NXT is a developmental territory for the WWE. They bring talent in and send them out to the main rosters of Raw and SmackDown. If you haven’t heard of NXT, then you’ve probably been under a rock for the better part of 2 years. NXT has been a launchpad for WWE talent such asL Wade Barrett, Daniel Bryan, The Prime Time Players, The Wyatts, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Big E, Xavier Woods, Adam Rose, and even the current WWE World Heavyweight Champion, Roman Reigns. NXT is taking over the world. But it wasn’t always that way. Let’s start from the beginning, before NXT was the place to be.
It started out as a small warehouse in Florida, where talent would wrestle in front of very small crowds; sometimes only 10 people. It was called FCW (Florida Championship Wrestling) and it was main place for WWE to get their talent. But, WWE being the thinkers that they are, came up with a concept called NXT. Now, this isn’t the NXT you see today. Actually, it’s way far from it. In 2010; WWE released a new show called NXT. It was a show where a handful of FCW talent would be paired with WWE superstars as their pros. The pros and the rookies would compete in matches, as well as a series of random events and games. Eventually, one by one, people would get eliminated off until there was one left. So, yes. It was basically a glorified game show. They had 5 seasons before the show was taken off the air. In those 5 seasons, Wade Barrett, Kaval (aka Low Ki), Kaitlyn, Johnny Curtis (aka Fandango), and Derrick Bateman (aka Ethan Carter III) were the winners. Though, some winners didn’t last long, and some are still in WWE; it was a good opportunity for those talent. Also, a good opportunity for some of the losers, because WWE signed some anyway such as Daniel Bryan, Heath Slater, Justin Gabriel, Ryback, Titus & Darren, and even AJ Lee. Even if it only lasted a year, they did bring in a huge crop of talent, so I’d say it was a success.
In 2012, FCW was no more. They moved from a small warehouse in Tampa, Florida to Florida’s Full Sail University. They now went under the name NXT and it was exclusive to Florida residents, being that it wasn’t on TV. It was no longer a reality game show, it was a wrestling show. WWE brought in a few main roster talents sometimes to compete with NXT talent. The crop of talent now coming up would be The Wyatts, The Shield, Jinder Mahal, Kassious Ohno (aka Chris Hero), Richie Steamboat, Adrian Neville, Aiden English, Alexa Bliss, Rusev, Bo Dallas, Paige, Emma, Charlotte, CJ Parker, The Ascension, Corey Graves, and many others. Seth Rollins became the first NXT Champion after winning a tournament, defeating Jinder Mahal in the finals. Quickly, NXT started to catch a little bit of buzz going into 2013, now getting their show on Hulu, more eyes were on the product. Slowly talent started to make their way up to the main roster. The Shield made their way up, as did many other talents. Big E was champion at the time and lost the NXT title to Bo Dallas before making his way up to the main roster. As talent slowly started to get their shot at the main roster, or even be fired, the underground brand named NXT started to grow. But, it wasn’t until 2014 when it became bigger than ever imagined.
On February 6th, 2014, everything changed. WWE had launched the WWE Network earlier in that year, and people wanted to see new stuff. New shows, new talent, a new feel to wrestling. NXT was just the thing to give fans a new experience. On that February evening, the first ever airing of NXT on the WWE Network occurred. That show was main evented by Adrian Neville vs. Corey Graves. Neville won the match, and became the number one contender to Bo Dallas’ NXT Championship. Triple H made an appearance on the show, and made a match for NXT’s first ever live special; NXT TakeOver: Arrival. Being the mastermind behind NXT, Triple H also made matches and was basically the General Manager until William Regal later took on the role.
