Ranking the 10 Best Moments in WWE NXT 5 Years After WWE Network Debut

Graham GSM Matthews@@WrestleRantFeatured ColumnistFebruary 27, 2019

Ranking the 10 Best Moments in WWE NXT 5 Years After WWE Network Debut

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    NXT has supplied fans with many memorable moments since its WWE Network debut in 2014.
    NXT has supplied fans with many memorable moments since its WWE Network debut in 2014.Credit: WWE.com

    When WWE Network launched in February 2014, fans were excited for the easy access they now had to every past pay-per-view ever, not realizing the incredible impact the revolutionary streaming service would have on the company's developmental branch, NXT.

    The black-and-gold brand had been around since Triple H orchestrated its mass rebranding in 2012, but without a proper home, many members of the WWE Universe didn't even know it existed or where they could watch it.

    WWE Network changed that, giving the guys and girls of NXT a home on Wednesday nights immediately after its launch.

    In the five years NXT has been on WWE Network, it has become bigger than anyone could have imagined. Not only is it essentially its own entity at this point separate from SmackDown Live and Raw, NXT is also the hottest commodity under the WWE umbrella at the moment (and possibly beyond).

    The quarterly TakeOver events on the Network have also played an important role in giving NXT talent a platform to shine, be showcased and fine-tune their skills. Fans have been questioning for years when the product would peak, but it remains as thrilling as ever and has shown no signs of slowing down.

    On the five year anniversary of NXT Arrival, let's look back at the top 10 best moments in the history of the brand on WWE Network.

Honorable Mentions

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    The Debut of the Demon (Dec. 11, 2014)

    TakeOver: R Evolution is among the strongest TakeOvers top to bottom NXT has ever done.

    On that evening, Finn Balor teamed with Hideo Itami to do battle with The Ascension, but before the bout, he donned demonic body paint for the first time in NXT and gave everyone in attendance goosebumps with his chilling entrance.

    It went on to become a focal point of his character from that point forward, specifically on the TakeOver specials.

            

    Finn Balor and Samoa Joe Join Forces to Honor Dusty Rhodes (Oct. 7, 2015)

    Over the year that followed, Balor became NXT champion and looked to add to his long list of accolades by entering himself into the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic—a tag team tournament created to honor the memory of the late, great Dusty Rhodes.

    He and Samoa Joe put their differences aside and forged a friendship (albeit briefly) to capture the trophy and make history by beating Baron Corbin and Rhyno in the finals at TakeOver: Respect.

           

    The Streak Begins (April 1, 2016)

    The Four Horsewomen were the cornerstones of NXT's women's division early on, but it was Asuka who kept the legacy alive with her record-setting reign as NXT women's champion.

    The undefeated Empress of Tomorrow knocked off Bayley at TakeOver: Dallas to clinch the championship and embark on one of the most dominant title runs of all time.

            

    WarGames Returns (Nov. 18, 2017)

    Who would have thought WarGames (a WCW staple) would return under the WWE banner in NXT of all places, let alone 17 years removed from its last installment?

    The black-and-gold brand did right by the concept and executed it to perfection with Undisputed Era reigning supreme over Sanity and the trio of Authors of Pain and Roderick Strong.

    It has since become an annual event for NXT over Survivor Series weekend.

             

    Adam Cole is Crowned the Inaugural NXT North American Champion (April 7, 2018)

    NXT eventually grew to the point where having more than one singles title for the men was necessary.

    Thus, the first-ever NXT North American champion was determined in a star-studded six-man ladder match at TakeOver: New Orleans, and it was one of the best bouts in NXT to date.

    When the smoke cleared, it was Adam Cole who stood tall with the title in his grasp.

10. NXT Arrives (Feb. 27, 2014)

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    While this isn't a standalone moment, 2014's NXT Arrival event deserves to be acknowledged and appreciated as a whole for everything it did to introduce the brand to a much larger audience than it was used to by that point.

    Previously, only a handful of fans were able to get their NXT fix by tuning into the weekly show on Hulu or by seeking it out online. Most members of the WWE Universe would have never known it was still airing after it was taken off television in 2010, and as a result, it gradually gained traction as the best-kept secret in pro wrestling at the time.

    The purpose of NXT Arrival, which was the first wrestling show to be broadcast live on WWE Network, was to work out any bugs the company had with the streaming service ahead of WrestleMania 30.

