Adam Cole has only now gotten his name etched onto the NXT Championship, and odds are good a star of his caliber – and leader of a heel stable such as himself – will be holding that title for a nice long while. But it’s never too early to ponder who’s next in line. NXT is always full of rising talent, no matter how much it sometimes feel they’re being raided by the main roster. So let’s take a brief dive into the five wrestlers most likely to be the next NXT Champion!
Honorable mentions go out to Dominik Dijakovic and a potential returning Tommaso Ciampa.
#5 – Tyler Breeze
After being warmly welcomed home to the brand that made him famous, Tyler says he’s back in NXT to stay. In his original run he was perhaps the most successful NXT wrestler to never hold a title. This time around, I can’t see him leaving without getting some gold. While it’s honestly much more likely that he takes the North American title at some point – maybe when NXT returns to his home country with Takeover: Toronto II – it would undoubtedly be quite the story if he managed to claim the top prize.
If there’s one thing NXT loves, it’s big-time longform underdog babyface success stories. And if there’s literally one single solitary good thing that came from his run on the main roster, it’s that it made him into a prime candidate for just such an angle. Plus, the NXT title is by far the most fervently polished championship in wrestling. And if Tyler’s gonna have a title, it’s gonna need to be one he can see himself in.
#4 – Johnny Gargano
Well, Gargano’s big title win finally came… aaaaand then it went. For characters like him, of the Zayn and Dreamer ilk, that’s simply how it goes. If they held onto that triumph for long, they’d lose their effectiveness as sympathetic heroes. But while it was short-lived, it certainly doesn’t have to be the end of his quest for the gold. Provided he sticks around with NXT long enough, he’ll get that title back.
Now, realistically speaking, if he does get the big one again, it won’t be for a while. The other rule of thumb for his kind is that major successes are few and far between. It’s likely he’ll have to start his climb all over again. For all I know, the road to his second NXT title reign might be as long as the road to his first. But it’s certainly not impossible that his rivalry with Adam Cole extends long enough for him to reclaim that title.
#3 – Matt Riddle
Bro. All signs currently point to Matt Riddle being the next No. 1 Contender to the NXT Championship, and one has to pencil him in for being Cole’s challenger at Takeover: Toronto II. While it’d certainly be a surprise for Cole to drop the title that quickly, losing once wouldn’t necessarily mean he couldn’t defeat him in the end. Riddle has a lot of buzz around him, a hot indy name with MMA legitimacy and a ton of talent to boot, as well as what can only be described as stoner’s charisma.
He’s had some great matches and gotten extremely over with the NXT audience, and from the beginning it’s been clear that NXT’s creative heads see something big in him, rightfully so. That he failed to take the North American championship from Velveteen Dream a few months ago only makes it clear to me that he’s instead destined for something… higher.
#2 – Keith Lee
Bask in his glory… Keith Lee’s potential is, frankly, terrifying. He’s a huge, wickedly nimble, exceptional worker with a shipload of charisma. Lee’s also a fantastic promo, not least of which because he has perhaps the single most lovely voice in all of wrestling. He’s as full of himself as anyone, but it’s hard for him to come across as a heel doing it; his greatness simply seems like a fact.
It may appear as though his rise up the ranks has been surprisingly slow, but don’t be fooled. There’s no way that Triple H and co. don’t realize the star they have here. But around 2015-2017, NXT seemed to fall into a habit of hotshotting their most recent huge indy names into the title picture, and I think they’re aware of that. They’ve attempted to be a bit more patient with them since, so they haven’t had him go for the gold thus far. But make no mistake, nothing short of an unexpectedly quick call-up will keep him from taking the NXT title.
#1 – Velveteen Dream
Few define what NXT in the modern age is all about more than the Dream. Next to the guys who headlined the last two Takeovers, he’s the man with the strongest connection with NXT’s audience. Talented, boundlessly charismatic, and a true prodigy when it comes to storytelling – both in-ring and during a build – there’s no stopping the Dream from rising to the top.
Sure he’s currently the North American champion, but just making it to Toronto with the title will make him the longest reigning champ in it’s history, so technically he’s due to drop it at the event, if not shortly after. And once that happens, there’s only one logical next step for him…
Like Lee, and like most on this list really, the only thing that could prevent this is an early call-up. But with what’s happened to Tyler Breeze being outright acknowledged as a major part of their program, I think they’re being protective with him. With any luck, Triple H is doing everything in his power to keep him in NXT, knock on wood. Certainly a world where the Dream never has to leave the black and gold brand is one I’d like to live in. And maybe we don’t deserve a world where the Dream is the undisputed #1 in NXT… but it oughta happen anyway.