Every NXT Men’s & Women’s Champions Ranked – Part 2

I’ll be going live on https://www.twitch.tv/strongstylesmark at 6pm GMT (half an hour after this article goes up), playing two games from my Game of the Year 2020 list, ScourgeBringer & Spelunky 2! I’d really appreciate it if you came along and hung out!

A couple of weeks ago, I started ranking every NXT men’s & women’s champion. There, we discussed the bottom half of the list with reigns that were somewhat underwhelming, but today, we’re covering the top half and get to relive the best of what NXT has given us over the years.

13 – Bo Dallas

Days as Champion: 260
Successful Title Defences: 5
Best Match As Champion: vs Adrian Neville (Ladder Match) at NXT Arrival

While he might not have the most significant legacy in NXT these days, Bo Dallas was the first NXT Champion to really feel like an NXT Champion in the way we know it today. He wasn’t the most amazing wrestler (though he could definitely put on good matches) but he was the first champion with a clearly defined character and style. That’s not to insult Rollins or Big E, both of those guys are world-class, but their NXT characters felt really vague and purposeless outside of ‘win’.

Meanwhile, Bo Dallas was a brilliant character. After floundering for a while as a cowboy(ish) character, he found his ‘Bolieve’ gimmick and the sky was the limit. His heel work is the kind of thing that we praise people like MJF for in the modern-day. A considerable part of its charm is that it would only work in front of an NXT crowd. I don’t think there’s any other crowd in wrestling right now that would literally get out of their seats and turn their backs on the ring to insult a wrestler they dislike.

Bo worked with moments like these to become a genuinely insufferable character. The contrast of the way he would joyously praise self-betterment (helped by his relatively soft voice) and the genuinely despicable things he would do to some of his opponents was pure brilliance. His title defences weren’t all that memorable, but he did have some good ones against Cesaro, Sami Zayn & Neville.

Truthfully, if his reign was in one of NXT’s golden eras, it would probably be remembered a lot more fondly, but it happened just before the wider IWC truly realised how brilliant NXT could be (myself included), so it has a bit of a forgotten legacy. However, that doesn’t stop it from being one of the greats.

12 – Rhea Ripley

Days as Champion: 109
Successful Title Defences: 2
Best Match As Champion: vs Charlotte Flair at Wrestlemania 36

Rhea Ripley’s rise was the kind of rocketing upwards that you don’t see very often but is precisely what NXT handles very well. When she first made the jump from NXT UK, it felt like a big deal, but she didn’t feel like the woman who would topple Baszler’s years of dominance. However, NXT set about changing that very quickly. Not only did she lead are WarGames team to victory from a 4-2 deposit, but she took it to the Raw & Smackdown women’s division at Survivor Series, and suddenly she felt like a megastar who could not be stopped.

Her match against Baszler was brilliant and everything it needed to be. Not only did it feel like a massive moment for Rhea to take her place on the throne, but it put a definitive end to Shayna Baszler’s stranglehold that had defined the NXT women’s division for the past couple of years. She launched straight into gear with a great match against her former NXT UK rival, Toni Storm and pushed ahead past the Royal Rumble, where a lot of hype started building around her title reign.

After Charlotte Flair won the women’s royal rumble, the idea that Charlotte was going to challenge for Rhea’s NXT title became the prevalent theory after both the other women’s titles seemed to have plans already in place. Immediately, this drew more eyes to Rhea as she put on a vastly underrated feud against Bianca Belair. I think for many, this was the feud where Bianca became a future star, rather than future mid-carder and the resulting match proved it, something Rhea’s contribution to cannot be forgotten.

However, the best of Rhea’s reign was still to come as she began her feud with Charlotte Flair in earnest. Not only did Rhea then become the first NXT Champion to defend their title at Wrestlemania, but she did it in what was easily the best pure-wrestling match of the entire weekend. I spoke about this match in my match of the year list, but it really was something special that proved how well Rhea could hang with the best, even though she took the loss in the end.

While her reign as champion didn’t last as long as I’d hoped it would’ve, what she did with her 100 days as champion elevated her and everyone around her. She proved that the NXT Women’s division had plenty of life after Baszler left and all of her title feuds were fantastic, so she definitely gets the nod on this list.

11 – Adrian Neville

Days as Champion: 286
Successful Title Defences: 9
Best Match As Champion: vs Sami Zayn at NXT Takeover: R-Evolution

It’s genuinely hard to believe that this is the same person as the utterly ripped monster we see on AEW currently.

Neville had the benefit of being the first NXT Champion to experience the joys of the fabled NXT Takeovers. These Pay-Per-View events for NXT that would produce some of the best wrestling of the past decade. While the early Takeovers aren’t the most memorable, I’d still put their main events on par with many of the more memorable ones, and Neville is a huge part of that.

While I’d argue Rollins may be a better all-round wrestler, Neville was the first NXT Champion that was allowed to having long main-event matches for the title that benefitted both him and his opponents. Looking back at the opponents he faced during his title reign is a laundry list of wrestlers who are so much better than they ever were on WWE’s main roster. It’s almost sad in a way, but the incredible matches he had with the likes of Tyson Kidd, Tyler Breeze & Bo Dallas are definitely worth a rewatch if you’re in the mood for it.

He was also the first NXT Champion to experience a proper character arc during his NXT title reign. That was the benefit of NXT back then, the writers knew their characters would have an endpoint of their stories. While that’s still somewhat the case these days, it’s a little more nebulous, and you have people like Gargano & Undisputed Era who have been in NXT for ages. Neville’s transition from a pure high-flying babyface champion into a character who, despite still being good, doesn’t mind taking a shortcut here and there was an interesting one. I know it was mostly only done to serve Sami Zayn’s story, but it still made Neville’s journey a great one to look back on.

With this placement of Neville, we see how unfair a list like this can be because while 11th place sounds low, he really was a brilliant champion. It’s just that NXT raised the bar year-on-year for the better part of a decade, so the people who came after him managed to surpass his incredible achievements.

10 – Bayley

Days as Champion: 223
Successful Title Defences:5
Best Match As Champion: vs Sasha Banks at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn 1

Bayley was the last of the four horsewomen to hold the NXT Women’s Championship, and I think it’s safe to say that her reign solidified the legacy the four of them would leave on NXT and the legacy they will leave on women’s wrestling when they one day hang up their boots.

Bayley’s title reign started off in the best possible way any title reign can begin, with the culmination of NXT’s best stories to date, not to mention my personal favourite NXT match of all time. Bayley & Sasha Banks’ rivalry in NXT is the stuff of legend, so much so that people spent 5 years begging for it on the main roster before it finally happened. Bayley’s first title defence continued that feud with the iron-woman match at NXT Takeover: Respect and it lived up to the second match’s hype so much so that many people say they prefer this match.

While Bayley’s reign would never reach those heights again, it still definitely stayed strong. Bayley put down a wide variety of opponents during her title reign, including Alexa Bliss, Carmella, Nia Jax. She even got a half-way decent match out of Eva Marie, which is a miracle in and of itself. Bayley’s title reign is like a who’s who of current Raw & Smackdown women’s division stars and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. When she eventually lost the title to Asuka, it was a big deal and a brilliant match, along with feeling like the perfect time and the perfect situation for Bayley to bow out of NXT.

Bayley was this eternally endearing character who you always wanted to route for. While the main roster would eventually squander this so much that they had to turn her heel (which led to another top-tier title reign), NXT Bayley was a bundle of purity that brought joy to all of our spiteful hearts.

9 – Charlotte Flair

Days as Champion: 1st Reign – 258; 2nd Reign – 73
Successful Title Defences: 1st Reign – 6; 2nd Reign – 1
Best Match As Champion: vs Io Shirai vs Rhea Ripley at NXT Takeover: In Your House

Being the daughter of one of the greatest to ever do it is no small shadow to step out of. It’s the kind of shadow that many 2nd or 3rd generation wrestlers have utterly failed to step out of (including Ric Flair’s other children), but NXT did something very interesting, but in hindsight, quite clever. Quite simply, for the entirety of her NXT run, she had no surname. It was no secret whose daughter she was, but they didn’t always draw attention to it and kept her just as ‘Charlotte’. Even on the main roster, they waited until she was an established superstar in her own right before starting to call her ‘Flair’.

As NXT Women’s Champion, she took Paige’s work in women’s wrestling and took it further than ever before. While she was still slightly constrained by the lingering perspective of women’s wrestling as a sideshow, she blazed a trail that was truly her own and made sure no-one could deny her star power. She was (and still is) one of the best female wrestlers on the planet and she made sure that her talents were never denied.

On top of that, her title reign put the spotlight on her contemporaries and turned the four horsewomen into the establishment they are today. Her work didn’t just elevate her, it elevated Sasha Banks, Bayley, Becky Lynch, hell, even Natalya and Summer Rae looked a hell of a lot better after having a great match with Charlotte. The Fatal 4 Way between all of the horsewomen remains their only encounter to date, and it was everything you’d hoped it would be.

Charlotte’s second title reign was very different. When she won the title, I thought it would be a lot more than it was. While I thought Rhea should’ve won at Wrestlemania, I saw the upside of having someone with Charlotte’s star power carry the NXT Women’s Championship, as it could elevate everyone in the division. Which sort of happened. Rhea initially looked really good with how she stepped it to Charlotte, but quickly became the unimportant player as Io Shirai stepped into the spotlight once again. Ultimately, Io winning the title from Charlotte was a huge moment, and Io has had a fantastic reign since then, but I was really hoping for more; and if some backstage reports are to be believed, the NXT writers were hoping for more too…

While her second reign was disappointing as a whole, it did bring us a couple of really great matches (including 2020’s best WWE match). Meanwhile, the roads Charlotte paved with her first title reign ensured that she will forever have a legacy in NXT as one of their best champions.

8 – Sasha Banks

Days as Champion: 191
Successful Title Defences: 4
Best Match As Champion: vs Bayley at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn 1

If Paige’s reign is where the rise of women’s wrestling started, and Charlotte’s is where it built a solid foundation, then Sasha’s title reign is where it became mainstream.

Looking at the title defences through each of these first three NXT Women’s Champions, the progression is clear as day. Sasha’s title defences were not only more frequent, but the matches average a longer runtime, especially on Takeover events. This was also when stories in the women’s division finally started to properly pull away from the stereotypical stories of friends suddenly hating each other, or the classic “you’re just jealous”. We started to see writing that was on-par with the storylines the men were getting, and it was proving a success.

Outside of that, Sasha continued to raise the bar that her predecessors had set. She took on all comers and looked like a strong badass as she did so. She put down Charlotte (twice), Becky Lynch (in what was inarguably Lynch’s best singles match in NXT) and Alexa Bliss in matches that were all a lot of fun to watch and of a high enough quality for a mainstream wrestling audience to finally start to take notice.

