Posts tagged Roderick Strong
The 2019 WWE Top 25: "Preseason" Edition

Hello out there. Welcome to what’s hoping to be a staple of The Barber’s Chair Network’s wrestling coverage for the entirety of 2019. I give to you a new premise, aptly titled the WWE Top 25.

Out of the gate, you might have some questions. The good news is, I have answers for you. So, let me get this started here.

What is the WWE Top 25?

Great question! The WWE Top 25 is going to be a list, published right here to The Barber’s Chair Network, of the top performers in WWE, month-by-month. At the conclusion of each month, I will publish the list. This will continue on and progress all the way through. You might see superstars rise, you might see superstars fall. You might see them completely fall out of the rankings. Think of it like the college football and basketball polls. Only it will just be one person “voting.”

How are the rankings determined?

These rankings are going to be determined on match quality. That’s it, that’s all. I will be watching matches on WWE’s weekly TV programs and WWE Network events, grading the matches (0 stars-5 stars) and calculating their scores thereafter. Superstars eligible for these rankings will have to have competed on Raw, SmackDown Live, NXT, 205 Live AND NXT UK. If any NXT brands are created within the next 12 months, those superstars will become eligible to be used as well.

What is the grading system and how is it calculated?

This grading system will be calculated very simplistically and easily. I will be weighting certain thresholds differently than others. Here is how it’s going to go:

  • If a superstar’s match is graded 0-*3/4, they will be given 0.25 points.

  • If a superstar’s match is graded **-**3/4, they will be given 0.5 points.

  • If a superstar’s match is graded ***-****1/4, then they will be given between 3-4.25 points, depending on the star rating they receive. This allows for those who have good-great matches to receive their due while not completely overweighting their performances.

  • If a superstar’s match is graded ****1/2, then they will be given 9 points. The 4.5-star rating will be multiplied by 2.0 to weight for quality.

  • If a superstar’s match is graded ****3/4, then they will be given 11.875 points. The 4.75-star rating will be multiplied by 2.5 to weight for quality.

  • Finally, if a superstar’s match is graded the FULL FIVE *****, then they will be given 15 points. The 5-star rating will be multiplied by 3.0 to weight for quality.

Also, it probably goes without saying, but those who are part-timers will likely fall short of being high to very high on these rankings lists, month-to-month and by the end of the year. The more matches you wrestle, the higher your score will be. But, you also will have to show out as well in order to get up way high.

So, I hope that explains everything. I used this formula for individual performances at TakeOver and it came away with pretty good results. It’s all obviously in the eye of the beholder. I don’t consider myself an ace star rater or anything of that but I figure this could be a fun project.

Are you really going to be watching EVERYTHING?

I sure as hell hope so!


So, anyways, it’s time for me to produce my “Preseason” Top 25. This is the only edition of the rankings that will be completely rooted in superficial BS. These rankings are based on how I think 2019 will look by the the time December 31, 2019 comes around. So, anyways, with that said, let’s roll with the WWE Top 25, Preseason Edition.

25. Bayley

Okay, if you follow me… did you really expect anything else here? But on a serious note, I think Bayley does have a standout 2019. The fact that Women’s Tag Team Championships are on the way greatly help her and her tag team partner (whom you’ll see shortly) in a big way. The one thing I will say, and this pertains to the entire Raw women’s division, is that opportunities are going to be interesting to sort out… for several reasons. Most of which will be explained later. But do I think The Hugger will be back to form? You bet.

24. Velveteen Dream

Velveteen Dream is probably going to have another great year. 2018 was a breakout year for the youngster and he just had his best singles match ever against Tommaso Ciampa at TakeOver: WarGames 2018. Velveteen has no doubt shined in the big spots and how many TV matches he gets will go a long way towards determining where Dream is going to be. That type of stuff can be variable if you’re not the champ and not on Undisputed Era, so I have him 23rd to start. But I can see a Top 15 finish for sure.

23. Shayna Baszler

Shayna is one of NXT’s best big match performers. As the brand’s Women’s Champion, she’s no doubt going to get plenty of big matches to perform in naturally. She’s shown a great ability to work with just about anybody, and her series with Kairi Sane was legit great. I don’t think working with the new crop that NXT has is going to hurt her at all, whatsoever. And a probable call up for the rumored 4HW vs. 4HW feud wouldn’t either.

22. Sasha Banks

‘The Boss’ finds herself 22nd on my ‘preseason’ Top 25. Banks had a great start to 2018 and I’d definitely argue that if her rivalry with Bayley actually came to fruition she’d have been even higher on anybody’s Wrestler of the Year lists. Banks can have great matches with anybody and that much is absolutely certain. If big opportunities come her way, you just know she’s going to take the spotlight and make it her own. Like Bayley, Banks should see a resurgence in 2019. So long as a couple of factors go her way.

21. Pete Dunne

The UK Champion finds himself 21st on my rankings list. Dunne is likely going to be in NXT UK for good now since he wrapped up all his indie dates just a short while ago. So his opportunities will be increased big time. But the question is… how many are there going to be? They’re running a TakeOver soon and I figure there’ll be more on the way, but just how many? Will he have opportunities over in the States on the regular NXT brand? Dunne is a great talent no doubt and could go way high on this list. But we’ll see how everything plays itself out.

