NXT TakeOver: XXV takes place Saturday night with the main event featuring the NXT Championship per usual. With that said, NXT has seen a number of great performers in its time: from stars off of the indie scene, to the home-grown talent that excited a number of fans as they prepare to move up from to the main WWE roster. NXT has changed dramatically since its first years, as the stars have made it more of a third brand than a developmental one. With that said, here are the best 25 male performers in the history of NXT, alphabetically. These 25 men have left the promotion as a better place for their future superstars and created one of the best brands in wrestling. With that said, here is the list.
The 25 Greatest Male Performers of NXT
One of the most popular stars in the indies finally found himself in the promotion at TakeOver: Brooklyn III when he attacked the new Champion Drew McIntyre and immediately formed The Undisputed Era along with Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish. As the leader of the Undisputed Era, Adam Cole has become one of the biggest stars in NXT history. The accolades for Cole have been impressively high already, including the fact he is the first ever NXT North American Champion. Tonight, he plans to add to his list by becoming the NXT Champion in his rematch against Johnny Gargano. It is a match that many consider the best in the history of the promotion. He plans to make his destiny in NXT simply, Undisputed… BAY BAY.
The one who started it all. While Neville may not have been the first champion, he won the first ever main event at NXT ArRival to become the NXT Champion from Bo Dallas. Being the top guy when NXT first got its start on the WWE Network was incredibly important for the Network and the brand. Triple H put his trust in the English-born stud to bring NXT to a higher level with a championship run that ranks as the second longest in the history of the title. The importance of Neville’s run is unheralded as being possibly the most important in NXT’s history because without his four straight main event matches in their first four big events, who knows if NXT would be as successful as it is now.
Aleister Black did more without the NXT Championship than he did with it. Maybe the coolest NXT performer ever. From his breathtaking entrances to his ability to end a match in seconds, Black was incredible. His rivalry with Velveteen Dream is one of the best to take place in NXT as all the Dream wanted was him to say his name. And who can remember his riveting return when he asked Nikki Cross to inform him who took him out of action. Aleister Black was the definition of “badass” in his time with NXT. The ability to steal the attention of everyone in the arena and his devastating strikes leaves him as one of NXT’s greatest.
Andrade “Cien” Almas
The former La Sombra signed with WWE back in 2016 and his time in NXT had its lows and its very highs. He debuted in a top hat and suspenders with a win, but it didn’t get over to well. It would not be until a full year later that he would begin to find his groove as Zelina Vega joined him as his business associate. At NXT TakeOver: WarGames he managed to shock the world and become NXT Champion. In his time as champion, Almas had a rivalry with Johnny Gargano that people talk about to this very day. “El Idolo” in his time as champion proved to be one of the best wrestlers in the world, but at the same time started the second boom period for NXT that had gone away following Finn Balor’s removal from NXT in 2016.
Baron Corbin may be the least popular wrestler in the WWE today, but his time in NXT said differently. The former “Lone Wolf” got over as a big star with impressive, quick wins where the Full Sail crowd would count down his matchups due to the dominance of Corbin. His first two TakeOver matches would take just 29 seconds and 41 seconds each showing his incredible dominance and the power of the End of Days. Corbin would compete in eight of the first nine NXT TakeOver’s. competing at such a high level and becoming a top heel in the brand. Whether it was getting huge wins or being a huge victory for newcomers, Corbin left his mark on NXT for future monsters to salivate.
Big E. Langston
Big E, at the time known as Big E. Langston, is one of few homegrown talents on this list as he is a true success story out of the developmental brand. Big E would get over huge with the Full Sail crowd with his “3 is not enough, he needs 5” gimmick that saw him dominating his matches to the point where he wanted to pin his opponents for a five-count rather than the traditional three count. The one-time powerlifting competitor really figured it out in NXT on his way to defeating Seth Rollins, becoming the brand’s second ever Champion. The potential Big E showed in his time as the lead of the yellow brand proved that he can still be a future world champion.
You would have to a fan of NXT since its beginning to truly understand the greatness of Bo Dallas. The third ever NXT Champion managed to gradually get over as one of the most disliked characters in the promotion’s history. Telling all the fans to just stop and “Bo-lieve” as he reigned as NXT Champion. Fans disliked him so much that no matter the opponent, they would be the most beloved wrestler that night. They would even turn their backs on the villainous teddy bear of a character Dallas had become. He would main event the first ever NXT special event, defending his Championship against Adrian Neville in a ladder match at NXT ArRival. His physicality and dirty tactics in the ring along with his unlikeable stature created one of the true heels in the history of NXT.
The “Glorious” Bobby Roode took NXT by storm as he had a special entrance and everything else that mattered with it. He quickly established himself as the top heel in the brand and demanded special treatment in return. Roode would defeat Shinsuke Nakamura at the beginning of 2017 at NXT TakeOver: San Antonio. The Glorious one would continue to dominate and win by any means necessary in his time with the brand. His battles with Roderick Strong are really the ones you can remember best from his time in NXT as both men created a hateful feud against each other. Roode was the first champion to hold the most recent design of NXT’s Championship as well.
