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Ask 411 Wrestling: Who Is The Best Wrestler In The History of NXT?

May 24, 2019 | Posted by Ryan Byers
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Welcome guys, gals, and gender non-binary pals, to Ask 411 Wrestling. I am your party host, Ryan Byers, and I am here to answer some of your burning inquiries about professional wrestling.

If you have one of those queries searing a hole in your brain, feel free to send it along to me at [email protected]. Don’t be shy about shooting those over – the more, the merrier.

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Uzoma does it himself:

Following NXT Takeover: New York where he had yet another highly acclaimed bout and becoming the first NXT Triple Crown Champion, is Johnny Gargano, perhaps, the best NXT Superstar ever?

To consider somebody the best wrestler in the history of NXT, I think that they have to have won the brand’s main championship, which means that there are fifteen contenders for the designation of best ever:

Seth Rollins, Big E Langston, Bo Dallas, Adrian Neville, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, Finn Balor, Samoa Joe, Shinsuke Nakamura, Bobby Roode, Drew McIntyre, Andrade Almas, Aleister Black, Tommaso Ciampa, and Johnny Gargano

I think that you can eliminate Rollins, Langston, and Dallas immediately. Though they all have their good points as performers, they were on top of NXT at a time when it was far more of a pure developmental territory than it is the hybrid developmental territory/WWE take on Ring of Honor that it is now. As a result, their list of opponents wasn’t as good, so they couldn’t have matches that were nearly as impressive as some of the later NXT Champions.

Though NXT started to feel a little bit more like its modern-day-self when Adrian Neville held the title, it was still dialed back a little bit from its current level, as Bo Dallas was still hanging around in the title picture, as was Brodus Clay of all people. Neville probably could’ve fared better had he joined NXT a couple of years later.

Aleister Black is another talented guy who is easy to eliminate from the list. He only managed to have one successful title defense while champion, and it was a good though still less-than-epic encounter with Lars Sullivan.

If Black has to go on that basis, then McIntyre, Nakamura, and Zayn have to be eliminated as well, because they have the dubious distinction of never successfully defending the NXT Championship after winning it.

After that initial culling of over half the field, we’re left with a more competitive group of seven: Owens, Balor, Joe, Roode, Almas, Ciampa, and Gargano.

Others may have differing opinions, but, of those seven, I think that Roode is the easiest to knock out of contention. He’s a talented wrestler, don’t get me wrong, but his matches were probably the least consistently great (though none of them were bad) and, whether this is fair or not, his less-than-stellar run on the main roster makes his NXT accomplishments seem all the less impressive retroactively.

I’m going to knock Almas out as well. He had three excellent matches as NXT Champion or number one contender to the belt, but two out of those three matches involved Gargano, making one wonder if it’s really Andrade who took those matches to another level.

This is where things start to get pretty equal, to the point that if you argued any of the five remaining men are the best of the bunch and I wouldn’t unequivocally tell you that you’re wrong. However, of the five, I’m probably going to go with . . .

Johnny Gargano. (Yeah, that’s right, I just took a REALLY long walk to get back to where the question started.

Everybody left on the list has had some excellent matches in NXT, but Gargano edges them out in my mind because not only does he have a Wrestling Observer-rated five star match (against Almas at Takeover: Philadelphia) but he also has a five-and-a-half star match from the Observer against Adam Cole at the 2019 New York Takeover. Nobody else has those credentials in NXT, and when you combine them with plenty of other ****+ bouts on his resume, Gargano is pretty well untouchable.

Don’t get me wrong, there are other guys who we examined, including Shinsuke Nakamura and Finn Balor, who have had numerous better matches than what Gargano has had in NXT, but, if you’re comparing NXT career to NXT career, Gargano takes the cake.

Tell me I’m okay, Patrick:

I’ve heard that, as a precursor to buying WWF, Vince Jr was put in charge of booking the IC title picture by his dad. When exactly was this? And did his tenure in charge of the division show any major changes from what had gone before?

I’d be interested in seeing a source on this one, because honestly I’ve never heard it before and couldn’t find any reference to it in doing research for this article.

For what it’s worth, Vincent K. McMahon (a.k.a. Vince Jr., though he reportedly hates that name) was given a best of a “test run” by his father in promoting before the WWWF was sold to him, but it doesn’t involve the Intercontinental Title as far as I know.

Instead, Vinny Mac was told by his father to go promote shows for him in Bangor, Maine, which at that time was the northernmost city in the WWWF’s territory. This was in 1971. When the younger McMahon did well in Bangor, he was eventually allowed to expand his operations to the south and eventually purchase the entire operation in 1982.

Richard U. knows how to get to Sesame Street:

There are so many great wrestlers and personalities whose name starts with the letter “V!” Rod VAN Dam. Big VAN VADER. VERNE Gagne. The VON Erichs. Greg VALENTINE. Jimmy VALIANT. VINCE McMahon. VINCE Russo. VAMPIRO. VAL VENIS. VIRGIL. VAN Hammer.

Well, maybe I’m stretching “Great” with those last three.

What’s your favorite letter of the wrestling alphabet?

Hey, don’t sell Val Venis short. The gimmick was a bit limiting and probably kept him from going as far as he could have otherwise, but he was a really solid in-ring performer. I think that if there was an alternate universe in which he and Edge switched characters at the beginning of their WWF careers, he could have gone just as far as Mr. Copeland did.

That being said, I think that I’m going to have to pick “K” as my favorite letter of the pro wrestling alphabet, thanks to such entries as . . .

KATSUYORHI Shibata

KURT Angle

KIKUTARO

KONNAN

KAMALA

KENTA KOBASHI

KARL Anderson

The KLIQ

KOTA Ibushi

KEN Shamrock

KID KASH

KENSUKE Sasaki

KINGS of Wrestling

KAZUCHIKA Okada

KAIENTAI Deluxe

Toshikai KAWADA

Awesome KONG

KEVIN Sullivan

KAIRI Sane

KENNY Omega

KUSHIDA

KOLT KABANA

And so on . . .

IMissMarkingOut has a question about one of the reasons that he may no longer be able to mark out:

Is kayfabe really dead and is it necessary for pro wrestling to thrive or at least survive?

For the longest time, fans have known that it’s a work and non-fans know it to be “fake”, but like with any show or movie, we know to suspend disbelief. We’re all still capable of being invested in a character or story and even marking out for moments. It seems casual fans are less critical and it’s more of a catch 22 for the rest of us.

Yes, kayfabe is really dead, as wrestlers are giving interviews to mainstream media outlets all the time commenting on the true nature of the professional wrestling business and even WWE is releasing official documentaries in which wrestlers speak about historical events while totally out of character. You don’t get much more kayfabe-defeating than that.

Is kayfabe necessary for professional wrestling to thrive?

No, I don’t think that it is. We’ve got direct proof of that, because the wrestling industry has openly acknowledged what it is for over twenty-five years, and that period encompasses the mid-to-late 1990s, when wrestling had its last true boom period. If kayfabe was necessary to the success of professional wrestling, then that explosion of popularity never would have happened.

That will do it for this week’s installment of the column. We’ll return in seven days, and, as always, you can contribute your questions by emailing [email protected].

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Ask 411 Wrestling, Ryan Byers