Despite consistently producing what is arguably the holy grail of weekly wrestling shows, WWE’s developmental brand is also home to a plethora of great unseen talent waiting to be let loose.
With the possibility of the brand’s flagship show expanding to two hours, it won’t be a struggle to find performers capable of filling the shoes of their predecessors and taking NXT to the next level as it continues to grow on a global scale. Hidden behind the Johnny Garganos and the Shayna Baszlers, however, is a deep roster full of fresh and exciting performers – some of which have barely scratched the surface of either of the brand’s two weekly television shows.
5. Rik Bugez
Formerly known as Eric Bugenhagen, Bugez is an incredibly captivating character and is more than capable of backing it up in the ring with an amateur wrestling background that legitimises his otherwise-flashy persona. In his limited exposure on NXT TV, he has already formed a connection with the Florida crowds comparable to that of the tremendously successful Velveteen Dream, which is a testament to his commitment as a performer. The reaction to Bugenhagen’s debut from the fans and WWE alike speaks for itself. I have no doubt in my mind that when Bugez finally becomes a mainstay on TV, he will take over the black and gold brand through exuding his unique level of charisma.
4. Killer Kelly
It is a surprise to no one that Killer Kelly was one of the biggest female signees to kick off NXT’s new UK brand in back in June of 2018. Fast forward a year later, however, and Kelly is still yet to pick up a televised victory despite being one of the most talented performers in the UK women’s division as she has proven by having good matches with the likes of Dakota Kai, Meiko Satomura and current UK Women’s Champion Toni Storm in NXT UK, the Mae Young Classic and WXW respectively. With NXT UK TakeOver: Cardiff right around the corner, I would expect Killer Kelly to become one of the top stars in the growing UK women’s division going forward.
3. Deonna Purrazzo
The Virtuosa’s WWE story far-prolongs that of any other performer featured in this list, having been an extra and enhancement talent for NXT since 2014, even being scheduled to take on then-champion Alexa Bliss in an episode of SmackDown Live in December of 2016. It is not hard to see why she eventually became a permanent part of NXT’s women’s flourishing division following an impressive performance in the 2018 Mae Young Classic. Since then, she has been consistently tearing it up on the Florida live events and has had a handful of particularly eyebrow-raising matches on TV against Bianca Belair, Rhea Ripley and Toni Storm. Purrazzo’s crisp and snappy in-ring style always impresses and I would certainly welcome her on my TV screen more often.
2. Xia Li
Becoming the first Chinese female to compete in a WWE ring by joining the Performance Center in January of 2017, Li is a breath of fresh air to NXT as she brings an explosive style influenced by her proficiency in wushu, a Chinese martial art. The deliberate nature and precision of her strike-based offence always leaves a lasting positive impression whenever Xia performs on our screens. I would highly suggest seeking out her matches against Deonna Purrazzo in the 2018 Mae Young Classic and Kay Lee Ray from NXT UK in April. I truly believe that with more impressive TV matches, Xia Li could become the next breakout star in NXT’s women’s division.
1. Rhea Ripley
Making her WWE debut in the inaugural Mae Young Classic in 2017, the 22-year-old has always shown a tremendous upside as she established a unique ring-presence early on in her WWE career. It was during the summer of 2018 that Ripley’s development really accelerated, though, as she re-established her character with a darker, ’mosh-pit kid’ aesthetic and a new level of arrogance which propelled her to becoming the first-ever NXT UK Women’s Champion shortly after a standout performance in the second MYC.
During her title reign, Ripley was instrumental in building a solid foundation for the UK women’s division, having show-stealing TV matches against the likes of Isla Dawn and Deonna Purrazzo in the lead up to her excellent title match against Toni Storm who would end her historic reign.
Despite continuing to be an integral part of NXT UK’s women’s division as she has her hands full with Piper Niven leading into TakeOver: Cardiff, I would very soon expect Rhea Ripley to make waves over on NXT’s flagship show as she becomes the dominant force in the women’s division stateside.
The ever-changing landscape rooted within the DNA of NXT continues to present new challenges and opportunities for fresh, new talent to take the next step in their WWE careers, and looking down the deep pool of talent at the brand’s disposal shows that we need not worry about what happens next to our precious NXT. The roster is arguably deeper than ever and Wednesday nights will continue to provide the best professional wrestling product on a consistent basis thanks to the profusion of talent that are waiting for their chance to shine.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @DeiOwen. Thanks for reading!