NXT turns 10 this week and it’s high-time we all look back fondly on the incredible journey the brand has been on since its inception a decade ago. From its humble beginnings as a god-awful gameshow, where NXT rookies would partner up with a main roster pro and be made to complete obstacle courses and cut a promo on bananas or some rubbish, to the spectacle of sold-out TakeOver events that often outshine even the biggest WWE pay-per-views, NXT has become quite the beast under the WWE umbrella.
Now being featured on Fox Sports and spawning its own sister-show in NXT UK, NXT has developed into something truly incredible, something that has been able to re-ignite the passion for pro-wrestling in many of alienated WWE fans. With so many incredible, era-defining performances already in the history books, it’s a difficult task to narrow down the very best NXT matches to just a list of 10, but we’re up for the task.
In this list, we celebrate the best of the underdogs and the castaways, those that are not the same kind as the superstars of the main roster, we celebrate the black and gold brand, we celebrate NXT.
Make sure you drop down your own best NXT matches in the comments section below.
10. CM Punk & Seth Rollins vs Cesaro & Kassius Ohno – NXT 17/10/12
There’s a heap of fantastic matches that went under the radar as part of the rebranded NXT’s early days. Since deciding to take NXT in a totally different direction to the gameshow-like farce that was turning heads away on Tuesday nights, several ‘wrestling-orientated’ superstars from the main roster chose to partake in a sabbatical to Full Sail University to help coach some of the upcoming. Two of those superstars were Antonio Cesaro and the then WWE Champion, CM Punk.
Both main roster headliners teamed with one of NXT’s best and brightest – NXT champion Seth Rollins and Kassius Ohno respectively. What then came was an incredible tag team match that not many fans have had the chance to see, but it’s nicely tucked away on a WWE-produced DVD of NXT’s greatest matches. Originally it was a dark match that never made it to any form of TV, so it’s difficult tracking down a decent copy of the match online. Fortunately for you, we’ve found a YouTube video.
Do give this one a watch if you’re looking for a quick fix of CM Punk and the Kings of Wrestling.
9. Chris Jericho vs Daniel Bryan – NXT 23/2/10
Granted, the first four seasons of NXT were all pretty horrendous, but occasionally you could find a hidden gem on one of the episodes. WWE at least put a modicum of effort into the premiere episode of season one, giving NXT rookie Daniel Bryan a well-paced match with the World Heavyweight Champion Chris Jericho in the show’s main event.
For fans of the US indie scene, getting to witness Daniel Bryan compete against Chris Jericho was an absolute treat. Bryan was stealing shows all over the world and was compared to a young Jericho on numerous occasions. This match stands the test of time as something that could easily fit onto a NXT card today, even with the high standards set by the wealth of talent available.
Bryan unfortunately didn’t quite get over in the same way that he would a few years down the line, and was eventually removed from the NXT roster for being ‘too generic’, but credit to DB for putting on an excellent debut match against a guy selfless enough to make him look like the hot prospect he was.
8. Tyler Bate vs WALTER – NXT UK: TakeOver Cardiff
NXT UK has been a very low-key aspect of WWE programming that has only just started to generate some traction outside of the BritWres community. The current NXT UK Champion WALTER has managed to bring some new eyes to the product thanks to his brief run on the US indie scene as well as his incredible 8-man tag match against The Undisputed Era at the 2020 Worlds Collide event. NXT UK is slowly starting to come into its own.
Before this turn in events, NXT UK had a few ‘Match of the Year’ candidates that never truly received the credit they deserved. WALTER’s first big title defence against Tyler Bate was an instant classic, mixing the British and European styles of wrestling together in an incredible 30 minute contest. The NXT UK championship has often been in the middle of ferocious bouts, another of which we’ll be delving into later on in this list, making it an integral part of NXT’s history as a whole.
This match should definitely be on everyone’s watchlist.
7. Sami Zayn vs Cesaro – NXT Arrival
Many NXT historians look back on this match as a true game-changer. Sami Zayn and Cesaro put NXT on the map for a lot of fans with their insane 2 out of 3 Falls match at NXT: Arrival. Not only was this NXT’s first big exhibition on the WWE Network, but it also helped forge the rest of Sami Zayn’s headlining babyface run and also push Cesaro to new heights in his singles career.
This was a work of art from start to finish, and is a standard-bearer for all NXT matches past, present and future. Sami Zayn might be wasting away on the main roster, but he can forever look back on this particular match as a legacy very few superstars will be able to match up to.
Watch. This. Match.
6. Bayley vs Sasha Banks – NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn
A match that helped kickstart an evolution in all of professional wrestling, Bayley vs. Sasha Banks became another instance where superstars across the board would struggle to follow. Women’s wrestling had never been so electric until this match came around in Brooklyn.
Two well-devised characters put on a masterclass for all wrestlers of any gender, this was something that fans are still discussing today as one of the greatest matches of all time.
The NXT Women’s Championship has since been involved in some phenomenal matches: Asuka, Ember Moon, Rhea Ripley and Shayna Baszler have all kept the standards high for women’s wrestling in NXT, but the foundations for such an impressive movement were set by ‘The Boss’ and ‘The Hugger’. Who knows if we’ll ever see this match repeated to the same standard on the main roster? Part of me doesn’t want to, purely because it’ll never top their Brooklyn brawl.
5. Sami Zayn vs Adrian Neville – NXT TakeOver: R-Evolution
An exceptional example of NXT bringing together two world-class performers for a mat-classic like only they can. Adrian Neville (a.k.a PAC) was a popular champion in NXT, but soon turned into a tremendous obstacle for the up and coming Sami Zayn, who had recently stunned the world with the aforementioned 2 out of 3 Falls match with Cesaro. Zayn was poised to be the next ‘guy’ in NXT, but could never quite get the job done when the title was on the line.
