It's almost been five years since NXT officially became the home of WWE’s developmental talent pool, and the brand has seen an astounding level of growth in that time. Now seen as something of a “super indie," NXT has developed its own identity, its own rabid fan-base and has become a touring brand. Despite all of this, reports continue to circulate that NXT is not profitable and that Triple H’s baby actually runs at a loss financially. In a world where WWE is now a company existing on the share market, this possibly means that NXT’s lifespan is limited.
Following a potentially debilitating talent raid over the last year from the main roster, NXT has miraculously managed to continue producing great content. Having said this though, the high standards set during the days of Finn Balor, Kevin Owens and the Four Horsewomen are long gone. Adding more uncertainty to NXT’s future are the recent rumours of WWE’s interest in buying Ring of Honor. The purchase of an established indie brand could be used as a long term replacement for NXT if quality and fan interest continue to decline.
With the prospect of NXT’s expiration date fast approaching, it seems like an opportune time to celebrate the many great success stories (and some of the notable failures) of the brand. This list will rank all the singles superstars (male and female) and tag teams who have held championships in NXT from worst to best. Many things will be taken into account, including current and potential main roster success as well as their technical wrestling ability. Enjoy and feel free to debate the order!
24 Blake and Murphy
Propping up the list are the recently disbanded tag team of Wesley Blake and Buddy Murphy. The team held the NXT Tag Team Championships for nearly eight months in 2015 after defeating the Lucha Dragons to win the gold. Their lengthy reign was cut short by The Vaudevillains at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn.
The powerful duo were also flanked by Murphy's real-life fiancee Alexa Bliss for much of their existence. During this time, the trio often exhibited a Freddy Kruger-inspired gimmick that didn’t do a whole lot for any of them apart from Alexa. Lo and behold, the team hit its breaking point when Bliss was called up to the main roster and Blake and Murphy went their separate ways. Both men are rarely seen on NXT television these days and are highly unlikely to ever scale the heights achieved by their former valet.
23 The Vaudevillains
Next up is the team who dethroned Blake and Murphy as NXT Tag Team Champions, The Vaudevillains. The old-time circus strongman gimmick used by Simon Gotch and Aiden English was well-received by the audience at Full Sail University, but this success has not transferred to the main roster.
After a three-month reign with the NXT tag belts, the duo were promoted to the main roster and immediately began a feud with the WWE's then-Tag Team Champions, The New Day. They were drafted to SmackDown shortly after and dropped down the card at breakneck speed, particularly when Gotch’s backstage issues became public knowledge. The pair are rarely seen on the blue brand nowadays and when they do make an appearance, being squashed in record time is usually on the agenda.
22 The Ascension
With a NXT Tag Team Championship run lasting 364 days, Konnor and Viktor are still the longest reigning tag champs in the brand's history. During their time in NXT they were built as an unstoppable force and there were high hopes that they would be a major breakthrough act when they reached the main roster. Sadly, WWE creative had other ideas. The duo was immediately given a Road Warriors rip-off gimmick and were left jobbing to ageing former tag teams from the '90s.
When the brand split took place in mid-2016, fans hoped that there may be an opportunity available to rebuild The Ascension to their former glory. However, despite having a brief feud over the SmackDown tag team championships with American Alpha, Konnor and Viktor continue to be depicted as jobbers and seem destined to spend the rest of their WWE careers that way.
21 Bo Dallas
Bo Dallas was a somewhat surprising choice as NXT Champion when he won the title from Big E Langston in May 2013. Saddled with a motivational speaker gimmick that turned into a sleeper hit at Full Sail University, the real-life younger brother of Bray Wyatt went on to hold the belt for 261 days. At the time this was a record-breaking reign in NXT and Dallas looked set for big things when he was eventually promoted to the main roster.
