NXT is WWE's breeding ground for tomorrow's biggest stars. By signing a variety of promising young athletes, internationally renowned wrestlers and grizzled veterans, WWE has managed to groom some of their biggest success stories in recent years, with alumni such as Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Charlotte and The New Day's Big E and Xavier Woods making huge waves on the main roster. The plethora of raw talent within the company has meant that the promotion's popularity has skyrocketed through the years, with talents like Sami Zayn, Sasha Banks and Finn Balor becoming huge crowd favourites by compiling a catalogue of classic matches. With NXT's rapidly growing fan base, it's no surprise that NXT talent are being whisked away to Raw and SmackDown with alarming speed. This has been particularly true this year, with the recent brand extension and the herald of the "New Era" meaning that many of NXT's most beloved performers have received sudden promotion to the main roster, leaving a noticeable vacuum in the show's current landscape. Despite this, NXT still boasts a wide range of main roster prospects just waiting for their time to be called up.
However, not all NXT call-ups have not attained on the main roster thus far. Several personas that capture the imagination of the intimate audience at Full Sail University have not transferred well when presented to the sprawling WWE Universe, meaning that characters such as The Ascension and Adam Rose have languished at the bottom of the card.
One important thing to remember is that first impressions matter - they can set the course of a Superstar's career from the very beginning, for better or worse. The feud that launches a main roster career can mean the difference between headlining WrestleMania and opening Superstars.
That being said, let's take a look at 15 of NXT's most promising prospects, and which feuds we'd love to see them embroiled in upon their debut.
15 15. Tye Dillinger vs The Miz
'The Perfect 10' Tye Dillinger holds a strange position in NXT; although embraced by the Full Sail audience who support him and chant '10' at every opportunity during his matches, he's never been able to break into NXT's upper echelon, instead spending most of the last year serving as a jobber to incoming talent as well as established NXT mainstays, all the while displaying in-ring talent and loyalty. A move to a brand with time to regularly showcase more of the roster could be the next step that Tye Dillinger needs.
Why Feud With The Miz?
Excellent question. The Miz would be exemplary opposition for Tye Dillinger's main roster feud because the clash of egos would make for great television - both superstars are enamoured with their own look and ability, but presented in different ways, with the crowd embracing Dillinger's 'Perfect 10' chant and The Miz reacting furiously to being overlooked. Additionally, both men wrestle a calculated style and neither man is above bending the rules, leading to some potentially interesting encounters.
Tye Dillinger's '10' chant is possibly a gimmick that presents itself well to the NXT crowd but won't transfer across to the larger SmackDown audience. If it's to have the best chance at succeeding, then using it to get under The Miz's skin is a great way to go.
14 14. The Authors of Pain vs The Usos
The Authors of Pain are NXT's resident human bulldozers. Since sneak attacking American Alpha at NXT Takeover: The End, Akam and Rezar (led by Paul Ellering) have racked up a series of destructive victories against teams including American Alpha and TM61. We're yet to see this team tested or invested in a long-term feud on NXT, but SmackDown's budding tag team division holds some promising match-ups.
Why feud with The Usos?
The Usos are an established team with a large (though mostly very young) fan base. Excelling as a team of babyface underdogs struggling to get the better of much larger and more powerful opponents such as The Authors of Pain, their bouts could make for compelling television. In the past, we've seen The Usos engaged in stellar matches with big man teams like Luke Harper and Erick Rowan, so we know that the ingredients for some great clashes are all present, and whatever the result of their contests, The Authors of Pain will come out looking like monsters.
13 13. Andrade 'Cien' Almas vs Chris Jericho
Andrade 'Cien' Almas entered NXT as one of Mexico's biggest stars, having spent several years under a mask as one of the top stars in CMLL under name 'La Sombra'. Almas made his much anticipated debut in June 2016 at NXT Takeover: The End sporting colourful attire, suspenders and feathered trilby hat - a look that subverted the expectations of many who thought he would carry on the traditional appearance of the luche libre competitor. The flamboyance of his attire is matched by his in-ring style, employing a range of acrobatics and physical strikes. Despite his peacock-like appearance and usually crowd-pleasing move set, he has so far failed to gain any major support from the NXT faithful.
