WWE is producing arguably the best television program in the world of pro wrestling, and it isn’t a show seen on Monday or Thursday nights.
WWE NXT, a brand focusing on upcoming and development talents, has produced some of the best wrestling matches in recent memory on a weekly basis. The two-hour specials, billed as NXT Arrival/TakeOver (there have been six to date), transform these lesser-known stars into household names, courtesy of the men and women who defy the odds and aim to dazzle crowds with the best matches around the pro wrestling globe.
The mastermind behind it all, future WWE Hall of Famer Triple H, has revitalized part of WWE programming with his NXT efforts, stemming from his and Vince McMahon’s investment into the multi-million dollar Performance Centre facility in Florida. WWE NXT’s weekly shows are also broadcasted from the Sunshine State at Full Sail University (on tape delay).
It seems like WWE has its own indie brand, courtesy of the diversity of style and the handful of superstars that came from Ring of Honor (ROH), New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW), and other popular promotions. There have been familiar names from WWE that have lent their services to NXT, from the likes of Cesaro and Natalya, to those going back home for a visit like Adam Rose and Emma. On the other hand, NXT has made a major impact when it comes to the main roster, judging from the reception centered on Neville, Bo Dallas and the current NXT Champion, Kevin Owens, and even bringing in some familiar names like Rhyno, Brian Kendrick, and Samoa Joe to fill the gaps.
Unlike a previous NXT listing done a few months back, the following will focus on the top NXT talents who are more than ready to make a main card impact in the coming weeks, rather than those you should have been familiar with. While it’s unlikely we’ll see all these wrestlers make the jump, a few of them could be making a main roster move in the very near future. Without further ado, here they are (Joe just made the jump to NXT, so don’t expect to see him below):
10 Corey Graves
The former NXT Tag Team Champion hung up the boots a few months ago, but his work on the NXT commentary team has been more than satisfactory. He has plenty of charisma thanks to his look, which suggests he’s a lot more edgy than the likes of Michael Cole or Booker T. He’s been flirting with a heel character on NXT, often in disagreement with his colleagues, including Byron Saxton. Graves could be a breath of fresh air if inserted at the broadcast table on Raw, considering the trio of Cole, Booker, and JBL need some tuning and make the show feel longer than it is.
Bayley has done a fine job connecting with the NXT audience. The youngster has enough personality to fit into the Divas division, even if she’s more or less the opposite of what a WWE Diva is expected to look like.
Out of all the talented women on NXT, Bayley may need to stay in Florida to perfect her skills, yet she’s been involved in some of the best matches in NXT during 2015, and could compete well against any of the women on the main roster. But her current feud alongside Emma is working, so it’s best to let the “hugger” tough it out against the Australian a little longer.
8 Becky Lynch
The energetic Becky Lynch had her stock rise aplenty in her loss to Sasha Banks at NXT TakeOver: Unstoppable, receiving a standing ovation seconds after being submitted by “The Boss.”
Lynch has come a long way in her wrestling journey, and despite having a favorable appearance, she is a pure wrestler who already has natural charm as a face. Having travelled the world to learn different styles in the squared circle, including Canada and Japan, Lynch has successfully graduated from being stuck with a horrendous gimmick, erasing previous notion of being slightly misused or misjudged for her abilities.
7 Tyler Breeze
When the Canadian was told his job was at risk in mid-2013, he turned Mike Dalton into the cocky Tyler Breeze, who walks to the ring admiring his beautiful self by staring into the phone screen and taking selfies.
His gimmick is reminiscent of self-centered heels like Shawn Michaels and Rick Martel, but it doesn’t feel overdone or reused. Breeze has caught up with the times and plays the arrogant and conceited character so well that he’s gaining a following. WWE could use another mid-card heel on the roster, especially one with aerial maneuvers who can be an integral part in the cruiserweight revolution.
Not only is she the daughter of arguably the greatest wrestler that ever lived, Charlotte is a towering presence, complete with the proper mat techniques to have memorable matches against the best. She brought Ric Flair to tears when she beat Natalya for the NXT Women’s Championship at the first TakeOver event in a fantastic encounter, and continued to have significant duels ever since (including that bananas Fatal-Four Way at TakeOver: Rival).
Seeing how her feud with Sasha Banks has come to a close for now, Charlotte will be participating in a program with Dana Brooke, however, it shouldn’t keep her from making a main roster debut in the upcoming weeks. She’s more than ready, yet it’s possible WWE would opt to go with one of her stable mates that have a little more magnetism when it comes to character.
