It’s a known fact that Triple H has been a student of the game for several years now, even as a main event star for the WWE. It seems like his investment towards his career after in-ring competition has paid off. Vince McMahon might be running the WWE as the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, but it’s only a matter of time before his son-in-law takes full control of the WWE.
The process is slowly taking place with Triple H essentially being the Vince McMahon of the NXT development system. While still considered like a farm system for WWE’s sports-entertainment product, NXT has become a very popular brand of WWE. The talent and match quality can arguably rival both the RAW and SmackDown brands.
Triple H has become the man behind the success of NXT and the new generation of WWE Superstars. That doesn’t mean that Triple H has a perfect track record. In fact, it can be quite difficult to find people who will be an absolute guarantee to succeed in WWE's world of professional wrestling. The fact that Triple H has built NXT the way it is now is impressive enough, but there have been some bumps in the road.
While this list will highlight the best eight signings for which Triple H is responsible, we also want to note some of the memorable misses he’s had. Some of the “worst signings” might have had potential when they first walked in, but have fallen flat over time.
15 Best – Hideo Itami
One would have assumed that the man formerly known as KENTA would have been higher on the list. While he is arguably one of the best strikers from his time at Pro Wrestling Noah, Hideo Itami has had a bit of a roller coaster experience since coming to NXT in 2014. It started out as him fulfilling a dream to participate in a WWE workout and resulted in a contract offer.
It looked like he was going to be a top contender for the NXT Championship and even made an appearance at WrestleMania 31 for the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. However, Itami suffered an unfortunate shoulder injury that kept him off of television for more than a year. Itami has since returned and could make an impact soon, but the NXT roster has become a lot deeper since before his 2015 injury. However, there’s nothing to stop WWE from including Itami in the new Cruiserweight Division.
14 Worst – James Storm
While he might not have been officially signed to a long-term contract with WWE, James Storm did turn a lot of heads when he made a surprise debut in NXT last October. While one can argue that Storm had been a tag team specialist with one short run as the TNA World Heavyweight Champion, he certainly had quite the presence on the microphone to warrant being brought into NXT.
Unlike his former partner in Chris Harris, Storm actually looked to be in decent shape with wins over Danny Burch and Adam Rose. However, Storm decided to go back to TNA. The main problem that makes this very brief stint one of Triple H’s worst signings is that it should have led to a longer run with the company. Honestly, they shouldn’t have brought him on television if he hadn’t signed on the dotted line. Consider him a brief "Storm," hitting NXT only enough to dampen the arena instead of blowing the roof off the building.
13 Best – Asuka
Women’s wrestling has improved over the last few years in the WWE with the additions of Charlotte, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch. Add the recent call-up of Bayley and the future is looking pretty good for the WWE women’s division. However, the brightest star in the future of women’s wrestling in WWE still remains the NXT Women’s Champion – Asuka.
Triple H received a lot of praise when he posted on social media the signing of the woman known as Kana in October 2015. Fans have enjoyed what she has brought to women’s wrestling with her very unique persona and a strong technical style that has allowed her to claim the NXT Women’s Championship. One has to believe she will be making her main roster debut at some point in the next year. By then, the NXT brand should have an influx of new talent that can step up to fill the void Asuka will leave behind.
12 Worst – Kharma
Triple H has been the head of talent for about five years now and as with any important position like that, he had some misses before striking gold. One of his earliest signings for the women's division (Divas at the time) was Kharma, known to TNA fans as Awesome Kong. The division was seeking a monster heel and Kong had done some fantastic work in TNA, so expectations were high for her WWE run.
She made her debut as Kharma and began attacking divas, without saying much, leaving many to question whether she'd be a heel, face or tweener. Eventually Kharma announced that she'd be taking a sabbatical because she was pregnant. She was built up for weeks, but never even wrestled a match. She would eventually make a one-time appearance for the 2012 Royal Rumble match. She parted ways later that year with WWE, saying she was not ready to return in the time WWE allotted for her.
Triple H can't really be faulted for this, but any time you sign someone and they only wrestle one match for you, it's a failed signing.
