Despite losing some of their biggest stars in the past year, NXT is still one of the hottest and most revolutionary brands in the wrestling industry today, as it has offered fans a mainstream alternative to the bland main roster product, and given hardcore fans an indy-like promotion that is easily accessible. Some of the greatest stars in the wrestling world have held NXT Championships, and with the likes of Bobby Roode, Austin Aries, Hideo Itami and Ember Moon lurking in the shadows, there is no doubt that some more prestige will be added to the title lineage in the near future.
Not all the title reigns in NXT have been great, however, as the brand is still considered "developmental," meaning some stars are given chances that just don’t work. With that being said, here are the 5 worst and 10 best NXT champions in history (spoiler alert: there’s no Shinsuke Nakamura or American Alpha, as I am basing the list on the title reign itself, rather than the performer and their history, and as neither of these performers had or has more than one title defense, so they just miss out.)
15 The Best
There’s something said for the first ever champion, and that’s exactly what Seth Rollins became when he defeated Jinder Mahal of all people in the finals to crown the first ever NXT champion. He was flanked by Triple H and the American Dream Dusty Rhodes, in what has become an iconic image, and something for all new recruits in NXT to aspire too. Rollins has since gone on to be the best performer on the main roster, giving everyone in NXT a goal to reach and aspire too. As for the title reign itself, Rollins was his impressive self, playing a high-flying baby face that the crowds loved, and he put on some of the best matches in the early stages of NXT, before debuting as part of the most dominant stable in recent WWE memory, the Shield.
Charlotte overcame Natalya to become the second ever NXT Women’s Champion after Paige vacated the Championship, and dominated her way through the competition, showing off why she is the total package. She posseses the lineage, the look and the in ring ability to be one of the best of all time, and Triple H recognized that in NXT, which went a long way towards her dethroning Nikki Bella and her incredibly long Diva’s title reign. This Charlotte is a long way from the current heel (in my opinion the best heel on the roster, along with the Miz), as she was a plucky, energetic baby face, who crowds got behind due to her undeniable talent and relation to the greatest Champion in wrestling history, Ric Flair.
13 Big E Langston
Big E is currently a part of New Day, where he is a charismatic and loveable big man, who also has great talent in the ring, but his days in NXT, and as it’s most dominant champion showed a very, very different side of the former power lifter. Langston who was presented as a monster heel dominated the first NXT Champion, Seth Rollins, and began tearing a path of destruction, similar to Samoa Joe’s current run, in a way the fans at Full Sail hadn’t seen before. He took his confidence and dominance a step further however, and demanded that the referee count to 5 rather than a regular 3, proving he was that much better than everyone else. Langston was a cornerstone of the early NXT days, and wouldn’t be where he is today without his time on top of the young promotion.
Asuka is the current reigning NXT Women’s Champion after defeating Bayley in Dallas, and with the exception of fellow countryman Shinsuke Nakamura, there has been no more dominant performer in NXT over the last 12 months than the Empress of Tomorrow. Coming from Japan as Kana, Asuka immediately went to work in NXT, taking on Emma and Dana Brooke, and since her back-to-back decimations of Bayley, has been left with no credible threats to her title. By the end of her already lengthy title reign, we may be looking at Asuka as the most dominant and impressive champion in NXT history, especially with the lack of challengers on the horizon, but for now, Asuka looks as intimidating and dominant as anyone in all of WWE.
11 Kevin Owens
If not for the injury that cost Sami Zayn his main roster call up, we may be discussing Kevin Owens as the number one entry on this list, but his title reign was cut short due to being promoted as a result. He was still one of the most entertaining and captivating champions in NXT history, as everything he did on the yellow brand was must see. From matches with Finn Balor and Sami Zayn, to his rivalry with Alex Riley, Owens managed to make everything he did enjoyable, and his heel turn on Zayn is quite possibly one of the biggest moments in NXT history. He has gone on to win several titles on the main roster, proving that Triple H’s signings and eye for talent is impeccable, which is hopefully a sign of things to come.
10 Sasha Banks
Sasha Banks is the current RAW Women’s Champion, and for good reason, as she proved during her NXT run that she is as talented and entertaining as any performer in the WWE, male or female. Her victory came in a Fatal 4-way match that involved all 4 Horsewomen, and proved time and time again that ‘The Boss’ was a future star in wrestling, having great matches with all 3 women over and over again, becoming incredibly popular despite her stance as an arrogant heel. If not for another Four Horsewoman, Sasha would stand head and shoulders above an impressive list of women’s Champions, so here’s hoping that WWE allows the Boss to go on another impressive and dominant run as Champion, hopefully culminating in a huge match with Bayley at WrestleMania.
A lot of people who are new to NXT may not realize that the ‘Man that Gravity Forgot’ was a huge part of NXT, as he was one of the most influential performers in the promotion. Not only did he defeat Bo Dallas to usher in a new era in the developmental promotion, but he won the NXT Tag Team Championship twice, winning once with Oliver Gray and the other with Corey Graves. But he is most remembered for winning the NXT title in the first ever NXT ladder match, which was also the main event of the first ever NXT Takeover, making him as important as any other in the history of the young promotion. He may not show it on RAW with the limited time and direction he receives, but Neville is a multi talented performer, capable of captivating audiences with more than just his Red Arrow.