20. Drew McIntyre

Drew Mac has a legitimate shot at being one of the biggest faces on the Raw brand. I thought he had a good not great year this past year that was obviously hurt by the fact that he was… well, hurt at the start of it. He’s not yet had that standout match but had some good matches with Seth Rollins, Kurt Angle and a few others. If he gets that shot as being the top heel then we’ll probably see a huge year. That is yet to be seen, though.

19. Ronda Rousey

Ronda Rousey has no doubt shined this year. She’s arguably one of the top performers in the company and the entire industry. She’s yet to have a bad match. So why in the world is she 19th? A couple of reasons here. For one, Ronda doesn’t ALWAYS wrestle on TV. She’s had maybe one or two singles matches so far on Raw, and has otherwise competed in tag matches. So the lack of opportunities will probably hurt her in the end. And secondly… the great unknown. Everyone KNOWS that she’s going to be here through WrestleMania. But what about after that? Is she going to stick it out for the whole year? She’s made comments that might have you believe she might not be TOO long for this. So just how long is she going to be around here? No one REALLY knows. So despite the fact that she’s a great worker, I’m putting her 19th and letting things happen from there.

18. Ricochet

NXT’s North American Champion had an AWESOME first eight months in the brand. He showed out in the NA Title Match and performed at a super high level against Velveteen Dream and Adam Cole. He also didn’t miss against Pete Dunne on TV and in the 3-way against Dunne and Cole either. As with Dream, the TV match # is important to watch here, but he’s a huge star and attraction for the brand so he could wind up finishing way higher than 18th.

17. Mustafa Ali

Opportunities aren’t going to be hard to come by for one of 205 Live’s greatest success stories anymore. Mustafa Ali is off the 205 Live island and is officially on SmackDown Live, and he’s already being thrust in with some of the brand’s biggest performers. Ali is a prime candidate to have a US Championship run and could have some banger TV matches as a result. Expect another big year for Ali.

16. Matt Riddle

This is easily my most ambitious pick. But I think I’ll be repaid for it in the end. Matt Riddle is a wrestling prodigy and going to NXT was huge for him and the brand. He’s wrestled all over the world and had absolute bangers just about everywhere. So do I foresee that happening in NXT? Absolutely. Riddle being on numerous TakeOver cards should be the expectation and he’ll likely have PLENTY of TV matches going forward. With the kind of performer he is, I wouldn’t even be shocked if he somehow got into the Top 10 by year’s end, bro.

15. Finn Balor

Finn Balor might be one of WWE’s most consistent performers. He was pretty easily in the Top 10-15 performers for WWE this year and was one of their best TV match workers. Balor could have big things on his way if he gets more opportunities and due to his current positioning on Monday Night Raw, that’s a strong possibility. While some fans crave a lot more for Finn, I think they may very well get their wish. I think he’s going to have another great year.

14. The Miz

Like the aforementioned Finn Balor, Miz always shows out in TV matches which is going to help his cause and then some. He’s also showcased himself greatly on PPVs and is easily one of the most consistent workers in the company. Which is a crazy thought, ain’t it? Miz should definitely find himself very high on this list by year’s end and will likely get off to a great start in the first month of the year.

13. Kyle O’Reilly

Like his fellow Undisputed Era mates, Kyle O’Reilly is one of the best in the world. O’Reilly produced NOTHING but hits last year tagging alongside Roderick Strong as the best tag team on the entire planet. O’Reilly doesn’t always get singles match opportunities which may ‘hurt’ his chances of climbing up but you definitely could’ve made a strong case for him to be Top 10 in WWE last year. KOR should continue that momentum in 2019 and, of course, keep shredding, Kyle. Keep shredding.

12. Andrade “Cien” Almas

Andrade had a huge start to 2018, partaking in two of the matches of the year against Johnny Gargano and Aleister Black. And… then he got called up to WWE and… well… the opportunities thinned themselves out. It’s unfortunate, because it’s obvious that Almas is one of the greatest wrestlers on planet Earth. But such is life. I think that changes course however in 2019 and we get a huge year out of Almas, who has a shot to be as good as Top 5 if they let him.

11. Charlotte Flair

There is no better big match performer than Charlotte Flair. Despite a few hiccups in the middle of the year, she showed OUT. Flair had a great match against Asuka at WrestleMania. Then, she turned around and had an incredible series with Becky Lynch that elevated the two of them. She closed out with a monster showing in the TLC match at TLC for the SmackDown Live Women’s Championship. She’s ALWAYS going to get opportunities on TV and at PPVs, so she’s going to be one of the top performers this year. That’s a safe bet.

10. Adam Cole

Perhaps nobody broke out as much as Adam Cole did in 2018. He was thought to be the weakest of the talents in Undisputed Era in the ring. All he did was have great matches at every single TakeOver and had some tremendous showings on TV, as well. Cole and the rest of UE are going to get numerous NXT TV matches so it’s a safe bet that Cole is going to shine and shine brightly.

