WWE: Every NXT Champion Ranked

At TakeOver: New York a new NXT Champion will be crowned
At TakeOver: New York a new NXT Champion will be crowned
Hunter Wright

NXT, originally a developmental brand, has exploded in popularity becoming the third brand of WWE. Serving as the stomping grounds to many future WWE superstars, the NXT Championship has been a prestigious honor. Fourteen men have held the title.

For the first time ever the championship is held vacant, and the fifteenth champion will be crowned at TakeOver: New York in a two out of three falls match between Johnny Gargano and Adam Cole. The winner will join some elite company as we countdown the greatest champions in the history of the yellow brand.

#14 Drew McIntyre

Mt. McIntyre
Mt. McIntyre

First and foremost, Drew McIntyre is great. The Celtic Colossus is as talented as they come and is one of the best superstars on this list. For the purpose of this article however, we are only looking at his title reign and not his unlimited potential. McIntyre blew through NXT like a hurricane, quickly racking up wins and earning a title shot, defeating Bobby Roode for the title at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn III.

This was a difficult list to rank as NXT champions are almost always the very best competitors on the brand and typically enjoy lengthy reigns. McIntyre ranks not as the worst champion ever, but merely the least impactful as his reign lasted 91 days, making him the second shortest reigning champion of all time.

McIntyre bellowed that he didn't just climb the mountain in NXT, but he is "the bloody mountain!" This gem of a promo, along with a stellar championship match against Adam Cole with Shawn Michaels as the special guest referee, were among McIntyre's few contributions to the yellow brand as their flag bearer. Most of his reign saw him getting attacked from behind, by the debuting Undisputed ERA, and by Andrade "Cien" Almas.

#13 Bo Dallas

Bo-lieve this actually happened
Bo-lieve this actually happened

Yes Bo Dallas was NXT Champion once upon a time. Yes this is the same Bo Dallas that was in the Miztourage and teams with Curtis Axel calling themselves the B-Team. Let that sink in.

Bo ranks ahead of McIntyre for one reason and one reason only, his reign lasted 260 days. What you need to realize though is that Bo was quite entertaining in NXT. Trying to be an over the top white meat baby face to the point that it was revolting. Bo was such a "good guy" that you hated the sight of him.

From him trying to copy Daniel Bryan and "occupy NXT", to the security chase scene where he refused to leave NXT (had he known what fate awaited him on the main roster he may have tried much harder), Bo was a highlight. During his reign Bo drew legit heel heat, which is almost a lost art these days.

#12 Big E Langston

The five-time, five-time, five time, five-time, five-time tag team champion introduced NXT to the era of
The five-time, five-time, five time, five-time, five-time tag team champion introduced NXT to the era of "five"

Big E Langston, who has since dropped the "Langston" from his name, was the second ever NXT champion, reigning for 153 days. Big E used to plead the ref for a five-count when pinning his opponents, an homage to the recently deceased King Kong Bundy.

The late great WWE legend was not satisfied with pinning his opponents to the mat for a three count and would demand a five count. Big E would also pander to the crowd by decimating his opponents with multiple finishers.

After hitting the Big Ending, fans would ecstatically chant "one more time", and Big E would happily comply, picking his opponents back up just to drop them again, and again.

#11 Sami Zayn

At least he got to have some fun during his flash in the pan reign
At least he got to have some fun during his flash in the pan reign

Clocking in at 62 days, Zayn's title reign makes him the shortest reigning champion of all time. Zayn's time at the top may have been short lived, but his ranking is due in large part to the journey. While only achievements as champion count for this list, Zayn's championship victory was among the best feel good moments in the history of NXT as he put his career on the line.

On a road similar to the one Johnny Gargano travels now, everyone wanted Zayn to be champion, and Zayn did everything he could to become champion. Fighting for his life and overcoming every obstacle in his way, the Underdog from the Underground scratched and clawed his way to the title.

Zayn battled his close friend Neville for the title, fell short, and battled back and eventually won the big one. Zayn and the fans were rewarded for all of his hard work, and used his struggle to put over the man that would take his dream from him in the end. Anybody that beat Zayn at that point would instantly be public enemy number one in NXT.