5 Sasha Banks
When it comes to gimmicks, Banks has truly made her mark on NXT as one to watch. The 23-year-old wrestler had a little trouble getting over in the beginning (which had to do more about booking than it did her contributions), but she’s recently turned into a premiere attraction on the show, including being at the forefront of the best women’s division in pro wrestling right now.
Banks’ submission prowess could be one of the best in all of wrestling, and she’s been put to the test against powerful counterparts like Charlotte and Lynch, where she’s came out on top and swayed the crowd in her favor.
That may be the biggest problem for “The Boss;” her character is just too good to not get behind, even though she’s shoving her cocky attitude down everyone’s throats. On the other hand, that’s a blessing for WWE, who could use Banks’s gimmick in an ambiguous way, not having her lean towards being a face or a heel more so than a combination of both.
4 Hideo Itami
Formerly known as KENTA, Hideo Itami is no stranger to the world of Puroresu, where he competed in some of his best matches for Pro Wrestling Noah. He was also a major player in ROH, facing the likes of Daniel Bryan, Nigel McGuiness and The Briscoe Brothers, though most of his accomplishments were made possible in the Noah ring, where he won eight championships and a handful of tournaments.
Some of Bryan’s best matches were against Itami, and considering the Japanese standout turned heads upon his NXT arrival with the mastery to back it up, Itami should be making a main roster debut sometime soon. It wasn’t too long ago that Itami participated at WrestleMania 31 as a participant in the second annual Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal.
With that said, it seems like Itami has been surpassed by his counterparts, which could be the result of nagging injury issues. There isn’t something missing with Itami more so than opportunities not being present. When it comes to foreign heels, WWE could turn a disadvantage (not being able to speak English that well) into something far greater, having Itami terrorize the main roster on his way to the top.
3 Sami Zayn
It feels like Sami Zayn should have made his main roster debut a long time ago, based on his accomplishments against Cesaro. Those matches really put NXT on the map as a show to watch, with Zayn’s perfect combination of technical work and high-flying mastery poised to propel him to the top. As El Generico, Zayn competed all over the world during the first decade of the 2000s, engaging in warfare against bitter rival and real-life best friend, Kevin Owens, when they weren’t winning titles as a tandem.
A shoulder injury will keep Zayn on the sidelines for a little while, which was a result of going a little too hard during his entrance before facing John Cena in his hometown of Montreal a few weeks back on Raw.
Still, there’s no reason as to why we should wait any longer for Zayn’s main card arrival, considering he put NXT on the map.
2 Finn Balor
When it comes to performing in a wrestling ring, Finn Balor may be the best suited to make the jump to the main card. For those unfamiliar with Balor’s contributions to wrestling, he was the former leader of NJPW’s hottest stable, The Bullet Club, before A.J. Styles took over with co-leader Karl Anderson.
Like Lynch, Balor also travelled the world to perfect different wrestling styles, and even served as a trainer to his Irish compatriot. Balor came from the NJPW Dojo, opting to perfect his style in Asia before making an impact in North America, where he won the IWGP Junior Heavyweight title three times, took top honors in the Best of The Super Juniors tournament twice, and won the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship a whopping six times with Minoru Tanaka and Ryusuke Taguchi.
There’s no doubt Balor’s ring entrances are the best in the business at the moment, and his body paint would bode well in the fantastical world of WWE. But considering his peers may be making the move before him, Balor is also a perfect candidate to win the title off Owens as the number one contender, and continue to carry the brand with the strap around his waist.
1 Kevin Owens
Owens doesn’t need a gimmick; he’s doing just fine being an extension of himself.
He’s big, brash, and his move set is unorthodox. He’s told his naysayers he would get to the top, regardless of preexisting expectations of how a wrestler should present themselves. The current NXT Champion has already made his main roster debut, defeating John Cena at Elimination Chamber this past weekend. He pinned him in the middle of the ring, which is something not every wrestler is allowed to do.
As Kevin Steen, the Quebecer tore up the indies with his unique working style, which garnered heavy praise in the world of ROH and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla (PWG). He was involved in some of the hottest angles just a few years ago with Generico, not to mention being one of Jim Cornette’s least favorite people to work with.
But Owens has always kept his feelings genuine, unafraid to speak his mind. He’s wrestled some of wrestling’s biggest stars, including Jerry Lawler, Steve Corino, and Shinsuke Nakamura, to name a few. Considering Owens has made several appearances on WWE television and faces Cena in a rematch at Money In The Bank (which is two weeks away), it seems like the NXT champ’s time is now.