9. Tommaso Ciampa

The current NXT Champion shined very brightly this year. Ciampa was injured and off TV for much of the start of the year but had great showings against Johnny Gargano, Aleister Black and, recently, Velveteen Dream. Because he should continue to be a huge mainstay at the top, predicting big things for Ciampa is a very safe bet. He starts 9th, but Top 5 isn’t out of the question.

8. Asuka

Given that she’s Women’s Champion now and might have the avenue to herself if Charlotte and Becky move to Raw, Asuka has a chance to be the ace of the SDL women’s division. As a result, you find her here at this spot. The Empress is going to get her due now and has always been a high-level talent. I would suspect that she’s duking it out for the crown of best women’s wrestler in the company by year’s end.

7. Johnny Gargano

What’s the only thing stopping Johnny Gargano from being near the top again? Probably just himself or bad writing. Granted, the latter happened at the end of 2018 and really nuked his chance of being Top 5 or even Top 1. But his TakeOver resume is undoubtedly amazing and he’s a safe bet to have incredible matches any time he’s on TV. It all really depends on how everything is portrayed and how everything is pieced together. If it all goes well, Johnny Wrestling will once again be one of the best wrestlers under the WWE umbrella.

6. Becky Lynch

Do I foresee big things for The Man? I mean, do I want to say no? Have you seen what she does to people who dare cross her? Becky had a phenomenal run in the back half of 2018, but her early stuff definitely would’ve limited her if I did a rankings list like this for 2018 since she was barely on television for the first four months of the year. But that’s not going to be the case in 2019. Becky is the biggest star in the company and whether it’s on SmackDown or Raw, she’s GOING to get her shots. She hasn’t missed lately and with banger possibilities coming up against Ronda Rousey and maybe some of her old friends on Raw coming up, Becky will be right back up here soon enough.

5. AJ Styles

The face of SmackDown Live has been nothing if not consistent since he got to WWE. Styles may have had his moments in 2018, but he’s still without a doubt an elite in-ring worker. With fresh faces on SmackDown for him to possibly work with (I don’t foresee him going to Monday Night Raw in a Superstar Shakeup, but it’s certainly not an unreasonable thought) he could have a chance to piece together yet another great year. The only thing that might stop him? Styles is 41 going on 42 and he might wind up working a little bit of a lighter schedule, therefore limiting his chances of getting enough points to be up this high.

4. Roderick Strong

Roddy Strong had a phenomenal 2018, so is he destined to do the same in 2019? I’d argue yes. He’s the best in-ring worker in Undisputed Era (although he is definitely closely followed by at least two of his comrades). He’s also one half of what I believe to be the greatest tag team in the entire wrestling world right now alongside his UE buddy, Kyle O’Reilly. Also, I think rather highly of him as a singles wrestler and he cashed in on all of his chances in 2018. 2019 should see him get even larger amounts of success, so I think Strong has a great chance of being near the top again.

3. Seth Rollins

Rollins was a very popular pick for Wrestler of the Year in 2018 and it’s easy to see why. He went beast mode at the start of the year and was incredibly consistent in the spring and summer. The last few months have soured people a little bit with some dull and repetitive matches with Dolph Ziggler and Dean Ambrose. But, with that said, it’s still probable that he has an outstanding 2019. He’ll get his chances on TV and at PPVs, and Seth should be able to cash in.

2. Buddy Murphy

Are you a little surprised? Maybe you shouldn’t be. Buddy Murphy pieced together an absolutely incredible 2018 and it’s arguable that he was the greatest story of 2018. Forgotten in NXT, Murphy took a huge leap in becoming one of the biggest stars on the 205 Live brand. The current Cruiserweight Champion had standout matches with just about everyone (Kalisto, Mustafa Ali, Cedric Alexander, etc.) I am putting him very high on this list because of two reasons: One, he’s very young and while it might be hard to replicate a year like his 2018, he’ll no doubt have his chances. And secondly, I foresee him getting off the 205 Live island at some point by the time he eventually drops his championship. So an abundance of chances against top-level workers could come his way.

1. Daniel Bryan

After a three-year absence from the ring, Daniel Bryan returned with a vengeance in 2018. Bryan may have been ‘sterile’ in some eyes but he was producing at a high level. As time wore on, Bryan found his comfort zone and it really started at SummerSlam. By November, Bryan looked like the old Daniel Bryan or, hell, the old American Dragon. His matches with AJ Styles and Brock Lesnar were at a ridiculously high caliber. It is the opinion of this writer and probably many more that by the time 2020 is about to come around, Daniel Bryan will once again be known as the best wrestler in the company and arguably the best wrestler in the world. If he already isn’t right now.

The 10 greatest NXT superstars of all-time

In six years, NXT exploded from a shitty competition-style show to fill the left-over hour of the dearly departed ECW brand, into a global phenomenon. Triple H's vision has essentially turned WWE's minor league into a quasi-indie promotion, featuring the biggest up-and-comers to have not yet grace a WWE ring.

