10 Best WWE NXT Superstars Of 2018

The best of a roster full of excellence...

It's been another outstanding year for NXT, and in topping its previous efforts once again, we've seen further proof that the brand's system of graduation and recruitment works. 2017 saw the departure of huge talents like Nakamura, Asuka, and The Revival, but 2018 somehow managed to be even better.

Yes, Triple H and William Regal certainly have an eye for talent, harvesting the independent world for some of the best wrestlers on the planet - but NXT isn't simply a case of finding the greatest workers and chucking them in a ring together. An atmosphere has been created in which stars are able to really thrive (and, as one entry, in particular, will prove, sometimes they're even homegrown).

Predictably, before we get to the top 10, we have a host of honourable mentions to recognise:

Ember Moon finally captured the NXT Women's Championship towards the end of 2017, and she impressed for the first few months of this year before being whisked away to the main roster.

If Moon's year in NXT ended too soon to crack our list, Kairi Sane's started too late. The winner of the inaugural Mae Young Classic really shone after reigniting her rivalry with Shayna Baszler in July.

Pete Dunne remains the WWE United Kingdom Champion at the time of writing, and a figure the company clearly have bigger things in mind for. Whenever he ventured across the Atlantic to NXT he impressed mightily, but UK commitments prevented him from being a regular enough feature.

Fittingly, we must admit that NXT's most under-appreciated duo don't quite make it onto our list either. Shame on us. Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch always bring the goods and even started to gain some fan recognition this year thanks to their high-octane tag team performances.

10. Shayna Baszler


When Shayna Baszler dominated en route to second place in 2017's Mae Young Classic, many were quick to write her off as a clunky MMA fighter without a hope of succeeding - but one who would be pushed regardless. Well, half of that turned out to be true...

Yes, Shayna has indeed been pushed - but like stablemate Ronda Rousey, she's also demonstrated an impressive natural affinity for the art of pro wrestling. This year saw her move into position as the centrepiece of NXT's women's division, bolstered by entertaining feuds with the likes of Ember Moon and Kairi Sane.

Although not as easy a mover as many of her peers, Baszler more than makes up for that with her believable offence, technical knowhow, and an ever-improving grasp of in-ring psychology. In terms of playing the intimidating heel, she's one of the best around.

9. Moustache Mountain


A trilogy of wonderful matches with the Undisputed Era helped put Moustache Mountain on the map in 2018. Already two leading lights of the UK independent scene, Trent Seven and Tyler Bate weren't exactly a constant presence in NXT - but made sure to leave their mark whenever they stopped by.

The pair enjoyed a simple, dramatic arc over the course of the year. First, they won the Tag Team Championship from Kyle O'Reilly and Roderick Strong on home soil, earning one of the biggest pops of the year in the process.

The rematch was even better - earning a Dave Meltzer 5-star rating despite taking place on a regular weekly episode of NXT - before the rivalry was wrapped up with a second (and equally dramatic) loss at TakeOver: Brooklyn IV. Trent Seven launching his towel into the Barclays Center crowd remains one of the brand's most fist-pumping moments of the year.

8. Andrade "Cien" Almas


Yes, we relegated Ember Moon to honourable mention status because she spent too small a portion of 2018 in NXT - so you might ask why we've included Andrade Cien Almas, despite essentially moving on at the same time.

Simply put, the final stage of his Full Sail run was simply too good to leave out. Almas took part in two absolute barnburners for the NXT Championship, the first an instant classic against Johnny Gargano at TakeOver: Philadelphia.

Having helped earn WWE their first 5-star rating since 2011, Almas marched on with the belt to New Orleans - where he was finally dethroned by a rampant Aleister Black. Special mention must also be given to the work of Zelina Vega, who solidified her status as one of the best managers around today.

7. Undisputed Era


It might be a little cheap to include an entire stable as one entry, but I simply couldn't separate the contributions of Kyle O'Reilly, Roderick Strong, and Bobby Fish to their amazing year as a collective. (We'll get to Adam Cole a little later...)

A stellar Undisputed Era match is part of the furniture of TakeOver shows these days; that's just the way it is. Fish and O'Reilly kicked things off with a fortunate win over the Authors of Pain in January, before Roderick Strong double-crossed Pete Dunne to join the stable over WrestleMania weekend.

An incredible sleeper hit of a match followed at TakeOver: Chicago II, followed by that wonderfully intense feud with Moustache Mountain. As if that wasn't enough, the full group came together for a climactic WarGames match in November - where finally, finally they were given their comeuppance. Phew!

6. Velveteen Dream


In 2017, Velveteen Dream proved that some people are simply born to be professional wrestlers, demonstrating a charisma and ability far beyond his level of experience. This year, despite a frankly unfair amount of hype to live up to, the flamboyant one continued to get better.