8 The Revival
The Revival, as they will happily tell you are the only champions in NXT history to win their title twice (Neville doesn’t count as he won titles 3 times, but with 2 partners and the NXT title), and are one of the biggest highlights of the NXT show these days. The duo consisting of Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder took a long time to come together, but after they found each other, they’ve had nothing but success in the developmental promotion. Their rough, old school mentality has got them over well with business veterans, and makes for great matches when pitted against fan favorites like American Alpha, Enzo & Cass and DIY, meaning they are constantly putting on match of the night candidates. While part of me wants to see them on the main roster, their ‘No Flips just Fists’ mantra makes them perfect just where they are.
There is a reason that Bayley is by far the most popular female performer on WWE’s roster at the moment, beyond her great character work and immense likability. The main reason for this is the amazing in ring ability she has, and an innate sense of story telling that most performers, male or female don’t possess after years in the business. One of the biggest reasons for her being so high on this list is the amazing rivalry her title win came in, when she defeated Sasha Banks in perhaps the biggest and best match in NXT history. She then went on to defend the belt against Sasha in an IronWoman match, Nia Jax, Eva Marie and Carmella, making each match seem as important as the last. She lost to Asuka in a heart breaking match, but firmly cemented her position as an NXT legend before she moved to the main roster the night after SummerSlam.
6 Finn Bálor
This one is a no brainer, as Finn Bálor is the longest reigning NXT Champion of all time, who had amazing matches with the likes of Samoa Joe, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn and Apollo Crews. Balor gave the young, developmental promotion even more prestige, and made every big rivalry and big match must see, especially with the emergence and evolution of his demon character. He held the companies top title for an astonishing 292 days after defeating Kevin Owens in his sacred Japan, and lost it to Samoa Joe just before his promotion to be a main event star on Monday Night RAW. The future of NXT looks bright, but there is absolutely no doubting that the developmental show wouldn’t be where it is without the contributions of the Irish superstar.
5 The Worst
The Vaudevillains took their time finding their footing in NXT, both as singles stars and a team, but when they did, they connected with the Full Sail crowd perfectly, as both baby faces and vicious heels. When they won the titles however, the fans viewed it as incredibly bad timing, as Enzo & Cass should have won in Brooklyn, and the fans turned on them bad. This caused major negativity towards their title reign, as they lost them almost immediately, on a regular NXT episode no less to the Revival, meaning they didn’t think they deserved a high profile spot on a Takeover event. They aren’t the worse champions in NXT history, but looking at them now, and the reaction to their title reign, it would be hard not to have them on this list.
4 Bo Dallas
For the most part, Bo Dallas was great in NXT, especially compared to what he is now, but when you look at the caliber of champion coming through NXT now (Finn Balor, Kevin Owens, Samoa Joe, Shinsuke Nakamura) it’s incredibly hard to even think about putting him up amongst those guys. He started out as a likeable baby face, but soon turned the most annoying star in the brands history, which worked well for him, but something about his title reign just didn’t click. He had a few great matches with Neville, including NXT’s first ladder match, but failed to impress most, including Vince McMahon with his performances. There has been worse Champions than Dallas, but when you see how he’s treated today, it’s hard to place him anywhere near the class of the most prominent champions in NXT history.
3 Sami Zayn
Let me start this by saying I am a huge fan of Sami Zayn (he is quite possibly my favorite performer in all of WWE), but let’s be honest, his hard earned, highly emotional title win didn’t lead to a good title run at all. In fact, the Underdog from the Underground defended his title successfully just the once, before being absolutely decimated by Kevin Owens, forcing the referee to stop the match. He won the title from Neville in possibly the most emotional, heart felt moment in NXT at the time, but was turned on quickly by his best friend Kevin Owens, setting up the hottest feud in NXT history. The short reign wasn’t Sami’s fault, as he was scheduled to make his jump to the main roster, but as it stands, only one title defense and losing by TKO in his second puts Zayn on this list.
2 The Ascension
The Ascension may have been the longest reigning Tag Team Champions in NXT history, but due to their lack of success since NXT and their quality of opponents throughout their reign, they find themselves on this side of this list. The revamped team of Konor and Viktor dominated throughout their entire reign, participating in mediocre squash matches due to a lack of competition, but became one of the most popular teams in the history of NXT, returning to a huge ovation for the first ever Dusty Rhodes Classic. When it’s all said and done, the Ascension will probably be mostly forgotten due to such teams as the Revival, American Alpha and DIY, which is why they currently go down as one of the worst champions.
1 Blake and Murphy
Blake and Murphy are one of the only Champions in NXT history to not get called up to the main roster following their run, as the two have barely any personality, and even the addition of amazing heel Alexa Bliss couldn’t save their run. The two have since split and tried to revive their singles career, but no matter what they do, they just don’t click, and have both ended up being squashed by the King of Strong Style. The two just never developed from their original persona, and it became hard for fans to invest in their matches, opting for more talented teams like the Vaudevillians, American Alpha and Enzo & Cass, making their title reign, to quote Jeff and Matt Hardy, obsolete.
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