WWE
News

10 Best WWE NXT Superstars Of 2018 So Far

Dream's over - but who else is?

As much as every year feels like a banner year for NXT, 2018 actually has been a banner year for NXT.

Despite it only being July, the stars of WWE's best brand have provided us with a boatload of excellent matches, feuds, and moments - all centred around three monstrously good TakeOver shows in Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Chicago.

(Especially the New Orleans one, though.)

In doing so, not only have the NXT Superstars helped continue their brand's outrageous run of form, they've also raised their own stock.

In six months alone, we've seen breakout performances, monumental title changes, and one of the most intense feuds in WWE history,

However, although NXT naturally acts as a Superstar's introductory period, sometimes it can seem like the highlight of their WWE career. It would be difficult to argue, for example, that Asuka, Bayley, or Nakamura have enjoyed a richer experience on Raw and SmackDown than they did at Full Sail.

So while this list might give some indication of WWE's future megastars, it could also prove a little misleading. There seems to be no way of telling how a wrestler will fare on the main roster, but at least we can confidently enjoy them down in NXT.

Make sure to check out our other half-year reviews looking at the best main roster Superstars, best main roster matches, and best NXT matches of 2018 so far! 

10. Moustache Mountain


WWE


For a tag team whose schedule doesn't see them appear in NXT all too often, Tyler Bate and Trent Seven have certainly made a big impression.

This year, the NXT tag division has been entirely dominated by the Undisputed Era - and I wouldn't dare complain about that. However, as we all know, heels and babyfaces are nothing without each other.

Moustache Mountain acted as the perfect heroes, blending wit and talent to get a partly unfamiliar US audience onside. Of course, their crowning moment came back in the UK, as they finally defeated Kyle O'Reilly and Roddy Strong to take the NXT Tag Team Championship.

Unfortunately, as we've just seen, that reign didn't last too long at all - and with the win coming under strange circumstances, could this be the beginning of the end for Bate and Seven's partnership?


9. Ember Moon


WWE


She may be racking up wins on Monday Night Raw now, but Ember Moon was one of NXT's integral babyfaces for much of the year.

It seems a strange thing to suggest, given her obvious talent, but Ember could run the risk of being one of NXT's most overlooked female Superstars ever. From a division that has previously featured Asuka, Paige, Alexa Bliss, Nia Jax, and all Four Horsewomen, Ember has had to scratch and claw to gain even a fraction of the credit she deserves.

Thankfully, doubters can always be directed to her final run before moving up to the main roster. Moon defended her NXT Women's Championship in a pair of excellent matches at TakeOvers Philadelphia and New Orleans, winning the first, but succumbing to a Shayna Baszler choke in the second.

Ember refused to submit in that final match, choosing to pass out rather than willingly give up her title. It was a fitting end for one of NXT's most battle-ready, resilient Superstars.

8. Ricochet


WWE


Few have arrived in NXT with more indie fanfare than Ricochet. The 'Future of Flight' was already well known to many fans, having transformed the business with his incredible brand of high-flying offence. For evidence of his brilliant work, look to his jaw-dropping series of matches with Will Ospreay, his ultra-giffable PWG exploits, or even his run in Lucha Underground as Prince Puma.

On the flipside of things, this means that Ricochet had a lot to live up to in NXT. Fortunately for him (and us) he managed to do so. Yes, the aerial antics have been toned down a fraction, but they still underpin his matches.

The recent showdown with Velveteen Dream still sticks in the memory, as Ricochet deliberately slowed his style to outclass a cocky young upstart - only for Dream to raise his own game, taking to the skies in a compelling battle of body and mind.

Ricochet's other memorable bout of 2018 has to be the Ladder Match NXT North American Championship, a bout in which he was probably the favourite. Instead, he was denied victory right at the death by Adam Cole - but not before treating us to a few feats of incredible agility.

7. Shayna Baszler


WWE


When Shayna Baszler reached the final of the Mae Young Classic, destroying more established indie names like Candice LeRae and Mercedes Martinez along the way, her push was met with a chorus of criticism.

Much of this stemmed from her MMA background, and the surrounding context. Brock Lesnar was still dividing opinion at the top of the Raw mountain, and real-life friend Ronda Rousey was making her intentions of joining WWE clearer by the month (to howls of derision).

Since then, Ronda's performances have made all that initial hate seem incredibly silly; she's an utter natural, but I think Baszler deserves just as much credit.

With far less star power to fall back upon, Baszler has made herself one of NXT's real top dogs in 2018. In defeat to Ember Moon in Philadelphia, she proved herself a far more intelligent and psychologically-aware wrestler than many had given her credit for. Her eventual title victory in New Orleans was important, but the air of menace she has since projected as champion is even more impressive.


6. Velveteen Dream


WWE


It's no longer the cool opinion to say that Velveteen Dream is the future of WWE; everybody just knows it now.

Dream continues to astound with every major match of his, partly in terms of his blossoming ringwork, but mainly because he's simply one of the most entertaining characters in all of wrestling.

The former Tough Enough competitor has an astounding grasp on the pageantry of wrestling, and a natural understanding of how to connect with the crowd. He does all the little things right, beginning a match totally self-assured, before becoming increasingly desperate as his babyface opponent continues to cling on.

He also makes matches feel special. In Philadelphia, he adopted a hilarious boxing theme - slowly taking a mouthguard from a woman brandishing a huge, elaborate pillow at ringside. The match itself, against Kassius Ohno, truthfully wasn't the best, but Dream's value for entertainment shone through.

He's had a better chance to prove himself at this year's two other TakeOvers so far. In New Orleans, he took several hellacious bumps in the multi-man Ladder Match - but his best work came at TakeOver: Chicago II, taking on Ricochet in a compelling clash of egos. He even entered dressed as Hulk Hogan, which takes serious balls for a number of reasons.