On any normal roster, Velveteen Dream would be the number one star - no questions asked. Obviously NXT does not have a normal roster, but rather the most exciting collection of indy talent at any given moment. With that said, the fact that Dream (a Performance Center graduate, lest we forget) always keeps up with his far more travelled opponents is nothing short of outstanding.

His best match this year came against Tommaso Ciampa at TakeOver: WarGames, where despite spending most of 2018 as an uber-arrogant heel, he enjoyed the undivided support of a raucous crowd. He wasn't able to scoop the NXT title - or any championship, truthfully - but it's onyl a matter of time until gold finds Dream in some capacity.

5. Ricochet


NXT brings in so many top-level favourites of the independent scene, it's hard to discern who will adapt quickest to their new environment. The identity of this year's star recruit, however, was in little doubt from the moment he set foot in the Performance Center.

Ricochet signed with WWE as one of wrestling's elite, a ludicrously talented high-flier coming off the back of a viral, industry-bending feud with Will Ospreay, a storied career in promotions as varied as New Japan and PWG, and of course, a few stints as masked wunderkind Prince Puma in Lucha Underground.

In NXT, despite modifying his game slightly to better fit his surroundings, Ricochet pretty much carried on where he left off - dropping jaws and popping crowds with his outrageous athleticism. He starred in the beloved North American title ladder match over WrestleMania weekend, and went on to steal the show on a stacked TakeOver: Brooklyn card alongside the next man on our list.

4. Adam Cole


Adam Cole is the worst, but also the best at the same time - so it sort of evens out.

NXT's most slimy, despicable heel continued to build momentum at a scary rate, thanks to a combination of amazing in-ring performances and an unrivalled heelish charisma. The leader of the Undisputed Era also enjoyed material success, at one stage enjoying double-champion status following TakeOver: New Orleans.

Having pulled double duty at that event, Cole wasn't satisfied, wowing everybody in defeat to Ricochet over SummerSlam weekend. His pinpoint Superkick to the head of the mid-air, upside-down challenger was one of 2018's most talked about individual spots - and with good reason.

Despite his smarmy persona, Cole has actually become one of NXT's best assets in a selfless sense. He's truly an expert at getting his opponents over, and Ricochet isn't the only example. He was left bloodied and battered by Aleister Black, and tactically outmanoeuvred by the babyface team at WarGames - a satisfying pair of results to bookend a mightily impressive year.

3. Aleister Black


After enjoying a brilliant first half of 2018, including the capture of the NXT Championship, Aleister Black's injury may well have derailed things. He was hastily written out of a planned triple threat main event in Brooklyn, having already lost the belt to Tommaso Ciampa on a weekly episode of NXT (the shame!)

Instead, the Dutchman came back as strong and crisp as ever, gaining revenge on mystery attacker Johnny Gargano in a flier of a match at TakeOver: WarGames. The return bout in a steel cage resulted in Ciampa interfering on behalf of Gargano, proving that while Black has often been a third wheel in their feud, he's never felt like one.

Then, of course, there was the first six months of the year. Black was near-unstoppable between January and June, decimating Adam Cole, ripping the NXT title from Almas, and seeing off the hulking Lars Sullivan in decisive fashion.

2. Tommaso Ciampa


Genuine heels are a rare commodity in modern day wrestling. As much as everybody loves Kevin Owens and his malicious antics, he could never be considered a 'pure' heel in 2018. He's too funny and too enjoyable, no matter how many times he Powerbombs somebody spine-first on the apron or double-crosses one of his best friends.

Step forward Tommaso Ciampa. The former DIY man has engaged in a quite remarkable feud with his old tag partner - one which started way back in mid-2017, but was finally brought to life thanks to their excellent trilogy this year.

The best match of the three came in New Orleans, most people seem to agree - although Ciampa would probably disagree if you asked him yourself, given the fact he had the better of a tormented Johnny Wrestling on the next two occasions. He also won the NXT title from Aleister Black in the summer, and has since embarked upon a reign of terror, the likes of which the yellow brand hasn't seen since the champion was Kevin Owens. Oh...

1. Johnny Gargano


What more can be said about the year Johnny Gargano has had in 2018? He got off to a decent start, helping deliver WWE's first 5-star rating since Punk vs. Cena in 2011. A second followed months later, a top-tier Match of the Year candidate against Ciampa at TakeOver: New Orleans.

Gargano picked up the win there, seemingly bringing the story to a close - but he'd suffer not only a pair of devastating losses to his former partner in Chicago and Brooklyn, but also a mind-warping mental transformation.

Embracing the obsession and hatred that Ciampa has planted within him, Gargano has become both a shell and an improved version of his former self. He's also managed to have excellent matches with just about everybody he's been matched up against, bringing the best out of each and every opponent as if his life has depended on it.

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Jack G. King

Written by Jack G. King

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