Bo Dallas, Neville, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens…though the revived version of the NXT brand is still quite young, it already has a proud history of wrestlers that have served as its face. Forget for a moment that the role of NXT face is usually a tryout for bigger and better things on the main roster and recognize that the growing value of the NXT brand makes the position of “the guy” within NXT that much more of an honor with each passing day. Now, as Finn Balor prepares for his main roster ascension, we wonder who will be next to assume that crucial role.
The face of NXT can’t just be a good wrestler, unique persona or world-class promo artist; they must often be all three of these things and more. Whether they are currently employed by NXT or have their eyes set on joining the company sometime in the future, they are the performers that are not only ready to assume the awesome responsibility that comes with this top position, but indeed may be able to take NXT to new heights via this role. They are the 15 wrestlers that could be the new face of NXT.
15. The Mighty Don’t Kneel
Though technically two wrestlers, it’s easy enough to consider the recently signed The Mighty Don’t Kneel to be one unit given how well these two work together. Make no mistake that Nick Miller and Shane Thorne are two of the absolute greatest tag-team specialists in the world today. Their style is a little bit old-school in its methodology, but ask them to turn it up a few notches and they will respond with a match quite unlike anything you’ve ever seen. The question is: “Could they become the face of NXT if called upon?” Though WWE has traditionally downplayed their tag division, NXT is always looking for the next revolution in professional wrestling. If they decide that revolution includes an enhanced focus on the tag team scene, then it’s easy to imagine that The Mighty Don’t Kneel could become the first duo to earn the prestigious “face of the brand” role.
14. Tye Dillinger
Whoa, whoa, whoa…slow down and hear me out. It’s true that Tye Dillinger is not a typical main event star. He’s undersized, he doesn’t have a unique look, he’s 35 years old (shockingly) and much of his recent appeal is based on a chant and a gimmick. However, you can’t deny that when Dillinger walks into an NXT arena the entire crowd launches into a frenzy. From the moment he started referring to himself as “The Perfect 10,” Tye Dillinger has won the hearts of the NXT faithful in a way that few other wrestlers could have ever dreamed of. In case you didn’t see his incredible match against Andrade “Cien” Almas, Dillinger is also a guy that just keeps getting better in the ring each and every day.
As Daniel Bryan showed, the right piece of talent with the right appeal at the right time can do great things in the world of professional wrestling. With that in mind, is it so hard to imagine that Tye Dillinger could become the guy?
13. Austin Aries
Only the most hardcore of Austin Aries fans would be able to argue against the fact that Austin Aries’ role so far in NXT has been slightly underwhelming. It’s not that Aries has been wrestling bad matches (he may not be capable of having a bad match) or that his promos haven’t been good, but so far the Austin Aries that won over the hearts of TNA and ROH fans everywhere hasn’t really made himself known. The thing you have to consider, though, is that Aries has not yet been able to dial his heel meter up to 11. Once that happens, NXT fans everywhere are sure to witness the glory of a wrestler who calls himself the greatest that ever lived and often backs up his claim in the ring. A top-tier heel can easily be the face of a brand, and an unleashed heel Aries can easily be the face of NXT.
12. Kenny Omega
To be honest, the only reason that Kenny Omega isn’t much, much higher on this list is that his interests in joining WWE at the moment are a bit murky. Omega is not only reportedly a big fan of Japan and NJPW, but also claims to have turned down WWE offers in the past. However, let’s assume for a moment that Omega is pulling an AJ Styles and using his time in NJPW to build a bigger name and contract for himself. If that is the case, then there is little doubt that Omega would enter NXT as its brightest star. Not only can Omega light up a ring with the kind of matches that NXT is famous for, but he also so happens to possess one of the most natural and interesting personas in all of wrestling. You can’t take your eyes off of this guy.
