Though it is relatively young in age, since its birth in 2012, NXT has become a sensation within the wrestling world, giving viewers an alternate to the often stale main roster product. With just a one hour pre-taped show per week, and a critically acclaimed NXT: Takeover live event each 2-3 months, NXT has become an innovative product with both its on screen action and back stage philosophy, led by Triple H, who has begun bringing in more independent stars which was unheard of in years prior, showing he has the brilliance to make WWE once again an exciting product for all.
In this short 4 year period, NXT has produced several main event caliber stars such as Finn Balor, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens and Sasha Banks and continues to evolve, putting on rivalry after rivalry, and most notably kickstarted what became the ‘Divas Revolution’ on the main roster, due to the talent and treatment of the entire women’s roster. While the brand continues to debut new stars, and will no doubt continue to climb to new heights, the following list details the 15 best rivalries, which significantly influenced the NXT brand we see today and contributed to making it such a fantastic in-ring product for WWE fans.
15. The Lucha Dragons vs. The Ascension
From the time of their debut until their departure to the main roster (we all unfortunately know how that one turned out, thanks Vince), the Ascension were the most dominant tag team to ever step foot in NXT, and for their record tag title reign, it seemed that not a team in the world would be able to step in and dethrone them. Enter the Lucha Dragons, a team consisting of botch expert Sin Cara and Lucha/indy stand out Samurai Del Sol now known as Kalisto, and the top spot of the Ascension felt like it was in jeopardy for the first time in a year leading to some good matches which showcased what both teams could truly do, as the Ascension were competing mainly in squash matches until this. The new tandem of the Lucha Dragons were able to dethrone the Ascension in a hard fought battle, one which began the Revival (pun intended) of tag team wrestling in NXT, a division which has since taken the importance of this art form to new levels.
14. Asuka vs. Emma
One of the more underrated feuds of recent times in NXT, this one helped reinvigorate the career of Emma as a vicious heel rather than a ditsy blonde dancer and introduced Japanese sensation Kana into NXT as new and improved Asuka. The incoming legend was welcomed unceremoniously by Emma and her pal Dana Brooke as they attempted time and time again to intimidate the hard striking Asuka, but to no avail, as any tactics used backfired, and Emma & Dana tended to be the more intimidated party. All this culminated in a phenomenal opening match to NXT Takeover: London, where Emma played her role as physically dominant bully perfectly, taking the newcomer off her game. But even this and a distraction from Dana Brooke could not deter Asuka from making an impact early in her NXT career, which has since skyrocketed all the way to the NXT Women’s Championship.
13. Charlotte vs. Natalya
While not the first or the last incredible, stand out women’s rivalry in NXT, these two women were crucial in establishing the importance and relevance of the NXT Women’s Championship, as it featured 2 second generation stars who can perform well in the ring and put together a good story. This rivalry featured performances from father Ric Flair and Uncle Bret Hart which immediately raised the atmosphere and gave NXT and the women’s division an aura which it did not previously possess, and the match between the two which resulted in Charlotte capturing the vacant women’s championship was a phenomenal display of both women’s talent. Having a veteran and respected talent like Natalya helped Charlotte on her way to becoming the future of the main rosters female division, and in turn, through this fantastic rivalry raised the profile and gave invaluable experience to not only Charlotte but the rest of the women’s roster on NXT.
12. Enzo & Cass vs. The Revival
Although they are by far the most popular tag team in NXT’s history, Enzo & Cass could never win the big one in limited chances up until 2015, when they began a heated rivalry with Dash & Dawson, which allowed the brash, smack talking duo to incorporate more of a serious attitude into their comedic characters, and show the fans just what they were capable of inside the squared circle. This rivalry took place before Enzo & Cass’s main roster call up, with high profile matches at NXT Takeover: London and Roadblock, with the heel champs coming out on time each time, which primed both teams for bigger and better things (the Revival for back to back show stealing matches with American Alpha and Enzo & Cass for getting over in a big way upon their arrival on RAW and Smackdown). The matches themselves brought out many emotions in the crowd as both teams were able to get them fully invested, a feat which many struggle to achieve in WWE, showing the promise that both of these teams possess.