From Seth Rollins and Big E, to Adrian Neville and Sami Zayn, to Bayley and Finn Balor, to Asuka and Johnny Gargano, NXT has thrilled audiences with its fresh style of wrestling and storytelling, a stark contrast to the five hours of weekly WWE programming. Its performers over the years have changed, but the hype remains the same, if not larger than ever before.

There are so many superstars over the years who have made an impact in NXT that the debate began: if we were to rank the 10 greatest superstars in NXT history, who would (and wouldn't) make the cut? So we here at the Barber's Chair decided to put our heads together and rank them, 1-10. The list is VERY controversial, especially our top 3; SO controversial that the superstar with the best average ISN'T number one on this list! For a deeper look into our rankings, you can check out the accompanying podcast where we discuss why each superstar fell where they did on our list.

Before we go into our top 10, let's name our best of the rest.

WWE

WWE

The Shield

Sierra. Hotel. India. Echo. Lima. Delta.

The Shield arrived on the scene in WWE at Survivor Series 2012, but they did have a spell together in NXT towards the end of Seth Rollins' NXT title run. Of the three, Rollins was the standout out on NXT, but Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose held their own. They were the first superstars to defect from NXT to the main roster and have an immediate impact, thus why they made our Best of the Rest.

WWE

WWE

Velveteen Dream

The most eccentric superstar in NXT history very well might crack our top 10 when we revisit this list a year from now. Patrick Clark took the Dream from a poor Prince imitation and molded it into his own character, raising his charisma to 10 and his in-ring skills to another level. The Dream is the next big thing in the company, IF they do right by him.

WWE

WWE

Dash and Dawson

The greatest tag team in NXT history, the Revival were the throwback to old school tag team wrestling, and their dominance helped establish the NXT Tag Team division in 2016. Their series of matches with DIY and the Authors of Pain have gone down among the greatest tag team matches in modern wrestling history, so it's only right they cracked the best of the rest.

WWE

WWE

Aleister Black

No man is ever truly good. No man is ever truly evil. From the second Aleister Black's music hit in NXT, he became a superstar. The Black Mask is one of the most lethal, protected finishers in the brand's history, and his mystique is captivating. His run with the NXT Championship was incredibly lackluster, but it hasn't hurt his standing among the best the brand has ever seen.

WWE

WWE

Adrian Neville

Neville was the first major superstar for NXT after the inception of the WWE Network. He helped carry the brand through the infant stages of the Network when NXT was the only weekly show around on there. His bouts with Tyson Kidd, Tyler Breeze and Sami Zayn helped to elevate NXT before their real takeoff; that says something about a guy Neville's stature to be that over and make such a stand in history.

WWE

WWE

Undisputed Era

One year ago in Brooklyn, Adam Cole, Bobby Fish and Kyle O'Reilly shocked the system when they debuted in NXT. A dominant faction of indie darlings would never work off the bat in WWE, but in NXT the Undisputed Era are a game-changer. The addition of Roderick Strong in a HOT heel turn in New Orleans gave the group a new element. Thanks to Fish's injury they have yet to hold every single title in NXT, but it's only a matter of time until they do.


10. Shinsuke Nakamura

T.C. Fontaine: The first quarter of 2016 saw many top names from New Japan Pro Wrestling make their way over to the WWE; but perhaps none bigger than Shinsuke Nakamura. Without a doubt Nakamura is the biggest Japanese-born star to compete in WWE, and his signing to NXT garnered appropriate attention, complete with a press conference in Tokyo. “The King of Strong Style” would make his highly anticipated WWE debut during Wrestlemania weekend at NXT TakeOver: Dallas, defeating Sami Zayn in a critically-acclaimed bout.

Nakamura quickly shot up the NXT ranks, triumphing over Finn Bálor, which solidified himself in the title picture. His year-long NXT run was notable for his feud with Samoa Joe, which saw Nak defeat Joe for top NXT crown at TakeOver: Brooklyn II. He and Joe would trade the NXT Championship throughout the second half of 2016, culminating with Nak winning the strap a second time in his home country, and retaining in a classic cage match in Australia.

Although it was a brief run in developmental, Nakamura definitely made a name for himself as one of the best in NXT’s history.


9. Samoa Joe

Chris Novak: On May 20, 2015, NXT produced TakeOver: Unstoppable. It’s an event best remembered for a clash between Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch, but many fans will also recall how the show concluded. As reigning NXT Champion Kevin Owens stood tall after defeating Sami Zayn and Finn Balor, the fans in Full Sail witnessed an historic arrival. After spending over 10 years with TNA and Ring of Honor, NXT was graced by the presence of The Samoan Submission Machine.

When Samoa Joe walked out that night in Full Sail and confronted Owens in the ring, it produced quite a moment. It was perhaps the first of the “Oh Shit!” kind for NXT, a brand that was just 15 months into the Network Era. Those past 15 months solidified it as a rising brand, and one that was producing better results than the main roster. But adding Samoa Joe? This was the kind of moment that turned heads. This meant that NXT wasn’t only a developmental brand, but something that was about to take it around the US and the world, as well.

