In just under three weeks the NXT Championship will be defended by Kevin Owens as he takes on former Champion Sami Zayn at NXT TakeOver: Unstoppable.
Kevin Owens defeated Sami Zayn for the championship back in February and this month Zayn will look to be the first NXT superstar to hold the NXT Championship on two occasions whilst Owens will look to continue his dominance.
So far we have seen six different NXT Champions since it was rebranded and Owens will head into TakeOver looking to pick up a big win and cement himself as one of the best champions NXT has had.
But where do the champions rank? Who has been the most entertaining champion? The one with the longest reign and the most effective?
Here are who I think have been the best NXT Champions so far...
#6 – BIG E
Big E was the second NXT superstar to capture the NXT Championship and did so on an episode of NXT back in December 2012, long before TakeOver was formed. Big E had a great build towards his first NXT Championship, he managed to pick up victory after victory and his five count gimmick worked well and the fact a bounty was placed on him made him seem like a genuine threat to the champion.
He defeated NXT Champion and Shield member Seth Rollins in a no disqualification match to win the title before successfully defending it on four separate occasions against Conor O’Brian – who we now know as Konnor – he defeated Corey Graves, Brad Maddox as well as Damien Sandow before eventually dropping the gold to Bo Dallas around six months later.
I feel that Big E had a good run as champion, his build-up to becoming champion felt far better than his actual reign but maybe that was because of the calibre of opponents he faced, whereas feuding with Rollins and The Shield was highly entertaining because they could all work. His five count gimmick quickly wore off but it was still a surprise to see him drop the title to Bo Dallas and his title run certainly made his transition to the main roster an easier one.
#5 – SETH ROLLINS
Seth Rollins was the inaugural NXT Champion once FCW was rebranded into NXT Wrestling and he entered the Gold Rush Tournament that also involved Richie Steamboat, Leo Kruger, Jinder Mahal, Bo Dallas, Drew McIntyre, Michael McGillicutty and Justin Gabriel.
Rollins defeated McIntyre in the first round, then defeated McGillicutty – who now goes by Curtis Axel – before defeating Jinder Mahal in the final and was crowned the first ever champion. It was certainly a big milestone in Rollins’ career as well as a huge moment in NXT.
There was no sign of The Shield when Rollins first captured the title so all of that success was built on his impressive independent career before entertaining feuds with the likes of Dean Ambrose on FCW, so all of his hard work paid off as he was congratulated in the ring by Dusty Rhodes and Triple H. Rollins defended his title four times, three of which were successful defences. The first against McGillicutty, he then defeated Jinder Mahal and then defeated Corey Graves as part of The Shield, where Rollins really found great success.
Once The Shield started running the place how they wanted to, Rollins had a target on his back and lost his title to Big E in a no disqualification match. Rollins had a good run as a champion, being the first champion on NXT is a huge deal and it really helped Rollins launch into the limelight and become the household name he is today.
It shows what being the NXT Champion can really lead on to and current NXT stars will look to follow in his footsteps.
#4 – KEVIN OWENS
Kevin Owens is the latest and current NXT Champion after he defeated Sami Zayn at NXT TakeOver: Rival in February earlier this year. There was a lot of hype surrounding Owens’ arrival and he certainly left a mark when he debuted at TakeOver: R Evolution when he defeated CJ Parker in December 2014 and then stole the show when he attacked Sami Zayn and turned heel on the same night.
Two months to the day of his debut he became the NXT Champion which is very impressive, so far he’s only had the one title defence when he defeated Finn Balor on NXT two months ago and now he has his second title defence set for May where he’ll try to fight off Sami Zayn.
There’s a lot of time for Kevin Owens to shoot up the rankings and the likelihood is he will, he’s dominated every opponent he’s been in the ring with and he’s continuing to perform the role of a heel perfectly.
His quick rise to the top has made him an even bigger name than he already was and it’s no surprise that fans and legends alike are predicting big things for Kevin Owens.
#3 – SAMI ZAYN
Sami Zayn had a number of opportunities to become the NXT Champion but he always managed to fall at the final hurdle. He finally dropped the ‘nearly man’ label in December 2014 at TakeOver: R Evolution when he defeated Adrian Neville and became the NXT Champion for the very first time.
He has had incredible fan support since he arrived on NXT and that is what continues to make him the number one guy on NXT, that along with his incredible in-ring ability and personality in general. And every time he failed to win the title, he would just start on the path again and it’s not something the fans got bored of.
The interesting thing about Sami Zayn is that he can tell a story better than the majority of superstars in the business, and the fans are hooked to it every single time. He did just that on his road to redemption when he vowed to quit if he lost.
His reign didn’t last too long, in fact his reign of 62 days is the shortest in NXT history, but the story behind it all and the emotion and how much it meant to him made this a satisfying win and a satisfying moment for Sami Zayn and his fans.
He dropped the title to Kevin Owens in great fashion as the two share unique chemistry inside and outside of the ring, so the fans were genuinely surprised to see him lose, but that’s what made him a great champion and he has the chance to do it again later this month.
#2 – BO DALLAS
Bo Dallas really started to impress once his feud with The Wyatt Family came to an end. He turned into a heel and became the number one contender to the NXT Championship after winning a battle royal but then faced the almost impossible task of dethroning Big E.
He managed to pick up a victory over Big E to become the new NXT Champion and start off a lengthy reign as top dog, the second longest in NXT history by only a week. He went on to defend the NXT Championship against Cesaro, Leo Kruger and Sami Zayn and he really managed to portray the heel role well.
Bo Dallas has proven himself to be one of the best NXT Champions and one of the best superstars as his tantrums and ability to steal wins from nowhere by underhand tactics continued to make him one of the most hated heels and even to this day he seems a big loss to NXT.
He eventually dropped the title to Adrian Neville which ended a 280 day reign as NXT Champion, losing in a ladder match at NXT TakeOver: Arrival, the first TakeOver that took place.
#1 – NEVILLE
I believe Neville is the best NXT Champion to date, in his three years or so on NXT he had a number of chances to become the number one contender to the title. He even failed to capture the NXT Championship initially, but given another chance at TakeOver: Arrival he defeated Bo Dallas in a ladder match and became the NXT Champion for the very first time.
Neville was already a big star on NXT after becoming a tag team champion with Corey Graves and had entertaining feuds with the likes of The Wyatt Family, but he really became the star he is today when he defeated Bo Dallas and went on to have a highly successful and entertaining reign as champion.
He defended the title against Brodus Clay, Tyson Kidd, Tyler Breeze and Sami Zayn; some of the biggest names on NXT and he overcame everyone and every obstacle in his way. He didn’t look like a traditional champion especially when you compare him with someone like Big E for example, but he opened the eyes of fans all over the world to his incredible in-ring ability, which just left the fans wanting more.
He eventually lost the title to Sami Zayn at R Evolution which ended his reign at 287 days, the longest in NXT history and now fans are really feeling the big hole left by Neville as he entertains on the main roster.
His reign as NXT Champion has really helped him get where he is, and he’ll definitely go down as one of the most exciting NXT Champions the brand has produced.