5. Kyle O'Reilly & Roderick Strong


WWE


I've stuck O'Reilly and Strong together because, although they're members of a wider collective, Bobby Fish has sadly missed a lot of action due to injury, and Adam Cole has done his own thing in the singles division.

As a duo, however, the current NXT Tag Team Champions are just as impressive. Strong pulled off one of the biggest swerves in WWE this year, turning on uneasy partner Pete Dunne over WrestleMania weekend, and joining the smarmiest stable of internet darlings this side of Bullet Club.

It was a move that makes total sense in hindsight, given Strong's penchant for smarminess (and internet darling status) before signing with WWE.

O'Reilly, meanwhile, can be seen as the lifeblood of the Undisputed Era. Cole and Strong may grab the headlines, but it's O'Reilly who infuses their matches with the most grit, dynamism, and often humour.

The pair have had a number of excellent matches this year, but the best probably came at TakeOver: Chicago II, where valiant challengers Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch helped put on one of the year's sleeper hits.

4. Andrade 'Cien' Almas


WWE


He may be on the main roster now - sometimes - but I think it's important to remember just how good an NXT Champion Andrade 'Cien' Almas was.

Almas has known how to wrestle long before he signed for WWE, but his initial NXT run simply wasn't connecting with the fans. Thanks to Zelina Vega, however, he was turned into a ruthless heel, and closed out 2017 by winning the NXT Championship.

2018 was even better. Although he didn't have much time left in NXT, Almas went out with a bang. He defended the title against Johnny Gargano in WWE's first 5-star match since 2011, immediately establishing himself as one of the best workers on the roster.

He then compounded that performance with a title loss to Aleister Black, handing over the title in a manner laden with irony and crowd satisfaction. The reason for his defeat was Vega, who attempted to leap onto Black, only for the Dutchman to duck. Almas caught his manager, leaving himself wide open for a Black Mass kick, and the academic pinfall.

It was a nice way to leave NXT, given that Vega had been the reason for not only his successful title defences up until that point, but also his initial change in fortunes.


3. Adam Cole


WWE


Is anybody as over as Adam Cole?

I mean, yes, obviously some WWE Superstars are more over than Adam Cole: Rollins, Styles, etc.

But is anybody as over as Adam Cole in the moment? Just by watching Cole make his entrance before a match, you can feel his connection with the fans radiating from the screen. Then of course, there's the rapturous response to his catchphrase, bellowed back at him by thousands of live attendees.

Having met Cole, I'm pleased to report that he's a very nice man in real life - but part of his in-ring must popularity must come down to just how shameless a villain he is.

One could easily talk about Cole's tangible charisma all day, but let's also mention his wrestling. In Philadelphia, he wrestled a bloody, brutal Extreme Rules match against Aleister Black, before seizing the NXT Tag Team Championship in New Orleans (with a considerable assist from Roderick Strong).

Cole's crowning moment came elsewhere in the night, however, as he pulled double-duty - not just wrestling two matches, but winning two titles. His triumph in the multi-man Ladder Match made Cole thefirst-everr NXT North American Champion, and whoever eventually takes that title from him will have big boots to fill.

2. Tommaso Ciampa


WWE


There are a few elite-level heels in the business today. Cody Rhodes made himself a deluded egomaniac at the head of Bullet Club, but seemed to reconcile with Kenny Omega at NJPW's recent San Francisco show. Zack Gibson earns weapons-grade heat from British crowds on a regular basis, but fell at the last hurdle to Pete Dunne at the recent WWE UK specials. Minoru Suzuki is the grumpy old man of New Japan, but people secretly like him because he hits really hard.

There's only one top bad guy in wrestling right now, and his name is Tommaso Ciampa. Everybody knows the story of his feud with former tag partner Johnny Gargano, but there are so many reasons it deserves to be etched into wrestling history.

Half of these are down to the Psycho Killer, who has conducted himself in the very worst ways possible throughout the feud.

He and Gargano put on a storytelling clinic in New Orleans, but Ciampa ascended to an even higher level of villainy in their Chicago street fight. Even if the former match is generally regarded as the better of the two, Ciampa's performance in the latter deserves to be remembered as one of the greatest pieces of heelwork WWE has ever seen.

1. Johnny Gargano


WWE


He's had a pretty bad time, to be honest, but so far 2018 has unquestionably been the year of Gargano.

Johnny entered a downward spiral in the latter half of 2017, having been turned on by Tommaso Ciampa at TakeOver: Chicago. However, with Ciampa absent due to injury, he somehow pulled himself together and earned an NXT title shot at TakeOver: Philadelphia in January.

Gargano deserved to win that match, by all means. He only lost when Zelina Vega threw a DIY t-shirt into his arms - but his performance was utterly spellbinding. As mentioned, it was the first 5-star match since Punk vs. Cena - but it wouldn't take Johnny Wrestling long to secure a second maximum rating.

The Unsanctioned Match at TakeOver: New Orleans didn't just steal the show, but rather the entirety of WrestleMania weekend - a run which included fantastic performances from the likes of Will Ospreay, Matt Riddle, Keith Lee, and, bafflingly, Ronda Rousey.

Again Gargano was awarded 5 stars - as well as the satisfaction of defeating his arch nemesis - but the story didn't end there. Ciampa gained his revenge, not only beating Johnny in Chicago, but breaking his perfect babyface image.

What happens next is anyone's guess, but mine is that it'll only reaffirm Gargano's status as the king of 2018.

Share this post

From Cultaholic Writer To Wrestling Lumberjack

Former WWE Divas Champion To Compete In Mae Young Classic

Jack G. King

Written by Jack G. King

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