Why feud with Chris Jericho?
Chris Jericho is one of the most reliable performers in WWE, an ever-evolving persona and one of the most skilled wrestlers in the business. Chris Jericho is a natural entertainer, meaning that any feud that Chris Jericho is involved with is attention-grabbing and he can do a great deal to put over young performers that are trying to establish themselves. Y2J's current iteration as the snide, conniving veteran would be a great match for Almas' plucky, flashy upstart, in terms of both personality and in-ring antics.
12 12. Ember Moon vs Eva Marie
The promising newcomer of NXT's women's division Ember Moon recently made her in-ring debut at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn II, defeating Billie Kay with flair, pizzazz and one of the coolest looking finishing moves we've seen in a long while. With NXT's Women's Division looking pretty drained due to the recent main roster promotions of Bayley, Carmella, Alexa Bliss and Nia Jax, it looks like Ember Moon could become a major player in a very short space of time. However, if she were called up to the main roster, then there's one person that she should definitely debut against...
Why feud with Eva Marie?
Simply put: most wrestling fans hate Eva Marie. She is the antithesis of all the positive changes associated with the women's revolution - unskilled in the ring with very little sign of improvement and focused on looks and fame rather than wrestling. She gets booed out of mostly every building she steps into and basically, if there's one way to make the fans absolutely love a newcomer, it's by having her decisively thrash Eva Marie. If Ember Moon walked onto SmackDown with her theatrical entrance and exciting repertoire and begun a short, effective campaign to put Eva Marie in her place, then she could easily become one of the show's most beloved competitors and a leader of the women's division.
11 11. Blake and Murphy vs The New Day
Buddy Murphy and Wesley Blake spent considerable time on the bottom rung of NXT's Tag Team Division, before a couple of rare wins led to them dethroning the Lucha Dragons as NXT Tag Team Champions in January 2015. Eventually they formed an alliance with the domineering Alexa Bliss and reigned as NXT's top heel team, before losing the titles at August 2015's NXT Takeover: Brooklyn. Since then they have found little success, usually acting as a stepping stone for other up-and-coming teams. Lingering around NXT, they have split up, reformed and split again with little consequence, and at present are again attempting to make their names as solo competitors.
Why feud with The New Day?
If there's one thing that Blake and Murphy lack, it's personality. Incidentally, if there's one thing that The New Day have in abundance, it's personality. A feud with WWE's top team could be exactly what Blake and Murphy need for a main roster debut. After reconnecting with Alexa Bliss in an attempt to out-cheat The New Day's third man, the trio would engage in a rivalry in which The New Day would let loose with their brand of boisterous, sophomoric and hilarious insults, hopefully drawing NXT's longstanding journeymen out of their shells.
10 10. No Way Jose vs Bray Wyatt
No one was really sure what to make of No Way Jose when the vignettes foretelling his arrival started to air, but when the man actually appeared, he quickly won over the crowd at Full Sail with his catchy salsa theme music and his infectious enthusiasm. Although he's yet to show any particularly impressive wrestling displays, the character and his entrance have continued to please the feisty crowd in the five months since his debut.
Why feud with Bray Wyatt?
No Way Jose's non-stop party manner and in-ring style bear a striking resemblance to that of Adam Rose - someone who, as mentioned earlier, wasn't accepted by WWE's more casual audience despite being a crowd favourite at NXT. That being the case, when Jose debuts on the main roster, they'd need to do it full on; no half measures. Bray Wyatt would be an ideal welcome for Jose because the personas are such a stark contrast to each other that it wouldn't take much to cause sparks. How would Bray Wyatt react if one of his maniacal, ominous promos was suddenly interrupted by an overly-optimistic dancing oddball who just wanted to help Bray have a good time? That's something that I'd like to see. Starting against someone as well regarded as Wyatt would be a huge leg-up and actually getting a win would make sure that he's taken seriously.