    It's unknown if the event was meant to be anything but a "guinea pig" for the Network, but that didn't stop the NXT roster from putting forth an exceptional effort and getting the wrestling world talking with their show-stealing performances.

    The night's top three bouts (Sami Zayn vs. Cesaro, Paige vs. Emma, and Neville vs. Bo Dallas in a ladder match) were all outstanding and different than what the WWE product was offering back then. In the process, they proved themselves as more than just "rookies." Rather, they were the real must-see stars of WWE.

    Due to the success of Arrival, NXT instituted the TakeOver specials that spring, and they have arguably been the best part about WWE Network in the last five years.

9. Shinsuke Nakamura Leaves a Lasting Impression (April 1, 2016)

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    Hideo Itami, Finn Balor and Asuka all paved the way for Shinsuke Nakamura to come to WWE, because had it not been for their success in Japan and later in NXT, it's possible he would have never been signed.

    He had been a notable name in New Japan Pro-Wrestling for close to a decade, but a large portion of the NXT fanbase wasn't overly familiar with him when it was announced he was joining the promotion in February 2016.

    Even though expectations weren't high for his arrival, that didn't make his remarkable debut at TakeOver: Dallas any less impressive.

    After Sami Zayn entered the ring, Nakamura emerged at the top of the ramp and the entire arena started buzzing. Within seconds, he had completely captivated with his epic entrance music and eccentric mannerisms, coming off like a total star in the process.

    Nakamura cemented his status as a major fan favorite before the bell even rang. He proceeded to make an unbelievable first impression by ripping it up with Zayn in what was regarded by many as the Match of the Year for 2016.

    Granted, there was no story behind the bout, but it didn't matter. The amazing in-ring action took fans on a roller-coaster ride and gave them a glimpse of what The King of Strong Style was capable of.

    It was a debut for the ages that set the tone for the tremendous year that would follow for him in NXT.

8. Charlotte and Natalya Change the Game (May 29, 2014)

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    Paige and Emma helped put women's wrestling on the map with their incredible clash over the NXT Women's Championship at NXT Arrvial. Somehow, though, Charlotte and Natalya were able to outdo them when they went to war three months later at TakeOver in the finals of the NXT Women's Championship Tournament.

    It must be noted that prior to this point, Charlotte was a relative unknown. Yes, it had been well-established that she was the daughter of WWE Hall of Famer Ric Flair, but other than that, she was merely a background player in the NXT women's division.

    However, she turned a ton of heads by beating Emma and Alexa Bliss in the first two rounds of the tourney. It wasn't until she locked up with Natalya at TakeOver that it became clear she was a natural in the ring and had the potential to be a breakout star in the years to come.

    With father Ric and Bret Hart cheering them on from ringside, Natalya and Charlotte traded blows and pulled out everything in their arsenals in an attempt to put the other away. In the end, the Flair family scion forced her opponent to tap out to the Figure Eight, resulting in her first taste of gold in WWE.

    Compared to today's women's matches, this may not be anything too special, but it was a real game-changer at the time for the ladies of WWE, serving as an example of how they could steal the show if given the opportunity.

    Natalya and Charlotte have rekindled their rivalry on a few occasions over the years, but none of their recent matches have been as magical as that original encounter.

7. DIY Triumphs in Toronto (Nov. 19, 2016)

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    The tag team of Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano were aptly named DIY because they showed early on they were willing to do everything themselves without taking shortcuts.

    They were the ultimate underdogs who were never expected to succeed, instead getting over with the audience through their determination to overcome the odds and be the best NXT's tag team division had to offer.

    They first challenged The Revival for the NXT Tag Team Championship at TakeOver: Brooklyn II and narrowly fell short of victory. However, thanks to their strong showing against the champs, they received another title opportunity at TakeOver: Toronto that November.

    The rematch was a 2-out-of-3 Falls bout, so if DIY couldn't win, their days in the NXT Tag Team Championship picture would be over. Meanwhile, The Revival were at the top of their game and weren't going to relinquish their grasp on the titles so easily.

    The first fall was won by The Revival following a Shatter Machine on Gargano, and then DIY evened the score by hitting their running knee/superkick combination on Scott Dawson.

    The tension was high during that final stretch, and in what was a beautiful visual, both members of The Revival submitted simultaneously to award DIY the third fall and the twin titles.

