As NXT moves its entire two-hour weekly show to the USA network, many have hailed the transfer as a new era for the black and yellow brand. No longer dubbed a developmental show, NXT has been firmly thrust into the spotlight. What started as a relative whisper has now become a full scream by fans demanding a different product from WWE.
Going head to head with rival upstart AEW every week has prompted comparisons to the 90s’ ‘Monday Night Wars’ between WWE and WCW. But in its near 10-year run, NXT has enjoyed unparalleled success, constantly one-upping themselves with each passing Takeover show. Within the constraints of one hour a week on the WWE network, NXT has been able to build Superstars and forge fledgling careers.
Before we look to the future, it’s important to know where you are coming from. Here, Andy Spoors looks at five must-watch matches in NXT history:
5. Undisputed Era vs Moustache Mountain (NXT Takeover Brooklyn IV)
Tag team matches may not get much of a spotlight on the main roster but on NXT the division is always in the limelight. Often opening up Takeover events, the unofficial motto has become ‘follow that’. One example was the scintillating match between Kyle O Reilly and Roderick Strong against Tyler Bate and Trent Severn in Brooklyn. The rubber match in a series of three, Moustache Mountain looked to regain the titles they won in the Royal Albert Hall. They came up short here but the tag team clinic on show was superb.
4. Pete Dunne vs Tyler Bate NXT Takeover: Chicago
This may not have been the match that started it all but it sure opened the world’s eyes to the majesty of British wrestling talent in the modern era. Following the WWE UK Championship Tournament in Blackpool, Tyler Bate and Pete Dunne faced off in the Windy City. The match stole the night, with the crowd engaged throughout a match that showcased British Strong Style wrestling. The in-depth knowledge of both men supplied by Nigel McGuinness and the prestige of Good Ol’ Jim Ross on commentary created a big match feel from the start. False finishes aplenty, the crowd were falling off the edge of their seats. In almost Rocky-esque style, the chants of NXT faded into choruses of UK. The start of a record-breaking title run for Dunne. The beginnings of a British movement.
3. Aleister Black vs Velveteen Dream NXT: War Games
In terms of building Superstars, the feud between Dream and Black catapulted the pair into new levels of popularity – built on Velveteen’s vanity and need for recognition and Black’s refusal to validate his existence. The rivalry built and built over weeks, with Dream trying to get the mental edge over his adversary all just to hear his name come from the lips of Aleister. The match itself utilised the campness and almost sexual tension from Dream and juxtaposed it against the death metal appearance of Black. The perfect finish of Black sitting next to his vanquished foe and uttering his name out of respect for his wrestling ability, will live long in the memory.
2. Gargano vs Ciampa – NXT Takeover New Orleans
Stone Cold and The Rock. Hulk Hogan and Macho Man Randy Savage. Shawn Michaels and Brett Hart. Some rivalries define eras. For NXT, it could well be Tomasso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano’s epic feud that was years in the making. Following a successful tag team run, Ciampa turned his back on his partner Gargano before vanishing for months to heal up a ruptured SCL injury. On his return he would make Johnny Wrestling’s life a misery, ultimately costing the latter his job on NXT. Brutal back and forths lead to an unsanctioned match in New Orleans. The perfect storytelling from bell to bell unfolded in front of an insanely active crowd. Using aspects of the months of build within their match puts this match high on the must-see list. The two follow-up matches could also have featured here.
1. 6 Man Ladder match for the North American Championship- NXT Takeover New Orleans
The opening match of a raucous night of action that included one of the most anticipated matches in NXT history, the pressure was on the six men involved to deliver. Debuts for EC3 and Ricochet, as well as a brand new title on the line upped the ante. But move after move, all six men involved did their best to reinvent the ladder match. Velveteen Dream took some hellacious bumps. Ricochet gave glimpses of his athletic ability and EC3 showed perfect comedic timing throughout. The behemoths that are Dain and Sullivan physically dominated. But it was Adam Cole who would ultimately climb the ladder and snatch away the title. Astonishing action that is up there with the TLC matches of yesteryear. Matches like this are reason enough to sign up to the WWE network.