On August 22nd, 2015, Triple H stood in the middle of an NXT ring, in front of a sold out Barclay's Center. He looked at the camera and said, "It started as a whisper, until you screamed it at the top of your lungs. We gained momentum, you made us unstoppable."
That's what NXT has become: it was initially perceived to be a developmental brand for up and coming WWE hopefuls to hone their skills in preparation for RAW and Smackdown. But slowly, the support grew. The buzz kept getting louder. Soon, popular indie names were showing up on NXT TV, and after the first Takeover event, it became clear that NXT was more than just developmental, it was the alternative brand.
Through stellar matches and exciting storylines, several names helped NXT evolve into what it is today. Before The Shield and The Authority, there was Seth Rollins - first ever NXT champion. Before The New Day, Big E was pinning guys with a five count, and Xavier Woods was a '90s era enthusiast. Paige and Emma were turning heads with their matches and showing what women's wrestling could be, and paved the way for Charlotte, Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks and Bayley to reinvigorate women's wrestling. Sami Zayn is labelled as "the heart and soul" of NXT for his passionate, wild rivalries against the likes of Cesaro, Neville and Kevin Owens. Before Enzo Amore and Big Cass had RAW and Smackdown crowds in the palms of their hands, the crowds at Full Sail University were the ones chanting "SAWFT". Even Bo Dallas played a pivotal part in popularizing NXT- before becoming a comedic jobber, he played the NXT champion that people loved to loathe.
However, at its core, its still developmental. All these household names share the dream of "getting the call up." People leave, and there are voids needed to be filled to ensure that there's enough star power to sustain NXT's growth and popularity. This list shows thirteen names that can take the reigns and become the new faces of NXT.
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13 Manny Andrade
Andrade performed around the world as the luchador “La Sombra”, and has won championships in prominent promotions such as CMLL and NJPW. He is also a founding member of one of the hottest wresting stables today: “Los Ingobernables.” NXT now has a highly skilled, accomplished wrestler with a great look, and has garnered a lot of buzz around him. If handled well, he could be the next top Latin star WWE has been searching for. With the upcoming Global Cruiserweight Series in the summer, NXT could use this as a vehicle for Manny to establish himself as a top player, and winning the accomplishment could propel him towards the main event.
12 Elias Samson
Okay, so “The Drifter” might not be NXT’s most exciting superstar, but he’s unique. Not everybody has to be the “cool heel.” He stands out because everything he does - from the aesthetic to the way he cuts promos - is different. Nobody else is doing a musician/hybrid wrestler in NXT. Also, despite being told by the crowd to “drift away”, he is still prominently featured on NXT programming, which shows that management understands the value they have in him. Elias could fit in well within the main event because he could use the fans’ hatred of him to play the dastardly villain who cuts musical promos and picks up cheap wins, making the fans rally harder behind any babyface trying to defeat him.
11 Alexa Bliss
There is no doubt that Alexa is the star of the BAMF stable. While Blake and Murphy are bland and seem to lack personality, Alexa has bounds of it. She plays the bratty diva very well; that combined with her small stature makes her a hateable villain that you just want to see get what she deserves. While she has gotten a decent amount of time to show what she can do in the ring, there is room for her to experience more growth. While her in-ring skills are good, her greatest strength lies in her character. She knows how to rile up the crowd, and could be very convincing as one of the women’s division's top heels.
10 Tye Dillinger
"The Perfect Ten" has had a long tumultuous journey in WWE. He initially signed with the company in 2007, and had a short run on the ECW brand as Gavin Spears before being released in 2009. He returned to WWE in 2013, but was usually featured as a jobber, and had a forgettable tag team with Jason Jordan. But now, he seems to have found his stride as this braggart who thinks he’s “a perfect ten”, and rates everyone else with poor grades. While the premise of the gimmick is villainous, he still has the whole crowd chanting “Ten!” with him every time. It's uncertain to measure the success of Tye on the main roster, but on a niche brand like NXT, it's easier to buy him as a main eventer - the crowds already love him, and he’s actually decent in the ring.
9 Dana Brooke
NXT loves to cater to the smarks, and Dana was the antithesis of all their ideals. Her clunky debut didn’t help matters, and it seemed like Dana was just another one of these models trying to wrestle. However, once people got to see more of her personality, they realized she was actually pretty funny. The more matches she had, she got better each time. After she had the debut match with Asuka, it became clear that Dana wasn’t just another model. She was praised for her ability to keep up with a ring master like Asuka, and was respected for enduring immensely stiff shots. She’s everything a WWE women's wrestler wants to be: she’s got the personality, the looks and powerhouse athleticism. When she returns from her injuries, she is ready to be a major player in NXT’s women’s division.