What undoubtedly put this over the top though, is Banks’ legendary feud with Bayley. I’ve talked about it a bit already, but it cannot be understated just how monumental this story and the match at Takeover: Brooklyn was in establishing women’s wrestling as the kind of franchise that the mainstream wrestling fans would not let WWE ignore. When WWE sit around patting themselves on the back for what a great job they’ve done with this whole ‘women’s revolution’ stuff, it’s moments like the end of that Brooklyn match that we can look to as the truly great moments.

While most of the focus is on Bayley’s story when it comes to this moment (and rightly so), there’s no such thing as a good underdog story without a proper villain, and Sasha Banks in NXT may be one of the best. Before “The Boss” just became a meaningless nickname, Banks carried herself with an indomitable aura that you hoped and prayed would be destroyed, but never was. Her entrance at Takeover: Brooklyn is the perfect example of this. Showing up in a black SUV with blacked-out windows and a swarm of bodyguard may not be the flashiest entrance ever, but it’s precisely what a character like her is made for. Don’t get me wrong, Sasha’s current persona is excellent, and I’m loving it, but this version of Sasha Banks will be the one I always remember the most fondly.

7 – Bobby Roode

Days as Champion: 202
Successful Title Defences: 4
Best Match As Champion: vs Hideo Itami at NXT Takeover: Chicago

Roode is one of the more forgotten NXT Champions, which I think is a real shame because he’s one of my more favoured ones. Ultimately, I think this is down to how WWE did absolutely nothing with him during his time on the main roster. When people these days say that Bobby Roode is a crap wrestler, as much as I disagree, I can understand where that perspective comes from, when that’s how WWE’s treated him for years. It’s perhaps one of the worst cases of mishandling between NXT and the main roster in history because Roode’s time as NXT Champion was brilliant.

While his entrance theme and overly dramatic Takeover entrances were undoubtedly the most memorable parts of his title reign, the truth is he had some really good matches too. They were never the flashiest affairs, but they always such a firm grasp of the fundamentals that they honestly didn’t need that much extra to be great watches. Roode cultivated this character who thrived on the understated and simple and his style reflected that. It’s styles like this that I point to when I want to prove that ‘wrestling heel’ doesn’t have to mean ‘slow and boring.’

On top of that, he had a great character. He was never the best promo in NXT, but he had a clear mission statement and the way he carried himself was all you need to know. The robes, the suits, the watches, it was a brilliant set of ideas that made him the ideal opponent for just about anyone. Whether it’s someone chaotic like Shinsuke Nakamura or Hideo Itami (KENTA) or a true of heart family man like Roderick Strong (before he joined UE, at least).

I will always be upset that WWE management never saw anything in him, because he genuinely deserved so much better, but at least we got this.

6 – Kevin Owens

Days as Champion: 142
Successful Title Defences: 5
Best Match As Champion: vs John Cena at Elimination Chamber 2015

The dude beat John Cena clean as a whistle while he was champion, what more do you need to me to say?

Following Zayn’s title win, Kevin Owens turned up. I don’t mean he debuted, he already did that earlier that night, I mean the Kevin Owens we all know today turned up. I know he’s a face at the moment, but the utterly despicable man who would turn on anyone and everyone he’s ever loved and use his words to utterly eviscerate them, that Kevin Owens turned up.

It was shocking to see him immediately contend with Zayn for the title because surely Zayn wasn’t going to lose the belt so soon after his remarkable win? Oh…oh no.

The match between Owens & Zayn was something we hadn’t seen from NXT until this point, and it was brilliant in how horrible it was. The way Owens kept beating him down with no remorse for his former best friend as Zayn just flopped around, surviving, but only just was heartbreaking. Owens became a monster that night, and a monster with a championship no less, winning the match via referee stoppage, which was incredible.

Owens kicked his title reign off with a bang, having a brilliant, but completely forgotten match with Finn Balor on NXT TV, before running through Sami Zayn again at Takeover: Unstoppable. Zayn had a bit more fight in him this time, but Owens still came out of it looking dominant, even if he was laid out at the end by a debuting Samoa Joe. From there, Owens’ title reign took a fascinating but very unusual turn.

In a surprise debut on Raw, Owens showed up to answer John Cena’s open challenge. He wasn’t the first NXT star to do this, but instead of merely having a great match and then losing to Cena, Owens put Cena down in a promo and then laid waste to him and his title. When a champion vs champion match was set for Elimination Chamber, I think we were all a bit sceptical. In 2015, Cena hadn’t transitioned yet into the great wrestler who puts over young guys that he is today, and people were still expecting the worst. However, we didn’t get it, in what was a genuine surprise, Owens hit Cena with the Pop-Up Powerbomb and pinned Cena as clean as clean can be.

From there, Owens continued to defend the NXT title on the main roster. He beat both Zack Ryder & Heath Slater in rapid squash matches and had a rather good match with Neville on Raw for the title. However, his title reign would come to an end quickly afterwards, as Finn Balor beat him for the title in Japan, where Balor made his name as Prince Devitt.

Owens did things as NXT Champion that no-one else has ever done with the title, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he ended up spending less than 6 months in NXT before moving up to the main roster. However, the downside of that is that he didn’t have a very long reign, and while numbers aren’t everything, in the context of this list, it certainly causes him to drop a few places.

5 – Finn Balor

Days as Champion: 1st Reign – 292; 2nd Reign – 137+
Successful Title Defences: 1st Reign – 4; 2nd Reign 2+
Best Match As Champion: vs Kyle O’Reilly at NXT Takeover: 31

Finn Balor’s time in NXT has been a bit of a weird one, and I think my opinion of it varies quite noticeably from the general opinion of the IWC. While I could never deny that Finn’s run as champion defined NXT’s first golden era, I actually think his second (and current) run in NXT is far superior.

His first run with the title began in grand fashion, winning it in front of a Japanese crowd in the land where he made his name. He defended it in NXT’s first-ever ladder match, which was a great match, but will enterally be overshadowed by the Sasha/Bayley match that preceded it. From there he defended the title against Apollo Crews…via DQ and then battled Samoa Joe for well over six months. Truthfully, Balor and Joe never had a bad match, I was just sick of seeing by the end, and it brought down my opinion of Balor’s title reign.

Granted, NXT didn’t have the enormous depth of talent that they do now, but I can’t help but feel a little disappointed that Balor didn’t get to wrestle a greater variety of his opponents for what was, at the time, the longest title reign in NXT history. That said, Balor’s still in 5th place on this list because all of his matches were good-to-great and it was the longest reign in NXT history for several years.

What puts him over the top for me though, is his current run as NXT Champion. When he returned to the black & yellow brand, it was unclear exactly what his role would be. He fought for the title twice but lost both times. Then he turned heel and embraced his old ‘prince’ persona again, but with new wrinkles for everything he’s done since then. It seemed like he was mostly going to be around to have feuds with NXT’s up-and-comers, but the unfortunate circumstances surrounding Karrion Kross’ injury worked in Balor’s favour.

He beat Cole for the title and, despite only defending it twice so far, has already had a better title reign than his first if you ask me. Both of his matches against Kyle O’Reilly were two of the best I’ve ever seen either man put on. On top of this, the boosted credibility and profile of NXT these days combined with Balor’s heel persona makes him so much more fun to watch week in and week out, even when he’s out healing a broken jaw.

I have no idea where Balor’s current title reign is going to go, and maybe this time next year, he’ll be worthy of one of the top spots on a list like this, all I know is, I like what I’m seeing now, and he could even usher in a third golden era for NXT in 2021.

4 – Tommaso Ciampa

Days as Champion: 237
Successful Title Defences: 3
Best Match As Champion: vs Johnny Gargano at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn 4

The top 5 of this list were tough to organise, because they’re all so brilliant.

While the process for years in NXT was that people will eventually leave the brand and go onto the sometimes greener, sometimes barren pastures of WWE’s main roster, Ciampa was the first person who really felt like he’s an NXT guy for life. His feud with Gargano is inarguably the best in the brand’s history so far, and as much as Gargano was the face, I think Ciampa is the one who came out of it looking like one of NXT’s greatest stars.

In his seven months as champion, he only defended the title three times, which is something I’ve railed on other people for, and it did contribute somewhat to Ciampa not making the top three. However, all three of those title defences were truly incredible matches and some of the best title defences NXT has ever seen.

His first defence was in a Last Man Standing match against Gargano, in what was the last true match of their feud (I don’t count the cinematic one from 2020 because it was shit) and it enclosed everything that had gone into that iconic story. Gargano fought with all of his heart and soul, but at the end of the day, Ciampa was just tougher and smarter…and he didn’t throw himself off of a stage for no reason like Gargano did.

Next up was against Velveteen Dream in what remains to this day Dream’s best match in terms of wrestling action. Dream had been on the rise in NXT for a while, but this match was when many, myself included, sat up and realised that he could easily be the top guy on the brand if the opportunity arose. Finally, he wrestled Aleister Black in a match that was everything I wanted it to be and more. Two of the best pure wrestlers to have been NXT Champion facing off against each other and made for a brilliant watch.

Unfortunately, things would end on a bit of a bum note. As the finale match was set for Takeover: New York between Ciampa and Gargano, Ciampa would suffer a neck injury that required surgery and saw him out of action for over half the year.

The injury was heartbreaking and came at the worst possible time in terms of the story being told, but that shouldn’t be allowed to take away from the incredible run Ciampa had at the top. Not only was he one of the best-defined characters NXT had seen in years, with heel heat so genuine that for a while, they didn’t give him entrance music because the boos were so loud, but he was one of the best wrestlers to ever sit atop the brand of black and gold.

3 – Asuka

Days as Champion: 522
Successful Title Defences: 11
Best Match As Champion: vs Nikki Cross at NXT 23rd June 2017

After the four horsewomen left NXT for Raw & Smackdown, there was a lot of concern surrounding the division’s future. NXT had spent so much time hailing Charlotte, Becky, Sasha & Bayley as prodigies that there was a worry no-one would be able to fill their spot and make waves in quite the same way. In hindsight, it’s laughable we were ever worried.

It was clear from the moment she signed that Japanese star Kana (re-christened Asuka for NXT) that she was going to be a big deal on the brand, getting the ‘sitting in the crowd’ treatment at an NXT Takeover, which seems to be their favourite way of showing off new superstars. Her dominance was immediate, and it didn’t take long for her to build up quite the winning streak. By the time she won the title, she was so popular that people didn’t even mind that she had to take down the beloved Bayley to become a champion.

Asuka held the title for an incredible year and a half, defending it against just about everyone who was anyone in the NXT women’s division at the time. Bayley, Nia Jax, The IIconics, Ruby Riott, Nikki Cross & Ember Moon all stepped up to take on the empress of tomorrow and all were put down in some of the best matches the division had seen at that time. Asuka was untouchable, and the hype surrounding her managed to only keep building as her undefeated streak surpassed even that of Goldberg’s.