11 Best – Sami Zayn
Triple H’s decision for the WWE to bring in someone known as El Generico of Ring of Honor not only benefited the company, but also the man who would be re-branded as Sami Zayn. Since being signed by the WWE in early 2013, he had been transformed as an unmasked Underdog from the Underground. We’ve seen a different persona for the former Canadian luchador with ska music for his entrance theme.
For three years in NXT, Zayn had been a part of several five-star matches that led to what was supposed to be his main roster debut against John Cena for the United States Championship in May 2015. Unfortunately, a shoulder injury put a damper on that and led to him making a brief stop in NXT before returning at the Royal Rumble earlier this year. Zayn could be higher on the list, but there’s also a lot of competition with a new era of WWE.
10 Worst – Apollo Crews
Here is another star from the independent wrestling scene who has a lot of the tools one would want from a hybrid athlete. Formerly known as Uhaa Nation, he was signed to join NXT in April 2015 as part of a class of various athletes from different backgrounds throughout the globe. Many fans were excited to see what the Uhaa Nation would do under the new moniker of Apollo Crews.
Right away, he showed that he could move like a cruiserweight while having the strength and look of a powerhouse. The in-ring abilities are there, but there is concern with his microphone skills, even though the WWE felt it was right to call him to the main roster after a year in NXT. Until he becomes better-rounded with speaking abilities, Crews is doomed to be on the worst side of this list. Crews finds himself in the same boat as Neville as someone with a lot of talent, but still a lot of room to grow in the WWE.
9 Best – Samoa Joe
One name that many wrestling fans dreamed they would see come to the WWE was Samoa Joe. The Samoan Submission Machine had a long career of success with various promotions like TNA, Ring of Honor and in other parts of the world. He made quite the surprise last year when he made an appearance and his WWE T-shirt sales were a big reason why both Triple H and Vince McMahon wanted to sign him on a full-time basis.
Joe is a great talent that is able to move around for someone in a way that is unexpected, given his 282-pound frame. He’s had some great matches so far with the likes of Finn Balor and Shinsuke Nakamura for the NXT Championship. Because he is nearing the age of 40, one would assume he is going to get the call to the main roster and likely move up the ranks similar to other recent additions like Kevin Owens and AJ Styles.
8 Worst – Solomon Crowe
This isn’t to say that Sami Callihan is a bad wrestler. However, this is more of a case that he didn’t really fit the style of superstar the WWE wanted to develop in their NXT system. He was known for being an ultra-violent star of Combat Zone Wrestling and wrestled for various independent promotions before coming to NXT in 2012. While having appeared at various dark matches, there was a glimpse of him as a dark hacker who attacked Kalisto, while seemingly controlling the lights with a tablet in 2013.
The character wouldn’t make his NXT television debut until February 2015. After a few months, he was missing from television again until he requested his release from NXT in November of that year. Since then, he looks to have found his niche as a “space cat.” Considering the amount of time not seen on NXT television, the Solomon Crowe experiment was another flop for Triple H’s projects.
7 Best – Shinsuke Nakamura
The King of Strong Style is one of Triple H's more recent signings and it has paid off quickly for NXT fans. After more than a decade as one of the biggest stars in New Japan Pro Wrestling, Shinsuke Nakamura announced that he was going to sign with WWE and come to NXT for their TakeOver event during WrestleMania weekend this past April. The match with Sami Zayn was a five-star quality match.
WWE fans embraced the unique charisma that Nakamura brings and it has led to him becoming the new face of NXT. This year, he has defeated the likes of Austin Aries and Finn Balor before defeating Samoa Joe for the NXT Championship. Despite how popular he is within the WWE Universe, it might be awhile before we see Nakamura make the move to the main roster. However, his eventual debut on WWE television will likely have one of the biggest pops in recent history.
6 Worst – Nia Jax
The one thing that has been missing from the WWE women’s division is a monster heel. Similar to what guys like Big Show and Kane have meant to the male side of the WWE roster, Nia Jax seems to fit the role on paper. However, she doesn’t seem to really fit well into that role when she is on television. Since her debut to the WWE main roster, she often looks more confused and scared than intimidating.