Throughout the duration of Joe’s career in NXT, that’s exactly what they did. It helped that they had the likes of Finn Balor, Bayley and later Shinsuke Nakamura and Asuka, but Joe was a household name. The kind of impact that he provided NXT at the gate was a powerful and evident one. It’s probably why he was around there for so long. An impactful presence away from the ring will absolutely land you Top 10 consideration, so it’s no surprise that he was on this list.

Not only that, but Joe’s in-ring accomplishments were great in NXT history. He was the first ever two-time NXT Champion; he won the first-ever Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic with Finn Balor; he defeated Balor, alongside a host of big names in NXT’s history. While his workrate wasn’t nearly what it was 10 years ago or even a few years before his arrival to the brand, he was still more than competent.

And plus, his mic skills still remain aces.


8. Tommaso Ciampa

Markus Howell: *Fuck you Ciampa* *clap clap clapclapclap*

Tommaso Ciampa deserves his spot in the top 10 greatest NXT superstars of all time based off everything after his knee injury alone. The run he’s had since his return in January is impeccable. His social media work? Flawless. In-ring work? Vastly underrated. Heel tactics? Legendary. Ciampa’s story is largely attached to Johnny Wrestling but what great evil doesn’t have a great good guy to attempt to foil? Ciampa is currently the NXT champion (something his counterpart cannot currently say) which puts his run right now on another level.

Now, his DIY work with Gargano also attributed to his status as one of NXT’s greats, but the singles work he has put in on his own has catapulted him over some others who deserve it. Ciampa’s subtleties are what make him such a great heel and an even better character. I mean hell, NO THEME SONG?! Incredible.

But seriously, Ciampa deserves this spot as one of the greats due to his overall body of work. All I can hope for is that when Ciampa is gone and his feud with Johnny is over, he debuts on the main roster with no theme music. Like….never get a theme song. Ever.


7. Kevin Owens

WWE

WWE

Markus: From the moment Kevin Owens stepped onto the NXT scene at NXT TakeOver: R Evolution, he made it known that he was in NXT for business and business only.

Owens’ NXT career was arguably one of the best we have ever seen. He debuted in a vicious and vile way, defeating CJ Parker in his first match before attacking his best friend and new NXT Champion Sami Zayn later that night, letting the audience know what he was here for . “Prizefighter” Kevin Owens, the most dangerous of Owens’ personalities, came into Full Sail to do what he needed to do in order to provide for his family.

Throughout his tenure in NXT, KO put on countless quality matches with Sami, Samoa Joe, and Finn Balor, helping to elevate NXT to a new level with his ruthlessness. However his legend on the roster will be known for what he did on the main roster as NXT champion.

KO made his main roster debut unannounced as the NXT champion, answering John Cena's U.S. Open Challenge. This set up a match at Elimination Chamber weeks later, which Owens won cleanly. This firmly put Owens in the “Oh Shit, we should pay attention to this guy” category along with bringing an audience to NXT that they did not have before.

Owens’ impact on the main roster is largely underrated but rightfully overshadowed, but what he achieved in his brief tenure is not to be dismissed. KO is arguably the first or second-most successful NXT alum and looking back at his NXT run, you shouldn’t be surprised.


6. Sami Zayn

Robert O'Neill: After years of making his name in Ring of Honor as El Generico, Sami Zayn’s arrival in NXT in 2013 marked a huge step for the promotion. After The Shield got promoted to the main roster, the brand was starting to look a little barren of talent. That all changed when Zayn signed in January and made his debut a few weeks later, with a bang. Zayn defeated Curt Hawkins and Antonio Cesaro on the same night to announce to the world that he was there.

The rest of 2013 would see Zayn work against Cesaro, whom he had a ton of familiarity with from his ROH days, before entering a title feud with Bo Dallas. He ultimately lost the feud, though, and would go on to lose a few more feuds over the course of the early part of 2014, but he won a feud against Tyson Kidd and started teaming up with NXT Champion Adrian Neville in tag bouts. That is, until Neville cost Zayn the title at NXT Takeover: Fatal 4-Way.

From that point on, Zayn was desperate for another title shot. So desperate that he put his career on the line against Neville’s title at NXT Takeover: R Evolution. Zayn proved victorious and captured the elusive gold, but, as you probably know, his joy was very short-lived. His recently signed longtime friend/foe Kevin Owens came down to the ring to celebrate with Zayn before turning on him and throwing him into the ring apron.

To be entirely honest with you, the Owens/Zayn feud was almost a rough draft of the ongoing Johnny Gargano/Tomasso Ciampa feud. Owens and Zayn were best friends turned into bitter enemies, and Owens was able to get the title off Zayn after just two months, winning by referee stoppage at NXT Takeover: Rival.

While Zayn remained in the NXT title hunt preparing for his rematch against Owens, he answered John Cena’s United States Open Challenge on Raw in his native Montreal, being introduced by Bret Hart. Zayn lost to Cena, but put on a great match. However… he suffered a an injury in the match and was written off TV at NXT Takeover: Unstoppable when Owens beat him down to the point where he couldn’t partake in the match.

Seven months later, Zayn returned, but things were different. He no longer found himself in the title picture and looked poised to go to the main roster soon. He partook in the 2016 Royal Rumble, eliminating Kevin Owens, and then returned to Raw in March to team up with Neville to face Owens and Miz. However, Zayn had one more match ahead of him in NXT.

