By: Matt Carlins

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The future stars of WWE remembered the late professional wrestling icon Dusty Rhodes by putting the lessons he taught many of them into action.

Rhodes died Thursday at the age of 69. In a statement Thursday afternoon, WWE referred to the hall of famer and three-time NWA Champion as, “one of the most captivating and charismatic figures in sports entertainment history.”

In recent years, Rhodes was working closely with up-and-coming talent at the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida. Those same performers make up the majority of the roster for WWE’s NXT brand.

They learned of Rhodes’ passing just hours before a show at Stage AE on Pittsburgh’s North Shore Thursday night.

(Photo Credit: Matt Carlins/KDKA)

(Photo Credit: Matt Carlins/KDKA)

It began with NXT General Manager William Regal, a veteran himself of the squared circle, offering very brief remarks before the ring bell was tolled ten times in Rhodes’ memory. The sound echoed throughout a suddenly silent Stage AE.

That was the last time the venue was quiet. NXT’s debut in Pittsburgh was an energetic night of professional wrestling, drawing loud cheers and bringing fans to their feet on countless occasions.

There were tributes to Rhodes throughout the night. Some were as subtle as the attire some wore to the ring. Others were more obvious. Brash-talking Enzo Amore recalled Rhodes’ famous “Hard Times” promo as he fired up the crowd before the opening match. A number of other performers put Rhodes’ signature “Bionic Elbow” to use against their opponents.

(Photo Credit: Matt Carlins/KDKA)

(Photo Credit: Matt Carlins/KDKA)

The standout matches of the night were the final two. Sasha Banks defended her championship against Becky Lynch in a great showing for two of the top stars in NXT’s highly regarded women’s division.

The main event had fans on their feet and rocking. NXT Champion, and WWE’s fastest rising star, Kevin Owens defended his title against three men: No. 1 contender Finn Balor, well-traveled WWE newcomer Samoa Joe and self-styled male model Tyler Breeze.

This show was unlike anything WWE has brought to Pittsburgh before. Instead of the superstars seen on “Raw” or “SmackDown” every week, the NXT brand is mostly made up of talent in WWE’s developmental system, based in Orlando, Florida.

That’s also where NXT produces a weekly, one-hour program that airs on the WWE Network. For years, live events were confined to the state of Florida, but that recently changed. Over the past several months, NXT shows have been held in San Jose, Philadelphia, Columbus and Cleveland. Every show has sold out, and sold out quickly.

Only a couple thousand fans fit inside Stage AE, but the intimate atmosphere is part of what makes NXT so thrilling and unique.

Fans at Thursday night’s show were loud and inventive as they cheered on their favorites. The energy is impossible to deny. For fans of professional wrestling, it’s hard to find a better live experience than NXT.

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