WWE’s Performance Center has everything a future superstar could want–seven training rings, a world class gym, video editing bays, and countless trainers to glean knowledge from. The head master, WWE COO Triple H, has said that from now on, the road to the WWE starts in NXT and that road includes a stint at the Performance Center.
Thanks to ESPN’s E:60 Behind the Curtain special, the entire world has seen just how incredible the WWE Performance Center really is and how important it will be to the company’s future. No pun intended, but if someone thinks they’re 'tough enough' but don’t quite cut the mustard, it will be no one’s fault but their own, as the Performance Center has everything a potential superstar could want. In the “Thy Kingdom Come” DVD, Triple H and Kevin Nash spoke about the center as something Triple H always wanted to do if he was ever put in that position. Luckily, he has been put there and NXT has become an important brand for the WWE.
Each student in NXT, along with the NXT veterans who are just moved onto the roster, could all use the help. Like any person in school, these kids can all learn something from a variety of areas, not just the halls of the Performance Center. With that in mind, here are some of the NXT standouts and the influences they should be studying. Triple H allows his roster to be as creative as they want to be in order to truly make themselves famous and let's hope they’ll be allowed to do the same when they get to the main roster.
* This article will look at present day NXT stars, along with some recently graduated stars as well!
15 Tyler Breeze / Rick “The Model” Martel
In today’s Generation Me environment, there is so much self–indulgence that Tyler Breeze can use to his advantage, and who doesn’t love a giant furry selfie stick. If Breeze needs someone who came before him to look up to and emulate, who better than fellow Canadian, Rick “The Model” Martel? Martel became a memorable superstar after he adopted the Model bit. While it’s doubtful that Breeze will start carrying around a bottle of Arrogance cologne, if Triple H brought Martel in to second Breeze, it could be the big bump that gets Breeze to the main roster. Think of all the Zoolander and AXE body spray–inspired promos these two could pull off.
Required Coursework – The Model’s Arrogance vignettes and Martel vs. Razor Ramon on Raw, Episode 35.
14 Sami Zayn / Ricky Morton
Especially after taking John Cena to the limit, Sami Zayn is now arguably the most popular competitor in NXT. Still, Sami Zayn is the real life equivalent to Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown. There have been a ton of sympathetic baby faces over the years and Sami is just that for this generation of fans. That doesn’t mean that watching tapes of Ricky Morton wouldn’t aid Zayn in his portrayal. Along with Robert Gibson as a member of the Rock 'n' Roll Express, Morton knew how to play the face in peril to a hilt, taking punishment from rivals like The Four Horsemen and arch–rivals, The Midnight Express. Morton was able to make being put in a simple chinlock look like the most devastating hold a man could be put through and he knew when to look to the crowd and shake his fists looking for their support.
Required Coursework – Morton vs. Ric Flair in a Steel Cage at the Great American Bash 1986 and just about every duel with the Midnight Express.
13 Neville / Jushin Thunder Liger
Back in the late '80s/early '90s, WCW introduced America to a Japanese superstar, “Shooting Star,” Jushin Thunder Liger. For the uninitiated, Liger was Rey Mysterio long before WCW brought in an army of Cruiserweights. Liger’s matches with Flyin’ Brian Pillman are the proto–cruiserweight matches that any light heavyweight should watch and the guy who can learn the most from the innovative Liger is the equally innovative Adrian Neville. Neville has been amazing in the WWE so far, bringing his agility and crisp wrestling skills. On top of the similarity of just being high flyers, Liger would invent the Shooting Star Press, a move that “The Man that Gravity Forgot” would adopt and reinvent years later, as "The Red Arrow."
Required Coursework – Liger vs. Pillman from Superbrawl II, Liger vs. Rey Mysterio from Starrcade 1996
12 Bray Wyatt / Kevin Sullivan and Jake the Snake Roberts
The New Face of Fear, Bray Wyatt is one of the 20 plus NXT alumni who have made a big impact on the main roster. Already part of wrestling royalty (Wyatt’s real name is Windham Rotunda; he is the son of Mike Rotunda and nephew of Barry Windham), Wyatt’s career took off when he dropped the Husky Harris gimmick and adopted the cult leader gimmick. With this kind of character, promos are Wyatt’s strongest weapon and therefore voices from the past like The Taskmaster, Kevin Sullivan and Jake “The Snake” Roberts are 101 type courses that Wyatt should be studying like crazy.
Required Coursework – Jake’s promos on The Undertaker, Ted DiBiase, and his desire to be the Intercontinental Championship; Sullivan’s declaration of war on Hulkamania–War Games 1995.
11 Blake and Murphy / The Brain Busters
The two underrated stars shocked the NXT world when they defeated the Lucha Dragons to win the NXT tag titles. Now the duo are vying for the affections of Carmella (“she’s hot as hell, and you can’t teach that”), and subsequently feuding with her boys, the Realest Guys in the Room. Seeing as how it’s high time to make tag team wrestling mean something again, Blake and Murphy should take heed of the great in–ring work of Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard, The Brain Busters. Arn and Tully were two of the founding Four Horsemen, but it was when they left the NWA for the WWE that the pair really took off as a fantastic heel tag team. They knew how to keep their foes beaten down in their corner, distract the referee, and sell like hell for a baby face when it was time. They might have entered the Hall of Fame as Horsemen, but their work as The Brain Busters alone is enough to garner them a spot. Any tag team can learn plenty from watching The Brain Busters, but since Blake and Murphy have the straps, they should be taking notes and learning from one of the best tag teams on how to keep them.