Wrestlemania weekend was set to commence from Dallas, and while it was a weekend loaded with high-caliber matches, Sami Zayn versus a debuting Shinsuke Nakamura stole the show. Nakamura got the win in Zayn’s send off, but it was a perfect way to send off a guy who was the ultimate underdog for so long.


WWE

WWE

5. Asuka

Lincoln Ricketts: The undefeated empress of NXT belongs on this list without any hesitation.

While walking in the shadows of the "Four Horsewomen", Asuka had to endure a slow influx of talent, yet she prevailed nonetheless. From her entrance to her wrestling skills, Asuka maintained an aura that attracted fans to watch her matches regardless of her opponents.

Asuka’s reign will be remembered as Goldberg-esque, dominating her opponents with ease. Luckily she gained a few adversaries who matched her talents in the ring, most memorably Ember Moon who gave Asuka the best match of her career thus far. After a Triple Threat Match for the Women’s Championship with Ruby Riot, Nikki Cross gave Asuka an exceptional Last Woman Standing match, with both women pushing it to the absolute limit.

In the end, no one was ready for Asuka, as she relinquished her title before leaving for the main roster.


WWE

WWE

4. Sasha Banks

Lynx: Sasha Banks is one of the best heels that NXT ever created. Banks was the BOSS that let everyone know who she was, from wrestlers to the viewers. Banks came up with a character for herself and it worked out extremely well; she wound up becoming NXT Women's Champion and was part of the best women’s match in NXT history with Bayley.

It’s amazing that NXT planned to use her in order to make other Superstars look good. I mean think about it; almost every wrestler who has been in the ring with Sasha Banks has had their best match with her. Banks’ feud with Becky Lynch shows her character and her worth in the ring. Before TakeOver: Brooklyn, Banks vs. Lynch was must-see TV. Banks sacrifices herself to ensure that the match gets to that next level.

Sasha (as well as the other Four Horsewomen) changed our mindset on how women wrestle. She pushed forward and broke through the glass ceiling to become one of the best NXT wrestlers of all-time. Banks popularity transferred to the main roster, as she is one of the most popular stars in WWE today.


WWE

WWE

3. Johnny Gargano

Rob: What is there to say about Johnny Gargano at this point? He’s one of the best tag team wrestlers AND best singles wrestlers in NXT history, and that’s why he was #1 on my ballot despite finishing third in the overall rankings.

Gargano and Ciampa really burst onto the tag team scene in late 2016 after they won the titles against The Revival at NXT Takeover: Toronto. They dropped them shortly later to Authors of Pain, then fell short again in the rematch vs. AOP and Revival at NXT Takeover: Orlando, but the duo never stopped fighting to get the gold back. Well, until they did.

NXT Takeover: Chicago saw DIY face AOP in a ladder match. Though coming very close, Gargano and Ciampa lost the match in the end. That’s when everything changed. As the show was set to go off the air, Ciampa snapped and savagely beat Gargano on the stage.

Nothing would ever be the same.

Ciampa left to deal with injuries, but it was always in the back of everyone’s mind that he would be back and Gargano would eventually be waiting for him. In the meantime, Gargano faced off with Andrade “Cien” Almas in Brooklyn, and lost when Zelina Vega threw a DIY shirt at Gargano. He persisted, though, becoming the #1 contender for Almas’ title at NXT Takeover: Philadelphia and delivering WWE’s first five-star match since 2011, but Gargano fell short yet again. To make things worse, Ciampa attacked him with a crutch after the match.

Then, on NXT TV in February, Gargano put his career on the line against Almas’ title. With the referee knocked out, Ciampa came out and assisted Almas for the victory. Gargano convinced William Regal to give him an unsanctioned match against Ciampa in New Orleans to try to get his job back. What followed was a brutal contest with all sorts of weaponry, and this time Gargano got the win to get his job back.

They weren’t done yet, though. After Gargano was awarded a championship match against Aleister Black on NXT TV, Ciampa took him out on the entrance ramp. This led to another match, this time a Chicago Street Fight in Rosemont. What followed was one of the most punishing wrestling matches of all time, featuring an incredible table spot, and a DDT onto the exposed wood underneath the ring. Ciampa got the win this time, but still the feud rages on.

This weekend in Brooklyn, Gargano and Ciampa (now the NXT Champion thanks to Gargano’s interference in Ciampa’s match with Black leading to Ciampa’s victory) will face off in a Last Man Standing match of the NXT Championship. It will likely be the final match in the feud, and there’s no better way to cap off this 15-month war.

Gargano’s ability to play the ultimate white meat babyface to Ciampa’s blackhearted heel, combined with his in-ring excellence is what has made him #1 on my list of all-time NXT superstars.


2. Finn Balor

WWE

WWE

TC: In the spring of 2014, Finn Bálor was the first of several major post-Network era WWE migrations from New Japan Pro Wrestling. After a short stint tag-teaming with Hideo Itami upon his debut, he soon set his sights on the NXT Championship. The Demon King’s victory over Kevin Owens at the Beast in the East special saw him become the first superstar to win the NXT title outside of Full Sail arena (also the first and only title change that has occurred outside of North America).