In similar fashion to other superstars on this list, Dallas suffered from having his gimmick considerably diluted when he moved to the main roster. Perceived by the audience as nothing more than an annoying comedy act, Dallas was soon serving as the perennial jobber to the stars. A short run as part of The Social Outcasts followed and despite an attempt at re-packaging Bo, the former NXT Champion is almost never on television.
20 Lucha Dragons
Sin Cara and Kalisto were actually a pretty fun tag team in NXT. The team existed in reality as a vehicle to push Kalisto as WWE’s long-term replacement for Rey Mysterio. And initially this plan looked to be working out pretty favourably. The Mexican high-flyers had a strong run as NXT Tag Team Champions which lasted 140 days and they were soon main roster-bound. They remained a tandem on the main roster and were regularly in contention for tag team gold despite never winning the titles.
In early-2016, Kalisto started to receive a considerable push as a singles wrestler when he won the United States Championship from Alberto Del Rio in a legitimately unexpected moment. Since then, he has become a two-time US Champion, while Sin Cara has fallen to the bottom of the card and engaged in a series of backstage fights. Kalisto’s push was derailed following his now infamous “Lucha thing” botched promo following the brand split.
Paige could have been much higher on this list had she not endured the last 12 months of her career. The young lady from Norwich was crowned the inaugural NXT Women’s Champion and a lengthy career re-defining women’s wrestling seemed to be in her future. This was further confirmed when the Anti-Diva held her own in an excellent feud with AJ Lee upon joining the main roster. She went on to win the now defunct Divas Championship on two separate occasions.
Sadly, it appears that this is where the WWE story may end for Paige. After having time off to nurse injuries, she has fallen into an ugly downward spiral. Two Wellness Policy violations, a controversial relationship with Alberto Del Rio and the recent leaked private photos and videos have amounted to a career that could soon be completely extinguished. Let’s hope that Paige can turn her life around and resume the path to greatness that she once seemed to be walking. And in the meantime, it might be a good idea for WWE to create a new NXT Women’s Championship belt following the release of those videos!
18 The Authors Of Pain
The current NXT Tag Team champions have steamrolled their way through the opposition under the tutelage of former Legion of Doom manager Paul Ellering. Despite their considerable inexperience, Akam and Rezar are an intimidating tandem built on their power and intensity. They shot to prominence by winning the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic tournament before defeating the hugely popular #DIY to claim the titles.
The youngsters are being built as an unstoppable force and their undefeated streak looks set to continue for quite some time. Despite having to defend the titles in a triple threat match at TakeOver: San Antonio against The Revival and #DIY, it appears that AOP will retain and the NXT tag division will be built around them.
A main roster call-up beckons eventually, but probably not for another 12 months at least. When they do eventually arrive on Raw or SmackDown, expect them to make an immediate impact and put themselves in contention for tag team gold on whichever brand they end up on.
17 Bobby Roode
Bobby Roode has made a huge impact in NXT and not just because of his spectacularly "glorious" entrance music. Roode was a significant coup for WWE developmental when they signed him as the veteran Canadian grappler is a former two-time TNA World Champion. He was a main event regular back when Impact Wrestling was called TNA, and he brings an old-school heel gimmick to WWE not seen since the best days of Ric Flair.
Recently winning the NXT Championship from Shinsuke Nakamura has seen Roode sprint to the top of the card at Full Sail and he looks set for a lengthy reign as top dog. Despite this, Roode has just turned 40 years old and he’ll likely receive a main roster call-up towards the end of 2017. His most likely destination seems to be SmackDown where he will probably settle into an upper mid-card position with a couple of Intercontinental title reigns under his belt by the time he’s finished up at WWE.
Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano are two of the most exciting wrestlers on the planet today and together they make an outstanding team. As #DIY they engaged in some classic encounters with The Revival on their way to a run as NXT Tag Team Champions. Despite recently losing the belts to The Authors of Pain, bigger things look to be on the horizon for the two cruiserweights.
