Believe it or not, the decade is coming to an end. And within that decade is the first 10 years of the yellow and black brand, NXT. It’s hard to believe the brand has only been around for 10 years and has grown into the size and popularity it is right now. It all started as a competition show where it occurred in seasons and developed into what you see today, which to many, is the best brand in the United States and maybe even the world. Here at Last Word on Pro Wrestling, we chronicled each and every year of NXT to show the change from the early days/origins before developmental, to the dominant brand NXT is today. Here is part one and now, its time for part two, ranging from 2015 all the way through 2019. Enjoy this look back on a decade of NXT!
Note: This is a combined effort by WWE analyst, Scott Edwards, and NXT analyst, JW Kirkland, to look back at all 10 years of NXT, from its early days of competition to the present days of taking over.
2015: The Four Horsewomen Take Center Stage, The Age Of Balor Begins
The “Women’s Evolution” in the WWE was started in late 2015 when three of the Four Horsewomen were called up following the #GiveDivasAChance motion on Twitter. But some may forget that it was started in NXT in 2015 when the women became the main act of NXT television and the TakeOver events. 2015 began with Charlotte Flair as champion and by the time it ended, three of the four women held the NXT Women’s Championship. All four women took part in a championship match that saw the “Legit Boss”, Sasha Banks, walk out the champ at TakeOver: Rival. Given what was to come later, people might overlook this match when thinking back on the best bouts in NXT history, but really, this was the one that started it all.
The next time for the women to shine was at TakeOver: Unstoppable as Sasha Banks went one-on-one with Becky Lynch in one of the most underrated TakeOver matches of the year. While Banks did win, they both came out as winners as this sparked the fandom for the “Lass Kicker”. Finally, the match that made everyone notice, especially those in the company, happened at TakeOver: Brooklyn as Sasha Banks defended her championship against Bayley. When the stars align, it can make for the perfect match and this is exactly what happened here. Many call it the best women’s match of the decade, at least in the WWE. Either way, it was a moment in time that you can go back to watch and still get the same goosebumps. Of course, it ended with Bayley winning. This led them to one more match, the main event of TakeOver: Respect which was the first time women had main evented in NXT and first time as a whole in WWE, in several years. They stole the show with a 30-minute Iron Woman match to decide the NXT Women’s Championship. It was a fitting ending for a a new era as shortly after the match, three of the four Horsewomen were brought to the main roster as part of the Women’s Revolution.
Finn Balor debuted in NXT in November of 2014, but it was 2015 where the “Age of Balor” was born. “The Demon” took the wrestling world by storm on his way to ultimately winning the NXT Championship in the middle of the summer at Beast in the East. But before that, it was “The Kevin Owens Show”. Owens destroyed his best friend, Sami Zayn, to become the NXT Champion in February. It seemed Owens was poised to dominate in NXT but WWE had other ideas, promoting him to Raw shortly after he won the title. This left the door open for a new ace in NXT and Balor took advantage of the opportunity afforded him. This was the birth of Balor’s reign. He won the NXT Championship, and it was history from there as Balor’s mark of 292 days as champ, is one that has yet to be surpassed.
2016: International Star Power, Tag Team Revelation
Finn Balor may have carried the torch for the black and gold brand into 2016, but it was “The Samoan Submission Machine” Samoa Joe and the debuting “King of Strong Style” Shinsuke Nakamura that would dominate the title picture for most of the year.
Samoa Joe would wrestle the title away from Finn Balor at a house show on April 21st. He would hold onto the belt until August 20th, where Nakamura would claim the belt in a hard-hitting match-up. Nakamura would shockingly drop it back to Joe on November 19th, with Joe becoming the first two-time NXT Champion. Nakamura would regain it shortly after at a special in Japan on December 3rd.
The women’s division would witness the most dominant reign in any division of the decade, as Asuka defeated Bayley on April 1st at Takeover: Dallas and would begin a 522-day reign as NXT Women’s Champion. She would successfully defend against Nia Jax, the woman she dethroned, Bayley, and the returning Mickie James.
The true highlight of the year came from the tag team division. The early portion was dominated by excellent matches between reigning NXT Tag Team Champions The Revival (Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder) and American Alpha (Jason Jordan & Chad Gable). The teams had great matches at Takeover: Dallas that saw American Alpha win the belts, and at Takeover: The End where The Revival shockingly regained the titles.
This feud would just be an appetizer for the unforgettable feud between The Revival and #DIY (Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa). The fan-favorite #DIY would come up just short in a series of matches against the master heels, effortlessly putting on classics while they did. #DIY would finally win the gold at NXT Takeover: Toronto in the match of the year.
2017: Asuka’s Last Stand, UK Glory, And NXT Becomes Undisputed
While NXT on the WWE Network has never been bad, most would agree that 2017 was the weakest of all years with Bobby Roode, Drew McIntyre, and Andrade “Cien” Almas as somewhat forgettable NXT Champions. What may be most remembered is that this was the end of Asuka’s historic run in NXT, that Pete Dunne and Tyler Bate put on the match of the year, and NXT’s system was shocked for the better.
Asuka’s undefeated streak and championship reign seemed to never find an end but fans continuously asked who would be the one to dethrone the “Empress of Tomorrow”. The answer? No one. Asuka’s 522-day reign ended when she relinquished the championship and moved up to the main roster. But that only happened after classics against Ember Moon. It was undeniably the most dominant run in the history of NXT and the most dominant in WWE since the rise of Goldberg.