Jax also hasn’t had the highest quality matches with a few botches here and there. That doesn’t mean that she is a flop, but she might have been called up to the main roster a little too soon. Compared to how some of her peers have evolved in NXT and made the move to the main roster as part of the Women's Revolution, Jax falls short of those standards. For those reasons, her signing is a negative mark on Triple H’s record, at least for now.
5 Best – Kevin Owens
It’s almost surprising to see how fast Kevin Owens' rise has been to the WWE Universal Championship. It was in August 2014 when the WWE announced that they were signing the man known as Kevin Steen to the NXT developmental roster. That was big news because many fans viewed Owens as someone who didn’t happen to have the look of a typical WWE Superstar, but never judge a book by his cover because Owens has always been one of the most skilled wrestlers who can speak well on the microphone.
His rise included winning the NXT Championship only a few months after his debut. He then made the move to the main roster about five months after that and would win his WWE debut against John Cena. Since then, he’s won the Intercontinental Championship and now the WWE Universal Championship. Triple H helping him makes sense because of how Triple H has been supportive of Owens since the day he signed him.
4 Worst – Baron Corbin
Before joining the WWE, Thomas Pestock spent time in practice squads for the Indianapolis Colts and the Arizona Cardinals of the National Football League. However, he wasn’t able to find a stable roster spot and would sign with WWE to be on the NXT roster in August 2012. While the current Baron Corbin character was booked as an unstoppable force on WWE television in recent months, the 6-foot-6 titan actually was used as an enhancement talent for a few years before being repackaged.
Since 2014, Corbin has been booked strongly. It looked as if he still had some work to do in terms of his physical abilities, but the WWE felt that he was ready for the main roster with a sudden appearance at WrestleMania 32 this year. No vignettes were aired and there was no announcement about his call-up. However, he won the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. Corbin looks like he could use more time in developmental, which isn’t a good sign considering he was there for about four years.
3 Best – Finn Balor
It is a shame that Finn Balor suffered a shoulder injury during the main event of SummerSlam against Seth Rollins. However, there’s a lot to be said about how the WWE views Balor by originally planning a lengthy run as the first ever WWE Universal Champion. Before coming to the WWE, he was one of the biggest star in New Japan Pro Wrestling and was the man in charge of the Bullet Club before signing with NXT in 2014.
Within his first two years in NXT, he would become the NXT Champion and hold the title for nearly 300 days. One of the biggest reasons that Balor is one of Triple H’s best signings is the fact that he is able to bring something special to the WWE Universe – a second personality in The Demon King. Balor will hopefully return in time for the 2017 Royal Rumble to get back to the main event spotlight the WWE wanted to shine on him.
2 Worst – Sin Cara (Mistico)
One of Triple H’s earliest pet projects as head of the WWE’s talent division is one that he likely wants to forget ever happened. No one could really blame him at the time as the WWE made the move to sign Mexican lucha libre star Mistico to a WWE contract. He showed a lot of talent during his time before WWE and the company wanted to bring in a brand new Mexican wrestling star to eventually receive the torch from the aging Rey Mysterio.
However, Sin Cara was not able to adapt to the WWE style of wrestling. Fans would point out the numerous mistakes made during his matches and he was often injured, which led the WWE to have to bring in Hunico to take over the Sin Cara mantle. The WWE had put a lot of marketing effort with Sin Cara merchandise, so they were going to try to make it work, even if the original was released as a bust in WWE. If the WWE ever needed an equivalent to former NFL quarterback Ryan Leaf, it would be the original Sin Cara.
1 Best – AJ Styles
There has been a large number of wrestling fans who have dreamed about seeing AJ Styles come to WWE for the better half of 10 years. However, many thought he would never make the leap from TNA Wrestling, and the world was shocked when Styles made his WWE debut as an early entrant in the 2016 Royal Rumble. Better yet, the WWE has been committed to making the international superstar a top main event talent on the SmackDown brand.
There was plenty of interest in the former TNA World Heavyweight Champion in late 2015 and he had his choice of contract offers. Styles was quoted saying that Triple H got the deal done for him to come to WWE. This signing also receives some bonus points because it also led to Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson being signed as well to help the WWE’s tag team division. As of now, it looks like Styles could soon be crowned a world champion by the biggest wrestling company in the world.