If they fail to regain their titles at TakeOver: San Antonio, it would seem probable that DIY find their way to the SmackDown roster to help invigorate the brands ailing tag team division. The duo will likely become a mainstay of the blue brand’s tag division and may even win gold prior to an eventual split and both men finding their regular home in the cruiserweight division.
15 The Revival
Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder are often talked about as the best tag team in the world at the moment. The team are fantastic proponents of an old-school smash mouth style and are experts in cutting the ring in half to isolate their opponents. Initially perceived as a boring team by fans, the tandem have won over viewers with a series of classic matches and two lengthy reigns as NXT Tag Team Champions.
Despite being involved in a triple threat match for the titles at TakeOver: San Antonio, it seems only a matter of time until Dash and Dawson appear on the main roster, probably SmackDown. With the blue brand's tag team division suffering from a lack of quality, the addition of The Revival, #DIY and possibly even The Hardys could suddenly make the division must-see television. Although they haven’t yet made the main roster, The Revival look likely to have an excellent career once they are promoted, with several tag team title reigns looking like a strong possibility.
14 American Alpha
Jason Jordan and Chad Gable initially seemed like an odd pairing when they were thrown together on NXT, but the two amateur wrestling standouts have proven to be one of the most exciting teams assembled in recent years. Often compared to the legendary Steiner Brothers and Kurt Angle, the two youngsters possess a unique skillset that is a joy to watch.
After a short reign as NXT Tag Team Champions the team were drafted to SmackDown. They took a few months to find their feet on the main roster, but were eventually awarded with a tag team championship victory over the Wyatt Family. However their run as champs suffered from a lack of quality opposition and they recently dropped the belts to The Usos in an outstanding match on SmackDown. American Alpha are a fantastic team with plenty of future potential and lets hope that the rumoured post-WrestleMania additions to SmackDown's tag team division help to provide them with some fresh, exciting match-ups.
13 The Wyatt Family (Luke Harper and Erick Rowan)
Initially the now universally-known Wyatt Family made their name in NXT. Interestingly, the current WWE Champion and faction leader Bray Wyatt never won any championship gold in NXT. His two henchmen did, however. Luke Harper and Erick Rowan clocked a 70-day reign as NXT Tag Team Champions before losing the titles to Neville and Corey Graves.
The duo failed to place higher on this list as the only members to hold gold in NXT were Harper and Rowan. While Rowan has had a sub-par main roster run (including a memorable six-second loss to The Rock at WrestleMania 32), Harper has established himself as one of the best workers in the company. His breakaway from Wyatt during the Randy Orton storyline promises to provide compelling viewing and we may even see Harper pushed into WWE Championship contention in 2017.
Neville is the only superstar to have held multiple championships in NXT. He is a two-time Tag Team champion, having been one half of the inaugural champs with Oliver Grey and also having had a second reign with Corey Graves. He was also, at one time, the longest reigning NXT Champion of all-time with a run that lasted an impressive 287 days.
Since arriving on the main roster in 2015, Neville has consistently wowed crowds with his aerial moveset, but never made a true connection with the audience. That was until he made a return after an injury layoff and was re-packaged as an aggressive, disenfranchised heel. This fantastic turn has shed new light on Neville’s potential on the main roster and he is currently enjoying an excellent run as Cruiserweight Champion. With the success of his heel turn, fans should expect Neville to consistently climb up the card with a midcard title reign, at the very least, in his future.
11 Sami Zayn
Sami Zayn made headlines when he unmasked his hugely popular El Generico character from the independent scene to take on a new gimmick in NXT. He quickly gained the overwhelming support of the fans and was thrust into contention for the NXT Championship. After a classic encounter with Neville, Zayn was crowned NXT Champion in a run that lasted 63 days before he was defeated by Kevin Owens.
Zayn’s promotion to the main roster was delayed due to a long injury lay-off, but he made his presence felt when he arrived. After a strong initial push, Zayn’s momentum has slowed somewhat. He hovers around the Raw midcard, but has yet to win a main roster title. The company missed a major opportunity by not pushing Zayn to the upper card after his outstanding feud with Kevin Owens and he may now be better served by moving to SmackDown.