She got to tell some interesting stories in her time as champion too. She got to wage a brutal war against the unhinged Nikki Cross and told a compelling story with Ember Moon of Asuka starting to retain her title by any means necessary. Unfortunately, Asuka’s title reign would come to an end somewhat prematurely as an injury would force her to vacate the title after a record 522 days holding it. Whether or not this was a good thing is down to your perspective. On the one hand, this allowed her to drop the title without losing her undefeated streak that immediately gave her an aura of indestructibility when she debuted on Raw later in the year. However, it also meant that no-one in NXT got to benefit from being the one to finally topple Asuka, which could’ve instantly made a new star-like Kairi Sane or Shayna Baszler.

Regardless of how it ended, there’s no denying that Asuka’s title reign was one of the best while it was happening. She looked incredibly strong at every turn and was able to build up her opponents’ standing in the eyes of the fans, even when she was beating them. She really did it all.

2 – Adam Cole

Days as Champion: 403
Successful Title Defences: 11
Best Match As Champion: vs Johnny Gargano at NXT Takeover: XXV

For Cole, you essentially take everything I said about Asuka, add a large handful of the greatest matches in NXT history, and you’ve got your answer as to Cole’s position on this list.

From the moment The Undisputed Era appeared in NXT, they have been absolutely beloved by the fans, and with good reason. Although they are some of the more despicable heels of NXT’s current generation, they have this undeniable cool factor to them that you just can’t help but love. Their entrance music is basic but carries this swagger to it that dramatically enhances their walk down to the ring, and ‘Adam Cole Bay-Bay’ is one of the most fun things to yell as part of a live crowd.

When Gargano had his crowning moment at Takeover: New York, there was the feeling that maybe it should’ve been Cole’s time to shine. In hindsight, giving Gargano a run with the title, even a fleeting one, was the right move, because Cole didn’t suffer even a tiny bit from having to wait an extra couple of months. As soon as Cole won the title, he began his incredible work at the top. The title looked so perfect around his waist, and he put in some incredible work as champion.

Straight away he defended the title against NXT UK star Zack Gibson, and Akira Tozowa at Evolve’s 10th-anniversary show, which was a great showcase. He then put an end to his epic feud with Gargano in a three stages of hell match that was as over-the-top as it was brilliant fun to watch. From there, Cole ran through everyone who stepped in his way, often with the help of The Undisputed Era, but quite a few on his own merit. During this time, The Undisputed Era fulfilled their ‘golden prophecy’ where every title in the NXT men’s division was held by a member of the faction.

After a good feud with Matt Riddle, November 2019 rolled around and NXT was to be included in the brand warfare for Survivor Series, alongside Raw & Smackdown, which was a big deal. Cole showed up on Smackdown, and not only had a fantastic 20-minute match with Daniel Bryan but won the damn thing as clean as you’d like. Cole was one of the NXT stars who put on an incredible double-performance that weekend, participating in a brutal WarGames match, before defending his title against Pete Dunne in what was easily the best match of the night.

Cole continued to lead NXT into the new year, and even in the pandemic era, Cole put on some of the best matches out of everyone on the brand. He took out a returning Finn Balor and a returning Tommaso Ciampa in matches that were much-hyped, long-awaited and didn’t disappoint. His feud against Velveteen Dream defined a good chunk of the spring and was one of the highlights of that period until his reign would finally come to an end at Keith Lee’s hands in July.

Cole’s run at the top of NXT was the kind that hadn’t been seen in the men’s division of NXT for a long time, and it was sorely needed as many of the top stars moved on to the main roster. Cole and The Undisputed Era dominated NXT for so long, and yet it never got tiring, and they never felt boring, it’s no wonder that almost as soon as Cole dropped the title, the group turned face, people are desperate to cheer these guys. It defined NXT for a long time and put to bed any doubts about whether a guy like Cole could really be a top star.

1 – Shayna Baszler

Days as Champion: 1st Reign – 132; 2nd Reign – 416
Successful Title Defences: 1st Reign – 3; 2nd Reign – 8
Best Match As Champion: vs Kairi Sane at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn 4

There’s no way it could’ve been anyone else. Asuka may have had an undefeated streak, Cole may have had the cool factor, but no-one felt as indestructible and dominant during their time as champion as Shayna Baszler.

After being the runner up in the first Mae Young Classic, Shayna ended up jumping the gun on winner Kairi Sane and took the title from Ember Moon in reasonably dominant fashion almost as soon as she arrived on NXT. Many people at the time were expecting Ember Moon to pick up where Asuka left off and have a lengthy run as champion, but Baszler shocked everyone by putting an end to that early. In all honesty, Baszler’s first run with the title was nowhere near as great as her second, however, even though many of her matches weren’t the best, her character work was second to none. She came into her dominant, cocky (but could back it up) and nasty persona so easily, and it would only grow.

Baszler lost the title to Kairi Sane at Takeover: Brooklyn 4 in what is one of my favourite Takeover matches ever, but quickly took it back in another brilliant match at Evolution. This is where Baszler started to use fellow former MMA stars, Jessamine Duke & Marina Shafir, as her entourage who would interfere in matches for her, adding to her aura of indestructibility. NXT show so much restraint with heel groups interfering matches so that, when they do, it almost always serves the story in a way that enhances it, not diminished it as we see on Raw & Smackdown all the time.

From here, Shayna’s dominance and heelish persona would grow and grow, to the point where the NXT audience could cheer for just about anyone, even heels if they went up against Baszler. She understood how to get under a crowd’s skin both in promos and during matches, without sacrificing the in-ring action’s quality. She also had the fantastic ability to look vulnerable without ever looking weak. In all of her battles with women like Io Shirai, Kairi Sane or Bianca Belair, you felt like maybe they were just an inch away from toppling Baszler, and maybe if they had just one more shot they could do it, but Baszler still came out on top every single time.

Finally, Baszler’s reign actually got to feel complete by the time it ended. Not only had she torn through the NXT women’s division and beaten everyone there is to beat, but she actually got to lose the title to a fast-rising star, so someone gets to benefit from everything she built up. Rhea Ripley became a star pretty much overnight, and the timing was perfect for her to be the one to finally put an end to almost two years of Baszler’s dominance. The moment when Rhea won the title was a fantastic climax and one of the highlights of 2019, and that was only possible thanks to the unmatched title reign Baszler had leading up to it.

While Baszler was champion she had the best matches, did the best character work, elevated everyone she stepped in the ring with, and capped it all off by making a brand new white-hot star in Rhea Ripley. That, my friends, is what a perfect title reign looks like.

So there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this post. As another reminder, I will be going live very shortly after this article is posted, so please check out https://www.twitch.tv/strongstylesmark if you haven’t already. Finally, make sure to come back here this time next week, where my coverage of the Royal Rumble will begin with predictions!

Every NXT Men’s & Women’s Champion Ranked – Part 1

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I’m going to be trying my hand at streaming, starting next Saturday at 6pm GMT, because, quite frankly, I’ve got nothing better to do right now. I’m going to be playing a variety of indie games for the first time, along with a few classics that I love. If you’re interested, then please swing by twitch.tv/strongstylesmark and hit the follow button to be notified when I go live!

Ahh NXT. When the world of Raw & Smackdown makes it feel like wrestling will never be good ever again (which doesn’t happen all the time, although sometimes it does feel like it) there’s always the warm black and gold glow of Full-Sail University gently sits you down and reminds you that: “Hey! Wrestling’s fun and you enjoy watching it!” Whether it’s compelling storytelling or five-star matches, NXT has just about everything you could want from a modern-day wrestling promotion and no-one better embodies that than it champions.

Between the main Men’s and Women’s Championships, 25 different wrestlers have stood at the top of the brand at some point in their career and each of them brought their own unique style and flair to the title. That said, as is the case with everything in life, not all of them were equal, and it’s always going to be someone’s job to file their opinions on these titles reigns in the form of a ranked list.

As for what criteria I’m ranking these on, it’s a combination of hard stats (days as champion, number of defences etc.) and my personal feelings of the quality of storylines and matches they had while champion. Whatever they did outside of their title reign is irrelevant, all that matters is what they did when the gold was around their waist.

I also won’t be including Io Shirai in this list, nor will I count Karrion Kross. In Io’s case, I don’t think it’s fair to judge a title reign before it’s over, while in Kross’ case, the injury was a tragedy, and the 4 days he held the title wasn’t representative of what was planned for him. All-in-all, I just think it would be mean to put him on the bottom spot of this list when it wasn’t his fault his reign was so short.

With those caveats made, let’s get started.

26 – Kairi Sane

Days as Champion: 71
Successful Title Defences: 0
Best Match As Champion: vs Shayna Baszler at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn IV

Kairi Sane had the unfortunate distinction of being a hot up-and-comer in the NXT Women’s division during Shayna Baszler’s run of dominance. While this time was terrific for the NXT Women’s division as a whole, with countless incredible matches, very few women ever got a taste of the gold. However, the only woman who managed to interrupt Baszler’s time at the top for a little while was Kairi Sane.

Sane won the title from Baszler in one of the best matches of that year and was just one chapter in the fantastic rivalry the two had. Given who was on the NXT Women’s roster at the time, there was all the potential in the world for Sane to spend a year going around and having brilliant matches with everybody in sight, especially after Io Shirai burst onto the scene. Unfortunately for Sane, Baszler had so much potential, and NXT management saw more money putting the title back on Bazler.

So, at Evolution, without a single title defence under her belt, Kairi Sane lost the title back to Shayna Baszler. Again, the match was great, and Baszler would do great things with the title, but it was disappointing for Sane. It’s an unfortunate scenario of a wrestler being in the wrong place at the wrong time, meaning their chance at crowning glory was swept to one side for someone else.

25 – Johnny Gargano

Days as Champion: 57
Successful Title Defences: 0
Best Match As Champion: vs Adam Cole at NXT Takeover: XXV

Well, if you want a ‘victim of circumstance’ look no further…

Gargano’s title reign should’ve been so much grander. It should’ve felt like the culmination of the whole previous era of NXT. From the moment Ciampa threw Gargano into the LED screen at Chicago in 2017, it had felt like Gargano has NXT Champion was NXT’s new endgame. Then the world intervened, and NXT had to adapt and create something different. Which unfortunately left Gargano in the dust.

The match where Gargano won the title at Takeover New York was fantastic, but it should’ve been so much more. When the finale of the Gargano vs Ciampa series was set for the show, it felt like we were finally going to reach the end of this story. The characters had changed and adapted over the years, but they were still the same people, and they still had business to settle. Then, tragedy struck, and Ciampa got injured. Adam Cole came in as the replacement and – as I said – the match was one of the best of that year, but the moment when Gargano won the title didn’t feel like the massive payoff it would’ve if it was against Ciampa. In fact, once the match changed many fans, myself included, turned against Gargano and was rooting for Cole to win the title instead.

Seeing their best-laid plans fall directly into the bin, NXT management did what they do best and adapted. They didn’t stubbornly stay the course, they changed tactics and during the rematch a couple of months later. Cole took the title from Gargano, ending a completely empty reign. Once again, the match was one of the best NXT has ever produced, and it started off a fantastic title reign for Cole (more on that later), but it left Gargano with nothing to do from that point onwards. He’s managed to find a better character angle to take now, but it took almost a year to get there.

