NXT has had a storied history of putting on some of the best matches in all of pro wrestling since its arrival on the WWE Network back in 2014. The brand has come a long way in establishing itself and has been helped by countless great NXT Takeover events and amazing weekly episodes each week. With so much talent to have reached the NXT roster, it is surprising that most of these matches feature some of the same wrestlers. Here are the ten greatest matches in NXT history.
- Asuka vs. Nikki Cross – Last Woman Standing match for NXT Women’s Championship – June 28, 2017 episode of NXT
- WarGames I: Undisputed Era vs. Sanity vs. AOP & Roderick Strong – NXT Takeover: WarGames
- Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch – NXT Takeover: Unstoppable
- Fatal 4-Way: Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte vs. Becky Lynch vs. Bayley – NXT Takeover: Rival
- Bayley vs. Sasha Banks – 30-Minute Iron Woman match – NXT Takeover: Respect
- North American Title Ladder match: Adam Cole vs. EC3 vs. Killian Dain vs. Ricochet vs. Lars Sullivan vs. Velveteen Dream – NXT Takeover: New Orleans
- Johnny Gargano vs. Tomasso Ciampa – NXT Takeover: New Orleans
Velveteen vs. Aleister Black – NXT Takeover: WarGames
The match that put Velveteen Dream on the map.
The story between the two entering the match was simple: Velveteen Dream wanted Aleister Black to acknowledge him and say his name. Black, the gloomy emo boy of NXT, refused to do so, not wanting to give in to Dream’s games.
They faced off against each other at NXT Takeover: WarGames in that weird PPV where the singles matches were fought in one ring even though two rings were set up. This match was a barnburner from the start with Dream showing off his fun and unorthodox offense and Black showing off his full arsenal. The character work in what made the match special, as Dream was trying to show off at every turn, doing his weird backslide and posing whenever he had the chance. Black was stoic and handled business. Despite the impressive showing by Velveteen Dream, one Black Mass was all it took to make it a nightmare.
“Enjoy infamy, Velveteen Dream.”
Sami Zayn vs. Cesaro – NXT Takeover: ArRival
Before anybody argues that this shouldn’t be on the list, please watch it again. The story of Sami Zayn trying to prove himself in NXT was one of the best stories the brand has ever told. After an epic 2-out-of-3 Falls match on NXT TV prior to this match, Sami wanted the chance to prove himself to Cesaro and the NXT crowd. The two were the first NXT match ever on the WWE Network and what an introduction it was.
They had a physical back-and-forth contest that saw Cesaro batter Sami for about 20 minutes. Zayn just refused to give up, always seeming to find the energy to keep going. Sami busted out some of his classic moves and the two did that cool Tornado DDT that became famous. Ultimately, Cesaro pulled the victory out in the end. Zayn, however, did earn his respect with the two shaking hands after the match and Cesaro thanking Sami in a post-match interview.
Johnny Gargano vs. Tomasso Ciampa – Street Fight at NXT Takeover: Chicago
This is a controversial pick as most people would pick their first encounter in New Orleans over this one. I think the two matches are similar as far as the in-ring work, but this match blows the other away in storytelling. After beating Ciampa at NXT Takeover: New Orleans, Gargano was robbed of an opportunity at Aleister Black’s NXT Championship because of his rival. When Ciampa got Candice LeRae involved in things, enough was enough for Gargano, who challenged Ciampa to a Street Fight.
Candice LeRae set the ton perfectly before the match, handing her husband a crutch and saying, “Kick his ass.” Kick his ass, he did. Gargano beat Ciampa all throughout the arena, using various weapons and showing absolutely no care for his, Ciampa or the crowd’s well-being. The entire beginning of this match was one-sided. Johnny just beat the living hell out of Ciampa. It wasn’t until Tomasso was able to hit a pair of German Suplexes that gained the advantage. A couple of chair shots and a trash bin was Ciampa’s preferred method of attack.
Somewhere in the match, Johnny took off his belt and just whipped the crap out of Ciampa with it. Gargano started targeting Ciampa’s injured knee and went to town. When Ciampa ripped off Gargano’s wedding ring and chucked it, Johnny snapped, putting him through two tables and onto concrete. Eventually, Ciampa was being stretchered away but that wasn’t enough for Johnny. Gargano was unwilling to just win, wanting to make Ciampa suffer. He raced after him and pushed officials out of the way and hit them when they tried stopping him. Gargano handcuffed him and forced him to submit but Ciampa physically couldn’t. When a hoard of officials tried to drag Johnny away, he broke hit way free and as he was entering the ring, Ciampa DDT’d him on the exposed part of the ring, getting the victory with his hands literally tied behind his back.
