The NXT Championship has helped to launch the careers of some of the biggest stars in WWE today. Here is every man to have held the belt.
1. Seth Rollins (August 29 2012 – January 9 2013)
The last few years have been very kind to Seth Rollins.
It all started when he won the Gold Rush Tournament to become the inaugural NXT Champion. He defeated Drew Mcintyre and Michael McGillicutty to qualify for the final, where he faced off with Jinder Mahal. Rollins sealed victory with the Blackout, which would go on to be known as the Curb Stomp, which would go on to be banned when a WWE bigwig happened to watch American History X.
Inaugural NXT Champion. One third of The Shield. Tag Team Champion. Money In The Bank Winner. United States Champion. The #1 Draft pick. First ever Full Sail alumni to become WWE World Heavyweight Champion. Rollins is THE success story of NXT.
TV Defenses: v. Michael McGillicutty (October 10 2012), v. Jinder Mahal (December 12 2012), v. Corey Graves via DQ loss (January 2 2013).
2. Big E Langston (January 9 2013 – June 12 2013)
“Three ain’t enough man, I need five!”
Remember that? The man now known simply as Big E smashed his way into the NXT Championship picture by crushing everyone in his path and pinning them for a five count for good measure. E got his chance against Rollins in a No DQ match, so The Shield couldn’t bail out their brother. While it removed the champion’s advantage, it also gave the Hounds of Justice the freedom to attack the challenger. But the locker room rallied to Big E’s aid and drove off Ambrose and Reigns, leaving him free to finish off Rollins with The Big Ending and become the second ever NXT Champion.
Big E has gone on to hold the Intercontinental Championship and Tag Team Championship twice with The New Day, who became the longest reigning Tag Team Champions of all time during their second reign. Sadly, the five count has not shown any sign of resurfacing.
TV Defenses: v. Conor O’Brian (April 3 2013), v. Brad Maddox (April 24 2013), v. Damien Sandow (May 15 2013).
3. Bo Dallas (June 12 2013 – February 12 2014)
Before he Bolieved, Bo Dallas was just a happy-go-lucky guy… and everybody hated him. Bo was a pariah at Full Sail University and his title victory over the beloved Big E did not go down well. Thanks to an exposed turnbuckle and a belly-to-belly, Bo was the new champion and proclaimed that he was off to Disneyland. That was when the change kicked in. Bo actually took his title to Disneyland. He also refused to accept the rampant hatred the crowd had for him and became more delusional.
Bo’s stint in NXT was one of the most entertaining in the show’s history. Whether it was his cowardly shithousery, his holiday snaps (he went to BO-livia) or when he was ultimately hauled out by campus security, Bo somehow won a place in all our hearts. It hasn’t worked out for him yet on the main roster but there’s still time. All he has to do is Bolieve!
TV Defenses: v. Cesaro (July 3 2013), v. Leo Kruger (August 7 2013), v. Sami Zayn (October 16 2013), v. Adrian Neville via countout loss (December 4 2013), v. Adrian Neville in a lumberjack match (December 18 2013).
4. Adrian Neville (February 27 2014 – December 11 2014)
Thanks to the birth of the WWE Network, NXT entered a new era in 2014 which brought along two-hour live specials. The first of which, and the first ever live event on the Network, was NXT Arrival. A great show was headlined by NXT’s first ever ladder match, where Adrian Neville finally prised the NXT Championship from the clutches of Bo Dallas.
Neville helped propel NXT to new heights with numerous match of the year contenders during his 287 day reign. His unbelievable high-flying skills got him noticed and he made his Raw debut the night after Wrestlemania 31. He has since finished as the runner-up in King of the Ring 2015 and came within a whisker of beating Seth Rollins for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. He now beats up cruiserweights for fun because he’s so over this shit.
TV Defenses: v. Bo Dallas (March 27 2014), v. Brodus Clay (May 1 2014), v. Tyson Kidd (Takeover, May 29 2014), v. Tyson Kidd (June 12 2014), v. Sami Zayn, Tyler Breeze & Tyson Kidd (Takeover Fatal-4-Way, September 11 2014), v. Tyson Kidd (October 2 2014), v. Titus O’Neil (October 23 2014), v. Sami Zayn (November 13 2014).
5. Sami Zayn (December 11 2014 – February 11 2015)
After over a year of trying, Sami Zayn finally won the big one when he defeated Adrian Neville at NXT Takeover: R-Evolution in the 2014 NXT match of the year. The emotionally-charged match saw Zayn refuse to take the easy the way out by hitting Neville with the title when the ref was out, and he hit the Helluva Kick to begin the celebrations.
Though the outpouring of joy was short-lived thanks to Kevin Owens, the image of Zayn being hoisted in the air by his colleagues is an image NXT fans will never forget.
His call-up to the main roster came in early 2016 and he competed at Wrestlemania 32 in the Intercontinental Championship ladder match. Meanwhile, Sami and Kevin still can’t stop punching each other in the head whenever they cross paths.
TV Defenses: v. Adrian Neville (January 15 2015).