The only thing that separates this title reign from Kairi Sane’s down at the bottom is that Gargano’s matches where he won and lost the title were better. Other than that it’s just two faces that should’ve had everything but, thanks to circumstances beyond their control, ended up with almost nothing.

24 – Keith Lee

Days as Champion: 52
Successful Title Defences: 1
Best Match As Champion: vs Dominik Dijakovic on NXT 15th July 2020

Well, this was a disappointment.

For context, when I started writing this list, Lee hadn’t even won the title yet. It was during the build to The Great American Bash, and there were high hopes for Lee to have a dominant run at the top of NXT.

I think the main problem with Lee’s title reign is that it came just a little too late in his run. Lee spent about a year doing practically nothing of note in NXT until he suddenly hit the big time in 2019. He had that star-making performance against Roman Reigns & Seth Rollins at Survivor Series. He spent the first half of 2020 blowing everyone away with his defences of his North American Championship. Realistically, he probably should’ve taken the title from Cole in the spring.

By the time Lee won the title, two things had happened. First, those behind the wheel on Raw realised what a ready-made star they had on their hands with Lee, and they wanted a piece. Second was that an absolute monster had arrived in NXT by the name of Karrion Kross, and there was no way he was doing anything other than shooting straight to the top.

There was at least some good story during his reign, I loved the rivalry turned friendship that Lee & Dijakovic have shared over the past year, and it was brilliant to play that into Lee’s feud with Kross. In addition, at least Lee got to defend the title at least once, which puts him over both of the other champions we’ve covered so far. As disappointing as it was for Lee to lose the title so quickly, he’s absolutely killing it on Raw right now, and we’ll always have that euphoric visual of him holding up both titles amongst the confetti.

23 – Drew McIntyre

Days as Champion: 91
Successful Title Defences: 2
Best Match As Champion: vs Andrade “Cien” Almas at NXT Takeover: WarGames

It pains me to do this, it really does.

Being a man who had already seen success in WWE prior to his 2017 run in NXT, it always felt like Drew was never going to stick around for very long down at the Performance Center. Not only had he already been an established WWE star before his 2015 release, but he’d come back looking like one of the toughest tough guys to ever be tough, of course Vince was going to decide he wanted a piece of that action on Raw & Smackdown sooner rather than later.

This meant that, despite coming into NXT full of fire and taking the title from Bobby Roode in an excellent match, he didn’t really get much of an opportunity to do anything exciting with the championship while he was holding it. While the 91-day length is longer than several other entries on this list, he didn’t get a chance to show what he can really do in any of those 91 days. Both of his successful title defences were on NXT TV, rather than at a Takeover, which meant that they didn’t have that atmosphere or drive that takes NXT matches to the next level despite both being excellent.

When he lost the title to Andrade, it came as a surprise to many, myself included, as it felt like his reign was only just kicking into gear. As it turned out, even if he had won that match it wouldn’t have made a difference, as Drew suffered an arm injury in that match and was out of action until Spring of 2018 when he showed up on Raw.

Drew Mcintyre is a brilliant wrestler who deserves all the success he is currently experiencing in his career; however, he left no lasting impact whatsoever when it comes to NXT.

22 – Samoa Joe

Days as Champion: 1st Reign – 121; 2nd Reign – 13
Successful Title Defences: 1st Reign – 1; 2nd Reign – 0
Best Match As Champion: vs Finn Balor (Steel Cage) at NXT Takeover: The End

Given that Joe was the first-ever two-time NXT Champion in history, you’d surely expect him to be a lot higher on this list than fourth from bottom. However, let me ask you a question: What did Joe actually do with the title? Seriously, what did he do during his time as champion to leave any impact whatsoever on NXT? The answer, my friends, is nothing.

For one thing, Joe’s title win wasn’t even televised. For context, by this point in 2016, Joe & Balor had been feuding for ages, and Joe had come out on the losing end every single time. At both London & Dallas, Balor had put Joe away cleanly, walking away with the title both times. Then suddenly one night, on an untelevised house-show, Joe wins the title from Balor. It wasn’t a botch, this was a genuine booking decision made by NXT management. Now, title changes happen on house-shows once every couple of years or so (usually at Madison Square Garden), and it’s always fun when it does. However, in Joe’s case, it felt a bit underwhelming, especially after he’d failed to win the title so many times before.

Joe’s 121 days to his first title reign may sound impressive, but don’t let that fool you, nothing of interest happened during that time. He defended the title against Balor in a Steel Cage, in a good match, but nothing extraordinary. Then Shinsuke Nakamura burst onto the title scene, they feuded for two months, and when they finally had a match, Nakamura won the title, just like that.

“But what about his second title reign?” I hear you ask. Well, it lasted about as long as this sentence.

Joe won the title back from Nakamura at Takeover: Toronto in a shocking moment. However, this title reign lasted an upsettingly short 13 days. The only reason Joe even won the title back is that NXT was doing a show in Nakamura’s home country of Japan in a couple of weeks and they wanted Nakamura to win back the title there. That’s honestly it. Joe left NXT shortly afterwards, and it honestly felt as if he’d never been there in the first place. It seemed like him having the NXT title was more just something for him to have on his resume when he went up to the main roster. I honestly don’t think the history of NXT would have looked any different if the title had gone directly from Balor to Nakamura instead of using Joe as a stop-gap.

21 – Shinsuke Nakamura

Days as Champion: 1st Reign – 91; 2nd Reign – 56
Successful Title Defences: 1st Reign – 0; 2nd Reign – 1
Best Match As Champion: vs Bobby Roode at NXT Takeover: San Antonio

I seriously considered having Joe & Nakamura share a slot to be entirely honest with you because I have very similar things to say about them. As great as we know Nakamura can be, I don’t think he left much of an impact on NXT while champion. His best work on the brand all came before he won the title. His match against Finn Balor was one of the last stepping stones before he challenged for the title and his match with Sami Zayn (his unquestionably best match in NXT) was his debut.

By the time he’d actually won the title, it felt like NXT was ready to move onto the next era. They were starting to sign a bunch of big names left-and-right, and with no secondary title, they rushed a bunch of them to the title too quickly. In fact, Joe & Nakamura are great examples of this. They both should’ve had long and fruitful reigns with the title, but they rose to the top at almost the exact same time, which meant they both dragged each other down.

The story with Nakamura’s title reigns is just as dull as Joe’s. He won it from Samoa Joe at Takeover: Brooklyn II, lost it back to Joe at Takeover: Toronto, before winning it back again in a taped match from Japan. A few weeks later, their feud finally ended when Nakamura beat Joe in a Steel Cage in Melbourne. It’s worth noting that all of these matches were good, it’s just that it had got very tiresome by the end, and I now look less fondly on the earlier matches as a result.

Finally, Nakamura was free of Samoa Joe and could move on to defend the title against NXT’s best a brightest…or not. Nakamura surprisingly lost the title at Takeover: San Antonio to Bobby Roode…and that was that. He lost a rematch to Roode in Orlando and showed up on Smackdown later that week. Thankfully, Roode would break this cycle and be a far superior champion, but it meant that Nakamura’s legacy in NXT is quite a disappointing one.

20 – Sami Zayn

Days as Champion: 62
Successful Title Defences: 1
Best Match As Champion: vs Adrian Neville at NXT Takeover: R Evolution

Sami Zayn’s title win marked the end of the first era of NXT. It was the biggest story the brand had ever had, and Zayn’s title win represented the culmination of it. It was the point where many fans finally turned their heads and started paying attention to the black & gold brand. The great thing about Takeover: R Evolution though, is that it didn’t just culminate a great story, it immediately started a new one.

Immediately getting annihilated by his best friend Kevin Owens, Zayn had a red-hot storyline to kick off his title reign. He put on a good show in his rematch with Neville shortly after he won it, but following that, it was all Kevin Owens. NXT had taken it’s biggest babyface and given him a rival that had everything. Not only are they real-life best friends, and thus know each other better than anyone, but they’ve both got unmatched microphone skills and storytelling ability. It was that storytelling ability that pulled Zayn’s title reign up a few places from where it should realistically be.

When you look at the bare facts of how Zayn’s title reign ended, it sounds like a travesty. The biggest babyface NXT ever had up until that point got absolutely annihilated, to the point where the referee called for the bell, handing the title to the new monster heel, barely two months into his title reign. The thing is though it was brilliant. Zayn as a face is undoubtedly a character that benefits from getting arse kicked, and the story surrounding it meant that this outcome made sense. Owens knew Zayn’s in-ring style inside and out, while Owens had totally transformed himself into a killing machine. There was nothing Zayn could do to get one over on Owens, and it made all the sense in the world.

However, as great as the story was, it doesn’t change the fact that Zayn lost the title after barely having a cup of coffee with it.

19 – Big E Langston

Days as Champion: 168
Successful Title Defences: 2
Best Match As Champion: vs Seth Rollins at NXT 6th December 2012

When looking back on the history of NXT, the early champions are always pretty hard to rank, because the only thing that connects 2012-2014 NXT to 2015-present NXT, is the name – apart from that, they may as well be two completely separate entities.

As it stood, Big E was a big dominant guy who had an undefeated streak, and that was pretty much it. The fun & exciting part came from where he demanded that the referee count 5 on his pinfalls instead of three. A fun little gimmick at first, but it’s not a great deal to go on. This was before the NXT writers room was full of the most inspired storytellers in the business, and was instead just a bunch of guys that weren’t ready to write for Raw yet.

He dethroned Rollins to become the second-ever NXT Champion, as Rollins was a bit busy being one-third of the newly debuted Shield at the time. Then we hit our next stumbling block with this era of NXT, because, although Big E held the title all the way from the start of December through to the end of May, he only defended the title three times, with minimal story going into any of them.

He dispatched of Conor O’Brian (who would later become one half of The Ascension…and put a ‘K’ at the front of his name for some reason) sometime in March. A few weeks later he beat Brad Maddock (yes, the guy who was Raw GM so briefly you’d almost certainly forgotten about it) in under 90 seconds. Then Bo Dallas came around, and that was that. Big E had already debuted on the main roster by this point as Dolph Ziggler’s lackey, and there was very little value in him being NXT Champion anymore.

I think Big E definitely has some decent role in establishing NXT for the success it would later see, but I can’t say that what he did with the title was particularly impressive.

18 – Ember Moon

Days as Champion: 140
Successful Title Defences: 3
Best Match As Champion: vs Shayna Baszler at NXT Takeover: New Orleans

Based on the numbers, you might think Ember should be a bit higher up on the list, but as much as she had an enjoyable run as champion, I don’t feel like she left much of an impact on the brand.

In 2017, it felt like Ember Moon was to be the successor to Asuka’s throne. It’s hard to say whether or not she would’ve eventually overcome Asuka had The Empress of Tomorrow never gotten injured, but the general feeling was that Ember Moon was going to be sitting on top of the NXT Women’s division for quite a while. Sadly, she fell short of these expectations, not because of any fault of hers, but because she was surrounded by some extremely hot prospects.