Over the course of his record 292-day reign (which no titleholder has come close to since) Bálor defended the title in several standout matches, including a classic ladder match versus Kevin Owens at the inaugural TakeOver: Brooklyn event. His reign also saw him win the Dusty Rhodes Classic with Samoa Joe.

All of these things considered, it’s impossible to argue against Finn Bálor being one of the greatest NXT superstars of all-time.


1. Bayley

WWE

WWE

Chris: It’s not difficult to see why Bayley was voted as the greatest superstar in NXT history. For one, as of writing, no ‘story’ ever crafted by the brand has ever reached the kind of climax that Bayley’s reached. She was the truest of underdogs from the jump, not winning a singles match until November 2013. It was that night, when she defeated Summer Rae, that the hope truly began. The belief that some day, Bayley could assert herself at the top of the mountain.

2014 was when she started to turn the corner. She began to gain the attention of the NXT Universe, and many more began to take her seriously. She was part of NXT TakeOver: Fatal 4-Way, where she came up short in an effort to wrestle the NXT Women’s Championship away from Charlotte. She lost that night in Orlando, but fans began to flock. In 2015, she sought to become champion and rid the ‘loser’ reputation. A reputation that, smartly, gained more fuel when her contemporaries -- Becky Lynch, the aforementioned Charlotte, and Sasha Banks -- were called up to the main roster. The only member of the ‘4 Horsewomen’ who wasn’t? That was Bayley, who “fell behind.” And it was during this time that she began a crusade for the NXT Women’s Title that nobody would soon forget.

The climactic moment of this chase, and perhaps the greatest moment in NXT history, took place at the biggest NXT event ever. TakeOver: Brooklyn on August 22, 2015 saw the best women’s match in company history. Bayley went toe-to-toe with Banks, and captured the title that eluded her. It was this moment in time that jumped off the page. It was the conclusion of an incredible ride for Bayley, who captured the hearts of everyone around the wrestling world. From kids to adults, marks to smarks, it didn’t matter.

Bayley’s impact on the brand was substantial away from the ring, as well. She was different, in that for the first time in a long time, NXT (and WWE still, to this day) had someone to market towards young girls. Her ‘huggers’ were always around, capturing her attention. Her presence helped bring families to the shows on NXT’s Florida circuit. It was commonplace to see a multitude of young kids with their mothers and fathers, all screaming and cheering their hearts out for Bayley.

She was family-friendly and accepted among the ENTIRE fanbase, too, in a day and age where WWE being “PG” is still occasionally lambasted. It was against the usual grain, and her absence from the brand only showcases what was lost. Families don’t typically show up in large volumes like they used to anymore. They’ve now elevated and gone to WWE house shows. So not only did Bayley have an impact on TV, but she also had impact at the gate, and for one of the targeted audiences. The void still hasn’t been filled, and may never be filled to the extent that it was again.

Bayley is, was, and always will be the quintessential NXT superstar. The lovable underdog. The purest babyface this side of town. All that was right. Someone who even made the most cynical smark bellow out the loudest of cheers in appreciation. She’s the greatest superstar the brand has ever seen and will ever see.

The Bruiserweight defends his UK title against Adam Cole (BAY BAY) in our NXT recap
WWE

WWE

UK Championship

Pete Dunne vs. Adam Cole was a great match that displayed why Cole is such a great slimy heel. While it’s true that Cole always lose through his arrogance, he does it so well. Dunne was on the cusp of winning until the Undisputed ERA interrupted and proceeded to jump Dunne. Roderick Strong came in to make the save and aligned himself with the Bruiserweight. This match made the audience & viewers want to see more of Dunne vs. Cole, as the ending dictated, we are going to see a match-up between Undisputed ERA vs. Strong & Dunne.

Cedric Alexander vs. Roderick Strong

WWE

WWE

Including this into the NXT recap because of Roderick Strong but this was a hell of a match. With a match at WrestleMania on the line, Alexander & Strong gave us not only the best match of the week, possibly the best match of 205’s existence. Alexander and Strong were going back and forth with precision and in fluid motion. Both of these wrestlers have similar styles with hard-hitting attacks and smooth transitions within their moves. Strong & Alexander left their all in the ring as both hit their protected finishers on each other as both used the ropes to escape a pinfall. 205 Live’s renaissance has shown us that these matches are the best in the company week in & week out. The general viewer can see why WWE is placing their trust into Cedric Alexander, he is so versatile that he can work a slow-paced match with TJP, then a highflying match with Mustafa Ali and can follow up with a hard-hitting affair with Roderick Strong. Let’s hope that Vince actually puts the finals on the main card at Wrestlemania.

Quick Hits

Street Profits advanced to the next round of the Dusty Rhodes Classic by defeating Heavy Machinery. This match was entertaining as Street Profits got the crowd into it through their shenanigans per usual.

