10 Best WWE NXT Matches Of 2018 So Far

Not an easy list to compile...

For a few years now, NXT has been the shining light of quality in WWE. 2018 may already be the best year in the brand's history, punctuated by three incredible TakeOver specials: Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Chicago II.

NXT's brilliance is down to a number of things; sensible, traditionally-influenced booking with a modern twist; the unique charisma of various diverse figures; and, in return, vociferous crowd reactions. Still, if you ask most NXT fans for the major reason behind its success, they'd likely point to its conveyor belt of wonderful matches.

Then again, the quality of many bouts has been a result of the other factors. Yes, the in-ring action has been spectacular, moulded and executed by some of the best wrestlers in the world today - but plenty of matches have been elevated even further by an impeccable bedrock of storytelling and character work.

Let's cast an eye over the best NXT has had to offer in 2018 so far, from anarchic multi-man affairs to intoxicatingly intense grudge matches. And, of course, let's hope for plenty more to come over the next six months.

Judging by NXT's ongoing form, we should be in for a treat...

[This was compiled before the WWE UK Championship Tournament]

10. Ember Moon Vs. Shayna Baszler - NXT TakeOver: New Orleans


If there's one aspect of 2018 which has perhaps fallen down slightly in 2018, it's the women's division. This isn't so much a result of lacklustre performances, but more down to the considerable shadow left by Asuka's departure.

Still, that's not to say we haven't witnessed flashes of brilliance - particularly this effort from WrestleMania weekend by Shayna Baszler and Ember Moon.

Baszler was rolled-up by a savvy Moon in their previous match, but cut a far more well-rounded figure here. The champion, in turn, showed a slightly more cerebral side, targeting her challenger's arm to nullify the Rear Naked Choke. It didn't work, however, as Baszler rammed her own shoulder back into place against the ringpost, reversed the Eclipse, and ended Ember's time in NXT.

9. Pete Dunne Vs. Kyle O'Reilly - NXT, June 13


Most of NXT's best matches this year have cropped up on one of the three TakeOver shows. The roster really seems to pull out all of the stops for these events, managing to totally overshadow the subsequent main roster PPV time and time again.

However, that doesn't mean there have been no stellar bouts on regular weekly episodes of NXT in 2018. Two in particular stand out: the number one contender's match for the UK Championship between Tyler Bate and Roderick Strong, and this effort for the title itself.

Both Pete Dunne and Kyle O'Reilly embrace a gritty side of professional wrestling, but maintain a crucial sense of showmanship and energy in their matches. Rarely is this balance more evident than it is here, as the pair trade big blows and gruelling submissions in equal measure. Also, if you enjoy when wrestlers appear to know each other's game inside out, this one's worth watching for the counters alone.

8. The Undisputed Era Vs. Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch - NXT TakeOver: Chicago II


When this match was announced, reaction online was divided. Yes, Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch are two of the most underrated, underappreciated Superstars on the NXT roster. Dave Meltzer has even referred to Lorcan as potentially the most underrated guy in the business on multiple occasions.

However, while many were keen to praise the ability of the shiny-headed duo, some thought this simply wasn't a match worthy of TakeOver booking. Boy did all four men prove the doubters wrong. In fact, quite a few of you probably think I've included this match too soon on the list - a testament to just how electrifying an opener it was.

Even for NXT, this bout was contested at a frighteningly fast pace, with each participant flying around the ring in demented fashion. A special mention must also be given, of course, to Adam Cole. He only involved himself once or twice, but the mere presence of the Undisputed Era leader helped turn an initially reluctant crowd into a baying sea of enthusiasm.

7. Aleister Black Vs. Adam Cole - NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia


It must be hard to strike the right balance in weapons-based bouts, between adhering to the limitations of WWE's PG rating, and giving the hardcore fans enough violence to satisfy their needs. Cole and Black easily achieved this in January, wrestling a fiery grudge match as smart as it was brutal.

Again, credit must be given to Cole, who cut his hand badly midway through the match, but carried on without it impacting his performance at all. He also took one of the most wince-inducing bumps in TakeOver history, landing spine-first across the top of two upright chairs.

Somewhat predictably, the bout also featured interference - but it managed to enhance the finish rather than overshadow it, as both the Undisputed Era and SAnitY ran out for brief (but enjoyable) cameos.

Crucially, this match wouldn't have worked in New Orleans or Chicago, given the violent nature of the Gargano/Ciampa main events. However, here, it served as the perfect foil to Gargano and Almas' more traditional headliner.