When Ember Moon won the NXT Women’s Championship, it wasn’t too far out from the very first Mae Young Classic tournament ending, which meant that there was a fresh crop of incredible women’s wrestlers waiting for their time to shine in NXT. Ember was delayed in winning the title to begin with, thanks to the insanely hot run Asuka found herself on, but once Ember got a hold of the title, there were some high expectations.

Her first defence of the title was against Sonya Deville on an episode NXT in November. It was a good match, but it was only 7 minutes long and served more to be a mini-showcase for Sonya Deville than anything substantial. Then Ember ran into the woman who would cause her run at the top to be cut short: Shayna Baszler. Admittedly, Baszler was nowhere near as dominant as she would later become just yet, but anyone with half a brain could see all the potential in the world, so her winning the title was very much a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’.

Moon successfully defended the title against Baszler twice, however, both times it was by the skin of her teeth; one via an opportunistic rollup and the other via DQ. On top of that, Baszler laid waste to Ember at every opportunity. Great for the purposes of building Baszler up as the next big thing, not so great for Ember and her title reign, which would end at Takeover: New Orleans with relatively little fanfare.

As great as Ember Moon had the potential to be as champion, the way history has played out, her legacy is entirely overshadowed by the two dominant forces that surrounded her in the form of Asuka & Shayna Baszler.

17 – Seth Rollins

Days as Champion: 133
Successful Title Defences: 3
Best Match As Champion: vs Big E Langston at NXT 6th December 2012

Rollins gets a prestige boost by virtue of being the first champion, but that doesn’t carry him far.

If I’m being entirely honest, my thoughts of Rollins as champion are very similar to my thoughts on Big E’s time as champion. The difference here being Rollins at least wrestled for a lot longer during his title defences. Admittedly, that’s not much of a benefit when his main rival was Jinder Mahal, but it’s still got to count for something.

Defeating Jinder Mahal in the finals of a tournament, Rollins was chosen as the very first man to carry the black and gold brand to glory, and he did an admirable job for the upstart promotion. His first title defence was against Michael McGillicutty – who would later come to be known as Curtis Axel – and while it wasn’t anything incredible, it was a better match than you’re probably thinking it was.

Rollins then didn’t do much of anything for a few months, until Jinder Mahal came sniffing around once again, looking for vengeance. Following this match, Rollins debuted on the main roster as part of The Shield, and the writing was on the wall for his title reign. At the next set of tapings, he lost via DQ to Corey Graves in 5 minutes, then lost the title to Big E.

Much like Big E, Rollins held the title for a decent number of days and defended the title cleanly in decent matches. That, alongside being the very first champion gives him a slightly grander legacy as champion than most from this era, but that really isn’t saying much in the grand scheme of things.

16 – Aleister Black

Days as Champion: 108
Successful Title Defences: 2
Best Match As Champion: vs Tommaso Ciampa at NXT 18th December 2018

Aleister Black was such a dominant force in NXT for so long that I always find it quite surprising looking back at his title reign because it’s so boring. He’s one of those people who ended up doing most of his best work before and after his time as champion. All of his best matches (vs Velveteen Dream, vs Johnny Gargano, w/ Ricochet vs War Raiders) happened without the championship over his shoulder.

His victory against Almas was a good one, but it didn’t main event the show, as that slot was (quite rightly) taken by the first Gargano vs Ciampa match (trust me, this is going to be a pattern). Black was made to look very strong as champion and came out on top more often than not in any encounter he had, but none of them were all that memorable.

He defended the title against Eric Young on an episode of NXT that was good, but not very long. Then, when Takeover: Chicago II rolled around, Black once again had the main event spot taken from him by the second Ciampa vs Gargano match. Sadly, his match wasn’t anything too special either, as he dragged Lars Sullivan to a passable 15-minute match.

Before we knew it, the time had come for Black to lose the title, and it wasn’t even on a Takeover event. After being shunted aside for it twice, Black found himself stuck in the middle of the Ciampa/Gargano feud. Gargano’s actions in his title defence against Ciampa would indirectly cause him to lose the title. Black was set to fight in a triple threat match for the title at Brooklyn 4, but an injury put the lid on those plans.

Black’s reign wasn’t very glamorous or memorable, but it rises this high on the list because he was treated very well as champion. As I said, he rarely if ever lost a non-title match, and continued to cultivate his strong and mysterious persona.

15 – Andrade “Cien” Almas

Days as Champion: 139
Successful Title Defences: 2
Best Match As Champion: vs Johnny Gargano at NXT Takeover: Philadelphia

Andrade is one of those people that I always seem to forget was NXT Champion. Not because he didn’t do well as champion, I liked a lot of what he did, he just didn’t seem to leave much of a mark on the belt at the end of the day.

As 2020 seemed to mark the end of NXT’s 2nd goldern era, I think it’s interesting to look at where it began. Most people focus on the Gargano/Ciampa rivalry, as that’s a large part of what defined the era, I think a very good case could be made for Andrade as the first champion of that era. The match where he won the title from Drew McIntyre was good, but not amazing thanks to Drew’s injury, but Andrade would work his arse off to make his title reign worth it from there onwards.

Having Zelina Vega as a mouthpiece was brilliant for him and the two clicked better than most wrestler/manager combinations have in recent memory. They both carried themselves with a cocky swagger that suited Andrade’s persona and even though they didn’t directly talk all that much, their chemistry during Andrade’s matches was incredible.

Speaking of Andrade’s matches, there’s one that sticks out in the mind far more than others. His first title defence at Takeover: Philadelphia against Johnny Gargano was the first in a long, LONG series of genuinely unbelievably good series of Takeover main events. It was the first match in NXT to be awarded 5 stars by the Wrestling Observer and remains one of my favourite NXT singles matches to this day.

The problem with Andrade though is that he doesn’t have much of a legacy in NXT outside of that match. He defended the title again a few weeks later against Gargano in another great match that is largely forgotten by history. Then, while the match where he lost the title to Aleister Black was brilliant, it was entirely overshadowed by everything else that happened on Takeover: New Orleans, a show seen by many to be NXT’s finest work.

I wanted to place Almas higher, but when you look at his title reign’s content, it doesn’t really justify it. Admittedly his match against Gargano carries him up a handful of places on its own, but given that it was immediately followed by the Ciampa/Gargano feud, this reign tends to be a bit more forgettable.

14 – Paige

Days as Champion: 273
Successful Title Defences: 3
Best Match As Champion: vs Emma on NXT 12th June 2013

Paige is somewhat of a difficult one to rank in the context of this list. When you compare her to the women who came after she’d left NXT, she technically didn’t do all that much fantastic stuff with the belt, however, I think doing that woefully understates the impact she made on, not just NXT, but main roster WWE as well.

With Paige, you have to look at what was going on with the women’s division in WWE at the time and how Paige’s work compares. For one thing, WWE was still calling them ‘Divas’ instead of ‘women’. The longest women’s match on Pay-Per-View for the entirety of WWE in 2013 was 11 minutes long, and that was only because it was a 7 on 7 elimination tag match, and even then it was one of the worst Survivor Series tag matches we’ve ever seen.

Then, you put that in contrast to what Paige was doing in NXT at the time. She was putting on 15-minute matches that outshone just about any women’s match in WWE history at the time and carrying the only women’s title that felt like it meant anything in WWE. When looking back at the rise of women’s wrestling WWE, the four horsewomen are always the most obvious people to point at for where it all started, but I don’t think that’s true. The four horsewomen may have brought the idea that women can actually do great wrestling to a mainstream audience, but Paige was the one who knocked the door down in the first place for them to take advantage. It’s entirely possible that without Paige putting in the incredible work that she did, NXT never would’ve come around to booking it’s women’s division seriously, and then where would we be?

It wasn’t perfect though, the fact that she defended the title only 3 times in 9 months isn’t the best, especially when one of those was a 3- minute match against Summer Rae. On top of that, she never actually lost the title. Instead, she was forced to vacate it by JBL (who was apparently the General Manager of NXT for a while?) after she showed up on Raw in the spring of 2014 and won the Divas title from AJ Lee. That move did lead to great things in the long-run, but the fact that the first NXT Women’s Champion never actually lost the belt is a bit of an oddity.

Paige laid the groundwork for what would become NXT’s revolution in women’s wrestling, and her role cannot be understated. However, when you compare her to the modern era, where women’s wrestling is taken far more seriously, her title reign just doesn’t quite hold up against a lot of them. She was the one who lit the fire but didn’t get much of a chance to enjoy the flame.

And there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this post. Please, let me know what you thought of these NXT title reigns, either in the comments below, or on Twitter @10ryawoo. Finally, make sure to come back here this time next week, where I’ll be covering my favourite post-game features in the Pokemon series, PLUS the week after that for part 2 of this list!

WWE Match of the Year 2020

Much like every company (and every person) in 2020, it’s been one hell of a year for WWE, with a lot of ups and downs. However, it led to many things we’ve never seen before, some stuff we never thought we’d see in a WWE ring and a lot of bloody good wrestling. So, as we sail off into a new year which surely HAS to be better than this one, let’s take a look back at some of the best matches WWE gave us in 2020.

10 – Men’s Royal Rumble – Royal Rumble

Putting a Royal Rumble on the match of the year list almost feels like cheating, because even a lousy rumble is at least a little bit good. However, I think this one did enough unique things that it deserves to be spoken about.

Rumbles often have a bit of a through-line story to them, especially when there’s a story surrounding who enters first, however, normally in that instance it’s about that wrestler being an underdog. So here, we finally got a chance to see what it would be like if that formula got turned on its head. Brock dominating the first half of the match was brilliant, I know some people say it went on for too long, but I entirely disagree, it was perfect. Not only was it something new, but it gave us so many great little moments between Brock & various competitors, and the little moments are what make a lot of the best rumbles so good.

On top of all that, it led to what was possibly the largest crowd reaction of the year (not exactly a high bar, but whatever) when Drew eliminated Brock from the match. From there we got loads of really fun Rumble antics that hit all the beats you want from a match like that. We got a bunch of fun action as the ring filled up, until what was ACTUALLY the biggest crowd reaction of the year when EDGE returned to wrestle for the first time in 9 years. Then, as the match drew (heh) to a close, we got another brilliant final four-segment between Orton, Edge, Roman & Drew that gave me a result I wasn’t expecting but was very happy about.

The past few years have been absolutely brilliant for rumble matches, and it makes me all the more excited for 2021’s version of the match, whatever form it takes.

9 – WALTER(c) vs Ilja Dragunov – NXT UK 29th October
(United Kingdom Championship)

Live crowds weren’t the only thing we missed out on this year, thanks to the UK’s restrictions, NXT UK was off the air for a large chunk of the year. However, once it came back, they did as much as they possibly could to make up for all the time they missed.