11. Kota Ibushi
Ibushi is another interesting wrestler in the discussion of “Who will become the face of NXT?” First off, despite the fact that announcers and promoters continuously build him up as a young up and comer, Ibushi is, in fact, 34 years old. While not exactly ancient, you must also consider that Ibushi has a few injuries to his name that derailed some of the hottest streaks of his career. Most importantly, there is another Japanese male wrestler that may be in a better position to become the face of NXT. All that aside (and I know that it’s a lot), the one thing you cannot deny about Ibushi is that he generates his conversations based on what happens in that ring.
This man’s matches are simply legendary, and Ibushi is much like Neville in the sense that he can work high-flyer and grounded roles with equal grace. Throw a world title on this guy, and he will give you events that get people talking.
10. Drew Galloway
Do you remember Drew Galloway’s time as Drew McIntyre? Actually, perhaps the better question is: do you only remember Drew Galloway’s time as Drew McIntyre? If so, then do yourself a favor and hunt down this man’s work over the last year in companies like TNA, PWG and EVOLVE. Once you have, you’ll likely come away with the same look of shock that most fans have on their face when they discover just how much Galloway has improved as an overall performer. By adding a few pounds to his frame and a few power moves to his repertoire, Galloway has firmly cemented himself as one of the most impressive big men (don’t forget that he’s 6-foot-7 in and pounds) in wrestling.
If WWE were to acquire his services, he could easily shoot to the top of the Raw or SmackDown roster. However, the more interesting destination may be NXT where Galloway could be second to none.
9. Jeff Cobb
If you’re not watching Lucha Underground where he wrestles under the name of Matanza Cueto, or if you don’t keep up with the PWG scene, then you are missing out on the emergence of Jeff Cobb. If that’s the case, then take a trip to YouTube and check out a few of the man’s highlight videos. In doing so, you will bear witness a powerhouse wrestler quite unlike any other working the scene today. It’s no exaggeration to say that Cobb (who goes by the nickname of “Mr. Athletic”) is a slightly smaller Brock Lesnar in that he is able to dazzle fans with his strength and speed in equal measure.
Should his contract with Lucha Underground expire as soon as some are predicting it might, NXT would be smart to snatch him up as a sort of modern-day Big Van Vader who could come in and completely destroy the competition en route to the very top.
Female wrestlers have accomplished a lot in NXT. Although there’s a strong argument to be made for the contributions of people like Trish Stratus, Lita, Gail Kim and Awesome Kong, it’s really been the women of NXT that have helped create the modern resurgence of women’s wrestling in America that we enjoy today. Yet, for all of the innovations NXT has made in the field of women’s wrestling, the one thing we have yet to see is a female wrestler really establish herself as the face of the brand. With Finn Balor, presumably, on his way out, the time seems perfect for Asuka to assume that role. Ronda Rousey proved that women can be brand leaders in traditionally male-dominated forms of sports, and Asuka is a lot like Rousey in that her tenacity and skills are capable of breaking gender borders with the power of a closed fist punch. For a time at least, Asuka may indeed serve as NXT’s face.
7. Ethan Carter III
Let’s all forget about EC3’s time in NXT as Derrick Bateman. It’s pretty easy to do, actually, considering that Bateman barely had his foot in the door in the old NXT before he was easily tossed aside as a “creative has nothing for you” casualty. Nobody really mourned his departure at the time, but EC3 made everyone that didn’t recognize his potential immediately regret it once he stepped into TNA. There, he established himself as an absolute five-tool master of professional wrestling. There is nothing that this kid can’t accomplish on the microphone or in that ring, which should make him an obvious candidate for the soon-to-be vacated position of face of NXT. Many questions surround EC3 (such as whether or not he really is going to abandon his TNA contract and if he can be successfully repackaged), but the kid’s inhuman levels of natural talent will help him become a major NXT star some day, if he ever chooses to go there.
6. Roderick Strong
The knock against Roderick Strong has always been that the man just cannot cut a promo. He’s got a good look, a unique move set built around his mastery of the backbreaker and the kind of intensity that you only get from years on the indie circuit, but his work on the microphone has always been, to put it mildly, somewhat flat. That all changed this year when Strong became the PWG World Champion. During his time in that promotion, Strong adopted a much more vicious heel persona than he has ever really displayed in the past. Combined with his already fierce enforcer-style ring work, this new attitude helped shape Strong into one of the best heels in the business. Now, it looks like Strong is on his way to NXT within the next few months. Once that happens, it may be only a matter of time before Strong positions himself as the baddest man on the roster.