Johnny Gargano became what he despised so much. He became Tomasso Ciampa. He was obsessed with hurting him and refused to relent. It cost him the match and his pride. This match was so much more than a match, that’s why it’s on the list.
Sami Zayn vs. Adrian Neville – NXT Championship match at NXT Takeover: R Evolution
The Sami Zayn redemption story comes full circle. Heading into the match, Sami Zayn was just the fun guy who everyone liked but couldn’t win the big one. Neville, who was a babyface champion at the time, started acting like a heel when he reinforced the fact that Sami just can’t beat him and doesn’t deserve a shot at the title. The story of Sami Zayn goes all the way back to the beginning of his run in NXT. Sami had to claw just to earn Cesaro’s respect. When he received a shot at Bo Dallas for the NXT Championship, he lost because he hit the exposed turnbuckle. After Neville won the title from Dallas, he, Zayn, Tyler Breeze, and Tyson Kidd had a Fatal 4-Way match in which Sami had the match won, until Neville dragged the referee out of the ring.
A few weeks later the two faced each other for the title on NXT. Neville missed a Red Arrow when Sami Zayn rolled out of the way and clutched at his knee in pain. Sami was the ultimate good guy at this point so he went to check on him and was rolled up for the win. Neville did everything he had to do to win was the story they were telling. Neville came out and said that Sami lacked “a certain… killer instinct.” Neville praised Sami at every turn but was adamant in his stance that Zayn just couldn’t beat him.
Sami begged him for one more opportunity, putting his career on the line. Neville refused to take accountability for ending Zayn’s career but Zayn wasn’t having it. He snapped, saying, “This is where I go wrong every single time. Sami’s got to be the good guy and show respect. It’s not about respect between you and me, you understand that?” Sami smacks the ever-loving crap out of Neville and screams, “You understand that? You don’t get to end me! I ‘m going to end you and your story as NXT Champion! I’m taking that title!” Goosebumps…
That set the stage for the match. The two had an amazing technical match but also told a perfect story. Sami was fighting with all he has to win and Neville was fighting to retain by any means necessary. Sami busted out his Tornado DDT through the ropes, Neville did a lot of flips, but the best part of this match was near the end. Zayn accidentally took out the referee with a Helluva Kick and had a chance to hit Neville with the belt while the referee was down when he prevented Neville from hitting him with the title but refused to do so. Neville rolled him up for a pin.
This was it, another match where Sami Zayn chose being the good guy over a secured victory. That is, until Sami kicked out and hit an Exploder Suplex into the corner and then a Helluva Kick to win the match.
The match is more remembered because of what Kevin Owens did after the match but don’t be fooled, this is absolutely one of the best matches in NXT history.
Pete Dunne vs. Tyler Bate – WWE UK Championship at NXT Takeover: Chicago
The match where the Brits steal the show. This was my match of the year for 2017 and it most certainly has earned its spot in NXT history.
The two met in the finals of the WWE United Kingdom Tournament where Tyler Bate won to become the inaugural WWE UK Champion. Bate was the plucky champion that hadn’t really done much with the belt but also hadn’t really had many opportunities to do much. Dunne was the heel who was ruthless and did everything possible to win. The stage was set for the two to do battle in Chicago at NXT Takeover: Chicago.
The match was everything that made British wrestling amazing. A catch wrestling masterpiece that threw in athleticism and explosive offense. There wasn’t a compelling story being told between the two at all, they just went out there and put on a show for everyone watching. Whether inside the ring or out, the two traded stiff shots and slams all over. Dunne broke down Bate with his body manipulation and Bate countered with his athletic displays. And damn, that Suplex into a Powerbomb by Dunne is a thing of beauty. Bate did everything possible to put away his foe, including hitting a picture-perfect Spinal Tap. Dunne just wouldn’t go down and after hitting Bate with a forearm to counter a dive, he hit Bitter End to win the championship.
Jim Ross also announced the match and it is definitely his last great performance on commentary.
DIY vs. The Revival – 2-out-of-3 Falls match for NXT Tag Team Championships at NXT Takeover: Toronto
DIY finally win the gold!
On the heels of their incredible match at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn II, the two teams met in a 2-out-of-3 tag team match that is my favorite in the history of pro wrestling. The story was simple, two scrappy underdogs facing two old school heels who were overconfident.