Just 4 weeks later, NXT TakeOver: Arrival aired. Taking fans by storm, every match on the show was fantastic. The show opened up with Cesaro vs. Sami Zayn. Too Cool had an appearance on the show as well, challenging NXT tag team champions, The Ascension. After many other matches, and a fantastic Women’s Championship match, Bo Dallas & Adrian Neville headlined the show in the first ever Ladder Match in NXT. After a grueling battle, Neville became the new NXT Champion. That night, the NXT talent proved that they could hang with the main roster talent, and put on shows just as good, if not better than WWE’s main roster. With talent coming in and out of NXT, it wasn’t until NXT TakeOver: Fatal-4-Way on September 11th, 2014 where things changed forever. On that day, WWE brought in one of the biggest Japanese pro wrestling stars, KENTA to be apart of the NXT Roster. KENTA would change his name to Hideo Itami and have a feud with the Ascension. This led to him having to fight The Ascension all alone, and have no one to help him. The feud and brutal beat downs on Itami would go on for eight weeks, until he found a partner. On the November 6th, 2014 edition of NXT, Hideo brought in a friend to help him with The Ascension. This led to Hideo bringing in one of the biggest stars in Japan in the last 10 years, Prince Devitt. Devitt would now go by Finn Bàlor, and team with Itami to take out Konor & Viktor. NXT kept bringing in huge talent, and bigger names to make their brand even bigger as the year went on. But, on December 11th, 2014; NXT had their last TakeOver show of the year. NXT TakeOver: R Evolution. This show is where NXT brought in one of the top indie stars of the last decade, and my personal favorite, Kevin Steen. He made his NXT debut under the name Kevin Owens and defeated CJ Parker in the opener of the show, and also made a huge impact that left fans wanting more.
2014 wasn’t just a big year for NXT superstars, it was a big year for NXT women. The NXT women’s division was on fire and really brought a light to the hollow women’s wrestling division that was going on in WWE. For years, the WWE divas were nothing more than eye candy, and filler matches. People can debate that in the 2000’s Lita & Trish Stratus were doing what NXT is doing now, which in my humble opinion, isn’t true. In the early 2000’s Lita & Trish were the only wrestling divas, as everyone else was a model or competing in Bra & Panties matches, but even Lita & Trish were eye candy and did little bikini contests — or whatever else Vince wanted to do to get the girls a pop. Now, in NXT, there is none of that. There is wrestling. Women’s wrestling. No bathroom breaks during the women’s matches, no filler matches, no 5 minute thrown together pieces of crap matches, none of that. Now, the women mean something. The NXT Women’s Championship means something. The women of NXT compete at the same level that the guys do and the fans are 100% invested in everyone and everything. Women like Emma, Paige, Sasha Banks, Charlotte, Becky Lynch, and Bayley re-defined what a women’s division looks like. Fans travel to NXT shows or live events to strictly see these women preform and it’s truly amazing.
As a fan, I’m happy and so proud that we can have real women’s wrestling back and raise the competition levels higher than they’ve ever been before. Let’s take Bayley, who is the current NXT Women’s Champion, for example. Bayley has probably one of, if not the biggest fan base in NXT. Fans spanning little boys and girls, to teens, to grown adults, male and female too, all wearing the “I’m a hugger” shirts, rallying behind this girl, and just having a fun time. It’s amazing to see. As a personal story, I went to an NXT live event twice, and all through the night; fans were going absolutely insane for their favorite talent, male or female. But, when Bayley’s music hit, it was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. Every single person in the building jumped out of their seats and cheered for this girl. It shocked me, gave me goosebumps, and left me with a sight I’ll never forget. And the same thing happened for Sasha Banks. It was truly and special moment and it just goes to show how much these rabid NXT fans are invested in the women. There’s no doubt in my mind that the girls of NXT started a new era for women’s wrestling.
Stepping into 2015, NXT was on the rise to greatness. With the crop of amazing talent on the roster, it’s hard to be better than them. With new talent coming in every day, the WWE Performance Center was pushing talent into NXT to take over the world. At NXT TakeOver: Rival, the first TakeOver show of 2015, some new stars were made. Blake & Murphy went into the show as the Tag Team Champions, defeated the Lucha Dragons, and solidified themselves as an important part of the NXT roster. Just like Blake & Murphy, everyone wanted to make an impact, and wanted to be on top. In the women’s division, there were four top talent. Charlotte who was the champion, Bayley, Sasha Banks, and Becky Lynch. They swept up NXT TakeOver in a Fatal 4-Way match and stole the show. Sasha Banks won, and became the new women’s champion. These four girls would call themselves the ‘Four Horsewomen’ of NXT, and they’d make sure that the women’s matches were top notch for all the NXT fans.