Truth be told, there isn’t really anything complicated about why this match is so good. It’s not a technical masterpiece or an epic story, it’s just two men beating the absolute stuffing out of each other for twenty minutes, and it blew me away. WALTER wrestled a ferocious style at the best of time, it’s what made his matches against Dunne and Bate so incredible to watch, but when he’s up against a guy like Dragunov who, despite his smaller size, can hit back just as hard, it’s compelling in the weirdest way possible. Almost like a car crash, in that, you just can’t quite bring yourself to look away.

Despite the brutal style, they still did a great job making Dragunov someone I wanted to cheer. I don’t watch NXT UK’s weekly show very often, so I wasn’t very well informed of the story going into this match, but I got all I needed to from watching the match itself. He was able to mix his strong strikes with that kind of plucky underdog style of creating openings and pulling out ‘hope’ spots; a factor that is greatly aided by the fact that WALTER is bloody massive. There’s a reason you have to write his name in all-caps, after all.

This match was a brilliant showcase of the best of what the division has to offer, which was desperately needed after the show had been off our screens for many months.

8 – Bayley(c) vs Sasha Banks – Hell in a Cell
(Smackdown Women’s Championship)
(Hell in a Cell)

Bayley and Sasha are just really good at wrestling each other.

Their NXT matches are, in my opinion, the two very best women’s matches the world has ever seen (and in the conversation for best overall) and they haven’t missed a beat since those encounters, even with the heel/face roles reversed. In fact, I’d argue the reversal of the roles was to this match’s benefit, as it created a very different feeling match. Sasha can draw love from any crowd by simply selling like she’s being murdered with every move she takes. At the same time, Bayley spent 2020 producing the best heel-work seen in the company all year, to the point where the super-babyface NXT Bayley genuinely feels like a completely different person.

Hell in a Cell matches are usually not for me, they’re the very height of slow builds to high spots we’ve seen plenty of times before, but in this match, the competitors didn’t let the weapons detract from the action. Other cell matches would grind the match’s pace to a halt so the wrestlers could set up a spot, only to immediately go through the motions to do the next one, in this match, the weapon spots were primarily set up during the auction. There were a few points where things had to slow down, but they were few and far between, and the match’s wrestling action spoke for it more than the weapon spots.

That said, what weapons spots there were had a significant impact. The thread of Bayley using the chair that came back towards the end was classic storytelling done to near-perfection, and it helped the match build to its climax. Sasha winning wasn’t was I was expecting going in, but with hindsight, it was definitely the right conclusion. I’ve become so used to WWE dragging out stories for way longer than they needed to, that I forgot how great it feels when the big win happens when it feels like it’s supposed to. It rounded off a great match which a wonderful emotional moment that left me with very positive feelings.

7 – The Undertaker vs AJ Styles – Wrestlemania 36
(Boneyard Match)

I was really worried this was going to be crap. The few times in the past WWE had tried cinematic matches, they’d been awful, or cheap imitations of what other companies had already done. However, when the world felt like it was ending, WWE pulled out all the stops and created some genuinely amazing pre-taped stuff this year. The Money in the Bank match isn’t on this list, but it was a little bit out there, and genuinely hilarious with the bits they filled it with, and it showed that when WWE employees are allowed to be creative, they can create some magic. Speaking of…the boneyard match.

It reminded me of some of the more epic fight scenes from movies, but with a difference. The thing is, in a movie, a fight scene is just one part of the overall story, there’s usually so much more going on around it that the scene is either short or constantly cut away to see what the other characters are going. However, in a wrestling match, the fight IS the story, so we got 24 minutes of two men fighting like their lives depended on it.

The build was a little bit goofy, but in the match itself, both men leaned all the way into it, and it made it work. AJ became the most hatable human in the world and Undertaker had the badass vibes we haven’t seen from him in a while. With the hindsight of knowing this is Undertaker’s last match, it gains a whole other layer too. The way he fights like an old gunslinger on his way out of the door, the way he acts so visibly tired in some points, and even the way he talks to Styles as he puts him in the ground. It’s not the send-off I expected, or even wanted for Taker, but it really works.

It was the kind of match that I was genuinely on the edge of my seat during it because it was something I’d never seen before. Every new twist popped me in some way, and at the end of the day, it left me with a massive grin on my face, and I can’t ask for more.

6 – Roman Reigns(c) vs Jey Uso – Hell in a Cell
(Universal Championship)
(Hell in a Cell)
(I Quit)

There’s been a lot going on with Roman Reigns this year. After it looked like we were in for another run with face Roman at the top following Wrestlemania, the unfortunate circumstances forced him to take time off from WWE and miss out on that opportunity. We all knew he’d come back at some point, and I was looking forward to seeing him around again, but little did I know just how great it would be. After years of asking for it, we’ve finally got to see what Roman Reigns can do as a heel, and it’s absolutely fantastic. He has this aura of indestructibility around him that makes him the kind of figure you always want to pay attention to when he’s on-screen.

A considerable part of building this aura was his story with Jey Uso, where he showed himself to be genuinely ruthless in a way we haven’t seen from anyone in WWE for a very long time. Jey Uso is the kind of guy that I don’t think anyone ever saw as a single star, that’s not to say he didn’t have the potential to do well. It’s just his identity (and looks) as a wrestler are tied so heavily to his brother, it seemed impossible for them to do anything outside of the tag team division. This was precisely the right story to prove that belief wrong, though.

This match at Hell in a Cell is the best part of this story. The Cell is largely irrelevant, and to be entirely honest, so is most of the actual wrestling action. What matters here is that the story that was told was one of the most compelling WWE have told in years. Every element simply worked. Roman wanting to assert his dominance as the leader of the family, Jey desperate to prove himself, Jimmy wanting to make sure his brother didn’t get hurt and Heyman standing by to put the exclamation point on everything, along with being the personification of Roman’s betrayal of his old ideals.

The way Roman would put Jey down with such ease, only to watch Jey struggle to his feet. He would gain the advantage here and there, but it never lasted long. It was clear that Roman was the far superior wrestler, but Jey just wouldn’t say die, which ended up being his undoing. We got to see just how much of a bastard Roman has become, not just in the way he brutalized Jey, but in the way he pretended to break down crying, only to emotionally manipulate his cousins into letting their guard down.

It struck the right balance of drama so that it didn’t feel over the top, it just felt real, and I felt the emotional weight of every moment of it. It didn’t just establish Roman as an absolutely horrible person, but it elevated Jey’s standing to the point where he’s now seen as a credible singles competitor. Everybody wins.

5 – Drew McIntyre(c) vs Seth Rollins – Money in the Bank
(WWE Championship)

There really isn’t any complexity to this one, it’s just a bloody great wrestling match.

Drew McIntyre’s ascension in 2020 has been one of the more positive stories of this dark year. I’ve already talked about his Royal Rumble win, but once he actually had the title over his shoulder, the pressure was on to deliver. We all knew he had it in him, it was just a matter of whether or not it would be able to shine in his feuds. Thankfully, WWE knows what they’re doing sometimes and knew that Seth Rollins was the perfect person for Drew’s first major feud as champion.

This match let us see all sides of what Drew could (and would) give us as WWE Champion. He was able to look beatable, without looking weak, he was able to look tough without seeming too dominant, and most importantly, he could wrestle like hell and hang with the best. Both competitors came together perfectly to create a match that was an absolute joy to watch. When Rollins lets loose, there are honestly few better in WWE and McIntyre rose to his level particularly on that night.

Rollins adapted his fast & flashy high-flying offence into something slightly slower and hard-hitting. Instead of bouncing all over the place with some fast-paced flying knees, he slowed them down and made them more impactful when he smashed Drew in the face with them. It worked to Drew’s more brutal style and created the sense of a real fight that kept me engaged in the action from start to finish.

4 – Rhea Ripley(c) vs Charlotte Flair – Wrestlemania 36
(NXT Women’s Championship)

While Ripley’s star has faded slightly from what it was at the beginning of the year, the fact that she was able to have the best singles wrestling match of Wrestlemania against one of the best women’s wrestlers in the history of the sport is something that will forever keep her a star in the eyes of everyone inside and out of WWE.

This was the match I was the most hyped for going into Wrestlemania, and it didn’t disappoint. As the opening match for night 2, it set the tone perfectly for the rest of the show. It’s easy to roll your eyes at Charlotte these days after she was pushed so hard for so long, but we can’t forget that when it comes to pure wrestling ability, she’s in the discussion for best women’s wrestler of all time. Charlotte pulled out all the stops in this match, and Rhea matched her beat-for-beat. This match felt so explicitly crafted to make both women feel perfectly matched for one another, and Rhea came out of it looking like a star, even in defeat.

The action was so fluid and satisfying at all moments, with Rhea slipping into the role of the hungry underdog, while Charlotte looked down her nose at Rhea as the veteran. Charlotte underestimated Rhea in the opening segments but quickly learnt what she was capable of, which was all the story that was needed to turn this into one of the best matches of the year.

3 – Keith Lee(c) vs Dominick Dijakovic – NXT Takeover: Portland
(North American Championship)

While NXT is still an excellent wrestling product these days, it definitely feels like the golden era is over now. For the past couple of years, NXT has dominated my ‘match of the year’ lists, but as you’ve seen, it’s been pretty barren this year so far. I think it has suffered greatly from the lack of live crowds – perhaps more so than any other major promotion – so I guess it makes sense that one of their better matches would come before we were all locked down.

Keith Lee is a rocket waiting to take off. From his performance at Survivor Series 2019 all the way through 2020, you can feel the stardom that awaits him when he’s finally allowed to run free, and this remains one of his finest works. Interestingly, it took me a hell of a long time to get on board with Dominick Dijakovic (now Retribution’s T-Bar). For the longest time, I just didn’t understand what was so special about him, he was just another big guy, right? Wrong, very, VERY wrong.

Turns out, he’s a big guy moves like a cruiserweight and can put on fast-paced, exciting and bombastic matches with a wide range of opponents. Lee & Dijakovic clicked like you wouldn’t believe in this match, they were absolutely perfect for each other. Rather than focusing entirely on power, the early stages of this match focused more on the two competitors out-manoeuvring each other to get the upper hand, only busting out their feats of strength when they had the upper hand. Then, once the opening was out of the way, they slammed their feet down on the accelerator and started to destroy each other for our entertainment.

This match stunned me in how amazingly fast it was, yet it still managed to convey the two men’s power and brutality. All of the biggest moments came and went in a flash, and yet they left such an impression on me that I can still picture some of the spots almost a full year later. Lee seems like he’s going to reach the spot her deserves at some point over the next few years, and I hope Dijakovic does the same because he deserves so much more than what he’s currently getting.

2 – The Fiend Bray Wyatt vs John Cena – Wrestlemania 36
(Firefly Funhouse Match)

The only reason this isn’t number 1 because it wasn’t technically a match. Truthfully though, I believe it to be one of the best things WWE has ever aired.