This was an expertly told story in an expertly worked match. Neville played the heel to perfection and Zayn battled with his inner-demons who tempted him into taking ‘the easy way’ to winning the NXT title. It was a fantastic display of character building and kept the NXT fans on the edge of their seats throughout the entire affair.
Zayn would of course go on to win the match, only to be betrayed by his BFF Kevin Owens moments after celebrating together. It was a night NXT fans hold very dearly in their hearts, perhaps the first TakeOver special that started NXT on its road to prevalence in today’s landscape.
4. The Undisputed Era vs Ricochet, Pete Dunne & War Raiders – NXT TakeOver: WarGames
The Undisputed Era have literally taken over NXT, fulfilling their prophecy of holding all of the championships and truly becoming the face of the brand. Even though their success is slowly being picked apart here in 2020, UE have easily become NXT’s definitive feature and potentially their greatest creation of all time.
Adam Cole, Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish came in to a lot of hype after attacking Drew McIntyre after his big NXT title win, they then went on to enter the revived WarGames in a huge three-way faction collision against SAnitY and The Authors of Pain. Needless to say they were destined for great things.
WarGames has since become an annual tradition for the black and gold brand, even recently being adapted to involve the women’s roster too. But quite possibly the best instalment of the revived match-type was the WarGames sequel featuring The Undisputed Era, Ricochet, Pete Dunne and The War Raiders. The match was everything a WarGames match should be — absolute chaos. It helped showcase what all 8 competitors could do in a big-match situation, and has since benefited them all in their respective careers on either the main roster or as part of NXT.
This was the gold standard of ‘hardcore’ wrestling.
3. Pete Dunne vs Tyler Bate – NXT TakeOver: Chicago
British Strong Style was given its first big bit of exposure in mainstream wrestling as part of the first WWE UK Championship match on a TakeOver event. Pete Dunne and Tyler Bate laid it all on the line in their first encounter outside of the UK, putting the UK title and British wrestling on the map.
Bate and Dunne have an unnaturally good chemistry for two superstars their age, but having performed together as both a tag team and as opponents since they were barely in their teens, they couldn’t help but put on a 5* classic.
This title match was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to the potential that NXT UK would eventually have. Their match in Chicago set the tone for the rest of the UK title’s lifespan, which is still living up to the quality that Dunne and Bate produced that night. A remarkable display of BritWres.
2. Shinsuke Nakamura vs Sami Zayn – NXT TakeOver: Dallas
The debut of ‘The King of Strong Style’ came with all the pageantry and grandeur that only Shinsuke can command. Even though most NXT fans were somewhat familiar with Nakamura’s run in New Japan Pro Wrestling, I don’t think anyone expected his first match under the NXT banner to be as fantastic as it was. Sami Zayn was winding down his time in NXT, so naturally had to go out on his back while putting on a performance of a lifetime.
Zayn’s time in NXT is nothing to snooze on. As we’ve talked about throughout this whole article, Zayn’s performances make up a significant part of NXT’s tapestry, but perhaps his match with Nakamura should be remembered as his very best, and one of NXT’s finest singles bouts of all time.
Nakamura didn’t hold back in his first outing and won over a lot of fans in the process, to the point where the WrestleMania crowds were chanting his name less than 24 hours later in Dallas. Shinsuke surfed on top of the wave of momentum from this match all the way through to the NXT Championship.
Nakamura’s NXT run might not be recalled as much as others, but this match in particular is something to behold as one of NXT’s greatest debuts.
1. DIY vs The Revival – NXT TakeOver: Toronto
Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa have written one of NXT’s most definitive chapters together. Of course many fans will remember them for their bitter rivalry that spanned well over two years, soon to be rekindled with the roles of babyface and heel reversed, but personally I always think back to their time as DIY and the road to the NXT Tag Team Championships.
Tag team wrestling can be pure magic when executed well. DIY and The Revival were two tag teams that understood the nuances of producing a fantastic two-on-two contest, and redefined the genre in their 2 out of 3 Falls match in Toronto. All four men deserve all the credit in the world for exceeding expectations in this match; to shift the attention of the wrestling world onto the tag division is something that very few teams have managed to do over the years, but they truly deserved the praise.
DIY and Revival called back to the Southern style of tag wrestling, often found in matches involving The Rock N’Roll Express, The Legion of Doom and The Four Horsemen. It was a very old-school style of wrestling that was given a new-school makeover. Honestly, I think this match was the closest NXT has ever been to going full-indie in their approach to pay-per-view matches and the furthest they’ve ever come from the ‘WWE style’ of wrestling that should always be used as an example of how amazing NXT can be.
NXT has always had a knack for putting together great tag teams for the Full Sail audience: American Alpha, The Lucha Dragons, The Broserweights, all teams that I’m sure will benefit from going back and studying this masterclass on tag team competition. There are few tag teams in the world that could deliver a match as well-constructed as this. Whether you’re a fan of tag wrestling or not, you’ve got to admit you had your head turned by this contest.
Aleister Black vs Velveteen Dream – NXT TakeOver: WarGames
Johnny Gargano vs Adam Cole – NXT TakeOver: New York
Asuka vs Ember Moon – NXT TakeOver: Orlando
Matt Riddle vs Adam Cole – NXT 2/10/19
Finn Balor vs Kevin Owens – NXT: TakeOver Brooklyn
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