WWE NXT Takeover Brooklyn is here for a second straight year and a crowd of over 15,000 people packed the Barclay’s Centre once again. Filling out full-sized stadiums around the country and around the world has become a regular occurrence for NXT with the brand taking over Dallas, England and soon, Australia, but you have to remember that there was a time where it was lucky to pack Full Sail.
The launch of the WWE Network allowed NXT to be broadcast to the world and since that moment, here are the 10 superstars that deserve the most credit for building NXT into the unstoppable juggernaut that it is today.
There have been innumerable superstars that have had massive impacts on NXT’s rise to stardom and some of the ones that just missed this list include Paige and Emma, who kicked off the women’s wrestling movement in NXT, Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder, two time NXT Tag Team Champions and the team that legitimately revived the tag team division, carrying it for a full year and Becky Lynch, who didn’t quite get enough time in NXT to truly break out. The main roster superstar who had the most impact on NXT was Tyson Kidd, who was a massive part of NXT when it first launched on the Network and helped carry the brand for that establishing year.
Charlotte was the NXT Women’s Champion when the division was just starting to reach its breakout period. Her reign as NXT Women’s Champion was important because it was roughly then (NXT Takeover: Fatal 4-Way) where NXT’s ratings spiked and so to many, she was the first women’s champion they saw. She helped legitimize the division with fantastic matches and carried a lot of the workload on NXT TV tapings in 2014 in particular.
- Tyler Breeze
Breeze may seem out of place on this list, but don’t let the way he’s been treated on the main roster fool you, he was vital to NXT’s success. He was at the top of the card when NXT came to the WWE Network and he was at the top of the card when he got called up before Survivor Series two years later. Breeze fought everybody in NXT and made them all look better for it. He deserved a run with the NXT Championship, but unfortunately the timing never quite lined up for Prince Pretty.
- Samoa Joe
Joe’s significance is different from a lot of the others on this list. Joe was the first indie signing to come to the WWE and keep his original name. He was the first guy picked because of his indie status and was introduced in a way that allowed him to continue on as if he was simply taking bookings from NXT. This working out so well is why the likes of AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Bobby Roode and Austin Aries could step into WWE and keep their names. Joe’s first year in NXT was underwhelming, but his reign as champion and work since he turned heel has been elite.
- Enzo Amore & Colin Cassady
Enzo and Cass were the most influential tag team to the success of NXT by an absolute mile, which makes it even more insane that they were never the champions. That gripe aside, these guys were (and still are) must-watch parts of NXT whenever they appeared and you could easily argue they were the most popular superstars in NXT history. That alone gets them a spot on this list, but the fact that they did it from the tag team division and were able to establish Carmella as a superstar as well shows just how good these guys are.
- Kevin Owens
Kevin Owens was and still is the best NXT Champion of all time. He won the title after two months with the company and immediately became the best part of the show. He was only in NXT for eight months, but he got a lot of eyes on the product simply by being as great as he is. His feuds with Sami Zayn, Alex Riley and Finn Balor in particular stood out and carried the brand.
Neville was the ironman of NXT. He won the title the night NXT went live on the Network and held it for the remainder of 2014, becoming the figurehead of the brand and the standard-bearer. The fact that he main-evented the first four NXT live specials, putting on four sensational matches, shows how important he was to building the developmental brand into what it is today.
- Sasha Banks
In the same light as Kevin Owens, Sasha Banks was and still is the best NXT Women’s Champion. Her reign was a flawless masterpiece and it was during her reign that the women’s division caught fire and got people on the main roster talking. Starting with the night she won the title and until the night she lost it, Sasha was the woman who made the NXT women’s division feel main-event calibre. She was also one of the first two women to main-event an NXT event, and that speaks for itself.
- Finn Balor
The top four of this list are completely interchangeable and you could make a number of arguments for Balor to be number one. Balor made a massive impact from the first time he stepped into the ring and his work up until becoming the champion was partially responsible for the buzz around NXT being so large. Then he won the title and became the longest reigning NXT Champion of all-time! It can be summed up as this: Finn Balor was the face of NXT in the same was that John Cena is the face of WWE.
Bayley edges out Balor because of how far back she started. Balor was always going to be a megastar, but Bayley came from nowhere and absolutely captured the hearts and minds of the NXT universe. She is probably only behind Enzo and Cass in terms of the most popular NXT superstar of all-time and her rise to the NXT Women’s Championship was an incredible piece of long-term storytelling. Her year since then has taken the bar even further. You have to remember how important she was to that division. With the other three called-up, she almost single-handedly carried the women and elevated herself from plucky underdog to the standard-bearer and best in-ring performer in the division. When you want to think of the person that perfectly encapsulates everything NXT stands for, you can’t go passed Bayley… except for maybe this guy.
- Sami Zayn
Sami Zayn was the people’s champion of NXT. He was part of the very first NXT match shown on the Network, which was a match of the year candidate with Cesaro, and that set the tone for what he would become to the brand. The entire first year of NXT television was seemingly about the rise of Zayn to the NXT Championship and by the end of the year, he was possibly popular than the rest of the male division combined! If NXT’s first calendar year was a television show, Zayn would’ve been the main character and the season finale would’ve been him pinning Neville, in another match of the year candidate, to win the title. Sami Zayn is the main who was most responsible for the rise of NXT.