When The Fiend lost to Goldberg, there was a lot of worry about how the character would be treated going forwards. This was the hottest property in the company all year, and it seemed like it was going to be squandered. Then, the character set his sights on righting the wrongs of the past, not just of himself, but of the company. Focussing on Wrestlemania 30 for this feud, and how Cena definitely shouldn’t have won was a brilliant way to frame the animosity between these two that hasn’t been done to this great effect before. Cena leaned all the way into it as well and came across like quite an embittered man about the whole thing, something Wyatt preyed upon.

I don’t even know how to go about breaking down how brilliant this whole thing was. It was a complete and total character assassination of, not only John Cena but the whole WWE system of hand-picked stars to carry the company. It’s a miracle that it was ever even allowed to air on a WWE product given that included lines such as puppet Vince McMahon saying “it’s such good shit”, a line used by Jon Moxley to mock Vince after he left the company. It broke down every aspect of John Cena’s career and highlighted how much of a farce it was, and how deeply flawed it was. While it didn’t directly address many of the topics at hand, it doesn’t take much backstage knowledge of WWE to understand the implications of stuff like nWo Cena, tearing down not only Cena but also Hogan’s history of keeping people down for no good reason.

The Firefly Funhouse match didn’t just blur the lines between fiction and reality, it straight-up shattered that line and used every broken piece of the line to create the finished product. It’s the kind of thing that I never thought I’d see on a WWE product and may never get the chance to see it again and I utterly adored it.

1 – Charlotte Flair(c) vs Rhea Ripley vs Io Shirai – NXT Takeover: In Your House
(NXT Women’s Championship)

While, in all honesty, the Firefly Funhouse match was probably my favourite thing to happen this year, this is a list about proper wrestling matches, and on that front, nothing this year came close to this match.

I don’t think NXT made the most of having Charlotte Flair as their champion. It’s not entirely their fault, as they were somewhat handcuffed by the fact that Raw still wanted to use Charlotte on a weekly basis without even referencing the fact that she was NXT Champion. Either way, there was definitely a feeling of wasted potential when it came to an end. That said, they sure as hell did their best to get as many amazing performances out of it as possible. I’ve already covered her Mania match with Ripley, but on top of that, we saw a great match against Io Shirai on NXT and this match, which is one of the best triple threat matches I’ve ever seen.

Shirai was definitely coming into this match with momentum, but I really didn’t think she stood a chance of winning the title. I’m glad that I was wrong about this, but I honestly thought NXT had missed the boat with her thanks to her rise coming right in the middle of Shayna Baszler’s run of dominance. The match’s story was definitely with Rhea & Charlotte following their Wrestlemania encounter, but Io Shirai burst into the feud and made sure her voice could not be ignored.

This patch was paced to near perfection, and never let up. It used the triple threat factor to its advantage and never let there be a moment where nothing was happening. Rhea felt like a vicious underdog who was looking to recover from her Mania loss, Charlotte fought like a woman fuelled by her hatred of anyone that wasn’t her, and Io came in like a house on fire, tearing down any and every obstacle in her way.

It had everything I want from a headline NXT match: Drama, action, excitement and ending out on both a surprise and a high-note. I think it says something about how fantastic NXT is that even in a year where I consider NXT’s performance to be sub-par, it put on some of the best damn matches in the entire company, in 2020.

WWE TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs: Every Match Ranked

That’s a wrap on WWE Pay-Per-Views for 2020, and you know what? I think it’d been a bloody good year for the project on the whole. Sure, it’s far from the best year WWE has ever had, and weekly TV has rarely been anything to shout about, but their PPV output has been consistently great. I don’t usually do a PPV ranking, but I think it’d be fun to look back on WWE in 2020 come January.

That said, I can definitely see how this show may not have been to everyone’s taste, as much as I enjoyed it. However, the one thing you can’t deny is there’s no way we’re going to forget about it anytime soon, which is more than can be said for a lot of WWE PPVs, even the good ones.

Still, even on a good show like this, not everything was excellent, so let’s get ranking.

7 – Daniel Bryan, Big E, Otis & Chad Gable def. Baron Corbin, Sami Zayn, Cesaro & Shinsuke Nakamura

I mean, it’s an 8-man tag match that was announced two hours before the show and went less than 10 minutes, what do you want me to say?

Quite simply, it’s 8 men who could easily main event any show, any place, any time if they were invested in properly…and Otis. However, given how little time they had and how it was just a match for the sake of a match (something Vince apparently hates, but whatever).

It was ok, but I don’t care.

6 – Randy Orton def. The Fiend Bray Wyatt
(Firefly Inferno)

This match was either great or terrible, depending on what aspects you want to focus on.

As a wrestling match, it was trash. Most of the spots were quite contrived, and there was basically no actual wrestling action to speak of. This is fine for the story they were trying to tell, but the booking was so weird that I’m not sure it really makes up for it. As much as I wanted The Fiend to win, I can see past the fact that he didn’t, but to have the show end on such a shocking, yet somehow downbeat note was odd. Orton lit The Fiend on fire, presumably killing him…Orton posed for some reason and…that’s it, fade to black. It felt like there should’ve been some form of final exclamation point on the whole thing. After all, every horror movie ends with the revelation that the killer is still alive.

All of that said, as a visual spectacle, it was incredible. From the moment The Fiend summoned the fire, it was quite the rollercoaster ride. Yes, the spots were contrived, but when they looked as cool as some of them did, who the hell cares? The trail of fire leading to Orton sitting in the rocking chair was brilliant, and the final spot of The Fiend attacking Orton despite still being on fire was great.

As for where Bray goes from here, I honestly have no idea. I hope this means we don’t see The Fiend for a while now, maybe Bray could believe he’s ‘free’ of The Fiend for a while before slowly falling back into his grasp. That’s just one idea though, and Bray’s an extremely creative man, so I’m sure he’ll be able to spin something interesting from it.

Like I said in the intro, maybe not the best match ever, but it was certainly memorable.

5 – Asuka & Charlotte Flair def. Nia Jax & Shayna Baszler(c)
(Women’s Tag Team Championships)

I guess now we have to sit around and wait for a sudden but inevitable betrayal, yet again.

As much as an NXT call-up would’ve been more exciting, bringing Charlotte back now is the right move. While I’ve been the first to blame WWE’s booking for the horrible state the Raw women’s division is currently in, it’s hard to deny that they’ve been lacking a certain quantity of star power (that wouldn’t be a problem if they actually invested in some of the mid-card women for more than three weeks at a time, but whatever). Hopefully, having Charlotte back will give the division more focus on TV week-to-week, and we can get back to how great Asuka was over the summer.

This match was a lot of fun. This is one of those cases where this is only ranked low because other matches were better, not because this one was in any way bad. As weird as it is for Asuka & Charlotte to suddenly be hugging and friendly, I’m willing to let it slide to see where the story goes, which has surely got to be a Mania match between the two. As much as I wish Jax & Baszler would be able to continue their reign, I highly doubt this is the end of their run. Asuka & Charlotte have got to break-up at some point, and I would expect they’ll regain the titles in the wake of that.

Either way, these teams had great chemistry, and Charlotte was able to slide right back into a spot where it felt like she belonged. Thumbs up from me.

4 – Sasha Banks(c) def. Carmella
(Smackdown Women’s Championship)

See? I told you Carmella was a good wrestler if you gave her a chance.

This match wasn’t perfect. In fact, I thought it started a bit dull, however, once they hit about the midpoint, business really picked up. From there, this was an entertaining back-and-forth match that played to the strength of both women. Carmella made Banks look vulnerable at several points without necessarily out-wrestling her, while Banks played the opportunist, taking advantage of every opening Carmella gave her. Carmella was able to translate her new persona into a match very well, and the one spot of outside interference came at just the right moment to help the match.

My only real issue is where Carmella goes from here. It wouldn’t surprise me if they went for another match between these two, but given that the Royal Rumble is on the horizon, it wouldn’t surprise me if the title isn’t even defended on that show. There have just been so many cases where WWE immediately get bored of a rejuvenized character, and within a couple months they become just another face in the crowd. Truthfully, I don’t want that to happen to anyone, but Carmella has so much promise right now that I hope they find something good to do with her away from the title.

Sasha, meanwhile, is on a roll and will continue to be on that roll until at least Wrestlemania. If she’s going to keep putting on matches like this one, then I’m definitely ok with that.

3 – The Hurt Business def. The New Day(c)
(Raw Tag Team Championships)

A brilliant match that needed more time than it got.

This is one of those instances, like New Day & Usos, where these guys just clicked in the ring. They played with the standard tag team match tropes, but never lingered on anything for too long, and once the action got going, it never stopped. Unsurprisingly, Cedric Alexander was a huge boon to the action, and his sequences against Kofi were undoubtedly my favourite of the whole the match. The others still pulled their weight though, with Benjamin pulling out arguably his best performance since his WWE return.

The only real downside here was the fact that the match only got 10 minutes. I really enjoyed what I saw, but when it ended, I felt like it wasn’t enough. I’m confident that this feud is far from over and that’s a good thing because I absolutely want more from these two teams. If WWE let those guys go out there and wrestle for 15-20 minutes, I think we could easily be looking at a match of the year contender that sky-rockets the stock of everyone in The Hurt Business.

Speaking of, as much as I predicted The New Day, I’m glad The Hurt Business won, and I think it was the right call. New Day aren’t going to suffer from any loss they take and right now. The Hurt Business are the hot property at the moment. I look forward to seeing what they can do with the gold and how it helps all of them out long-term.

2 – Drew McIntyre(c) def. AJ Styles & The Miz
(WWE Championship)
(Tables, Ladders & Chairs)

In my predictions, I was cautiously optimistic about this match. I worried slightly that the stipulation would hold the match back, but I trusted the two performers involved to pull out a great one, and I was not disappointed.

It took a little while to grab my attention, but once I’d settled into the match, I had a very good time. To the surprise of no-one, Drew & AJ had great chemistry in the ring, and they made good use of the stipulation. WWE seems to finally be able to strike a balance between weapons being an essential factor in the match, without completely throwing everything else out of the window. The match built nicely to its climax, even though that climax ended up being quite the curveball.

There are ups and downs to The Miz cashing in. On the downside, it’s yet another year that the Money in the Bank contract has been utterly wasted. Out of the past four years, only one of the men’s Money in the Bank holders has won the title, and even then, it wasn’t great. 2016 was the last great cash-in that actually meant something, and by now the contract feels hugely devalued. However, in a bubble, it was great and made this match way more exciting. It’s always been hard to make convincing false finishes in matches like this, but they pulled it off here. With the constant up and down of people on ladders, there were points when I genuinely believed all three men were about to win.

Ultimately, Drew retaining was the right move. After the reports from Raw, I was worried they were going to hot-shot the title to boost the ratings, but thankfully that wasn’t the case, and we still have the strong champion we all love.

1 – Roman Reigns(c) def. Kevin Owens
(Universal Championship)
(Tables, Ladders & Chairs)

Maybe the best one-on-one TLC match ever.

