Recently the WWE Universe has gone into overdrive with speculation after the announcement that the WWE Brand split would be returning, which has implications for NXT as well, with head booker Triple H tweeting out the new name of the upcoming NXT: Takeover event as “The End.” While many assumed that this was in reference to the ending of the Finn Balor/Samoa Joe saga, which will be contested in a no doubt brutal steel cage match, rumours slowly began circulating that this could mean the end of the developmental brand as we know it, as many talent will be needed to fill the unique rosters of both RAW and Smackdown after the July brand split kicks in. However, to much relief of the WWE Universe, this was not to be the case, as NXT will continue on as normal, with a wave of new up and coming talent expected to carry the load with the talent leaving, while the upcoming Cruiserweight Classic should provide Triple H and the staff of NXT many brand new exciting performers to work with.
With all this speculation it has raised a question: who, when the likes of Finn Balor, Samoa Joe and Bayley get promoted to the main roster, will step up and lead NXT into the future to keep the strength of the brand going, as one of the main considerations of management for possibly cancelling NXT had to be the protection of its stellar reputation? The brand has long been the stand out for the WWE product in terms of simple storytelling and in ring excitement, and with such talented stars no doubt leaving in the near future, these are the top 15 talents that fans can expect to step up and lead the brand for the remainder of 2016 into the future.
29 Peyton Royce
Though she is not featured on NXT TV on a regular basis yet, Royce has shown flashes of potential in the limited time she has received. After a stand out career on the independent circuit, she is one of the more underrated female performers on the roster, who could no doubt become a big player with more time and TV experience on her side. Competing on the independent scene as KC Cassidy, she is among the plethora of Australian women on the WWE roster, and has the look and wrestling ability that WWE now praises in their female competitors, and with Bayley leaving, a roster that will be short on stars will rely on Royce to improve quickly, and fans should expect to see her competing in the title scene in mid 2017.
27 Christopher Girard
Better known by his name Biff Busick on the independent circuit, Girard has competed in only a few televised matches for NXT, both in loses, but was praised for his presence and intensity inside the ring, and anyone who has been following his career thus far knows the star power and wrestling ability he possesses. While he may be an entrant in the Cruiserweight Classic, he is no doubt going to slowly become a force on the NXT brand, as many critics have been raving about his matches on live NXT shows as of late, most notably against Austin Aries and Manny Andrade. It may take some time but Girard’s hard working, gritty attitude and persona will win over the NXT faithful, and force him to become a big time player in NXT come 2017.
Despite being paired with the most popular tag team in NXT history, Carmella did not make her way to the main roster with her boys Enzo & Cass, primarily because she has shown huge improvement and potential as a singles star in the ring, rather than just a valet. Fans got to know more about the Carmella character as a person during her title feud with best friend Bayley, and has become easy to get behind as a fan favourite, and in a division which will soon lack baby faces (once Bayley leaves, Asuka will be the only credible baby face), Carmella is poised to have a break out 2017 which may see her land NXT gold, or a promotion all the way to the main roster.
23 Rich Swann
Rich Swann, in his limited TV matches made a huge impression on the Full Sail University crowd, despite coming up on the losing end, due to his huge reputation prior to WWE as one of the most exhilarating high fliers in recent memory. Already in his short stint in WWE developmental he has the crowd firmly on his side, and it is only a matter of time until he is being showcased as one of the more talented high fliers in the WWE, especially in the upcoming Cruiserweight Classic, which will firmly place him among the top young stars in all of NXT.
21 Alexa Bliss
It was when Alexa Bliss was paired with Blake and Murphy that she truly began to embrace her darker side, as she has shown an ability to gain a negative reaction out of the NXT crowd no matter who she faces, and her talents in the ring are improving week by week, which means it is only time until a match up with mega baby face Asuka is booked, especially once her feud with Bayley is over. Bliss knows how to work a crowd and elicit a strong reaction from the NXT faithful, and this will help her on her path to becoming NXT Women’s Champion, and no doubt one of the best heels in all of NXT.
19 Tye Dillinger
Despite being glorified enhancement talent, much like Tyler Breeze, Dillinger has gotten over with the Full Sail crowd, and often finds himself in the main event slot, even grabbing larger reactions than Austin Aries several weeks ago during their matchup. In recent times, ‘the Perfect 10’ has been gaining traction with the crowd and has picked up several victories, which is a sign that management are looking to give him a greater role on the brand, and while that may not be in the NXT title picture any time soon, he will play a key role in many story lines with many major NXT talents over the next year or so.
17 Johnny Gargano & Tomasso Ciampa
A team which many thought were going to be used as nothing but credible enhancement talent in NXT, this pairing have become a certified force in the tag team division, bringing indy credibility and much fan support with them every time they step foot into Full Sail Arena. Due to this popularity and incredible in ring ability, these two have gained much traction in the division as of late, with a tag team victory over TM+61 in their debut match, they are set up to be major contenders to American Alpha once they have dispatched of the Revival. While they may be destined for singles glory in the long run, having a credible duo such as these in the tag team division only boosts the notion that NXT is where every wrestler around the world wants to come and ply their craft.