Both teams were just vying to see who could get the first pin to start the match. Gargano got really close a couple of times on Scott Dawson. This was just pure tag team wrestling. Both teams worked together in tandem. It genuinely felt like two teams, not four individuals who were paired off and fought each other. The Revival were the first ones to get a pinfall, catch Gargano on his slingshot DDT and turning it into a Shatter Machine.
The duo then focused solely on Gargano, cutting him off from Ciampa and beating him to a pulp. The build-up to the tag was awesome, as the four had the crowds eating out of their hands with excitement. The referee missed the tag and forced Ciampa out and The Revival hit a Hart Attack. In Toronto. People went crazy.
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When Ciampa finally tagged in the roof came off the building. The Revival had no answer for the onslaught of DIY but they just kept kicking out. The near-falls in this match are some of the best and most believable ones you’ll ever see. DIY were finally able to get the pin and tie things up. From there, art. I can’t even explain how beautifully done the ending sequence is. Just go watch the match. DIY wins and everyone rejoices. Just fantastic pro wrestling.
Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura – NXT Takeover: Dallas
The “Fight Forever!” match that stole Wrestlemania weekend. There was no story, barely any build, and no history between the two. They were just two damn good wrestlers who put together one of the best matches you’ll ever see.
The crowd was lively before the match even started because of the debut of Shinsuke Nakamura. Nakamura immediately brought out his strange facial and physical expressions. He got over in NXT really quick. Sami Zayn did his best to make Nakamura credible while also doing just enough to draw some heat. The match ended up being Zayn’s last in NXT and he went out guns blazing, selling like a madman and using every bit of Sami Zayn facial expression genius that he has.
They traded really stiff shots, both desperate to win. Sami Zayn was calling back to his old storyline in NXT with how desperate he was to win and Nakamura was desperate to get his first victory with the brand. The outcome was never in doubt, but the near-falls were just so believable that you could just believe that Sami might actually win with a Blue Thunder Bomb. A flying knee to the back of the head and one Kinshasa later, Nakamura was the winner. The King of Strong Style was on his way to being the King of NXT. Just a classic match.
Bayley vs. Sasha Banks – Women’s Championship match at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn
The greatest women’s match of all time. These two went out there and completely stole the show. Kevin Owens and Finn Balor had a great ladder match for the NXT Championship that closed the show and nobody cares because this is the match that matters. Both superstars were at their peak and they pieced together a match that will be remembered forever.
The story of the match was that Bayley was the lovable but forgettable member of the Four Horsewomen. She was friends with Charlotte, until Charlot turned heel on her. She was friends with Becky Lynch, until Becky turned heel on her and joined up with Sasha banks. Bayley always lost when it counted and was overshadowed by Sasha, Charlotte, and Becky. Sasha Banks was the queen heel on NXT and reveled in the fact that Bayley just wasn’t on her level, nobody was.
By this point, Sasha, Becky, and Charlotte were already on the main roster and Bayley was stuck in NXT. Bayley staked her claim at the NXT Women’s Championship but first wanted to beat Charlotte, which she did. She then had to beat Becky Lynch to earn a shot at the title, which she did. She vowed to prove that fairytales have happy endings.
The story was loaded but the two delivered in the ring. Bayley came out on fire and beat Sasha down. Forearm shots, kicks, arm drags, etc. Bayley did everything to wear down and piss off Banks. Sasha got the advantage and kept it for a while. She taunted Bayley heavily while beating her up. Ultimately, Sasha’s trash talk would be her downfall. She may have crushed Bayley’s hand with the steps but Bayley was mad. Really mad. She took her anger out on Sasha. Not even a Bank Statement with her hand being crushed was enough to beat Bayley. Bayley hit a reverse Hurricanrana off the top rope and hit Bayley-to-Belly to win the match.
After the match, the two celebrated with the other Horsewomen in a sort of “Curtain Call” moment. It was an epic battle that is still awesome four years later.
Johnny Gargano vs. Andrade Cien Almas (c) – NXT Championship at NXT Takeover: Philadelphia
This match was Johnny Gargano’s first opportunity at the NXT Championship and the duo put on a masterful piece of storytelling.
Johnny Gargano was still trying to move beyond what Tomasso Ciampa did to him the year prior and establish himself as a single’s champion. Gargano and Almas faced each other at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn III, where Almas pulled out the win after Zelina Vega threw a DIY t-shirt at Gargano to distract him. Johnny was trying to prove he was over Ciampa. Almas was trying to prove he wasn’t and retain his championship that he won from Drew McIntyre at NXT Takeover: WarGames, a show Johnny Gargano wasn’t even on. The two are complete opposites of each other and it blended perfectly.