    For all the times Ciampa teased turning on Gargano, their hard work paid off in the form of the NXT Tag Team Championship at long last. This emotional moment that saw DIY prevail in The Six capped off the single best tag team match in the history of the promotion.

6. Undisputed Era Shock the System (Aug. 19, 2017)

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    Within weeks of his departure from Impact Wrestling, Drew McIntyre made his presence felt in NXT by showing up in the crowd at TakeOver: Orlando over the WrestleMania 33 weekend.

    He wasted no time in working his way up the ladder on the brand and earning himself an NXT Championship match at TakeOver: Brooklyn III mere months later.

    McIntyre was the right guy for NXT to run with as the new face of the franchise, but his outing against Bobby Roode that night fell flat, at least compared to everything else that preceded it on the show.

    They failed to deliver a must-see main event, and as cool as it was to see McIntyre become champion, the match felt like it ended on an underwhelming note.

    That was, however, until Kyle O'Reilly and Bobby Fish surfaced at ringside, coming off their unannounced appearance earlier that evening following the NXT Tag Team Championship matchup.

    They distracted McIntyre on the apron long enough to divert attention away from Adam Cole running through the audience and blasting the newly crowned champion from behind.

    Cole's arrival in NXT had been rumored and expected for months, but the fans were clearly happy to see the former three-time ROH World champion based on the reaction he received. He, Fish and O'Reilly took turns laying a beating on McIntyre and left him looking up at the lights as they walked back up the ramp.

    The trio, collectively known as Undisputed Era, were poised to make an impact on their first night on the NXT scene and succeeded at doing just that. They remain an exciting staple on the black-and-gold brand to this day.

5. DIY Implode (May 20, 2017)

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    As amazing as DIY's NXT Tag Team Championship win was, their reign was short-lived. Two months removed from their title victory over The Revival, Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa dropped the straps to Authors of Pain and were defeated in decisive fashion.

    DIY continued to chase the tag titles in the months that followed, first challenging for the championship at TakeOver: Orlando and again at TakeOver: Chicago. On both occasions, Gargano and Ciampa were unsuccessful in regaining the gold, and it was unknown at that point what the future held for them as a unit.

    Following their last loss to AOP, Gargano and Ciampa slowly made their way back up the ramp and soaked in the adulation from the audience as they stood on the stage. It felt like a sendoff for the tandem (one that would normally signal a move to the main roster), and in a way it was, but just not for that reason.

    In the final few moments of the show, Ciampa mouthed the words "This is my moment" to a confused Gargano before bashing his now-former partner's head into the video wall. The cheers from the crowd quickly turned to boos as Ciampa took his time mocking Gargano and hitting him with a vicious kick to the skull.

    All tag teams go their separate ways at some point, but the breakups that pack the biggest punch are the ones you don't see coming. There was no immediate explanation for Ciampa's actions, and he actually had to spend the remainder of the year on the shelf with an injury, but this brutal assault had fans salivating over the idea of an eventual feud between the two (which they did not disappoint in delivering).

4. Samoa Joe Debuts (May 20, 2015)

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    The heated rivalry between Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn escalated to a point by TakeOver: Unstoppable that the ring couldn't contain the bad blood they had for each other. They fought for a bit, but the bout was eventually thrown out once they started brawling around ringside and weapons were thrown into the mix.

    Zayn was already injured going into the match, so Owens had no trouble targeting his hurt shoulder and hitting him with powerbomb after powerbomb. Referees and even NXT general manager William Regal tried to prevent KO from inflicting further damage on his former friend, but the NXT champion was relentless in his assault.

    The only thing that caused Owens to stop in his tracks was an entrance song unfamiliar to fans. The audience was alert with anticipation, awaiting to see who would step through the curtain to confront The Prizefighter until he finally did.

    Enter Samoa Joe.

    It was unheard of at the time for stars from other promotions (such as Impact) to surface in NXT under their original ring name, yet Joe proved to be the exception to the rule. The crowd lost their minds as he stepped between the ropes and came face-to-face with Owens.

    Interestingly enough, nothing came of their confrontation that night, but Joe did go on to attain great success in NXT that ultimately earned him a spot on the WWE main roster.

3. Johnny Gargano Vanquishes Tommaso Ciampa (April 7, 2018)

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    Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa have already popped up on this list a handful of times, and rightfully so, because few individuals have been more instrumental in the success of the brand since 2014.