If you’ve been wondering what that buzzing noise that’s been echoing throughout the wrestling world these last couple of months is all about, there’s a good chance that it has something to do with this man Ricochet. His recent match against Will Osprey caused a bit of a stir on the basis of it being one of the most insanely choreographed displays of athleticism that wrestling has ever known. While some purists balked that the match was too over-the-top, the one thing that nobody was denying is that Ricochet has all the skills you would ever need to become a major player in pro wrestling.
Best of all, Ricochet appears to be making his way to NXT at a very opportune time. Though it may take a couple of months for him to do so, it’s easy to imagine Ricochet stepping up and becoming the measuring stick for the next generation of NXT stars.
4. Bobby Roode
The argument for Bobby Roode as the face of NXT is contingent upon both whether or not Roode’s stay in NXT will be that long and if Triple H still maintains a good degree of day-to-day creative control within the brand. If indeed he does, and if Roode is planning on making more than a guest appearance in NXT, then this could very well be NXT’s next face. Roode works a style that is very, very similar to the one that Triple H uses and was inspired by, meaning that The Game wouldn’t exactly have to rack his brain to come up with ways to book Roode as an effective player within the NXT circuit.
Bobby Roode is one of the few wrestlers left on this planet who can draw old-school heat working an old-school style, which might prove to be a tempting proposition for a creative team that has built NXT as a very progressive brand.
3. Shinsuke Nakamura
With many of the other entrants on this list, you kind of have to apply a degree of imagination in picturing them as the face of NXT simply because they are not currently occupying that role (or, in some cases, are not even employed by NXT). With Shinsuke Nakamura, no imagination is necessary. Barring the possibility that Nakamura goes straight to the main roster after his likely match against Samoa Joe at TakeOver: Back to Brooklyn, it’s really starting to look like Nakamura is going to enjoy a run atop the NXT world. If you’ve seen him in the ring, then there really is no explanation needed as to why that may be the case. Nakamura is skilled, charismatic and has the kind of look that makes people tune in just to see what he’s all about. He’s everything you could want in a brand leader, and his only downside is he may not be long for the NXT world.
2. Zack Sabre Jr.
There’s nobody like Zack Sabre Jr. in professional wrestling today. Though there are many great technical wrestlers out there, we’ve never really seen anyone quite like this 28-year-old kid from England that is capable of turning the world’s greatest wrestlers into human pretzels. Sabre’s offense is almost entirely mat-based, which could be a huge detriment in an age where speed and high-flying antics are getting increasingly more popular. However, Sabre is so fascinating in the way that he completely dissects is opponents that even fans that traditionally label such a style as “boring” have to acknowledge that Sabre is, indeed, the greatest technical wrestler in the world today.
He is the heir-apparent to Daniel Bryan on that front and, while it will take some time for him to develop a television personality, there is simply no way that this young man isn’t bound to be NXT’s best at some point.
1. Adam Cole
Take a look at that man pictured above. His name is Adam Cole, and he so happens to be perhaps the most gifted all-around wrestler not currently signed to NXT or WWE. From the moment that Adam Cole formed a tremendous tag-team with Kyle O’Reilly while they were both in Ring of Honor, people have been waiting for him to get that call-up to the majors. When that didn’t happen, Cole decided to build upon his considerable skills in the ring with a cocky heel persona so refined that it could bring a tear to Ric Flair’s eye. Without saying a word, he can make an arena full of people despise him one moment and love him the next based purely on his athleticism.
Though this is always a scary comparison to make, he really is a lot like Shawn Michaels in nearly every respect. The rumors are only growing stronger that Adam Cole is going to make his way to NXT before too long. The moment that happens, he will certainly become their brightest star.
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