A debuting Aleister Black began his undefeated streak at TakeOver: Orlando, quietly becoming the mysterious character that Finn Balor once was before leaving a void during 2016.
The match of the year went down at TakeOver: Chicago. Tyler Bate defended his WWE United Kingdom Championship against Pete Dunne and it became an instant classic that put both their names in the history books. Far and away, it became the match of the year and was the beginning of Pete Dunne’s historic reign as champion, a reign that came to an end in early 2019.
TakeOver: Brooklyn III saw a change in NXT, with reverberations that are still being felt today. Adam Cole‘s debut alongside Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish brought The Undisputed Era to NXT as this was the time of “Adam Cole BAY BAY”. We could sing their praises for days, but instead, let’s wait until 2019 to really appreciate all that the Era has done.
2018: Tommaso Ciampa And Johnny Gargano’s Rivalry Takes Over
Arguably the best year for in-ring action for WWE of the decade and NXT was a big part of that. At Takeover: Philadelphia, the first event of the year, NXT had it’s first five-star match (first for WWE since 2011) when Johnny Gargano and Andrade “Cien” Almas faced off for the NXT Championship. This was the first of four five star matches for the brand on the year.
The year saw the creation of a mid-card title for the brand as the NXT North American Championship was established in a five-star ladder match won by Adam Cole at Takeover New Orleans. Cole would drop the belt to the recently debuted Ricochet in a phenomenal match. It was this reign that firmly established Ricochet as one of the best in-ring workers in WWE.
The Undisputed Era’s continued dominance was put into question after an injury forced Bobby Fish to the sidelines. At Takeover: New Orleans those doubts were put to the side when Roderick Strong shocked everyone by betraying Pete Dunne to help The Era retain the titles in a three-way match.
The Era would drop the belts for a brief period to Mustache Mountain (Tyler Bate & Trent Seven) doing so in a spectacular five-star match. They would regain shortly after and continue their dominance into the next year.
For the women, it was all about the rise of Shayna Baszler. She dethroned Women’s Champion Ember Moon at Takeover: New Orleans and established the stranglehold she’s had on the women’s division since then. She did temporarily lose her belt to Kairi Sane but regained it at the first all women’s event Evolution.
Though Almas and Aleister Black had excellent matches/feuds to start the year, nothing can hold a candle to the story between Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano. This started out as a pure blood feud that simultaneously made Johnny Gargano one of the most sympathetic babyfaces and Tommaso Ciampa the most despicable heel in the business. They clashed in show-stealing main events, even before Ciampa won the title from Black. Gargano’s obsession with defeating Ciampa led him to the dark side, as he attacked Black to ensure he faced Ciampa one on one for the NXT Championship. Gargano came up short and Ciampa would close out the year with a successful defense against Aleister Black and the Velveteen Dream.
2019: Undisputed Dominance
NXT’s greatest year to date has arguably been this most recent one, 2019. From the WWE Network to USA Network, NXT proved not only to be enough competition for AEW but also for the main roster as they became the premier brand on their road to such dominance. Without The Undisputed Era, this undisputed dominance may not even slightly have been possible. Undisputed dominance means many things for NXT. Adam Cole began this run for them by having the best year of possibly any professional wrestler in 2019. His two classics against Johnny Gargano made people know Cole meant business and he was willing to lead the way.
Cole won the championship at TakeOver: XXV by pinning Gargano in the center of the ring to top off their half an hour classic. He was followed by Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish, who managed to capture the NXT Tag Team Championships from The Street Profits during the final tapings of NXT. And finally, it was Roderick Strong who obtained the NXT North American Championship from Velveteen Dream on the NXT on USA debut. A banner year for The Undisputed Era, which is nowhere close to being done in this remembrance.
Shayna Baszler almost held the championship for an entire calendar year, but her 416-day reign ended on the final live NXT of 2019 at the hands of Rhea Ripley. Ripley, who solidified her future as the next top dog of the women’s division in just a matter of months but Baszler’s dominance cannot be overlooked either, as she dominated in what most consider as the most stacked NXT women’s division ever.
Johnny Gargano achieved his dream of winning the NXT Championship, and while the reign was short-lived, it was the perfect ending to a journey that saw Gargano face his demons, go through woes, and put on the best matches of his life. He has returned but solidified himself as the ace of NXT.
What may be most important in the dominance of NXT this year was their shot at being able to compete with both Raw and SmackDown. Many will remember the Nov. 1 edition of SmackDown, the one where NXT had to take over due to plane problems. It was perfect. Adam Cole pinned Daniel Bryan in the middle of the ring. Shayna Baszler laid waste to Bayley, and the rest of the roster did what they could to leave their mark. November became a month of NXT vs everyone, which turned out to work perfectly as NXT dominated at Survivor Series, winning 4-2-1 over both main roster shows. And what was even better? Keith Lee became one of the best stories late in 2019 by putting himself on a pedestal for the “regular” fans of the WWE to appreciate. It was the perfect year and perfect end to the decade for NXT.
Dominance ends the decade for a brand that was just a game show competition and now stands atop the wrestling world as the best weekly wrestling show on television. We hope you enjoyed this decade of reflection for NXT.
Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world, as well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world. Be sure to catch all of the NXT action via the WWE Network.