Zayn to put down his microphone and leave if he wants his shoulder to stay healthy. Baron Corbin’s music hits before Zayn can react, though. Corbin recounts his victory and says Zayn needs to go to the back of the line.

All three contenders have a properly entertaining pissing contest before Joe takes a powder. Corbin attacks Zayn while he’s focused on Joe, but Zayn gains control and delivers the best Helluva Kick I’ve seen to Corbin and sends him over the top rope.

Before we get to any wrestling, Phillips throws to the results of the first NXT Year End awards, a ceremony that should’ve been done last week on the year end show. Phillips says there were over 1 million votes cast, a number that you know is a shoot because WWE is a publicly traded company. Right?

Here are the winners…

Tag Team of the Year: Colin Cassady and Enzo Amore

Female Competitor of the Year: Bayley

Male Competitor of the Year: Finn Balor

NXT Takeover of the Year: Takeover: Brooklyn

Match of the Year: Bayley vs. Sasha Banks (Brooklyn)

Overall Competitor of the Year: Finn Balor

Tommaso Ciampa vs. Danny Burch

Finally, some wrestling! The show is nearly half over, but hey, let’s go for it. Danny Burch still hasn’t earned an entrance, though even Ciampa, still being billed from Milwaukee, took less than 15 seconds to get to the ring.

Burch started the match of surprisingly strong, giving Graves and Phillips an opportunity to put over NXT’s future.

This match was a fun little back and forth. Burch has a hard hitting style, but he just wasn’t as good as Ciampa at his own game. Basically, Burch couldn’t keep up with Ciampa’s innovation and experience. Burch looked good against a superior opponent, but he had to tap to a Ciampa armbar. The match was headed towards snowflakes, but just didn’t last long enough to register.

Serious Cass and Serious Enzo lay down another challenge to Dash and Dawson backstage after the match. To his credit, Enzo is still a great promo, even when he isn’t being a quite so much of a bombast.

Before the next match, Commissioner Regal announces from his office that, as a result of the fracas that opened the show, there will be a triple threat in two weeks in which Zayn, Joe and Corbin will face off to determine the No. 1 contender for the NXT Championship.

The Ascension vs. Dash and Dawson

This match shows just how far The Ascension have fallen. We generally support main roster talent coming back down to Full Sail for a match or two, but the point of such an exercise is to show that NXT is still developmental. It’s a chance to give a strong NXT competitor a loss while still looking strong. Cesaro’s legendary series with Zayn is the perfect example of doing this correctly.

To begin with, NXT champions shouldn’t be involved in these matches. But if you’re truly done with a main roster talent, you can job them out in NXT before repackaging them or wishing them well on their future endeavors.

Dash and Dawson beat the piss out of the Ascension and won the match in short order with the Shatter Machine. I prefer Dash and Dawson’s future to that of the Ascension, but I (clearly) don’t like the practice of having main roster talent jobbing to NXT talent, especially in such short order.

Backstage, in one of the worst acted segments in NXT history (I see you Eva Marie), a trainer confirms to Commissioner Regal that Nia Jax isn’t fit to participate in the battle royal tonight after she was choked out a full month ago by Bayley. Bayley must have the most dangerous forearms in the business. Eva Marie, in the periphery, tells Jax that it’ll be OK over and over while smiling and fist pumping behind her back. Cringeworthy acting, but it’s a way to explain away Jax’s absence from the main event tonight.

Elias Sampson vs. Corey Hollis

The best part about Elias Sampson is the announce team trying to decipher what “The Drifter” means. Graves says Sampson won’t talk to him and he wonders how he got back from London. Phillips says the fellas backstage tell him Sampson, hilariously, refers to himself as the Johnny Cash of NXT. The gimmick is a joke, but it could be fun for Sampson to be this delusional, wannabe outsider.

Sampson finishes off Corey Hollis with a pretty nifty rolling neckbreaker.

“What this place needs is what I am,” Sampson says standing over Hollis before putting Chekov’s guitar over his shoulder and leaving without playing a single note.

Battle Royal to Determine the No. 1 Contender for the NXT Women’s Title

All of the women decide start facing off against Asuka but only Eva Marie leads the charge. She gets kicked in the face for her efforts.

Your expected battle royal chaos breaks out after Emma tackles Asuka and we cut to commercials.

Upon return, Aliya, in her debut, is eliminated and is followed shortly by Deonna Purrazzo.

Liv Morgan had a nice spot when she attempted to powerbomb Cameron over the top rope. Cameron held onto Morgan’s hair, however, and they were both toppled over the top rope by Alexa Bliss.

Bliss was eliminated herself by Emma, leaving Emma, Asuka, Billie Kay and Peyton Royce. Asuka kicks Emma off the top rope to eliminate her and survives an elimination attempt by both before eliminating them.

Eva Marie, who rolled out of the ring after being kicked in the face by Asuka, returns as Asuka celebrated her perceived win. Eva Maria tosses Asuka over the top rope and the Full Sail crowd loses their collective minds. Not in a good way.

Double swerve though. Carmella, this weeks #WeirdestDressed (shoutout to Ru Gunn), was also outside the ring without being eliminated. When the crowd realized it, they let out a Takeover-main-event-level cheer. Carmella dumps Eva Marie to secure the win.

Bayley runs to the ring to congratulate Carmella, you’ll know about their sismance if you were a Breaking Ground viewer. Asuka watches the pair, smiling, as she walks up the ramp and Bayley gives Carmella the ring to celebrate as the show fades to black.

WWE NXT’s return to regular programming was exciting, if only because we’ve been starved for fresh content from the best program in WWE. Come for short but sweet matches, stay for multiple Commissioner Regal segments setting up the next few months of NXT matches.