Finn Balor is the longest reigning NXT Champion of all-time. He ran NXT as it had its largest boom to date. There was never a time NXT was more popular, as he helped make a developmental system into the third brand for WWE. “The Demon” paint created a special, exciting moment every single TakeOver. Fans would be able to sit in the arena and wonder how “The Demon” would be different every single time. For many fans, Finn Balor is the greatest NXT performer of all-time. And while that is truly a debate in itself, he easily earned his role as one of the best in the promotion’s history.
While a lot of his time was unfortunately plagued by injury, Hideo Itami at one time was the biggest get in the brand’s history. Itami got a special segment in his home country of Japan as a special event. He would sign his contract in Osaka in 2014 as they brought all the big guns for this one. General Manager William Regal would give him a special welcome at NXT TakeOver: Fatal 4-Way where he would become Hideo. Despite his time in NXT never fully taking off, it was still a huge deal at the time that an international star like him made the jump to the brand. His importance and signing helped intrigue other international stars like Shinsuke Nakamura and the recently signed KUSHIDA to bet on themselves and take the chance, making him such a great performer for the brand.
The reigning NXT Champion came into NXT without a contract. In four years, Gargano has left it all inside the ring and on the mic as he tries to live his dream every single day. “Johnny Wrestling” stole 2018 with Tommaso Ciampa while also trying to capture the NXT Championship that he so desperately needed. It would not be until NXT TakeOver: New York that he would accomplish that dream in a moment that will go down in history. Helping revive tag team wrestling in the WWE as he teamed with Ciampa to becoming “Ace” of NXT in success or defeat. Gargano has participated in the most TakeOver’s ever, which not only gives him the right to be on this list but the bouts he put together in those events makes him one of the greatest NXT overall performers in history.
Maybe what is more important than being a high-quality performer in the ring is possibly being one that helps behind the scenes. Kassius Ohno was a part of NXT on two separate occasions, from 2012 to 2013 then signing back to NXT in December of 2016 and being there since. The world traveler that Ohno is, he has become a perfect “player-coach” for the NXT talent. Whether it is being the gatekeeper for new talent when they sign with NXT or helping behind the scenes to help make developing wrestlers better for their future, the importance of Ohno as a member of the NXT roster is one to truly appreciate.
With the shortest time in NXT on this list, Kevin Owens made such an impactful mark that allowed him to get to the top of NXT and out of it in just a five-month span. His rivalry with his real-life best friend Sami Zayn took up much of his time. As Zayn finally won the NXT Championship, his friend was there by him and to backstab him almost immediately. He would be a part of the first NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn main event against defending champion Finn Balor for his last match apart of NXT. KO’s intensity and incredible wrestling ability allowed him to become NXT Champion in the shortest amount of time which makes him one of the greatest to grace the brand. Before the Kevin Owens Show took over, it was Fight Owens Fight that really stole the show.
The longest reigning champion under the NXT umbrella made a name for himself far before NXT UK was established. Along with Tyler Bate, Pete Dunne helped put UK wrestling on the map here in the states for those who may not have followed before. At NXT TakeOver: Chicago, Dunne and Bate battled for the WWE United Kingdom Championship in a match that many say is the best of all time, and a match that won WWE match of the year in 2017. After holding the championship for 685 days, Dunne has done all he could in NXT but now looks for bigger and better things. From his rivalries with the Undisputed Era and Tyler Bate to incredible matches with all of them at TakeOver events, Pete Dunne has established himself as one of NXT’s greatest performers ever.
“The One and Only” Ricochet created a buzz in his one year as a member of NXT. He showed the WWE audience what so many diehard fans learned prior to him signing was that he could do things no one else could. His debut in the six-man ladder match for the NXT North American Championship only gave the crowd a taste of what he can pull off. Ricochet would have a number of matches with the likes of Adam Cole, Velveteen Dream, and Johnny Gargano that stole the show. As the second North American Champion, he did all he could to make that championship mean something. Many would say that the one year Ricochet was in there was the best period in NXT’s history as a whole, which proves he did all he could to help leave it better.
Since signing with WWE and joining the NXT brand in 2016, Roderick Strong has been a key competitor. From being an NXT Championship contender to joining the Undisputed Era in 2018, Strong has almost done it all in NXT. As Strong teamed with O’Reilly, he showed his ability to adapt into being a tag team after being a singles star for so long. Strong was forced to fill in when Bobby Fish was injured and taken out of action, and in doing so helped O’Reilly kick off a number of NXT TakeOver events that would put the fans on their feet immediately. Strong’s ability to be a key member of the NXT roster for almost four years now while improving along the way and making his competitors look like a million bucks makes him take a spot on this one.
