Who's The Best? Rating Each NXT Champion's Reign - Part One

JP is here with the first of four parts of ranking every NXT champion from worst to best!

Who's The Best? Rating Each NXT Champion's Reign - Part One

NXT has been through a long journey, from the early days of it being seen as the ‘minor leagues’, to being established as one of the best rosters in professional wrestling during the "Black and Gold" era, then being fully ‘Vinced’ and undergoing the transformation into what we know it as today, NXT 2.0, also known as Art Attack. Through the years, the primary male title, that being the NXT Championship, has seen some incredible names hold it, with some truly phenomenal title reigns. Today, and over the next four articles, I'm going to rank those champions from worst to best based on match quality, how memorable their reign(s) were and many other factors. Remember, this list is subject to opinion and these are just my personal thoughts. So, without rambling any further, let’s get cracking!

20) Dolph Ziggler

Combined days as champion- 26

Successful defences- 2

To begin the list, we begin with the lowest ranked champion in the history of the NXT championship, that being the fairly recent reign of Dolph Ziggler. As much as I love Ziggler as a performer, the combined 26 days of being champion and the mark he left is by far the least significant.

Ziggler became a first time NXT champion at NXT Roadblock in March of this year, where he emerged victorious in a triple threat over champion at the time Bron Breakker and Tommaso Ciampa. The match was underwhelming at best, going only ten minutes in total, the reign which followed was just as short lived at just 26 days. 

The two successful defences came against LA Knight on a weekly episode of NXT 2.0, as well as Bron Breakker at NXT Stand and Deliver. Both matches were fairly lacklustre and despite not being terrible, they were certainly not memorable defences. The manner in which he lost the title couldn’t have better represented his reign in general as he went on to lose the title against Bron Breakker two days after his defence at Stand and Deliver on an episode of Monday Night Raw, which seemed like a showcase for Bron and didn’t do Ziggler any favours. 

So overall, the short length, lack of defences, poor quality of matches and the manner in which he lost the title gives me no other option but to place Ziggler this low. 

19) Keith Lee

Combined days as champion- 44

Successful defences- 1

Keith Lee was a very unique champion, in that he was the first ever superstar to hold the North American Champonship at the same time as the NXT Championship. He won a ‘Winner takes all' match at the Great American Bash, beating Adam Cole. The match was good, the beginning and the ending saved what was a very boring middle however. The fact he was the first to hold these two titles at the same time does give him some brownie points, though not many due to how short the reign was and the fact he only had one defence against Dominik Dijakovic, which was very similar to the matches we’d seen before between those two men prior to his reign, so it didn’t really stand out and fans had already seen it on numerous occasions. 

He proceeded to lose the NXT Championship to Karrion Kross at NXT Takeover: XXX, which was nothing short of tragic. This was one of the worst main events of a takeover and it was destined to fail from the start due to the new superstar Kross getting such a heavy push so early. Fans were dead throughout and it was a technical disaster with the two styles not really being compatible, the chemistry just wasn’t there! 

It’s fair to say this doesn’t deserve to rank any higher than it has, and Lee is lucky Ziggler had such a disaster that he didn’t get the bottom rank! 

18) Big E Langston

Combined days as champion- 153

Successful defences- 2

Next up we have a fairly controversial pick some would argue, that being Big E Langston. He had a lengthy reign, however the number of defences in that time really nullifies this. The quality of said opponents and the matches he had with them also adds to this point as he beat out Brad Maddox in under two minutes as well as Conor O’ Brien in under ten minutes. Being the second champion in NXT history, it’s hard to rank him so low, but when compared with the rest of the names on this list it’s hard to see him being ranked any higher. 

He beat out inaugural champion Seth Rollins on a weekly episode of NXT in under ten minutes to become champion in what was a decent match but nothing to rave over. The uniqueness of Big E’s reign could be argued as a reason for him to be ranked higher, as in his matches he asked the referee to count to five rather than three to show his dominance. However, he had very little chance to showcase this due to the sheer lack of quality in his opponents. 

He lost the title to Bo Dallas on another weekly episode of NXT in just over ten minutes, leaving his reign very lacklustre. The early champions are always likely to have a big influence and I'm not denying Langston’s part in this, he just didn’t seem to have the impact others did.

17) Drew Mcintyre

Combined days as champion- 91

Successful defences- 2

Drew Mcintyre re-debuted with NXT after several years away from WWE, and it was clear he was changed from his previous time in the company. However, his time as champion was very mediocre at best. He beat Bobby Roode in an average quality match that went over twenty minutes, but fans were struggling to get invested due to the pace that it went and the fact we were being presented with very minimal memorable moments. After this match, he was attacked by the newly formed Undisputed Era which was something that never seemed to lead anywhere. 

His defences include victories over Roderick Strong and Adam Cole, both taking place on different weekly episodes of NXT. Both went a solid fifteen minutes and weren’t terrible matches but for a championship match, they felt insignificant.

He then proceeded to lose the title to Andrade Almas at NXT War Games In what was a very good match. Despite the poor build, the match did not disappoint, including great sequences and some crazy near falls. This match against Andrade Almas was the reason he placed above the likes of Big E Langston, as it was just simply brilliant. However, the lack of build meant it didn’t have the effect it could’ve, hence the reason he is still placed fairly low. 

16) Sami Zayn

Combined days as champion- 62

Successful defences- 1

Okay, potentially a fairly high rank for Sami Zayn compared to what some were expecting but hear me out. Yes, it was a short reign with only one successful defence but the manner in which he won the title gives me enough reason alone to rank him above some of the others mentioned. 

He beat Adrian Neville at NXT Takeover: R Evolution in what was one of the contenders for match of the year in 2014. The storytelling in the build up to this match was truly incredible and the match was perfectly executed, incorporating some of this story. The underdog Zayn getting the big win to end a lengthy and incredible reign really got this reign off to a flyer. This momentum wasn’t long lived however, as he only had one defence against Adrian Neville in a rematch before losing the title to Kevin Owens, so let's get into that match. 

He dropped the title in brutal fashion to former lifelong best friend Kevin Owens. Despite some good charisma and resilience, the match was basically a drawn out squash match. The storytelling really carried this match but the inevitable loss for Sami really cut the momentum he had dead, signalling the end to a very short reign. Some may argue this was one of the worst superstars to hold the NXT title, however the manner in which he won it already makes it more memorable than some of those I’ve mentioned already. 

So that wraps up the first part of ranking all NXT champions. Let me know what you agree with and disagree with (so far!) and make sure you stay tuned for places 15-11 coming very soon!