The newest members of the NXT roster have only appeared in one televised match, but are well-travelled superstars who made a name for themselves in Japan as The Mighty Don’t Kneel, being the first gajin (foreign) team in over 15 years to win Japanese tag team of the year. The Australian duo can wrestle many different styles, and as evidenced by their debut match against Gargano & Ciampa, they will no doubt wow the NXT universe each time they step foot in the ring. While they may have some significant improvements to make on the microphone, the duo are a key cog for the future of the NXT tag team division, which has once again re invented itself and looks like it could be very, very hot in the near future.
13 Nia Jax
Nia Jax is not your typical WWE diva, and with the emphasis on in ring performance rather than ‘model looks’ for the women’s division in WWE, with a bit of improvement in the ring and on the microphone that will come with experience, Jax will truly help continue the launch of the women’s revolution in WWE. While many have criticized her for being too immobile in the ring and wooden on the mic, she has been on TV for less than a year, and proven herself when given a chance at the Women’s Championship, and with another shot this week at the title against Asuka, she will no doubt cement her place as a dominant force in the women’s NXT division for the near future, win or loss.
11 Austin Aries
While the Greatest Man that ever lived is not an up and coming star that will headline for WWE for years to come, he is a well travelled veteran who can light it up in the ring and on the microphone, and will do wonders for the future talent of WWE and NXT inside and out of the ring, showing the younger guys how to handle themselves on and off camera. That being said, he can still go in the ring, and while so far his matches have underwhelmed, his upcoming match with Nakamura at Takeover: The End is no doubt going to be a hotly contested classic, and hopefully we will see Aries vs. many younger guys in the very near future.
9 Hideo Itami
What has been forgotten in the hype of Takeover: The End, and the recent debuts of Shinsuke Nakamura and Austin Aries is the injured Hideo Itami, who has been out of action for over a year with a shoulder injury and is scheduled to make his return soon. The former KENTA is one of the most decorated Japanese wrestlers of all time, and was being primed for big things in NXT before his unfortunate injury, and while he may take time to work of ring rust and re adjust, there is no doubting that Aries, Nakamura, Joe vs. Itami will be great matches to see, and within a year there is no doubt Itami will be firmly entrenched in the title picture, taking on the newest and most exciting talent NXT has to offer.
With the impending promotion of mega baby face Bayley, Asuka shoulders the responsibility of carrying a women’s division into the future, which at this time has no clear cut superstars beyond herself, unlike the past few years which have seen the four horse women dominating the developmental brand. Asuka is crucial to the future of the NXT Women’s division, which has promising, yet unproven talent waiting in the wings, and while she herself will no doubt be called up to deepen the unique female rosters on RAW & Smackdown, her time and reign as champion in NXT could prove pivotal to the continuing improvement of how women are perceived in the WWE.
5 Shinsuke Nakamura
The “King of Strong Style” has made his presence and charisma known since his debut at NXT Takeover: Dallas, and has brought a star power and atmosphere to NXT which has been unmatched by any superstar in the young brands history, making him one of the most popular stars in NXT history. Although he may not remain in NXT even until the end of 2016, he will no doubt feature in the main event title scene even as early as the next set of TV tapings, as a Samoa Joe vs. Shinsuke Nakamura match up would be a defining one for NXT, Nakamura can help expand the fan base of the brand and set it up to be one of the most consistently popular and entertaining for the near future.
3 American Alpha
Although they are currently NXT Tag Team Champions, American Alpha still have a long way to go to build up the tag team division as one of the best in wrestling, as it has been significantly weakened in recent months with the loss of Enzo & Cass, the Vaudevillians and the break up of Blake and Murphy. With the Revival still lurking, and the new teams of Gargano & Ciampa and TM+61 entering the division, it is as hot as it has ever been, and now falls on the back of Jason Jordan and Chad Gable to take the division to new heights, which they will most certainly achieve if their matches with the Revival are anything to go by, meaning TM+61 vs. American Alpha will be must see television when it finally occurs.
1 Andrade "Cien" Almas
Although he has not made his NXT TV debut yet (he is scheduled to face Tye Dillinger at NXT Takeover: The End), Andrade, formerly known in Mexico as La Sombra is one of the best Luchadors in recent wrestling history, and was one of the biggest international signings in WWE history when he signed his developmental contract in 2015. Almas is said to be extremely well liked back stage, and if all goes according to play, early to mid 2017, he should be contending for the NXT Championship with many names on this list and more that may be signed after the Cruiserweight Classic, and by the time his main roster promotion occurs, he will definitely be the next Latino star that Vince McMahon has been searching for since the loss of Rey Mysterio.