The two were evenly matched to start the contest, none really taking advantage early on. It’s a Johnny Gargano match so obviously Andrade took control and started to beat the heck out of him. What made this match so special was how over Johnny Gargano was with the crowd. Every near fall that he had was met with a groan and every time he’d come back from an Andrade beatdown, he’d be cheered like a king. The Superkick fake into a Superkick was one of the best near falls I’ve ever seen. Gargano refused to quit and Andrade refused to let him win.
Zelina Vega got involved and hit Johnny with a Hurricanrana into the steel steps. Almas then hit his finisher for a near fall. This was the moment that you really believed Gargano was going to win the match. Nobody kicks out of all that and then loses. Candice LeRae came out to take out Vega and then it was just the two in the ring. Andrade hit the double knees into the ring post and then the same variation of his finisher that put away Drew McIntyre for the victory.
Johnny Gargano was so close but just could not win the big one. After the match, Tomasso Ciampa came out and hit Gargano with a crutch. That kickstarted the feud that would eventually lead to the number one match on this list.
Johnny Gargano vs. Adam Cole – 2-out-of-3 Falls match for the NXT Championship match at NXT Takeover: New York
The first match in an epic trilogy that saw Johnny Wrestling finally become Johnny Champion.
Tomasso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano were set to finish their two-year-long feud finally at NXT Takeover: New York for the NXT Championship. Ciampa would have to vacate the championship due to neck surgery so a new opponent needed to be found to face Gargano for the title at the event. Adam Cole won a number one contenders match. In the buildup to the match, Cole spoke highly of himself and made his claim at the NXT Championship. Gargano said that he needed to become Johnny Champion.
After a year that included him basically turning heel by attacking Aleister Black and winning the NXT North American Championship, only to lose it right away to Velveteen Dream, Gargano was in a dark place. He needed to beat Cole. For Johnny Wrestling. There needed to be a definitive winner, so Triple H made this a 2-out-of-3 Falls match.
Gargano came out in an Iron Man-inspired attire that looked awesome. Cole came down without his Undisputed Era stablemates, completely confident he’d win. Gargano came out and laid in on Cole. He was desperate to win. The best NXT stories involve a babyface that is desperate to win. He hit Cole with everything he had. Cole managed to eke out the first pinfall by hitting Gargano with an Enziguri and then a Last Shot. Gargano came out of that fall with an intensity not seen in a long time. He went at Adam Cole, beating him along the ringside. At one point, Johnny sinks in Tomasso Ciampa’s old submission finisher before rolling into his own finish, which Cole immediately tapped out on.
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With the falls even at one apiece, business started picking up. It is this last fall that makes this the match of the year in 2019 and one of the best matches in the history of WWE. The two traded intense blows with each other. Cole was clearly setting up to hit Panama Sunrise, something that made me go crazy because he hadn’t used it in NXT yet. Gargano just kept countering him and hitting new and creative offense that he had never displayed before. With every near fall, Johnny got more and more frustrated. They just kept countering each other, finally figuring out what the other was going to do.
Cole was targeting Johnny’s head and neck area and desperately wanted to hit Panama Sunrise but Gargano just wouldn’t let him. Cole hit a vicious looking Wheelbarrow Suplex onto the apron, but Johnny was able to hit a DDT and then his slingshot DDT for a near fall. The near falls were getting so crazy at this point that you could really believe that the match would end at any point. Cole was trash-talking Gargano and it led to him almost putting him through a table, but Johnny made it back into the ring just before the ten-count, only to eat a Superkick for a near fall. I genuinely thought that would be the end of the match when I first saw it.
Eventually, the Undisputed Era came out to interfere on Cole’s behalf but Johnny still kicked out. They just couldn’t put him away. Gargano used Cole to take out the group and eventually beat them down himself. When Johnny got back in the ring, Cole hit a Superkick to drop him, then a Superkick to the back of the head, then the Last Shot. That’s it, right? Wrong. Gargano kicked out somehow and I have never seen a crowd in shock like that over a near fall. Some more trash talk from Cole and a failed attempt at the Last Shot was all the time Gargano needed to sink in the GargaNO Escape to win the match.
Johnny Wrestling was now Johnny Champion. Candice LeRae and Tomasso Ciampa came out to celebrate with him. This truly is the best match in NXT history and one of the best matches in the history of professional wrestling.
Javier Melo is a writer of Pro Wrestling for Full Press Coverage and an Assistant Sports Editor for the Massachusetts Daily Collegian. Follow Javier @JMeloSports on Twitter.