Its official, we have our 2 championship matches with Aleister Black vs. Andrade “Cien” Almas & Shayna Bazler vs. Ember Moon at NXT Takeover: NOLA. Both are intriguing championship matches as Ember continues to showcase her dominance as champion while Aleister Black & Almas will have a potential match of the year.

Everyone hates Tommaso Ciampa, I LOVE IT. This is true heat, Ciampa is the best heel in the business (Cody Rhodes is right up there as well). The crowd would not let Ciampa get a word as he tried to address the NXT crowd. The best angle in NXT is getting better and better.

NXT post-Takeover recap

While this week’s episode did not advance any feuds or stories within NXT, it re-introduced a fresh tag team and we may have our first match of NXT Takeover: NOLA. NXT’s main event matches are always a spectacle with high paced action especially in the last three months. This week’s NXT episode was no different.

WWE

WWE

New #1 Contender for the U.K. Championship

What an exciting main event between Roderick Strong & Tyler Bate. This was a fast-paced, hard-hitting affair. Strong focused on the Bate's back, making it difficult for Tyler to execute his finishing move. Strong took advantage and used the “End of Heartache” to pin Bate. Pete Dunne has his work cut out for him with The Messiah of The Backbreaker after his UK Championship.

TM61 Looks Strong

WWE Network

WWE Network

The vignettes for TM61 did wonders, and the Takeover crowd was hot for the reappearance of TM61. The smartest thing that NXT did was giving them opponents who are not too green in between the ropes. The Ealy Brothers have an old school heel feel to them, using their looks to cheat the ref. This could’ve been a simple squash but it showed the NXT universe that TM61 did not have any rust in the ring. The Tag Team division in NXT looks strong with the addition of TM61 as they are in position to face Undisputed Era for their titles in the upcoming month's.

Quick Hits

Nikki Cross got a quick win over Lacey Evans, which should set her up as one of the next contenders to Ember Moon’s NXT championship. Nikki is one of the most over women in the company and they need to capitalize on her.

Undisputed vs. Sanity will takeover (no pun intended) next week’s episode with the tag team titles on the line, & Adam Cole will take on Killian Dain as well. NXT is looking to start off the Road to Takeover: NOLA with a bang

NXT Recap: a new challenger emerges for Undisputed Era

NXT's first new show of 2018 was one to love. I know it's packaged and pre-taped but the presentation is absolutely flawless. This week's fleshed out the rest of the card for Takeover: Philadelphia. This month's shows we're filmed at Atlanta’s Center Stage (former home of WCW Saturday Night) so the change from Full Sail was very welcoming. (All photos courtesy of WWE)

Main Event

Originally Undisputed ERA were supposed to defend their tag-team titles against Sanity in the main event, but UE beat up Sanity before their match. Luckily, William Regal presented a new tag team for them to battle: Roderick Strong & Aleister Black.

If a friend of yours asks what type of wrestling does NXT showcase, show them this match. This battle was hard hitting, with clean transitioning and fluidity throughout the whole match. Strong's hot tag towards the end was one of the main highlights of the match; his chemistry with Kyle O'Reilly & Bobby Fish was clearly shown. Adam Cole getting into Black’s head, controlling the situation to help his teammates get a win over Strong, was great booking as it furthers the rivalry between Cole & Black. Due to the post match beat down, Regal booked Cole vs. Black in a Extreme Rules match at Takeover: Philadelphia. Get ready for a brawl.

More Regal is a good thing

I’m not huge into GMs being involved in every storyline but William Regal is perfect as a GM for NXT. Regal has shown that he could be any type of authority figure; from telling Shayna Bazler that she won’t get a title shot, being interviewed by Street Profits showing his goofy side to displaying his strictness and disdain to Undisputed Era’s heelish ways

Smackdown Live’s problem is that the Authority Figures are taking over the show more than the wrestlers themselves; Regal compliments each wrestler & their angles that is presented into the show without overshadowing the talent.

P.S. We need more Regal & Street Profits promos.

Shayna Bazler is SCARY

Shayna is being presented as a monster heel, as she should be. Normally it’s always been the bigger & larger wrestlers who are shown as unstoppable forces but this is nice change to the norm. Shayna wants to do one thing to her opponents: hurt them, hurt them BAD.

Fans were wondering why she’s getting a push ahead of other deserving wrestlers but tonight’s performance against Dakota Kai expresses why creative has faith in her. While this can be a build to the Four Horsewomen MMA/WWE match at Wrestlemania (her theme music starts off with a subtle nod to the Four Horseman theme), she is earning respect from the fans and is in the position to become the next contender for Ember Moon’s championship.

Quick Hits

Velveteen Dream is back as he questioned Johnny Wrestling’s spot as the #1 contender to the NXT Championship. Dream couldn’t be part of the tournament due to injury, so expect a match between the two, which should be a great one.

Lio Rush is still part of the WWE and is still paying for his Emma/Asuka tweet. Lars Sullivan demolished Rush in a squash match but he still resonated with the crowd as the underdog throughout the match, that’s a plus.

We are getting Street Profits vs. Authors of Pain next week for a shot at Undisputed Era's tag team titles at Takeover: Philly. It will be the Street Profits' first real test against a formidable tag team.