11. Seth Rollins vs. Big E Langston
The earliest rivalry on this list came when Seth Rollins won the first ever NXT Championship in spectacular fashion, and as all champions in WWE, became a marked man for the rest of the roster, and the one man to truly step up was former power lifter, Big E Langston, who had been tearing a path of dominance through NXT, finishing matches by demanding the referee count to 5 rather than the usual 3. While compared to others on this list, this rivalry was not as long or impressive in the ring, due to the changing times in NXT which was happening at the time, but featured two men who promised to be stars and had all the talent in the world, which has proved true since their arrival on the main roster, E as a part of the entertaining new day, and Rollins as a stand out in-ring performer from the Shield all the way to the WWE Championship. This won’t go down as the best rivalry, but is one of the most important in establishing the importance of NXT and it’s main championship.
10. Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch vs. Bayley
Much has been made of the recent Diva’s revolution and who truly started it, whether it be the diva’s on the main roster (although, absolutely not), Paige and Emma or the Four Horsewomen, but one thing is for sure, these 4 women took womens wrestling to heights which it has never seen in WWE before in their time together within NXT. While Charlotte made a huge impact immediately upon her debut, the other three took time and experience to develop into her equals, and when this happened, the Women’s roster on NXT took off like never before, seeing allegiance shifts between the four, until eventually they collided on an NXT Takeover live special event. While this was the only fatal 4-way match they ever had (and an amazing one it was), their career paths have been intertwined and they will be destined to fight forever, with the 3 main roster women competing in a show stealing triple threat at the biggest WrestleMania of all time, fans can hope the rivalry and friendship that started in NXT lasts for many years to come.
9. Adrian Neville vs. Bo Dallas
The main event of the first ever NXT live event: NXT Takeover: Arrival featured these two men as they finally put their bitter feud over the NXT Championship to bed in the first ever NXT ladder match. Although Dallas was meant to play a baby face early on in his career, the NXT faithful at Full Sail got sick of his act quickly, turning him heel, leaving the “Man that gravity forgot” to challenge him and take his place atop the NXT throne, as he had been a stand out performer ever since his debut with the company. This led to several solid matches where Neville could not quite get it done, whether clean or under questionable circumstances, leading to the aforementioned ladder match where Neville over came Bo in quite the hard hitting, exciting match. While neither have gone on to have much success on the main roster, the promise and fire the two showed in this feud set them up well for their promotion to RAW and Smackdown.
8. Kevin Owens vs. Finn Balor
While Kevin Owens was already competing on the main roster in a feud of the year contender against John Cena, he was pulling double duty on NXT dealing with the rising star known as “The Demon” Finn Balor. The two fought in Japan where Balor ended the dominant run of the former Kevin Steen, and their rematch took place at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn in NXT’s second ever ladder match, which solidified the former Prince Devitt as a star within NXT, and someone who could successfully carry the brand going forward. This may not have been the stand out feud for either competitor during their respective times in NXT, but the feud featured two show stealing matches while not over doing it, leaving plenty of room for both performers to improve upon their rivalry when Finn Balor eventually (hopefully soon, around the draft) makes his way to the main roster.
7. Paige vs. Emma
The feud that started the ‘Diva’s revolution’ often goes un noticed because of the brilliance of four other NXT female stars, these two were tearing the house down way before there was an NXT Championship or even the NXT Takeover live events. Before Paige injected her own unique brand of mayhem on WWE RAW, she was dueling with the Aussie beauty over the NXT Women’s Championship, including a classic in the final of the tournament to crown the first ever women’s champion, which will go down in NXT as one of the most important, and best matches in its short history thus far. Although these two have not found the success they would have wanted since their main roster promotions, WWE know from this incredible rivalry that if they ever need talented in-ring performers to duel with the likes of Charlotte, Sasha or Becky, these two will be readily available to perform more than admirably.
6. Adrian Neville vs. Sami Zayn
While Neville on the main roster is a bland, yet exciting high flier, Adrian Neville in NXT was allowed to show character and personality, along with his explosive, death defying move set, and it was this feud with Sami Zayn that allowed him to explore the more heelish characteristics of his persona, as he often needed to go outside the rules to gain an upper hand on the never say die Zayn. After over coming Bo Dallas and leading a new generation of NXT stars, NXT fan favorite Zayn stepped up to challenge Neville, in what was predictably some of the smoothest and most impressive wrestling in recent memory, yet Zayn could not quite get the job done, to the satisfaction of the smug Neville, and the frustration of Sami. This led to a career vs. title match where Zayn one in one of the most emotionally fuelled moments in the companies history, with each member of the Full Sail crowd popping for Zayns win, which brought out the entire locker room to congratulate him, the end of what was quite an under rated and amazing feud between two fantastic wrestlers.