When Asuka joined NXT from her native Japan, many feared that the American audience would struggle to connect with her stiff style and lack of fluency in English. Thankfully, they were very wrong! Asuka has become the most dominant female wrestler on any of WWE’s brands, having gone undefeated since joining the company. Her reign as Women’s Champion has lasted 361 days and shows absolutely no signs of slowing down.
Rumours persist that there are no plans to promote Asuka to the main roster any time soon, but surely her talent and popularity can’t be ignored for much longer. One of the issues is the lack of suitable replacements in NXT, but the emergence of Ember Moon, Nikki Cross and Ruby Rose might make this process a little smoother. Here’s hoping that we get to witness Asuka bring her unique brand of strong style to the main roster sooner rather than later.
9 Shinsuke Nakamura
Shinsuke Nakamura is one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time and many would argue that he deserves a higher spot on this list. However, despite being a two-time NXT Champion, the vast majority of his success was achieved in his native Japan. After a year-long stint in NXT, it appears that The King of Strong Style is poised to join the main roster in the post-WrestleMania shake-up.
Nakamura’s charisma is unquestionable and any concerns about it not transferring to an American audience have been firmly put to bed due to the level of popularity he has achieved in NXT. The bigger question is how will he be treated when he reaches the main roster. There are fears that he may fall into midcard obscurity, but I believe that his connection with the audience will necessitate a huge push. Don’t bet against Shinsuke becoming the first ever WWE World Champion to come from Japan in the next 2 years.
8 Samoa Joe
Much like his former rival in NXT, Nakamura, it could be argued that Samoa Joe warrants a spot higher up this list. Once again, his placing comes down to the fact that he is as yet unproven on the main roster. Joe is a highly decorated superstar, having competed all over the world, and is a former world champion in promotions such as Ring of Honor and Impact Wrestling. His agility and speed belies his size, and he is one of the few wrestlers who can lay claim to being a legitimate tough guy.
While in NXT, Joe established himself as a monster heel and endured classic feuds with Finn Balor and Shinsuke Nakamura. During his time there, he became the first ever two-time NXT Champion. Having recently joined the main roster, future plans for Joe remain unclear. But if early indications are anything to go by, there are big plans for the Samoan Submission Machine. An alliance with Triple H and Kevin Owens will likely lead to some very high-profile feuds and the potential for championship gold.
Bayley is the living, breathing incarnation of every WWE fan who wishes they had taken the plunge and trained to be a wrestler. She is truly living her dream and her connection with the fans speaks volumes for her determination to achieve her goals. A hugely likeable character and potentially the biggest babyface female superstar of all time, Bayley has been pushed to the moon since joining the main roster.
Prior to this, she did of course enjoy a highly successful run in NXT where she held the NXT Women’s Championship for 224 days. She is one of the highly acclaimed “Four Horsewomen” and since moving to Raw, has claimed the Women’s Championship. Bayley’s popularity with the live audience, particularly young children, will ensure that she remains front and centre of the women’s division for many years to come. The first time that a women’s match headlines WrestleMania is more than likely to include Bayley.
6 Big E
The New Day’s resident big man was the second NXT Champion in history after he defeated Seth Rollins in a No Disqualification contest. Back in those days and in his original run on the main roster, Big E played a no-nonsense character with an uncanny ability to dole out some serious punishment to anyone who crossed his path.
Since becoming part of the surprise success story that is the New Day, Big E has completely re-defined his character. With outstanding comic timing and an infectious zest for life, Big E has become a hugely popular member of the Raw roster. He is a former Intercontinental Champion and part of the longest reigning Tag Team Champions in history. He may be set to enter the record books again in the future, as many experts predict that Big E will become the next African American main event champion in company history, following in the footsteps of The Rock and Booker T.