The days of Full Sail fans chanting “Ole” as Sami Zayn headed to the ring feels like it was a decade ago. Popularity is a word that needed to be used when it came to Zayn. The ride to becoming NXT Champion for Zayn was one of the best in history. Every time it seemed it would be his time to accomplish that dream, he would be stopped. And the moment that he won it in front of the Full Sail crowd at NXT TakeOver: R Evolution is one of the most heartwarming wrestling moments in recent history. His series of matches with Cesaro and his rivalry with Kevin Owens highlight his time with NXT. While he may be one of the fans most disliked today, Sami Zayn sits as one of the most popular of all-time when it comes to NXT.
When Samoa Joe signed with WWE as a part of NXT, he was told that he may never actually move up from NXT. And while he did, he also was featured in two rivalries that are among the best in NXT’s history. From his series of matches with Finn Balor when he would win his first NXT Championship, the only win that would happen at an NXT live event. He along with Finn won the first ever Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic and main evented five TakeOver events, a total only matched by Johnny Gargano who will break that record tonight. Joe was main eventing TakeOver when it had its greatest boom period and did all he could to leave his mark on the brand. That ability led to him being called up, which proves even more how important he truly was to NXT.
The inaugural NXT Champion Seth Rollins was one of two on this list to never be a part of the WWE Network version of NXT. However, being the first ever NXT Champion allowed Rollins to put the developmental brand on the map. His championship run would only last 133 days due to being called up to the main roster as a member of The Shield. Helping create the prestige behind the NXT Championship that has featured some of the best matches in WWE’s history certainly makes him one of the greatest NXT stars in history.
NJPW legend Shinsuke Nakamura joined NXT in 2016. His debut is one of the most memorable in the history of NXT, as he took on Sami Zayn in an instant classic. Nakamura came into NXT at its hottest point and helped continue that idea when such a big star like himself made the jump. Nakamura would capture the NXT Championship from Samoa Joe at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn II and do the same in a special match live in Japan. Nakamura was one of the most popular stars in NXT’s history and possibly the biggest signing the brand has ever had.
“The Greatest Sports Entertainer of All Time.” Fans may see this as just a gimmick, but every day Tommaso Ciampa looked to be the best in that ring. If he couldn’t carry “Goldie”, aka the NXT Championship, was not a day Ciampa wanted to see. Before going down with injury, he and Johnny Gargano looked to complete the greatest story in the history of NXT. The story of #DIY allowed both Gargano and Ciampa to earn contracts and become two of the great stars in NXT’s history. As Ciampa hopes to bounce back and return to pro wrestling, the NXT that we have right now is missing something, and that something is its Blackheart. Hopefully, someday, Ciampa is able to not only return but create an even greater saga that is already so great in the Wednesday Night Brand.
“The Perfect 10” Tye Dillinger was a member of WWE’s developmental season nine separate years, dating back all the way to 2006. It appeared Dillinger would forever just be a talent that would help other stars look good. Helping other superstars look better is something that should never be taken likely. Thankfully for Dillinger however, that would not be all. Finally, Dillinger found what he needed. “The Perfect 10” gimmick became huge as fans did not care if he won or loss. Dillinger made debuting competitors like Apollo Crews and Andrade “Cien” Almas look like a million bucks by somehow becoming a fan favorite with “10” chants reigning down in arenas around the world. Sometimes, the greatest competitors are the ones who do things to better others.
After looking for his schtick for years in developmental, Tyler Breeze was born and became one of the most popular stars in this history of NXT. Not a big name from the indies, Breeze would help main-event the second TakeOver as a part of the Fatal 4-Way match. Breeze has possibly earned the “Full Sail’s Favorite Son” as they continue to give him a hero’s welcome any time he returns to the scene. As the only one on this list to compete in the first eight special events in NXT history, including seven TakeOver events facing the likes of Finn Balor, Sami Zayn, and Jushin Liger. The popularity and longevity of Breeze give him a spot on this list by far as one of the earlier building blocks in the brand’s Network-Only days.
Fact. Sometimes, NXT can be used as a place to reinvent yourself. Tyson Kidd used the developmental territory to his advantage, completely changing himself and welcoming back a version of him that was not seen since his days in Stampede Wrestling. Kidd became a main eventer in NXT as he main-evented the first ever NXT TakeOver against Adrian Neville. He helped build and create the TakeOver that would go on to be some of the best wrestling events of the past decade. For Tyson Kidd, it was an opportunity to find himself and find what works in front of the Full Sail crowd, while being able to help build the noise the promotion has created.
When Patrick Clark debuted the Velveteen Dream character, so many looked down on it than gave it a chance. Now, Velveteen Dream is the most over star in the promotion. The current North American Champion has pushed the rules in every way possible and continues to put the spotlight on himself. His ability on the mic along with his developing in-ring abilities that scare you to think he is just 23 years of age is what makes him an NXT great who can only offer more. He plans to go into a dream match with Tyler Breeze as he hopes to clear his spotlight of an NXT great.
NXT TakeOver: XXV is live tonight and is sure to help create new names in the future to make this list. It is another exciting night in wrestling for us to enjoy. Who will steal the show? And come back as we look at the 25 Best Women’s Performers and Tag Teams in the promotion’s history!
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