5. American Alpha vs. The Revival
While NXT has produced many solid tag teams like the Vaudevillians, Enzo & Cass and the Lucha Dragons, many would argue that the division has never been hotter than it is today, due to the incomparably talented teams of American Alpha and the Revival, who’s contrasting styles made them a perfect rival, as fans have seen on the two latest NXT Takeover events. Together these teams have used perfect tag team psychology and crafted two show stealing matches, with the beautiful, flamboyant amateur style of Chad Gable & Jason Jordan contrasting perfectly with the “no flips just fists” old school, hard knocks style of Dash & Dawson, which have constantly left fans on the edge of their seats, gasping at each near fall. Time will tell if these teams get back into it again sometime soon, as American Alpha are no doubt meant for the main roster, but if not, the NXT tag team division is hotter than its ever been, with young teams such as Gargano & Ciampa and TM+61 waiting in the wings.
4. Samoa Joe vs. Finn Balor
This rivalry had it all, hard hitting intense action inside the ring, constantly developing characters and promo work from the pair, and the two biggest stars to ever step foot in NXT, all starting with an intense heel turn from the floundering independent icon Samoa Joe. These two fought hard over the NXT Championship in London, Dallas and finally inside of the first ever NXT steel cage, and the matchup was as gripping in their final encounter as it was in their first, showing the pure class and in-ring ability of both men, which makes a main roster call up imminent for the pair. While fans may have grown tired of these two men going to battle by the end, due to the debuts of immensely charismatic and talented stars like Shinsuke Nakamura, Austin Aries and Andrade Almas, this will go down as one of the most heated and intense rivalries in the history of NXT.
3. Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn
The most personal rivalry on this list, Zayn and Owens have been doing the good friends, better enemies story since their days in Ring of Honor as El Generico and Kevin Steen respectively, and when Owens made a shock statement after Sami had just won the NXT Championship, the entire Full Sail faithful knew they were in for an utter treat. What followed was months of personal promos, vicious attacks and devastating match ups, which ended on NXT as Owens in kayfabe took out Sami in their final Takeover match (the injury actually occurred during Zayn’s main roster debut in a U.S Open Challenge with then Champion John Cena.) This rivalry is as interesting and personal as it is intense and amazing inside the ring, and if their recent matches and rivalry on the main roster is anything to go by, this will be a once in a generation pairing, which all started in NXT.
2. Cesaro vs. Sami Zayn
Many have pointed to this rivalry as one that kick started NXT as the ground breaking juggernaut it has become, and the one which made a young Sami Zayn a star in this industry, solidifying the Underdog from the Underground as a legitimate future superstar within Vince’s company. After upsetting the main roster performer in his debut, Zayn took on Cesaro in a fantastic singles match at the first ever NXT Takeover event, and arguably a top 3 match in NXT history in a 2-out-of-3 falls match with one goal in mind, to earn the respect of the well travelled veteran. Even today when the two compete the audience can sense the magic is still alive and well, showcased perfectly in their recent RAW matchup, and it would no doubt be wise of Vince McMahon to book these two in a long standing rivalry in the near future, as it would be even greater to see on the grander scale of RAW and Smackdown.
1. Bayley vs. Sasha Banks
Perhaps the most groundbreaking rivalry in all of modern wrestling, these two women told a story that would be worthy of a main event slot in any era, combining fantastic storytelling, great character work and, above all, stellar in-ring work in back to back show stealing matches at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn and Respect, the latter being in the first ever female Iron Man match. Two of the most popular women in the history of NXT and WWE as a whole, Bayley and Sasha kept the fans on the edge of their seats, swaying back and forth with emotion throughout the entire rivalry, showing the main roster, and most importantly Vince McMahon, that women’s wrestling can be a major draw, and fans will take it seriously if management takes it seriously. While these two have not met since their historic Iron Man match, Bayley will soon join Sasha on the main roster, and if done correctly, WWE could have a show stealing WrestleMania singles match on their hand with these two phenomenal performers.
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