I’m the first to admit, I’ve been very lax with my NXT watching. With the sheer enormity of content on the WWE Network, the developmental territory kept getting pushed back in my priorities. However, now that Doc Manson and I are the Number Two Contenders, I had to step my game up. So, for the last few days, I’ve caught up with NXT, beginning with the show post-Takeover to last week’s episode.
Based on this ‘extensive’ viewing, I now present my NXT Top 10. Some quick disclaimers before we begin - I did not consider any talent that had extensive WWE experience; so my apologies to Tyson Kidd, Justin Gabriel and Adam Rose. This is also based on an admittedly small sample size.
I took the following factors into consideration when compiling my list:
- In-Ring Talent
- Current character / gimmick
- Verbal skills / mic talent
- “It” factor, the je ne sais quoi that draws attention to a superstar.
I’ll also make two comparisons for each talent, a “floor” of what they could be if they’re just an average talent and a “ceiling” if they win the lottery that is WWE superstardom.
These three came close, but didn’t crack my top 10, so Honorable Mentions go to CJ Parker, Kalisto and Sasha Banks
And here. We. Go.
He only made 2 appearances on the NXT events I saw, one in a tag match and one against Adam Rose, but Jordon caught my eye each time he was on the Network. Part of it is the fact that I’m a sucker for a wrestler with amateur experience (attributing to my own high-school wrestling days, when I didn’t come anywhere close to winning a state title). Part of it is Jordon’s obvious natural athleticism. There isn’t anything remotely close to a character yet, though he was remotely entertaining during his interplay with partner Ty Dillinger, so Jordon obviously has a lot of work to do in NXT.
At worst, I see him being a Charlie Haas type - good mechanic who has some good matches, but basically just enhances other talent on Smackdown and Main Event. If he takes off, though, he could wind up being more like Haas’ partner Shelton Benjamin, an amazing in-ring competitor who has a decent mid-card run.
I hear many of you saying “But Teach, Kofi Kingston already is this generation’s Shelton Benjamin.” I’m inclined to agree, but I’m holding out hope that the new stable Kofi is in gets him to another level of stardom.
#9 - Mojo Rawley
There’s no denying Mojo’s supreme athletic ability, but I can’t get behind his gimmick. What is “hyped” and why would I want to stay that way? It sounds exhausting. I can’t see Mojo in his current character making any impact on the WWE, despite having the physical look Vince usually goes for.
If Rawley goes to WWE without any significant change, he runs the risk of becoming Kurrgan in the Oddities - a large guy who is used solely for comedy. If the NXT braintrust repackage him into something that works, however (I’ve already made my case for him being the first in a Bo-liever stable as a starting point), I could see him capitalizing on that and, with luck, you might be looking at the next Batista.
#8 Colin Cassady
Colin might be one of the few talents I saw week in and week out on NXT, which is usually a good sign. He’s got the size going for him and his in-ring work is solid, though a leaping elbow drop isn’t my idea of an impressive finisher. He’s been reunited with partner Enzo Amore, who serves as the mouthpiece of the group, so he obviously needs some mic work, but I’ve liked what I’ve seen thus far from Big Cass.
He’s got Test written all over him (despite the fact that facially, he looks like Edge’s younger brother), though if he continues to serve as the muscle behind a good talker, there’s Diesel level potential here.
#7 - Bull Dempsey
Bull Dempsey is a throwback, the self-proclaimed “Last of a Dying Breed”, and I have been absolutely captivated by him the two times he appeared. No frills, no fancy hand gestures or dance moves, he just goes out and competes. He also handled himself on the mic fairly well for a debuting superstar, so I think there’s a lot to like with Dempsey.
He runs the risk of becoming the next Mantaur if WWE decides to go overboard with the Bull-ness of his character. (Seriously, I wouldn’t be entirely shocked if he came out as El Torito’s big brother El Toro at some point) If they give him time to develop, book his matches right, and for the love of God give him some longer trunks, he could be Bam Bam Bigelow. That might not seem like high praise to many fans, but Bam Bam was a big star in his day.
#6 - Adrian Neville
Alright, now I’ve gone completely nuts, right? How can I possibly rank the NXT champion in the bottom half of my top 10 rankings? I wouldn’t blame you if you got this far in reading and just turned off your computer in disgust, but hear me out.
There’s no denying Neville’s got talent in the ring - he was the only wrestler to receive a perfect score for wrestling ability in my rankings. I just couldn’t give him high scores in the other categories. Outside of being the “Man that Gravity Forgot”, what’s his character? What is it about him that makes me take notice once the match is over?