6. Kevin Owens (February 11 2015 – July 4 2015)
After raining on Sami Zayn’s parade, Kevin Owens wangled himself an NXT Title match at NXT Takeover: Rival. Two months to the day since he debuted, Owens destroyed Zayn in brutal fashion. He repeatedly powerbombed the champ until the ref had no choice but to call a halt to proceedings and award Owens the title.
Owens brought his title with him when he made his Raw debut in May 2015 by laying out John Cena. Amazingly, in his first main roster match, Owens defeated Cena clean as a whistle at Elimination Chamber. He also became the first man to defend the Championship outside of NXT.
Owens came up short in his attempts to take the US Championship from Cena but has been successful in winning the Intercontinental Championship twice, taking it from Ryback and then Dean Ambrose. But, his crowning glory came in August 2016 when he won a Fatal-4-Way elimination match, with a little help from Uncle Haitch, to become WWE Universal Champion.
TV Defenses: v. Finn Balor (March 25 2015), v. Sami Zayn via no contest (Takeover Unstoppable, May 20 2015), v. Zack Ryder (Smackdown, June 4 2015), v. Neville (Raw, June 8 2015), v. Heath Slater (Main Event, June 11 2015).
7. Finn Balor (July 4 2015 – April 21 2016)
Finn Balor defeated Tyler Breeze at Takeover: Unstoppable to become the #1 Contender. He got his title shot against Kevin Owens at WWE Beast in the East in Tokyo, Japan. Balor unleashed The Demon and after hitting Owens with two Bloody Sundays and two Coups de Grace, the Irishman emerged as the new NXT Champion.
As champion, Balor won the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic with Samoa Joe. The duo defeated the Lucha Dragons and Enzo Amore & Big Cass to advance to the finals at Takeover Respect. On the same night, Finn & Joe beat Dash & Dawson and Rhyno & Baron Corbin to win the tournament.
Days before losing the title, Balor surpassed Adrian Neville’s record as longest-reigning NXT Champion in history, setting a new record of 292 days.
Balor’s long-awaited main roster call-up arrived in July 2016 when he was surprisingly selected for Raw in the first round of the WWE Draft. It got even better for Balor at Summerslam when he defeated Seth Rollins to become the inaugural WWE Universal Champion. Unfortunately, he had to relinquish it the next night due to injury because we’re not allowed nice things.
TV Defenses: v. Kevin Owens in a ladder match (Takeover Brooklyn, August 22 2015), v. Apollo Crews via no contest (November 4 2015), v. Samoa Joe (Takeover London, December 16 2015), v. Samoa Joe (Takeover Dallas, April 1 2016).
8. Samoa Joe (April 21 2016 – August 20 2016)
Out of all the shocks NXT has served up over the years, Samoa Joe ending Finn Balor’s record-setting reign as NXT Champion at a house show in Lowell, Massachusetts might just take the cake. Joe pinned Balor after a Muscle Buster to send the local crowd wild.
TV Defenses: v. Finn Balor in a cage match (Takeover: The End, June 8 2016).
9. Shinsuke Nakamura (August 20 2016 – November 19 2016)
The King of Strong Style made one of the most memorable debuts ever at Takeover Dallas, battling Sami Zayn in an amazing match. He soon established himself in the title picture and was awarded a title shot at Takeover Brooklyn 2. In the Barclays Center, Shinsuke Nakamura crunched Samoa Joe’s face with Kinshasa to become the 9th NXT Champion.
TV Defenses: N/A
10. Samoa Joe (November 19 2016 – December 3 2016)
Samoa Joe’s response to losing the NXT Championship was to put Shinsuke Nakamura in the hospital. He demanded that William Regal hand him the Championship or there would be consequences. After weeks of ruining matches and beating up the NXT roster, Joe issued an ultimatum: “REGAAAAALLLL! Bring me Nakamura or bring me my Championship.” He got a brawl with the returning Nakamura. The rematch was set for Takeover Toronto and thanks to a low blow, an uranage on the steps and a Muscle Buster, Joe pinned Nakamura to become the first-ever two-time NXT Champion.
TV Defenses: N/A
11. Shinsuke Nakamura (December 3 2016 – January 28 2017)
Just two weeks after losing the NXT Championship, Shinsuke Nakamura won it back when he defeated Samoa Joe in his home country of Japan, ensuring Joe’s second reign was the shortest in NXT history.
TV Defenses: v. Samoa Joe in a cage match (December 14 2016)
12. Bobby Roode (January 28 2017 – )
Bobby Roooooo was the last man standing in a fatal-4-way elimination match featuring Tye Dillinger, Andrade Cien Almas & Roderick Strong to earn the #1 contendership. At Takeover San Antonio, Roode took advantage of Shinsuke Nakamura’s injured knee and put down the King of Strong Style with a Glorious DDT to become the new champion.
After his title defense against Nakamura at Takeover Orlando, Roode was awarded a new-look Championship belt.
Bobby Roode is the incumbent champion.
TV Defenses: v. Kassius Ohno (March 15 2017), v. Shinsuke Nakamura (Takeover Orlando, April 1 2017), v. Hideo Itami (Takeover Chicago, May 20 2017).
Up to date as of May 25 2017.