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Wednesday, October 10, 2018

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Eyes On WWE: NXT's Mount Rushmore

By @AmeenKnows

I've been away from writing for a really long time. My notes even say my last article was October 29th of last year. Interesting. Well nearly a year later, I'm back to discuss something that I've never really thought of until today. For a bit of background on this, I saw a picture of Johnny Gargano's stats from a fan made sign that stated he was the greatest NXT Superstar of All Time. I'll get to the stats later and although as of today I can't say that I agree with that fan in particular, Johnny is well on his way.

Before writing this, a lot of thought was put into who I did or didn't want to include in this list. I wanted to add a tag team like The Ascension who was responsible for the most dominant win streak in the brand's history. I wanted to include Paige who was an absolute trailblazer for the Women's division. I thought of adding the Four Horsewomen who certainly had an amazing impact on NXT's Women's Division but I couldn't pick out which one to single handedly knock one name off my personal list to be included. I thought of adding Seth Rollins, who without a doubt was the standard for what NXT would become in the future, however he just doesn't compare to the others on this list to me and I will explain why.

*Honorable Mention: Asuka

The reason Asuka is my honorable mention is because not only did she not have a single loss in NXT but she was so convincingly dominant and brought the best out of every single opponent she had ever worked with. It was tough leaving her off the list knowing how much she meant to women's wrestling in NXT when Charlotte, Becky, Sasha and eventually Bayley, were called up. Now onto my Mount Rushmore

4. Sami Zayn

-Sami Zayn was the heart and soul of NXT from the moment he stepped foot in Full Sail University's hollowed halls. The reaction he garnered week in and week out is the stuff that my generation will tell their kids about what it was like watching The Rock in his peak. I'm not trying to say Sami Zayn was The Rock of NXT but the building went bat shit insane every time they heard the "LET'S GO!" part of his entrance. However, there's a reason beyond catchy theme music and an infectious smile that gave Sami that level of popularity. The man could go. His 2 out of 3 Falls Match with Cesaro at NXT Arrival is the direct launching point of the brand and the WWE Network. Losing every big match he ever had made fans more and more eager to see him finally grip that brass ring similar to Jeff Hardy in 2008. His title win over Adrian Neville is something you can watch over and over and over again and never get tired of it. If I could show any person looking to get into the brand one match that defines the greatness of the NXT, it would be Zayn vs Nakamura at NXT Takeover: Dallas.

3. Johnny Gargano

-The man affectionately known as "Johnny Wrestling" is everything that defines an NXT superstar. I selfishly believe that he should be the first ever NXT "lifer" just necause he epitomizes what NXT is. I mentioned a sign with his stats on it so I'll just rattle them off now:

⁃ Most NXT Takeover Matches in History with his 10th at Takeover Brooklyn
⁃ Most Takeover Main Events: 5 tied with Samoa Joe
⁃ Only man to appear at 3 Takeover Brooklyn events
⁃ Longest singles bout in Takeover history at 36:07

Those are amazing stats and none of them mentioned his two 5 star classics in 2018. Johnny can do it all. He's a part of one of the greatest tag teams in NXT history. He proved he belonged in the main event when given a chance to headline Takeover: Philadelphia. The one thing holding him back is he has yet to win the big one. The NXT Championship has eluded him the same way it had once eluded Sami Zayn and with each loss it only makes the desire to see him break through grow stronger within fans. There's a lot of guys with more impressive résumés than Johnny by virtue of holding the brand's top prize but very few can compare to the excellence he has shown since arriving at Full Sail.

2. Finn Bálor

-Finn Bálor has one of the strongest cases for being the number one guy here almost by default because even with as influential as Adrian Neville was, no one has the impact and reach that Prince Devitt does. Finn, like Neville, put the brand on his back and it led to the biggest surge in support that NXT had ever seen up to that point. His era of popularity made NXT so big that he headlined the final NXT Takeover to be filmed at Full Sail to date because the company realized that this brand is simply too big to leave in Florida. Already one of the world's best when he arrived, Finn brought all the stuff that made him well respected in Japan and turned himself into a Superstar in NXT. His matches delivered time and time again whether it be against Kevin Owens, Adrian Neville or arch rival Samoa Joe. His final match on the brand with Shinsuke Nakamura is truly a gem that hasn't been discussed in a long time. Imagine that, so many good matches that people forget about one of your best!

1. Adrian Neville

-I struggled very heavily with putting Neville here instead of Bálor at number one but the top guy has a very strong case for number one. Adrian Neville is what you would call a jack of all trades. He can work the midcard programs, becoming the first NXT Tag Team Champion, which is a big deal. He can also usher in a new era and carry the brand on his back, which is exactly what he did in 2014. Earlier, I mentioned Cesaro and Sami Zayn's match at NXT Arrival as the launching point for the brand but the first ever ladder match for the NXT Championship between Neville and Bo Dallas was right next to that match in kick-starting something amazing. Neville brought a struggling Tyson Kidd who was going through a reinvention with him to the first NXT Takeover and they delivered. At NXT Takeover: Fatal Four Way they put Kidd in there with 2 new challengers in Tyler Breeze and Zayn, and he still delivered a classic performance. When it came time for Sami Zayn to take his place at the top of the mountain, Neville stepped out of his comfort zone as a face and became the antagonizing tweener needed to give Sami that extra kick in the ass and they delivered the best performance of their careers, up to that point, at Takeover R-Evolution. There were no other stars. The World Heavyweight Champion and WWE Champion weren't coming down to give ratings a boost like they had done in 2012 and 2013. Neville put the brand on his back and set the standard for what NXT Takeover events should be and they got better and better even after he was gone. Neville is the strongest pillar of these four men in stabilizing the success of the brand without help so that the others could build off of it.



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