10 Best WWE NXT Matches Of 2018

Many of the year's best matches came courtesy of NXT - but which impressed the most?

NXT has had an absolutely barnstorming year, and while good matches have taken place all over the world in 2018, it's safe to say that a decent chunk happened in WWE's 'developmental' brand.

You'll see NXT described as such all over the internet - sarcastic quotation marks included - and that's because it's quite a hard phrase to write with complete seriousness. Yes, we know that NXT is the place where Superstars fine-tune their personas and learn to work according to WWE's main roster style - but it's also the place where a collection of the planet's best wrestlers are put in matches with one another. As this list will demonstrate, that's a pretty potent formula.

Aided by sensible booking and a passionate fanbase, NXT's roster has continued to shine in 2018, maybe even turning in their best year ever. It would be an oversight to plough on with our top ten, without first recognising a handful of honourable mentions - all of which could have easily been given a slot in the ranking itself.

The year's first TakeOver event saw an entertainingly brutal Extreme Rules match between Aleister Black and Adam Cole - one which fittingly took place in ECW's spiritual home of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

At the next big event in New Orleans, Black again shone, this time in an NXT Championship match against Andrade Cien Almas. It had the bad fortune of going before a bona fide Match of the Year candidate, but still deserves praise in its own right.

NXT TakeOver: Chicago was the site of perhaps the year's biggest sleeper hit - a barn-burning opener between the Undisputed Era and the hugely underrated team of Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch. Chicago was also another step in the rapid rise of Velveteen Dream, whose match with Ricochet told a great in-ring story of one-upmanship.

On the second night of NXT's UK Championship event in London, Moustache Mountain defeated O'Reilly and Strong in front of an absolutely raucous home crowd - the first match of a wonderful trilogy between the teams.

One of the biggest feel-good moments of the year came at TakeOver: Brooklyn 4, where Kairi Sane again had Shayna Baszler's number - not in a tournament final this time, but a title match for the NXT Women's Championship. Later on, in the main event, Gargano and Ciampa waged war in a Last Man Standing match - their third marquee bout of 2018, and another key development in their ongoing story.

Now, without any further ado, let's take a look at the top ten.

10. WarGames - NXT TakeOver: WarGames II


The titular match of this year's TakeOver: WarGames divided opinion. Not in terms of whether it was good or not, but how good. Some preferred last year's WarGames match, feeling that this one dragged on slightly too long, and that the three team set-up led to better action.

Personally, I much preferred this year's, and didn't particularly feel as though it lasted too long. The clear emphasis on tactics and strategy was a joy to behold, as were little quirks such as Pete Dunn being locked in the holding cage, and the babyface team's uneasy alliance.

There was also, of course, the big talking point of the bout - Ricochet's jaw-dropping double moonsault from the top of the structure, wiping out a pile of friends and foes in the process.

As long as you've got a little patience, this bout should fly by.

9. Undisputed Era Vs. Moustache Mountain - NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn 4


This was the final chapter of the excellent feud between Moustache Mountain and the Undisputed Era. Teams such as DIY and The Revival laid the foundation for excellent tag team wrestling in NXT, and that tradition was continued thanks to matches such as this one.

With Strong and O'Reilly losing the tag titles to Bate and Seven in the UK, only to win them back in heartbreaking fashion on a weekly NXT episode, the stage was set for a rubber match. The decider came at TakeOver: Brooklyn, and saw all four men at their best - making the match a masterpiece of  timing and suspense.

It also called back to their previous bouts in appropriately dramatic fashion, especially when Seven appeared ready to throw the towel in, with his partner trapped in a painful submission. When he instead turned and launched it into the crowd, the place erupted.

8. Undisputed Era Vs. Moustache Mountain - NXT, July 11th, 2018


Now let's go back to the previous match in their series - the site of Trent and Tyler losing their prized tag titles back to the Undisputed Era. The fact that this came on a regular episode of NXT made it all the more shocking, especially for a bout with such an abrupt finish.

That's not to say it was the wrong decision, though. On the contrary, Bate throwing in the towel achieved many things. It protected Seven, who refused to tap out despite the excruciating pain of O'Reilly's submission, and it made the Tag Team Championship look all the more valuable - something worth risking a career-shortening injury to keep ahold of.

Meltzer awarded this match five stars, a rating which actually received a lot less fanfare than one might have expected. That may be due to the fact that several other NXT matches had already achieved the same accolade in 2018, but this bout still fully deserved all the acclaim that came its way.

7. Adam Cole Vs. Ricochet - NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn 4


Sometimes a match contains a moment so impressive that it threatens to overshadow the rest of the bout - and that might well be the case with Ricochet vs. Adam Cole at TakeOver: Brooklyn 4. The moment in question came when the defending North American Champion countered an attempted quebrada from Ricochet, catching his foe with a pinpoint low superkick.

Cole's precision and timing was incredibly impressive; his opponent was moving towards him in mid-air, upside down, midway through a gruelling and fast-paced title match. However, it deserves to be remembered as the cherry atop an altogether brilliant match, rather than the only standout moment.

Wrestling isn't just about athleticism, and this bout certainly had its fair share of storytelling, but some of the sequences here were an absolute joy to behold. Ricochet was excellent as always, and Cole reminded everybody that for all his smarmy charisma, he also knows how to play his part in an elite-level contest.

6. North American Championship Ladder Match - NXT TakeOver: New Orleans


NXT puts on unbelievable matches, but its other great strength is its storytelling. Feuds and angles manage to be deep enough without feeling overly-complicated, while being streamlined enough to play out over the course of one-hour weekly shows.

That's obviously important, and plays a major role in many of the matches on this list - but sometimes wrestling is about carnage.