It may have been a little disheartening to see Enzo Amore and Big Cass debut on the main roster without her, but as a singles competitor on NXT, she has the chance to have the entire spotlight on her. Carmella has great charisma and personality, and more matches in the ring will only contribute to her overall performance as a wrestler. After her boys’ debut, she stated in an interview that “I’m here to compete at a higher level. I want to be NXT Women’s Champion.” With most of the four horsewomen on Raw, now is the time for new faces in the women’s division, and Carmella would be a welcome addition.
7 Hideo Itami
It’s incredibly saddening for such a gifted wrestler to be set back by a major shoulder injury. Itami has been on the shelf for almost a year, and no definite timetable for his return has been indicated. However, on April 13, he sent out a cryptic tweet - simply saying “Almost.” Hopefully that is a sign that Itami’s return is soon, and he can go on to have instant classics with his innovative, impactful offence against dream opponents like Shinsuke Nakamura and Samoa Joe. Itami is a special talent - he is an innovator and brings a “real fight” authenticity to his matches. He shouldn’t be wasted on the midcard upon his return.
6 The Revival
In a pro wrestling era where there’s an abundance of superkicks and flips, and a penchant to constantly chant “This is awesome”, Dawson and Wilder are refreshing. They’re a throwback to the no-nonsense brawlers who come to the ring to fight, not pop the crowd. “The Revival” is an apt name for these two, as they are reigniting an interest in the WWE tag team division. After having incredibly entertaining matches against Amore and Big Cass and American Alpha, it’s clear that these two are a perfect fit to be the top villains of the NXT tag team division.
5 Nia Jax
There is nobody on the women’s division like Nia Jax now. She is a big, intimidating force with a powerhouse moveset. She is tailor made to be the monstrous foil for the babyfaces, and the destroyer that the NXT women’s division needs. She isn't one dimensional either - she offers more than just playing the brute. She is strong and confident on the microphone, and manages to garner loud reactions from the fans, especially due to her alliance with Eva Marie. Jax has already established herself as the monster. Now it is time to progress towards the next step and become one of the faces of the women’s division, and this starts with new rivalries under the main event spotlight.
In terms of pure in-ring ability, Asuka is one of the best wrestlers the WWE has. Highly esteemed wrestling critic Dave Meltzer cited her as “maybe the best worker in WWE, man or woman.” That alone brings Asuka to the main event scene, but what keeps her there, and should keep elevating her, is her persona and aesthetic. She has a vibrant appearance that attracts viewers, and despite being a woman of few words, she still manages to captivate attention by eliciting a sense of mystery and cockiness that makes you wonder what type of violence she is going to inflict on her opponent. As the current NXT women’s champion, it will be exciting to see the rivalries she enters because you just know the matches are going to be great.
3 Austin Aries
Few were expecting “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived” to show up on NXT, but here he is, and now NXT have yet another incredible talent at their disposal. Anyone who was watching Austin Aries in TNA during 2012 is aware that he is main event caliber. Although currently a babyface, Austin thrives as the arrogant, self-righteous athlete who backs it up in the ring. He has the mic skills to grab people’s attention: when he speaks, it is with conviction and confidence, so it makes fans believe that it is okay for him to proclaim to be “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived”, and buy into him being a main eventer.
2 American Alpha
It’s lazy to call these guys the new “World’s Greatest Tag Team”. Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas were great, but Jordan and Gable are in a league of their own - aside from the similar amateur wrestling backgrounds, American Alpha have their own identity, and have more exciting personalities. Hopefully, these guys can go on to create their own tag team legacy, and winning the NXT tag titles could the beginning of that. By being NXT’s top tag team, they are given the platform to grow as characters and continue to improve their already awesome in ring skills, so that when that call-up happens, they will be more than ready to dominate WWE’s tag team division.
1 Shinsuke Nakamura
If someone as legendary as Nakamura isn’t on RAW, then WWE better not waste his time and regard him as a top player of NXT - anything below is a step down for such a talent. He is everything needed to belong in the biggest wrestling organization in the world: he has the charismatic, unique character, the look and the unrivalled wrestling ability to create matches that can sell out houses. Even if you’ve never heard of Nakamura before, just watch his NXT Takeover debut against Sami Zayn to understand how much star power this guy can bring. There are a number of money making rivalries that are just waiting to begin: Nakamura versus Itami in hard hitting matches, Nakamura versus Aries in a clash of over-the-top personalities, or Nakamura versus Samoa Joe…
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