5 Sasha Banks
The Boss has established herself as one of the most popular members of the main roster since being elevated from NXT. In developmental, she was the Women’s Champion for 192 days before dropping the belt to Bayley in their incredible contest at TakeOver: Brooklyn. Although currently portraying a babyface, most observers agree that Banks is far better suited to the role of a heel.
Having been aligned as a heel during her time in NXT, it seems highly likely that Banks will return to the dark side soon enough on the main roster. Already a three-time Women’s Champion, the wheels have been set in motion for Banks to betray her best friend, Bayley, and set up a potentially classic feud with the current Raw Women’s Champion.
4 Finn Balor
Finn Balor’s alter ego, The Demon King, is one of those unique wrestling gimmicks that only comes along every so often. And it seems that Vince McMahon wants to take full advantage of the special aura, which Balor brings to the ring. After a stellar career in Japan as the founding leader of the Bullet Club, Balor made his way to the States as part of the NXT roster.
His popularity was apparent immediately and he was soon positioned as the brand's figurehead. Balor carried NXT through its most revered period and deservedly stands as the longest-reigning NXT Champion of all time. After being drafted to Raw, Balor instantly had the proverbial rocket strapped to his back and within a month, he had become the first ever Universal Champion. Agonisingly, he was forced to vacate the title due to injury only one night after winning it, but he is expected to return to Raw after WrestleMania. Balor is likely to be a mainstay of the main event scene for a long time and he’s sure to go after the title he never lost upon his return to the ring.
3 Kevin Owens
Kevin Owens has had one of the most successful transitions from NXT to the main roster. While still holding the NXT Championship, he was thrust into a high profile feud with John Cena, even winning the first match between the two. After becoming a full-time member of the main roster, KO accumulated two reigns as Intercontinental Champion before he was finally pushed to the main event in 2016.
After Finn Balor had to relinquish his newly won Universal Championship only a day after winning it, Owens was the surprise victor in a match for the vacated title due to an assist from Triple H. Although he has endured some terrible booking and had to lose the title in ridiculous circumstances, the Prizefighter still racked up an impressive 189-day reign as champ. Hopefully this isn’t the last time we see KO as a world champion in the WWE and next time, lets pray that he’s booked as a strong champion.
Charlotte Flair, daughter of the legendary Ric Flair, has already set herself up to become the greatest female superstar in company history less than two years after joining the main roster. Charlotte was a standout in NXT where she was the second Women’s Champion following Paige’s promotion to the main roster.
Since joining the main roster, Charlotte has won the Women’s Championship a record four times, had a run of 16 consecutive pay-per-view victories and been a part of the first ever women’s match to headline a WWE pay per view (vs Sasha Banks at Hell In a Cell). This incredible list of achievements has been compiled in such a short space of time and it seems highly likely that Charlotte will eventually follow her father into the Hall of Fame as one of the greatest superstars of all time.
1 Seth Rollins
Seth Rollins won the inaugural NXT Championship in 2012 and it became immediately apparent that big things lay in store for the former Ring of Honor standout. Later that year, he made his main roster debut as part of The Shield and for the next two years, he would play a major role in one of the greatest wrestling stables ever created. Rollins shocked the world when he turned on his Shield brethren in 2014 to complete a heel turn and align himself as part of The Authority.
A huge push would follow as Rollins won the Money In The Bank briefcase and famously cashed it in at WrestleMania 31 to win his maiden WWE World Championship. His nine-month reign was ended when he seriously injured his knee. He won the title for a second time upon his return, only to lose it moments later when Dean Ambrose cashed in his Money In The Bank contract. Since then, The Architect has undergone a significant alignment shift and has now been positioned as Raw’s top babyface. His battle with former mentor Triple H at WrestleMania 33 promises to be a match for the ages and following its conclusion, Seth will likely be thrust back into title contention. He is easily one of the best wrestlers in the world and is fully deserving of the title of the greatest graduate from NXT to appear on the WWE main roster.