For over five years now, the WWE Network has blessed us with arguably the greatest quality wrestling television show available today: NXT. On a weekly basis, the yellow and black brand gifts subscribers with outstanding quality matches, compelling feuds, and great character work, all available in a one hour package conveniently ready to stream.
Given that NXT is one of the Network’s biggest selling points, it’s hard to imagine that there was ever a time when NXT existed without a service to stream it on. Sure, NXT didn’t hit its biggest stride in terms of talent and popularity until the Network was firmly established, yet before February 2014, a wealth of great content went unappreciated by so many fans around the world due to lack of exposure.
So let’s take a look at the best of what the ancient era of this fantastic show has to offer us: these are the Top 10 Pre-WWE Network NXT Matches.
10. Big E Langston vs. Seth Rollins – NXT 151
Big E was a beast in NXT. Demanding the referee count his pinfalls up to five in his matches to show off how dominant he was, Big E was a force that couldn’t be stopped. Far before he started wiggling his hips and worshiping pancakes, he was NXT Champion, and to claim that title, he had a really fun no disqualification match against Seth Rollins.
At the time, Rollins was early into his run as a member of The Shield on the main roster, so throughout the bout, when E’s enormous strength became too much to manage, Rollins would call upon his stablemates to aid him. Despite being outnumbered though, Big E managed to overcome the odds, and produced a stellar title bout in the process.
9. Seth Rollins vs. Jinder Mahal – NXT 132
We’ve seen Seth Rollins produce some absolutely incredible matches over the last seven or so years, and although this one can’t really compare to some of his more memorable performances, his contest with Jinder Mahal to crown the first ever NXT Champion is certainly still worth a watch. With the whole NXT roster stood watching from the stage, they willed on Rollins to pick up the victory. It’s clear to see at this point the amount of star power and potential Rollins had as he brought Jinder to one of the most fun matches the future WWE Champion would ever have.
8. Chris Jericho vs. Bray Wyatt – NXT 167
In the early, pre-network days of NXT, many established main roster stars were brought in to try and create buzz for the black and yellow brand. Along with CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Kane and others, Chris Jericho made his way down to Full Sail to do battle, and he gave one of the best efforts of them all.
In what would pass as a solid match on any WWE television show, Jericho took on Bray Wyatt in the early days of the character’s incarnation. The ten minute bout is physical, displays both men’s abilities nicely, and involves some fun spots with The Wyatt Family. It’s fascinating to go back and watch how much chemistry this group had with each other even at such an early stage. I wouldn’t class this as must see, yet it’s definitely worth a watch.
7. Sami Zayn vs. Leo Kruger 2/3 Falls – NXT 202
Before he was made to reinvent himself, the man who would go on to be known as Adam Rose was a calculating, South African psychopath known as Leo Kruger. In his last match under this persona, taking place on one of the final episodes of NXT before the WWE Network went live, Kruger displayed what kind of performer he was, whilst Sami Zayn showed how good of an underdog he really is, picking up two falls in a row in a really fun bout. Also, one of the delights of this match is William Regal ripping into Byron Saxton on commentary.
6. Sami Zayn vs. Adrian Neville – NXT 197
Two of the best to ever step inside an NXT ring faced off in an exhibition of skill back in 2013. This quick but exciting back-and-forth match showed off the potential both men had as stars in WWE. Thankfully they would get an opportunity at an NXT TakeOver in front of a much bigger audience a year later to show off what special talents they both were and still are, but this one is still definitely worth your time.
5. Sami Zayn vs. Leo Kruger vs. Antonio Cesaro – NXT 178
In the early days of NXT, it was obvious Sami Zayn was going to be a star. This explosive triple threat match does a great job of showing Sami’s insane in-ring abilities, whilst also displaying Cesaro’s inhuman strength. The highlight is definitely the gorgeous german suplex/leg capture suplex combo involving all three men that is still one of the best triple threat match spots I’ve ever seen. It’s an exciting, chaotic brawl from the word go that doesn’t slow down once and keeps the crowd hooked until the final bell.
4. Kassius Ohno vs. William Regal – NXT 164
Before he became general manager of this brand, William Regal was both a commentator and occasional competitor in NXT. In the summer of 2013, Regal took on the cocky Kassius Ohno, somebody that is still a thorn in his side to this day. In one of his final matches, Regal attempted to prove he was just as brutal, capable and violent as he once was by picking apart Ohno’s arms and fingers, followed by Ohno responding with a barrage of heavy strikes. Admittedly, this style of brawl won’t be for everyone, but I’d recommend definitely giving it a try.
3. Paige vs. Emma – NXT 179
Paige was certainly a history maker in WWE, and her first major achievement came when she defeated Emma in 2013 to become the inaugural NXT Women’s Champion. Paige and Emma clearly had buckets of chemistry together as you will be able to find out for yourself if you watch this fantastic championship match. It truly is a shame we never got to see these two have a meaningful feud in front of a bigger audience which they rightfully deserved.
2. William Regal vs. Antonio Cesaro – NXT 201
William Regal’s final ever pro wrestling match was broadcast on Christmas Day 2013. Preceded by one of the greatest promos you’re ever likely to see, Regal tries to keep up with the athletic freak standing across the ring from him, but by his own admission, he simply cannot compare, calling him “ten times the wrestler he could ever be”. Regal even admits that he would need a miracle to beat him.
The closing moments of the match sees Cesaro battling in his own head whether to put the legend away or not, before reluctantly hitting a Neutralizer for the victory. Check out this retirement brawl for some of the finest storytelling NXT has ever produced.
Chris Jericho vs. Daniel Bryan – NXT 1
Antonio Cesaro vs. Adrian Neville – NXT 166
CM Punk and Seth Rollins vs. Antonio Cesaro and Kassius Ohno – NXT 139
Antonio Cesaro vs. Tyson Kidd – NXT 141
Bayley vs. AJ Lee – NXT 183
Richie Steamboat vs. Kassius Ohno – NXT 144
1. Sami Zayn vs. Cesaro 2/3 Falls – NXT 183
Back in 2013, one of the first NXT shows I ever watched featured Sami Zayn vs. Cesaro in a 2/3 Falls Match, and it was one of the best damn matches I had ever seen in my life. I was leaning forward in awe at what both of these men were doing in this absolute war at multiple points throughout, and it was essentially the match that made me never want to miss an episode of NXT.
At NXT Arrival in 2014, the first live special ever broadcast on the WWE Network, Zayn and Cesaro blew everyone away with the match of the night, yet I don’t think that bout can come close to what they did six months beforehand. If the network existed in time to broadcast this bout for everyone to see, this would easily be regarded as one of the best NXT TV matches of all time.
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