6. Ricochet Vs. Velveteen Dream - NXT TakeOver: Chicago II


Velveteen Dream is an absolute phenomenon. Often we hear older wrestlers big up a particular peer in shoot interviews, but it can take us a little while longer to appreciate their talent as fans. The former Tough Enough contestant seems to have skipped that stage of his development entirely. He is essentially a wrestling prodigy - he gets it - and it's obvious to anybody who watches him.

Yes, Dream hits moves with the grace and flair of a natural, but he's truly special because of his storytelling. This match with Ricochet was a prime example, as the pair attempted to one-up one another with increasingly risky feats of athleticism.

For his part, Ricochet remains one of the best high-fliers around. He can have good matches with a huge variety of opponents, and in lowering his own pace to suit Dream here, he demonstrated his selflessness as a roster member too.

5. Andrade 'Cien' Almas Vs. Aleister Black - NXT TakeOver: New Orleans


Andrade 'Cien' Almas' comeuppance had to come along at some point - and it just so happened to establish Aleister Black as the new ruling force of NXT.

This match featured perhaps the most satisfying finishing sequence of the year so far, as Almas was accidentally hindered by Zelina Vega - the woman who had unjustly helped him retain the NXT Championship on so many prior occasions.

The pair displayed a clear chemistry, moving at an exciting pace without ever feeling too rushed. Although it was followed by an even clearer Match of the Year candidate, the fact that people still heaped praise upon this title change is a testament to its straightforward quality.

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


This could well be the most chaotic bout in NXT history, surpassing even last year's WarGames in terms of sheer carnage.

A natural successor to the classic TLC battles of the Attitude Era, this Ladder Match also borrowed from the Money in the Bank format, throwing an odd variety of opponents into the mix to create a unique dynamic.

Lars Sullivan and Killian Dainbroughtt power, while Ricochet demonstrated is awe-inspiring athleticism. Poor EC3 and Velveteen Dream seemed to take the bulk of the punishment in the match, bumping magnificently for their opponents - and it was left to slimy Adam Cole to pick up the pieces towards the end.

As if the stakes weren't high enough by virtue of the stipulation alone, there was also a unique prize on the line, as the winner would become the first ever NXT North American Champion.

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


Both of Gargano and Ciampa's 2018 epics have featured huge amounts of storytelling and psychological nuance - and it could well be argued that the second was the most plot-driven WWE match of a generation.

A slightly more divisive bout than the first, this darker sequel nonetheless drew plaudits for its dramatic nature. Sure, it may have hinged upon a few clear set pieces (Ciampa recreating his heel turn one year prior; Gargano's wedding ring being tossed aside; the huge table bump) but the result was a real emotional meat-grinder of a match.

Of all the candidates likely to top this list come the end of 2018, the former DIY tag partners are surely frontrunners. However, it's unclear when the third installment of their trilogy will come about. Hopefully - for the sake of our greedy, impatient hearts - it's sooner rather than later.

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


The main event of TakeOver: Philadelphia was the first indication that 2018 was set to be a groundbreaking year for NXT. Not only did Almas and Gargano put on one of the best matches of the year, they earned the first Dave Meltzer five-star rating in a WWE bout since 2011.

If this list was about finely balancing pure wrestling and storytelling, Almas vs. Gargano would easily have topped it. It was masterfully paced and kept the fans guessing throughout, all of whom were naturally behind Mr. Wrestling.

As if that wasn't enough, we were also treated to a highly dramatic post-match flashpoint, as Ciampa made his return from injury - hobbling out to blindside his former best friend with a crutch, as Philadelphia exploded in fury.

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


Even without the main event, TakeOver: New Orleans was already shaping up to be an incredible event. Almas vs. Black, Baszler vs. Moon, and the North American title match all impressed greatly - but Gargano and Ciamapa took things to an even higher level.

The match was truly transcendent. Its unsanctioned stipulation overtly told us that this was to be out of the ordinary - but in the eyes of many, it surpassed even the loftiest of expectations.

In my opinion, this had absolutely everything: intensity, athleticism, symbolism, intelligence, and bucketloads of drama.

When all was said and done, this match could have absolutely stood alone as a blowoff, so cathartic was its ending. Instead, we've been treated to a rematch - and surely, surelya third somewhere down the line.

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Jack G. King

Written by Jack G. King

Head of News at Cultaholic.com | [email protected]