Kevin Owens was another man that set his future in stone at this event. Kevin Owens challenged Sami Zayn for the NXT Championship. After a brutal match for Sami Zayn, the referee had to stop the match due to Sami being injured. Kevin Owens walked out the new NXT Champion and became one of the most dangerous men in NXT that night. With things often changing and evolving in NXT, there were bigger and better things on the horizon for the brand. One of those things happened during WrestleMania weekend. NXT sold out a show in San Jose, California. With a packed house filled with a sold out 5,000 plus fans, they did it on their own. There was no WWE promoting gimmick, no main roster talent on the show, just NXT. And NXT became a bigger brand that night, proving that they could sell out shows just as big as the WWE main roster. There were also many eyes on NXT when they wrestled during WrestleMania Axxess. During Axxess, they held a tournament. The winner of the tournament would get to compete on WrestleMania in the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal. Hideo Itami outlasted everyone and got his shot, beating Finn Bàlor in the finals. Though he did not win at Mania, he had a moment I bet he will never forget. But, he wasn’t the only NXT talent at WrestleMania. Every match with the exception of one had former NXT talent in it. Rusev, Rollins, Luke Harper, Paige, Dean Ambrose, Daniel Bryan, Roman Reigns, Bray Wyatt and more had matches at WrestleMania. Indeed the future is now. The best part though, was that the first ever NXT Champion, Seth Rollins, walked out of WrestleMania as the WWE World Heavyweight Champion.
As things flowed on in NXT, with Kevin Owens staying on top of the NXT mountain, a new, familiar face would shock the world, and make his way into NXT. On May 20th, 2015. Kevin Owens again destroyed Sami Zayn. But, someone would come to Sami’s aid that no one expected.
As Kevin Owens stood over the body of Sami Zayn with a steel chair in hand, Samoa Joe would debut, making a huge, huge moment in NXT history. Arguably the biggest signing yet, NXT now had Samoa Joe on their roster. As the weeks, and months went on, Kevin Owens eventually lost his NXT Championship to Finn Bàlor, and made his WWE debut, by answering John Cena’s opene challenge, destroying him. But, Owens wasn’t done in NXT. He wanted his championship back.
On August 22nd, 2015, NXT had NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn. They sold out the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York and made this the biggest NXT TakeOver event ever. On this night, Finn Bàlor defeated Kevin Owens in a Ladder Match to retain his championship, and Bayley defeated Sasha Banks to become the new NXT Women’s Champion in what could be one of the best matches of the year. As the women’s division kept evolving to new heights, it suddenly lost three top girls. Charlotte, Sasha Banks, and Becky Lynch all were called up to the main roster to start what was called the “Divas Revolution.” With 3 women gone, we gained another. One of the top women’s wrestlers in Japan made her debut in NXT. Her name is Asuka. She took the NXT women’s division by storm and quickly landed a feud with Emma and NXT upstart Dana Brooke.
On October 7th, 2015, the next TakeOver approached. NXT TakeOver: Respect.
On that night, Asuka defeated Dana Brooke, showing off her excellent skills and looking like a strong contender for the women’s title. Also on that night, new tag teams, Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder, and Jason Jordan & Chad Gable showed off their skills and set the bar high for the tag team division. At this TakeOver event, there was a huge tag team tournament labelled the “Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic”. Finn Bàlor & Samoa Joe won the tournament. The whole tag team division impressed everyone and changed the game. Speaking of impressing people, Bayley defended her women’s title against Sasha Banks in the first ever 30 minute Iron Women match (still labelled as an Iron Man). And it was in the main event. In my opinion, this match changed the women’s division forever, and it’ll never be the same again. After a fantastic match, Bayley retained her NXT Women’s Championship. The whole roster clapped for these women as well as the fans. This was their defining moment in NXT. This was also Sasha Banks’ farewell.
This leads us to now. With three of the ‘Four Horsewomen’ gone, with several NXT talent out for injury, we head into what was possibly the biggest NXT show in history. Bayley defending her championship against newcomer Nia Jax, Finn Bàlor defending his championship against Samoa Joe, Dash & Dawson defending their titles against Enzo & Cass, Apollo Crews heading into a war with Baron Corbin, And Asuka challenging bitter rival Emma made for one hell of a show. This was NXT TakeOver: London. After all of the trials and tribulations starting at a warehouse, transitioning to a reality TV game show, having a little show in Full Sail, building a name, selling out shows across America. Now, here we are. December 16th, 2015 in London, England. NXT sold out whilst having a fantastic show. Every champion retained, with Emma & Asuka having a excellent match, and Baron Corbin proving he’s a threat for the championship. This is no longer a developmental brand. This is its own brand. This is competition. This is NXT.