9 9. Rich Swann vs Neville
Although Rich Swann has only made a few sporadic appearances on NXT, he's been a big presence as a part of the Cruiserweight Classic with impressive performances in the first two rounds. After years on the independent circuit, Rich Swann signed with WWE in late 2015 and his television appearances since then have been memorable. This is because his array of stunning aerial assaults and gymnastic feats are always accompanied by music as the crowd spontaneously belt out his them music as well as the Lionel Richie classic 'All Night Long'.
Why feud with Neville?
If you've seen both of these two compete, then you already know the answer to this. Both men employ amazing gymnastics and mind-bending high risk moves as part of their offence. A match between these two would be a dream for fans of high-flyers. As these are both popular babyface competitors, this has has the potential to be a feud that starts as a contest of "can you top this?", building into friendly competition before escalating into an all out battle to determine who is truly superior - a battle that would be impossible to look away from. With the upcoming introduction of the Cruiseweight Division to Raw, it's very likely that we could see an encounter between these two sooner rather than later.
8 8. Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa vs Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson
If you saw the match between Tomasso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano in the first round of the Cruiserweight Classic, then you'd probably agree that these guys don't need to be promoted as a team and could be just as successful as singles competitors. That match showed more than just the skilled grappling that we'd seen from them in the past, it also revealed their capacity for the raw emotion and drama that can make a match unforgettable. As a team they've been just as impressive - displaying highly enjoyable matches with the likes of American Alpha and The Revival, and wringing emotion out of a captivated audience - as in the gut-wrenching end to their Tag Team Title effort at NXT Takeover Brooklyn II. Gargano and Ciampa have become one of the most endearing acts in NXT and seem destined for great things.
Why feud with Gallows and Anderson?
First, Ciampa and Gargano would be a great addition to the Raw tag team division, bringing the wrestling style and legion of die hard fans that comes with years of wrestling on the indies. Second, this is a classic rivalry: the small, skilled team with heart and fortitude vs the large, uncaring bullies who will try to brutalize them to prove their superiority. The opportunity to overcome a hurdle like Gallows and Anderson, along with Gargano and Ciampa's ability to draw sympathy from the crowd and make them feel involved could lead to the team being accepted as favourites of the wider WWE Universe in no time.
7 7. Austin Aries vs Cesaro
Austin Aries is one of the most decorated and well established performers to ever join NXT. With a career featuring lengthy stays at both TNA and ROH, he's been exposed to a notable proportion of the wrestling community for some time and has built up a reputation as one of the most consistent, entertaining and gifted athletes in the industry. Which is why some would say that Austin Aries is yet to live up to his reputation as a part of NXT, displaying some good matches since his debut, but not yet achieving the position that might be expected for someone of his stature.
Why feud with Cesaro?
They say that styles make matches and both of these competitors utilize innovative hybrid styles, showcasing european grappling and a reckless abandon for their bodies, which means that these ROH veterans could create some of the most engrossing grappling contests on TV. Aries' braggadocios, cocky attitude together with Cesaro's determination to keep his opponent's ego in check would mean that these contests would be as heated and unrelenting as you're likely to find and a series of matches could catapult both men to the next level.
6 6. Hideo Itami vs John Cena
KENTA was a huge deal in Japan. Competing in Pro Wrestling NOAH for over a decade, he became the centrepiece and face of the organization for most of his tenure. KENTA made headlines when he signed on to be a part of NXT, as his international renown made him the promotion's biggest signing to that point. Under the moniker Hideo Itami, he quickly built momentum in NXT, even appearing as a part of WrestleMania 31's Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal. Itami had become a key player before suffering a debilitating shoulder injury which took him out of action for over a year. Having recently made his comeback, Itami is looking to reclaim the position he held before his unfortunate injury impeded his progress.