This match was structured so well. Most matches that I love gradually speed up as they go on. The slower starts lead to frantic and nail-biting conclusions, but this match did the opposite. This match started at a breakneck pace, with Owens bringing all kinds of fury to the fight, it got me pumped and invested immediately so that I didn’t lose interest when the match gradually slowed down. It’s such a simple technique, and yet the gradual deceleration of the pace gave the whole thing a fierce feeling to it and told the story of these two guys trying to destroy each other excellently.

The action was great too. Once again, weapons were used to enhance the match, rather than completely focusing on them. With Drew/AJ, as much as I liked it, I still felt it would’ve been better as a regular singles match, however, with this match, I felt that the hardcore stipulation was an integral part of the story being this good. Uso’s involvement felt a bit bullshit at some point, but it aided in telling the story and softened the impact of Owens losing. Even though Reigns retained (which I maintain was the right call) Owens looked like a such a hero from his performance here thanks to how he kept getting back up after going through table after table and only falling short thank to his opponent’s underhanded tactics.

I have no idea if there are any long-term plans for Owens here (I’m not optimistic), but he is now in so much of a better position than he was going into December, it would be a shame not to capitalize on it in some way.

And there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this review. Please, let me know what you thought of the show, either in the comment below or on Twitter @10ryawoo. Finally, make sure to come back here this time on Saturday, where I’ll be running down my favourite WWE matches from 2020!

WWE TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs 2020: Predictions & Analysis

Hey, remember Survivor Series? No, me neither.

I always find myself far less excited for TLC than I do most other Pay-Per-Views, and this time I don’t think it’s WWE’s fault. I honestly like the look of the card, especially the two world title matches, I think it’s just a time of year where I care a lot less about a WWE PPV. Not only is it almost Christmas, but the Royal Rumble is only about a month away, and I’m far more excited thinking about that than I am about a bunch of predictable title retentions. It’s times like this where I really begin to think that a PPV every month isn’t always the best idea, at least, from a storytelling standpoint.

Either way, there are matches, I have opinions, so let’s get predicting.

The New Day(c) vs The Hurt Business
(Raw Tag Team Championships)

Wait a minute, this isn’t Street Profits vs Andrade & Garza…I didn’t even know such a thing was possible.

Speaking more seriously, I’ve actually been vaguely enjoying this feud. The New Day are The New Day, even without Big E, and even when they’re given fairly crap promos, they still sell it well. Meanwhile, The Hurt Business are actually quite fun to watch when they’re not squashing Retribution for no apparent reason. They have a kind of serious aura surrounding them, and MVP can sell them fantastically. Not to mention, this is the first PPV title match in ages for both Benjamin & Alexander.

As long as WWE resist the temptation to overbook this, I think we might be in for a treat with this one. The New Day’s wrestling ability has never been in any doubt, and as much as it’s been easy to forget, Alexander is an outstanding technical wrestler. Admittedly, I’ve not been wowed by Benjamin since his return, but the guy is no slouch so who knows? Maybe this will be the performance that reminds us all how great he can be.

It’s weird, I joked in the intro about the title matches all being quite predictable, but this is the one exception. I could honestly see this going either way. The Hurt Business have been on a roll since Lashley won the US title and there’s definitely some good that could come from them holding a bunch of championships like this. That said, it’s hard to bet against The New Day. As I’ve said before they are the ‘default’ setting for the tag division, and there’s certainly nothing to be lost from having them continue to hold the titles.

Nia Jax & Shayna Baszler(c) vs Asuka & ???
(Women’s Tag Team Championships)

So…we’re not getting a payoff to the Lana thing? I really don’t get WWE’s attitude towards her. We keep hearing reports that people backstage really like her and see her as a potential top star, but they never actually let her wrestle, or even finish a story. Either way, it gives us a good old ‘mystery partner’ situation, and those are always fun.

I really don’t like Asuka’s booking of late. Ever since Summerslam, she’s felt like such a non-factor in the Raw women’s division, and that doesn’t seem right for the woman who was one of the main highlights of WWE during the spring & summer. I get that WWE doesn’t have the deepest women’s division out there right now, but was there seriously no-one they could build up as a contender for Asuka’s title? They sleep on people like Peyton Royce & Dana Brooke then feel the need to do weird storylines like this because ‘there are no credible stars’. It just seems like a problem they made for themselves.

Still, the mystery partner, who is it? The way I see it, there are two main possibilities. Firstly, there’s the woman who has been weirdly absent from TV for a considerable chunk of this year for seemingly no reason at all, which is Charlotte Flair. For someone who fans apparently say they ‘shove down our throats’, they’ve had absolutely nothing for her since she lost the NXT title. Reintroducing her here just before we head into Wrestlemania season would undoubtedly be a good call. I’d be down for Asuka vs Charlotte 2. Other than that…I guess it could be Rhea Ripley? She’s felt like she’s had one foot out of the door of NXT for half the year, and it’s not like the NXT women’s division need her anymore with all the talent they’re holding. Raw would definitely benefit from her presence.

Either way, I think Nia Jax & Shayna Baszler are going to retain, which is why I’m leaning towards Charlotte Flair as the mystery partner. If it’s Ripley, then you risk her looking bad if she immediately loses, unless she does some massive swerve. However, if it’s Charlotte then you can easily create a story of her not getting on with Asuka and losing because of that, not to mention, this kind of loss wouldn’t hurt her in the slightest.

The Fiend Bray Wyatt vs Randy Orton
(Firefly Inferno)

My excitement for this match depends on a couple of things.

Firstly, if this is going to be a pre-recorded match, then I’m all-in on it. WWE has knocked it out of the park with those kinds of matches this year, and I’d be thrilled to see another one come our way on Sunday. However, if this is just a regular inferno match with a fancy name, then count me out. I didn’t think this was going to be much of a classic in terms of the action, but if it’s an inferno match, then all of that goes even deeper into the bin. It remains to be seen, but those are my thoughts on the stipulation.

As for the story, I think it’s got a decent amount of legs. The Fiend seems to wildly switch his focus between winning titles and writing Bray Wyatt’s wrongs, but I definitely think that these kinds of stories are better. The match between Orton and Wyatt at Mania 33 may have been a stinker, but the story building up to it was some mental fun, and this has been no different. It’s been interesting to see such a brutal character like Orton be put on the back foot like this. All year he’s been the one dominating his opponents in the build, so a shift in dynamic was the right choice.

I’m a little torn on this one because I think this might not be the only match in this feud. I know the Royal Rumble is next month, and Orton will probably be in that, but I just can’t shake the feeling that this is a multi-month feud. Either way, I’m going with The Fiend Bray Wyatt to win. The Fiend always wins these gimmick matches of his, and I don’t see what could be gained from Orton winning. Orton has reached the status where he can believably square off with anyone regardless of his recent history, as where The Fiend is WAY more fragile, and definitely shouldn’t be losing these kinds of matches.

Sasha Banks(c) vs Carmella
(Smackdown Women’s Championship)

So a lot is going on here, and I’m not sure how much of it I enjoy.

Firstly, I’m glad Carmella’s back, and I’m glad they’re treating her like a credible threat again. As much as her face persona was a lot of fun, it seemed to be artificially limiting her, but now the image of her riding R-Truth’s back as he’s chased by half the locker room is far from my mind when I see her. The problem, though, is I’m not sure how far this can go, at least not in the immediate future. While I don’t like to be blunt, there’s no way Carmella is winning this, and what does she do once Sasha is done with her? I assume we’re going to get at least one more month of this feud, but WWE has never been great at booking their women’s mid-card.

Those concerns aside, I think this could be a really good match. I know Carmella is never really in the conversation for the best women’s wrestlers right now, but I think she’s better than many believe. With this fresh injection of a new persona too, we could be in for quite the treat of the match. As I said though, Sasha Banks is definitely walking away with the title. It’s possible Carmella could get a cheap DQ win or something, but there’s no way anyone is taking that title from Banks before Mania.

Roman Reigns(c) vs Kevin Owens
(Universal Championship)
(Tables, Ladders & Chairs)

I love matches like this. They’re the kind of feuds that I never would’ve thought of if you’d ask me what I wanted to see, but now it’s been presented to me, I’m really looking forward to seeing it.

Roman has been perfect since his return, and this feud is no exception. The attitude with which he carries himself makes him the most hatable person in the world and having Paul Heyman at his side only boosts his aura of indestructibility. As such, it makes him the perfect opponent for Owens’ current character. He’s a little removed now from his anti-authority persona, but he still carries that rebellious edge that you just can’t help but love, he’s the kind of person who always speaks so genuinely, and it really resonates with me.

I’m also very excited about the match. As with any WWE gimmick match, there is a possibility that it leans too heavily on the gimmicks and ruin it, but all of the gimmick matches over the past few months have struck a good balance, so I have faith. On top of that, I think a weapon focus might be beneficial to this one. Reigns’ current style is ferocious, and Owens’ build makes him the perfect tough-guy to put in a barbaric match like TLC. Not to mention, Owens has been more than happy to take some crazy bumps in the past, so I think that there’s a high probability that this will be the match we’re all raving about come Monday.

As much as I’d like this one to be a bit more of a toss-up, Roman Reigns is going to win, because it’s Roman Reigns. That’s not the insult it perhaps was a few years ago though, Roman is the perfect guy to sit at the top of the ladder on Smackdown right now, and I would be thrilled to see his title reign go on well into 2021. It’s a shame because I really like Owens, but Roman’s just the right guy to go with at the moment.

Drew McIntyre(c) vs AJ Styles
(WWE Championship)
(Tables, Ladders & Chairs)

Ever since Drew first won that title, this was the feud I’ve been waiting to see. It’s no secret these days that Styles can have a good match with just about anyone, and there’s something about these two guys that just clicks in my head.

Despite being one of the biggest ‘indie’ darlings in history, Styles has always seemed to fare far better as a heel in WWE than a face, at least from a character perspective. When he talks as a face, I don’t always get behind him (his title reign through 2018 was a great example of this) but when he talks as a heel, I always listen, and I always find him annoying and despicable in precisely the right way. Meanwhile, Drew has recovered excellently from his Survivor Series loss to the point where you’d barely even remember it happened. After the feud with Randy Orton for so long, it feels like a breath of fresh air to see him free to do something new, with someone exciting.

As before, there’s a risk that they lean too heavily on the gimmick here, but I’m optimistic. Styles is one hell of an innovative competitor, and Drew can definitely keep pace with him if they want to go for a faster match. The in-ring styles of these two can be quite different at times, but I think the quality of this match will come from how both men adapt to the other, especially with weapons involved.

However, I find myself once again faced with a straightforward decision when it comes to picking the winner. While I don’t think it’s entirely impossible that Styles could win the title as a surprise, I definitely think Drew McIntyre to retain is the far safer bet. He only won the title back recently and is coming off of a significant loss to Roman, not to mention that all of the current dirt sheets are reporting that all talks for Wrestlemania have Drew going in as champion. Not to mention, I really like Drew, and I want him to hold that title for as long as possible.