Required Coursework – Brain Busters vs. Hart Foundation at SummerSlam 1989, vs. the Rockers January 23rd, 1989
10 Dana Brooke / Sunny
She’s only been on NXT for a few weeks, but a victory over the technically sound Bayley have shown that Dana Brooke has what it takes to be exactly what she says she is, the Total Diva. Based on her promo on NXT from May 6th, 2015, Brooke is gunning for Charlotte and is well on her way to becoming one of the best Divas on the roster. While she barely wrestled a match, Sunny’s “I’m better than you” attitude, during her time as a part of the Body Donnas, could be updated for today’s fans and used by Brooke, who is an actual former gymnast and fitness model, most recently having placed 15th in this year’s Arnold Classic.
Required Coursework – The original Diva was such a force to be reckoned with in the mid–nineties, whether she was acting as the Body Donna’s manager, on commentary, or just talking to the crowd, there’s plenty that Brooke can glean from the Hall of Famer.
9 Sasha Banks / LayCool
The women of NXT are showing the entire WWE Universe that the Divas division doesn't just have to be eye candy and less than three minute filler matches. #GiveDivasAChance is a nice start for the main roster gals to show off, but for solid women's work, NXT is where the action is. Currently, the best all-around woman on the roster is rightfully the NXT Woman's Champion, Sasha Banks. The Boss of NXT will one day most certainly be the Boss of the WWE and what might get her one step closer to the dance is watching tapes of LayCool (Michelle McCool and Layla). The pair spent several years ripping on every Diva who wasn't as "Flawless" as they were, including making a fairly decent looking Mickie James feel and look more like "Piggie James." They also had a pretty decent move set that she could take from.
Required Coursework – McCool's version of the Styles Clash, Layla's version of Diamond Dust, the pair's rendition of Old MacDonald Had a Farm.
8 Hideo Itami / Bret "the Hitman" Hart
Arguably NXT's greatest wrestler might be at a disadvantage to bring with. Seriously, when was the last time you saw a Japanese star ascend the ranks to become a main evneter? It's definitely not for lack of trying - Taka Michinoku, Yoshihiro Tajiri, and the Ultimo Dragon have all come to the WWE and all of them have flopped. Vince McMahon want's his top stars to be able to speak the language. Times have changed drastically and a guy like the former Kenta will be needed as an ambassador to the Far East, but if Itami wants to truly get over, he'll need to do exactly what he has been doing, which is having stellar matches every night. However, getting to the main event, he'll need to take a look at Canada's greatest export - "the Best There is, the Best There Was, and the Best There Ever Will Be," Bret "the Hitman" Hart. Have you ever seen a bad Hitman match? Also, similar to Hideo but for different reasons, Bret wasn't a great stick man early on his career, but he learned that part of the craft on the fly and delivered some of the realest promos of any era. If Itami can learn the language a little better, and deliver some solid promos, there is no telling how far the originator of the GTS can go.
Required Coursework – Hart vs. 1-2-3 Kid (Raw 70), Hart's performance from the King of the Ring 1993, promos against Stone Cold, HBK, and America.
7 Enzo Amore / Road Dogg
With his unique look, Enzo is sure to make the main roster sooner than later but that same unique look doesn’t scream main eventer. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a devoted spot for him, either. The Road Dogg Jessie James made a career out of getting the party started and being the first guy out on many a Raw and PPV. Enzo has that same charismatic trait, as the NXT faithful can’t wait to recite every word of Amore’s spiel with the certified G and bonafide stud. By the time he hands the stick over to Big Cass, Enzo’s wound the crowd up into a fever pitch ready to follow Cass in giving his opponents two words, err…five letters – S A W F T !
Required Coursework – Honestly, Enzo’s got the ring leader bit down pat, but the D–O–Double G had a few moves that haven’t been since his prime that Enzo could do well with to round out his in ring style; such as the inverted suplex, middle rope body guillotine, and the pump handle slam.
6 Bayley / Ricky "the Dragon" Steamboat
Bayley is sort of an odd duck character, as she’s a die–hard fan who’s just happy to be there and feels compelled to hug everyone she meets. If Sami Zayn is the most sympathetic baby face that NXT has, Bayley is right behind him as a close second. Lately, she has been showing more of an aggressive side and seemingly doesn’t want to get walked on anymore by fellow NXT divas, like Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch. Getting more aggressive without becoming a heel or an anti-hero is an art form that Ricky "the Dragon" Steamboat perfected. Bailey would do well to learn how to breathe fire and embrace the fighter she has within her.
Required Coursework - Everyone knows how amazing the Steamboat / Randy Savage match at WrestleMania III was, along with The Dragon's series of bouts against the Nature Boy. Sometimes overlooked is The Dragon's war with Jake the Snake Roberts, which culminated at the Big Event 1986.