Why feud with John Cena?
We've recently seen John Cena embroiled in a heated feud with A.J. Styles that started on the basis of 'the face of WWE finally meeting the face of TNA' (though TNA wasn't expressly mentioned on the show). A clash between John Cena and Hideo Itami has the same sort of "epic showdown" ambiance, with the WWE's top dog for most of the 2000s finally meeting the poster child for Japanese wrestling. A debut against WWE's biggest star along with video packages detailing Itami's background and accomplishments to the more causal viewer would make the feud feel monumental, ensuring a solid future on the main roster for Hideo Itami.
5 5. Asuka vs Charlotte
Asuka currently sits as NXT undefeated Women's Champion, a position she attained by demolishing anyone that has been put in front of her. Asuka made her in-ring debut at NXT Takeover: Respect in 2015, derailing the momentum of Dana Brooke by defeating The Total Diva in quick fashion. From there Asuka has been unstoppable with impressive victories over Emma, Nia Jax and even Full Sail's sweetheart Bailey to become the head of the division. Utilizing a mix of submissions, stiff kicks and lightning-quick counters, Asuka has spent the last year looking absolutely unbeatable.
Why feud with Charlotte?
Charlotte has been positioned as the figurehead of the WWE Women's Division and the loud, obnoxious voice of the women's revolution. She has remained champion for the majority of the last year and, in dispatching ultra-popular challengers like Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks, has become more unbearable and arrogant each passing month. What better challenger for Charlotte than the most humbling woman in pro wrestling? An encounter with the intimidating Asuka could allow fans to see Charlotte brought down to earth, while promising an exciting collision between two talented wrestlers.
4 4. Bobby Roode vs Sami Zayn
Bobby Roode exudes star power. When he debuted at Full Sail University, he looked like a man who could walk straight on to the main roster and claim a position at the top. From his "Glorious" entrance theme heralding his arrival to his million dollar appearance to his confidence on the mic and command of the crowd - the man screamed success. On top of that, as long-time fans of TNA will know, Bobby Roode can back it all up in the ring. His time in the Impact Zone revealed not only a polished grappler, but one of the most versatile performers; enjoying huge success as half of one of the best tag teams of the last decade in Beer Money Inc., as the cowardly heel champion and as the tenacious babyface. Bobby Roode's TNA career was easily worthy of entry into their Hall of Fame. Now a star in NXT, he has made an impressive start and seems on track for a bright future.
Why feud with Sami Zayn?
These two were tailor made for a long and epic rivalry. On the one side you have the arrogant elitist in Bobby Roode, on the other the lovable every-man in Sami Zayn - a rivalry reminiscent of Ric Flair vs Dusty Rhodes. Sami is great in this position because his ability to form emotional bonds with the audience places him perfectly to speak for them; for the people who are sick of Roode's constant gloating about is wealth and success making him superior to the average fan. The fighting styles compliment the characters so well as Bobby Roode's polished technical style would try to subdue Zayn's daring, exhilarating offence. This could easily prove to be an extremely engaging feud that breeds classic matches.
3 3. Samoa Joe vs A.J. Styles
At the conclusion of 2015's NXT Takeover: Unstoppable, Samoa Joe walked into Full Sail University as a star and has continued to shine ever since. As one of the most prolific competitors in the world, Joe had earned a sterling reputation in Japan, the independent scene and in TNA, and on upon his NXT debut, received a reaction from the NXT crowd deserving of his status. Thus far, he has lived up to his reputation, acting as one of the most aggressive and intimidating figures in the promotion, while putting on a catalogue of stellar encounters with the likes of Finn Balor, Sami Zayn and Shinsuke Nakamura. With his reign as NXT Champion recently coming to an end, Joe could well be moving on to the big stage before too long.