#10 Aleister Black

Unlucky 13 cracks the top 10
Unlucky 13 cracks the top 10

In this world there is light, and there is dark, somewhere in the middle lies Aleister Black. The Devil's Envoy had an Undertaker-esque mystique about him, serving as the moral compass of NXT. Undefeated in singles competition, the Dutch Destroyer earned a shot at the NXT Championship.

At TakeOver: New Orleans Black claimed the devil on his back. The 13th champion in NXT history only needed one shot, is devastating Black Mass spinning heel kick, to make his challengers fade to black.

Unfortunately for Black, his 108 day reign was overshadowed by the Gargano and Ciampa rivalry. Black did not main event a single TakeOver, and never felt like the man in NXT. Personally I enjoyed Black as champion, but he was a made man who didn't need the title.

#9 Seth Rollins

The first ever NXT Champion
The first ever NXT Champion

Seth Rollins was the first ever NXT Champion, winning the title in the finals of a gold rush tournament and reigning for 133 days. Serving as NXT's first success story, Seth Freakin' Rollins has made quite a name for himself.

In fact, he has made many names for himself. From Monday Night Rollins, to the Kingslayer, Rollins hopes to be dubbed the Beastslayer when he faces the Beast Incarnate at WrestleMania for the Universal Championship. It all started in NXT though, the stomping grounds of Rollins. It was as the reigning NXT Champion that Rollins formed the Shield with Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns.

#8 Bobby Roode

The "Glorious" era

The Glorious Bobby Roode enjoyed a glorious 202 days as NXT Champion. Roode made it clear that this was his NXT, and won the championship one year after debuting. Exploiting the injuries of then champion Shinsuke Nakamura, Roode won the title on the strength of old school in-ring technique.

Roode was a classic heel. His character was all about making money, and making NXT mainstream. The longer he was champion, the more money he could make, and the more popular NXT was, the more money he could make. Looking like a cross between Ric Flair and Triple H, Roode was every bit as good as he thought he was.

Roode even encouraged GM William Regal to pit two undefeated superstars, Drew McIntyre and Killian Dain, in a number one contender's match. Saying that it would be a money match and he would easily beat whoever won anyway. Unfortunately this is where Roode's luck ran out as McIntyre prevailed.

#7 Adrian Neville

The man formerly known as Adrian Neville
The man formerly known as Adrian Neville

Known as The Man Gravity Forgot, Adrian Neville defied the laws of physics for 286 days as NXT Champion. Many may have forgotten how good Neville is, as he was only allowed to shine on "minor" shows. Dropping the first name Adrian, Neville had a forgettable main roster run before being moved to 205 Live. There the King of the Cruiserweights reminded us of the man formerly known as Adrian.

The second longest reigning NXT Champion in history won the title in a ladder match against Bo Dallas, and dropped it to Sami Zayn in a title vs. career match. Neville was the first man to win two titles in NXT as he was a former Tag Team Champion when he won the NXT Championship.

#6 Andrade "Cien" Almas

Almas and his business partner Zelina Vega
Almas and his business partner Zelina Vega

Andrade "Cien" Almas rose from obscurity in NXT when he aligned himself with his business partner Zelina Vega. The sharp-tongued New Yorker served as the mouth piece for El Idolo, allowing Almas to focus solely on his in-ring work.

A reinvented Almas challenged Drew McIntyre for the NXT Championship at the first TakeOver: War Games. Vega did her part during the 139 day reign to keep the title on Almas, involving herself in matches, interfering, and the usual heel manager tactics.

On January 27, 2018 at TakeOver: Philadelphia, Almas defended his title against a white-hot Johnny Gargano in WWE's first five star match since 2011.

#5 Shinsuke Nakamura

Strong Style Shinsuke
Strong Style Shinsuke

One of the hottest free agent signings in WWE history (and isn't it sad to think about his place in the company now), Shinsuke Nakamura came to NXT from New Japan Pro Wrestling. Nakamura debuted to huge fanfare and his first match was against Sami Zayn.

Nakamura defeated Samoa Joe at TakeOver: Brooklyn II. Nakamura reigned for 91 days before losing the title back to Joe. After winning the title back, Nakamura reigned for another 56 days before dropping the title to Bobby Roode.

Nakamura was charismatic, captivating, and utilized strong style wrestling that gave his matches a big fight feel and since of realness.