5 Charlotte / Trish Stratus
When your father is universally accepted as the best wrestler that ever laced up a pair of boots, usually you have two choices–accept the truth that you will always be compared or set forth on your own path and create your own legacy. Charlotte somehow has merged the two schools of thought; she has embraced being the daughter of the Nature Boy and has achieved greatness by seldom drawing attention to it, by forging her own legacy with a lengthy world title reign of her own. Having learned a lot and continuing to learn from her father is a great tool, but the Nature Girl can also learn a lot from Trish Stratus, a former fitness model who clawed and scratched her way not just to the top of the Divas division, but to also be universally accepted as the best Diva of all time. Shouldn’t the best now constantly learn from the best then?
Required Coursework – Trish proved her worth in the ring with just about every Diva she faced, but matches against Molly Holly, Victoria, and Lita are always worth a look.
4 Kevin Owens / Chris Jericho and Cactus Jack
Kevin Owens debuted at NXT Takeover R Evolution and decimated C.J. Parker, while his best friend, Sami Zayn finally won the big one and defeated Adrian Neville for the NXT championship, before being attacked by Sami Zayn. In the weeks since, Owens has maintained that he attacked Sami because it was strictly business, as he wants to be able to provide for his family. An admirable trait, even if he did obliterate his longtime friend and one of his groomsmen to do it. Due to the real life closeness of the pair, the announcers are attempting to paint Owens as jealous and here's where Chris Jericho and Cactus Jack can teach Owens. During Jericho’s epic feud with Shawn Michaels, Jericho maintained how right he was by proclaiming himself an honest man. When Jack did battle with Tommy Dreamer, he too tried to use honesty as a good policy and delivered some of the best promos of his career. In the ring, take Foley’s brawling style with Jericho’s finesse and you have the current reigning and defending NXT Champion, Kevin Owens.
Required Coursework – Foley’s anti–hardcore promos, especially “Cane Dewey,” Jericho’s war with Michaels at Unforgiven 2008.
3 Finn Balor / Triple H
With an odd name (to most audiences) like Fergal Prince Devitt and now Finn Balor, you better be able to showcase some amazing ring skills to ensure the respect of the fans. Luckily, he has been amazing crowds for years with DDT variations and devastating kicks. One of the current contenders for the NXT title brings out the big guns for the big matches, especially in the form of wild entrances. Balor captivates from the start of the match. Adopting the last name Balor helps, as in old Gaelic, it means the Demon King, which is exactly what Balor looks like when slithering to the ring for big matches at the Takeover events. Adorned with a headdress and body paint, Balor can strike fear into the hearts of any man standing at the other end of the ring, much like Triple H, who also knows how to make an entrance for a big matches.
Required Coursework – Balor would do well to study the Game’s return from an almost career ending injury at MSG in 2002. Also, many of the King of the Kings later WrestleMania entrances, including ‘Manias 22 (Conan on his Throne), 26 (Metallica’s For the Whom the Bell Tolls throughout the arena before the Cerebral Assassin’s traditional Motorhead theme), and 31 (as the Terminator)
2 Bull Dempsey / Rhyno
The Last of a Dying Breed might be from Brooklyn and idolize fellow Brooklynite, the Human Suplex Machine known as Tazz, but NXT’s Wrecking Ball’s style is more akin to another wrestling animal with a thick hide – “the Man Beast” Rhyno. Dempsey has run rough shot over a good portion of the NXT roster using brute strength and a nasty diving head butt. At the moment, NXT doesn’t have a whole lot for Dempsey to do now that Rhyno is actually part of NXT, but that just means Dempsey has a lot of learning to do directly from the source. As long as the Motor City Monster is around, Bull Dempsey should be soaking in all of his destructive ways.
Required Coursework – Rhyno vs. Raven (Backlash 2001), vs. Super Crazy (ECW Living Dangerously 2000), vs. Sabu at One Night Stand 2005, destroying the Sandman for the ECW title at Guilty as Charged 2001
1 Baron Corbin / Biker Undertaker
They might claim Jeff Hardy is the “Charismatic Enigma,” but when Superhuman, CFO$, starts to play, every eye in the building is locked on the fierce and intimidating Lone Wolf, Baron Corbin. Since returning at Fatal 4 Way in September, Corbin has pulled out all the stops in establishing himself as the most dominating man on the NXT roster. Not getting paid by the hour, Corbin always looks to nail his version of the reverse facebuster, the End of Days, to end the match as quickly as possible. With his persona, the announcing team has done a great job at establishing Corbin as someone the entire roster fears. There’s only one guy besides Corbin that has ever exuded that kind of respect and that’s The Undertaker. However, instead of learning how to be The Deadman, Corbin would do well to study ‘Taker’s career from 2000–2004, when he was a badass biker no one wanted to mess with. With Corbin unofficially claiming the NXT ring as his yard, footage of the biker version of The Deadman will serve him well.
Required Coursework – Taker vs. Triple H (WrestleMania X-Seven), vs. Jeff Hardy (Ladder Match, Raw 01/07/2002), vs. Ric Flair (WrestleMania X8)