Why feud with A.J. Styles?
Any time these two got in the ring together in TNA, they produced gold. The thrilling encounters were always the highlight of any show, and most notably, the triple threat match they and Christopher Daniels had at TNA Unbreakable 2005 is widely considered the greatest match in the promotion's history. If Styles and Joe are able to recreate the magic of their previous struggles, then that they could ensure that SmackDown is genuinely unmissable. Additionally, SmackDown's heavyweight contender picture is pretty thin at the moment, so having a bonafide star and believable monster join the show's top ranks would be a huge boon for the entire Heavyweight Division.
2 2. The Revival vs American Alpha
As much as I hate to admit it, The Revival are a great team. When Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson entered the NXT Tag Team Championship picture in late 2015, I thought of their plodding old-school style as an anachronism in the climate of NXT's fast-paced Tag Team Division, but, since becoming champions, The Revival have proved me wrong on an embarrassingly regular basis. Over the course of their reign, they have put on exciting matches with top teams including Enzo and Cass, American Alpha and Gargano and Ciampa, and they've just gotten better over time. With the kind of chemistry that most teams dream of, they've managed to pace their matches like a great piece of classical music - building slowly but spiking in the right places to keep you invested whilst building to an enthralling grand finale.
Why feud with American Alpha?
These teams have history. Since gaining momentum and popularity, American Alpha systematically defeated every top team in NXT past and present, even defeating The Revival to become Tag Team Champions. However, their status as top dogs was short lived when The Revival reclaimed the titles in their rematch, before defeating American Alpha in a two out of three falls rubber match a few weeks later. This is a great foundation for a long, career-defining rivalry on the main stage. Picture this: American Alpha are crowned SmackDown Tag Team Champions, but shortly thereafter, The Revival debut and defeat them for the belts. The feud establishes The Revival as the bane of American Alpha's career, with Jordan and Gable unable to emphatically best the team. This feud could eventually simmer for some time, but always be present while The Revival establish themselves as champions against other teams. When the feud reignites, it will all lead to one final decisive encounter where American Alpha will have the opportunity to rid themselves of the one blemish on their career. This is the kind of personal, heated rivalry that could bring prestige to SmackDown's newly introduced Tag Team Championships.
1 1. Shinsuke Nakamura vs Brock Lesnar
Shinsuke Nakamura is one most popular stars to ever join NXT. His hard-hitting strong style of wrestling, together with his flashy appearance and entrancing mannerisms have made him irresistible to wrestling enthusiasts all over the world. So when he made his anticipated debut at NXT Takeover: Dallas, he was met with incredible fanfare and an entrance alone that could make people watching him for the first time become hardcore fans. Nakamura has lived up to the hype, putting on a strong match of the year candidate in his debut against Sami Zayn, then following that with impressive performances against Austin Aries and Finn Balor, before defeating Samoa Joe to become NXT Champion.
Why feud with Brock Lesnar?
This is a match that has had fans buzzing for some time - a rematch from their 2006 bout in New Japan Pro Wrestling, now possible under the bright lights of WWE. Given the current position and stock of these competitors, this could be a great encounter. Over the past few years Brock Lesnar has dominated, manhandled or flat out embarrassed most of the WWE's big names and is now running out of challengers. Nakamura's frame, ability and realistic strong style could be the perfect compliment to Lesnar's brutal assault. The only issue is that Lesnar has been booked to look so untouchable that at this point, losing to anything short of a small army or a reunited Shield would be infeasible and pretty unbelievable. Although Nakamura actually winning this encounter would be very unlikely, a strong showing and a couple of convincing near falls could do wonders for Shinsuke Nakamura. If a feud between them lasted a month and culminated in a fairly lengthy back and forth encounter, this would be all the opportunity that Nakamura would need to show the prowess, charisma and magnetism that has given him so many passionate fans already, and position him as a main event player in WWE for a long time to come.
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