The opening ladder match at TakeOver: WarGames was many people's favourite bout of WrestleMania weekend, from any promotion. A wide variety of names (Ricochet, EC3, Adam Cole, Velveteen Dream, Killian Dain, and Lars Sullivan) clashed to determine the inaugural NXT North American Champion.

Although Ricochet was an obvious highlight, given his status as one of the world's greatest high-fliers, every man played his role to perfection here. Dain and Sullivan crashed into one another (and others) with reckless abandon; EC3 took an inhuman amount of punishment; Velveteen Dream played the precociously talented upstart; and Adam Cole was the heelish opportunist. A dangerous match, but a masterful one all the same.

5. Johnny Gargano Vs. Aleister Black - NXT TakeOver: WarGames II


To the outsider, this is one of those matches where the dynamics might appear backwards. In one corner, towering, sadistic Aleister Black, complete with satanic overtones and horror movie ring entrance. In the other, smaller, nimble Johnny Gargano - a plucky underdog if ever there was one.

But no; instead we had the wronged Dutchman seeking vengeance on the little weasel who was now fully embracing the dark side. As impressive as the storyline was leading into this bout, however, my overriding memory of it is the absolute slickness with which it was executed.

At the peak of their respective abilities, Black and Gargano are two of the most dynamic wrestlers in the world - moving around the ring with almost unparalleled grace and timing. Yes, Black may be more strike-based, while Johnny relies more on speed and pragmatism, but their styles meshed perfectly at WarGames. The sight of Gargano diving to the outside, only to be wiped out in mid-air by a lethal kick from Black, must be one of the most memorable spots of 2018 in NXT.

And yet, this match never lost sight of the story behind it - as proven by a dramatic closing sequence.

4. Tommaso Ciampa Vs. Velveteen Dream - NXT TakeOver: WarGames II


Immediately after Gargano vs. Black came a bout that essentially matched it in every department, making it incredibly hard to separate the two.

I've had to give Ciampa vs. Dream the slightest of edges here, simply by virtue of a louder crowd response. However, both bouts are absolutely brilliant, and contributed to one of the best wrestling shows of 2018.

At its heart, despite all the frills and exchanges, Ciampa and Dream was a babyface vs. heel story. Throughout 2018 the NXT Champion has been one of the best bad guys in the game, and while his opponent may have started off as an arrogant villain, his talents have earned the support of the entire NXT fanbase.

This match was one of WWE's most passionately-received of the year, with the Staples Center crowd roaring Dream on to victory - and Ciampa doing all he could to prevent it from happening.

3. Johnny Gargano Vs. Tommaso Ciampa - NXT TakeOver: Chicago II


The best sequels are always darker, aren't they?

At first, Gargano and Ciampa's unsanctioned war at TakeOver: New Orleans may have seemed like a fitting conclusion to their tale. Instead, we now know that the twists, turns, and melodrama were only beginning.

The next step in DIY's catastrophic implosion was this rematch, a grisly Chicago street fight full of callbacks and clever allusions. The former tag partners did all they could, not to simply beat the other man, but to wear them down physically and psychologically. It was, without question, the most bitter match of 2018.

Ciampa's removal of Gargano's wedding band may be a little bit too melodramatic for many, but I think that the spot (and Johnny's furious reaction) represent wrestling pageantry at its purest. The ending was pretty perfect too, in its own warped, ironic way.

2. Andrade Cien Almas Vs. Johnny Gargano - NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia


You must know the story by now, and although it isn't more important than the quality of the match itself, it certainly helps drive home the point. This was something truly special.

Not since 2011 had Dave Meltzer awarded a 5-star rating to a WWE match, the last being CM Punk and John Cena's transcendent masterpiece. Although not as earth-shattering in terms of the relationship between wrestling and its fans, and although not featuring stars of quite the same magnitude, this NXT Championship match at TakeOver: Philadelphia achieved the same grade.

It fully deserved it, too. If you want to see a demonstration of excellent chemistry in a wrestling ring, just put this bout on and sit back. Gargano and Almas whir around one another with precision and grace, slowing the match down at all the right moments, before ramping things up to breakneck speed again.

As if the quality of the bout itself wasn't enough, the aftermath saw a dramatic return and a vociferous crowd response - the cherry atop a flawless cake.

1. Johnny Gargano Vs. Tommaso Ciampa - NXT TakeOver: New Orleans


What else is there left to say?

Gargano and Ciampa's unsanctioned match at WrestleMania weekend wasn't just NXT's best match of the year. In the eyes of many, it was the best wrestling match of any promotion in 2018, full stop.

The only real contender I've seen is Omega/Okada IV over in New Japan, but while that was a (fittingly) epic encounter between two pristine opponents, this was far more raw, dirty, and hateful.

This was a culmination of everything that had happened between Ciampa and Gargano since entering WWE together, from their days tagging as DIY to their initial singles bout at the 2016 Cruiserweight Classic, from Ciampa's shocking betrayal in Chicago in 2017, to his heartless return and attack in Philadelphia.

In a testament to the storytelling abilities of both men, the fans in New Orleans didn't just want Gargano and Ciampa to tear each other apart. They specifically wanted Johnny to tear his former best friend limb from limb.

Everything about this match made sense, and while it was mechanically as sound as any other bout on this list, the real standout element has to be the callbacks. The crutch; the knee brace; the sitting cross-legged - all things that made thematic sense in the context of their feud. This was an example of what wrestling can achieve as a storytelling medium, and little else this year came close - from any promotion.

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10 Best WWE Matches Of 2018

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Jack King

Written by Jack King

[email protected] Twitter: @JackTheJobber