    First, they captured the NXT Tag Team Championship together, and then Ciampa turned his back on Gargano when he got everything he could out of him.

    Gargano was negatively affected by their split in the months that followed, but when Ciampa returned at the onset of 2018 to continue making life miserable for him, Johnny Wrestling set out to avenge the betrayal and give Ciampa his comeuppance.

    Shortly before TakeOver: New Orleans, Ciampa cost Gargano a match against Andrade "Cien" Almas that forced Gargano out of NXT, effectively making their match at the event "unsanctioned."

    If Gargano could beat the man who had been a thorn in his side for nearly a year, he would not only gain a measure of revenge but also his spot on the roster back.

    With there being no disqualifications, Gargano and Ciampa were allowed to take the fight all around the arena and inflict as much on pain on each other as they pleased. Between the abundance of callbacks to their past as partners to the breathtaking story they told, virtually everything about the match was flawless.

    Above all else, Gargano refused to give in to Ciampa's mind games and instead locked him in the Gargano Escape for the definitive submission victory. The former NXT Tag Team champion celebrated his huge win with wife Candice LeRae like an incredible weight had been lifted from his shoulders, even though his feud with Ciampa was far from over.

2. Sasha Banks and Bayley Contest a Classic in Brooklyn (Aug. 22, 2015)

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    The rise of women's wrestling in WWE can largely be attributed to years of hard work involving the Four Horsewomen of NXT: Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch and Bayley.

    The first three ladies all arrived on WWE's main roster in the same night, leaving Bayley behind in NXT. That was turned into angle soon after with Banks chastising Bayley for not heading to the main roster with them and telling her that she wasn't worthy of holding the NXT Women's Championship.

    The story of Bayley having to prove herself as a championship contender was so simple and easy to follow that fans immediately resonated with her in her pursuit of the prestigious prize. Meanwhile, Banks was a fantastic foil for Bayley and stopped at nothing to generate genuine heat from the audience.

    Their epic encounter at TakeOver: Brooklyn had such a big-fight feel about it with fans rallying behind Bayley every step of the way. The electricity in the arena was palpable, and whenever it looked like Banks had the matchup won, Bayley persevered and powered out of each near-fall.

    It was the second Bayley to Belly that did The Boss in, and when Bayley scored the three-count, the crowd exploded with excitement. The bout was pure perfection from start to finish, earning the reputation for the greatest women's match in WWE history.

    Needless to say, Bayley and Banks are nowhere near the same competitors on Raw that they were in NXT, but what they accomplished on that evening in Brooklyn will not be forgotten soon. Women's wrestling had officially arrived.

1. Kevin Owens Crashes Sami Zayn's NXT Championship Celebration (Dec. 11, 2014)

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    Sami Zayn's chase for the NXT Championship in 2014 was built up beautifully. Regardless of how many times he stole the show at TakeOver events, he always fell short of victory when it mattered most.

    However, fans' support of The Underdog from the Underground never wavered. In fact, they wanted to see him become champion that much more following each loss he endured.

    At TakeOver: R Evolution, he challenged Adrian Neville for the NXT Championship with the caveat that he would leave NXT if he was unsuccessful in taking home the title. Their long-standing friendship only added to the excitement of their encounter, with both guys willing to do whatever was necessary to come out on top.

    Despite Neville's underhanded tactics and obvious desperation to retain his title, Zayn pulled out the win to a raucous reaction from the Full Sail University crowd. The locker room then piled out to give Zayn his well-deserved moment, including Kevin Owens, who had just debuted for the promotion earlier that evening.

    Zayn's history with Owens both inside and outside the ring was well-documented, so seeing them embrace during Zayn's championship celebration was surreal. Before the screen could fade to black, though, Owens blindsided Zayn (and everyone else in attendance) by slamming his head on to the steel ramp behind him.

    To add insult to injury, Owens also delivered a devastating powerbomb to Zayn on the ring apron, causing the newly crowned champ to be sent out on a stretcher. Their WWE careers have been intertwined ever since.

    In the span of a few minutes, fans went from feeling elated over Zayn's championship victory to feeling betrayed by Owens' despicable actions. That's an art attempted by many but mastered by only an elite few, yet NXT managed to pull it off with such poise.

             

    Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, is an Endicott College alumnus and aspiring journalist. Visit his website, Next Era Wrestling, and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.

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