Obviously he has Rob Van Dam level potential here, and I’m talking RVD in his prime, not the guy Neville beat a few weeks ago. But Neville is in danger of being more like Paul London right now; incredibly talented in the ring but unable to achieve anything higher than low to mid card status.
#5 - Charlotte
The only female to make it into my rankings, Charlotte is the current NXT Women’s champion, and for good reason. I enjoy her in-ring abilities more than any other woman on the roster, and I’m talking both NXT and WWE here. She’s decent on the mic, her conceited heel characters works on all levels, and I’m even beginning to be able to look at her and not think about Ric Flair after a long night in Vegas, parading around in women’s clothing and elbow-dropping the roulette table.
She’s already on par with Natalya, if not a little bit ahead of her at this point, and if she keeps things going, she’s got the potential to dominate women’s wrestling like no female has since Alundra Blayze / Madusa.
Note: We all have to admit, though, that at some point, Charlotte’s going to be “The Nature Girl” or some version of that, right?
#4 - Sami Zayn
I have the same problem with Zayn as I did with Adrian Neville - love the ring work, love the talent, question the character and its progression in WWE. Zayn gains extra points for having better verbal skills than Adrian as well as being everybody’s Independent - wrestling darling.
That’s likely where they’d go with Zayn if he got called up in the near future; independent wrestling hero, our next Daniel Bryan (or CM Punk, though WWE likely won’t be mentioning his name anytime soon). Sami could be Daniel Bryan, too, if they pumped up the underdog angle who has to fight and scratch his way to any success he can get.
I hesitate here because, based on Bryan’s injury and Punk’s disappearance, I don’t know if WWE is going to be gung-ho about promoting another fairly under-sized indie darling to the main event picture. Zayn might wind up being more like Kaval / Low-Ki, who eventually decides going back to the independent scene is a better move after no significant push while in “The Show”.
#3 - The Vaudevillains
Go ahead and laugh; mock me all you want, but I’m not shying away from it. The Vaudevillains have been my favorite part of NXT, and not just because Simon Gotch is the only wrestler to ever retweet me. I absolutely adore everything about these two right now. The black and white vignettes with the poor silent-movie style dubbing, the entrance, their in-ring work, I’m all-in. If they’re not on WWE programming by 2015, I’ll be sorely disappointed.
Yes, they’re always going to be more of a comedy duo in their current iteration, and I’m OK with that. Sure, they might be The Bushwhackers, but do you know who was also mostly a comedy team at one point? Edge and Christian, and while Aiden English and Simon Gotch might never be world champions someday, they have the potential to be that kind of tag team, and I can’t wait to see it.
#2 - The Ascension
One team that will likely never be put in the comedy role is The Ascension. I honestly don’t know why Konnor and Viktor haven’t been called up yet. The tag team division has been stagnant for months and these two have the look and the talent to be big stars.
I need you all to stop here and tell me Viktor (the little one) doesn’t look exactly like Christopher Daniels. I mean, seriously, it’s almost eerie.
The Ascension doesn’t get a lot of mic time, and after seeing a quick promo on a recent NXT, I see why. That’s the one glaring hole in their game right now. If The Undertaker was still a regular wrestler, these two would be the new Acolytes, and that’s their floor right now. However, with the relative weakness in the tag division and the way they’ve run roughshod over the teams in NXT as of late, I’m getting much more of a Road Warriors / Legion of Doom vibe from Konnor and Viktor. These two could be WWE tag champs for the better part of the next 5 years.
Note: Thanks to @_WrestlingWorld for providing this bit of creative booking: Put Ascension with Kane in a stable. Love this idea.
#1 - Tyler Breeze
Tyler Breeze is the most complete package currently on the NXT roster. He’s got the look, the in-ring skills (again, though, I’d advise a different finisher than a spinning heel kick), the mic skills and the “it” factor. He plays his completely self-absorbed character perfectly, which actually lets him get away with any minor flaws in his promos, since he’s too busy looking at himself.
Much like The Ascension, Tyler Breeze could be ready for the call up to WWE right now, but I actually like that they’re giving him time to continue getting better in NXT. As I explained in a previous column, the more time talent has to finesse their character and hone their craft, the better. (This is why Bo Dallas is running wild on RAW and Adam Rose was on NXT last week) When Tyler Breeze is eventually called up, he’ll be able to take the ball and run with it. At worst, he’s a rich man’s John Morrison. At best, he’s Shawn Michaels from post-Rockers to Wrestlemania X, and we all know how that turned out.
To put it another way, the sky’s the limit for Tyler Breeze.