#4 Kevin Owens

Owens debuting on Raw with the NXT Championship
Owens debuting on Raw with the NXT Championship

Kevin Owens is one of the best heels in the world. Remember when I said anyone that beat Sami Zayn would be public enemy number one? Insert KO. Owens debuted as Zayn's best friend, then quickly turned the tables when he descimated Zayn after winning the NXT Championship. Making it clear the the title was more important to him than friendship, Owens found himself across the ring from Zayn at TakeOver: Rival.

Owens won the title due to referee stoppage when it was determined that Zayn could not continue the match. Owens reigned for 142 days and would debut on Monday Night Raw with the NXT Championship, lay out John Cena, and stepped on the United States Championship.

Making a name for himself and bringing exposure to the NXT Championship, Owens is the first superstar to ever debut on the main roster with the belt (Rollins did not bring the belt with him when he debuted with the Shield).

#3 Samoa Joe

The Samoan Submission Machine
The Samoan Submission Machine

Samoa Joe is a beast. Point blank, Joe is a beast. The Samoan Submission Machine waited until he could wait no longer and demanded his shot at the NXT Championship. Joe battled for the title at three TakeOvers before winning the championship at a house show.

Joe claimed he is 100% pure monster all the time, and that was the truth. For 121 days Joe was the monster champion, before losing to Shinsuke Nakamura. Joe won the title back, becoming the first ever two-time NXT Champion. Joe dropped the title back two weeks later, capping off the stellar series of matches he had with Nakamura. Joe was unstoppable, he took what he wanted and left nothing but broken bodies in his wake.

#2 Tommaso Ciampa

Ciampa admiring his precious
Ciampa admiring his precious "Goldie"

"This is my moment", a warning from Tommaso Ciampa that the NXT Universe should have heeded. Ciampa returned from a torn ACL as the most dangerous man in all of NXT. The devil on Aleister Black's back became the devil in Ciampa's ear when Ciampa brought Black's reign to a "fairy tale ending".

Ciampa claimed he was the greatest sports entertainer of all time, and it was hard to argue with the man. Ciampa called the NXT Championship "Goldie", and would talk to the belt. He was, as Mauro Ranallo put it, a vile disgusting creature. Ciampa would do anything and everything to keep Goldie.

Ciampa remains the only man to beat Black one-on-one in NXT. Ciampa brought the title back to the main event by inserting it into the Ciampa-Gargano story line. Stealing the show at every TakeOver, Ciampa played his challengers like puppets, prompting Black to dub him "puppet master".

Unfortunately Ciampa's neck surgery brings his reign to an end at 238 days. Looking at Ciampa's reign it is hard not to put him at number one, yet the way it ended was like reading a fairy tale, and someone rips out the final chapter. Circumstance lands Ciampa at number two on this list, as there was so much story left to be told, and a lot left desired.

#1 Finn Balor

Balor is the greatest in NXT history
Balor is the greatest in NXT history

This will come as no surprise to the yellow brand faithful. Finn Balor is the man that made NXT the third brand. The founder of Japan's Bullet Club, Prince Devitt debuted in NXT under the name Finn Balor. Initially teaming with Hideo Itami in his rivalry with the Ascension, Balor would pave his own path in NXT, a path that led to an NXT Championship match against Kevin Owens in Tokyo, Japan.

Essentially a home game for a man that accomplished so much in the Land of the Rising Sun, Balor defeated Owens and became the man in NXT. Balor held the championship for 292 days, making him the longest reigning champion in NXT history.

Armed with a secret weapon, Balor was untouchable in NXT. The Demon, Balor's alter ego, his dark side, the Mr. Hyde to Balor's Dr. Jekyll. When Balor put the war paint on and became the Demon, he was unstoppable.

The Demon took many forms as Balor traveled the world defending his championship. At TakeOver: London the Demon appeared as Jack the Ripper, coming out to screams and with the face of the murderer painted on his back. At TakeOver: Dallas Balor drew inspiration from Texas Chainsaw, emerging in a cloak and waiving a chainsaw around on his way to the ring.

There is no undermining the importance of Finn Balor to the legacy of NXT, arguably the brand's biggest draw ever. Bullet Club may have started in Japan, but Balor Club started in NXT.

Edited by Gabby Duran


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