Rather than letting them get lost in the shuffle this year, we're adding them to the mix and I figured I would give them a special highlight in a separate post. There are so many talented people on the roster, but if you're going to place your money on success, these are the top 10 people I think you should be betting on to have a great year in 2016.
|The Perfect 10|
10. Tye Dillinger
I couldn't make a list like this and not include The Perfect 10, now could I? Dillinger is the type of person who is almost assured not to make anywhere near as big of a splash as some of the other people on this list, but that doesn't mean he also won't receive a big upgrade. In 2015, he went from being the lesser half of a jobber tag team with Jason Jordan to going out on his own, getting a better gimmick for himself, and getting the crowd behind him. I think we'll be seeing a transition from him as enhancement talent to a solidified midcarder on the brand who may or may not even touch main event status depending on how many people get called up to the main roster. Dillinger's someone who has a lot of staying power and I think WWE knows that.
9. Hideo Itami
Once he's fully healed up and he returns to action, Hideo Itami needs to make an impact to prove that he was worth all the hype. When he originally debuted, people went insane, but he quickly was pushed to the side in favor of Finn Balor and other talents. He was criticized for being nothing but kicks and for not having much character (primarily because English isn't his first language and he was still struggling to learn it—can you blame him, considering how stupid this language can be at times?) but also because he just didn't have enough time to really get a firm foothold on what to do in NXT before he was injured.
On his second go-around, Itami needs to step up his game considerably, and I think he will. I expect him to have spent this time learning English better and planning out what he wants to do with his character more, as well as getting to learn our culture better to get a firmer grasp on what might appeal to us. Several people will be called up to the main roster and when this brand is in need of babyfaces at the top, I feel Itami will be one of those men that will help fill the void, feuding for the NXT Championship against some of the big heels.
8. Nia Jax
Speaking of big heels, there's potential for Nia Jax to be the biggest one in the women's division if she can also improve quickly. The next few months will test her quite a bit, but if she can get through them and learn her way around the ropes, WWE could have a massive star in her. She looks like a beast that could take down anybody in her division as she dwarfs all of the girls just standing next to them. She's incredibly new, though, so while that means we haven't seen much from her yet in terms of positives, that means we also haven't seen how far her negatives go. Nia Jax could prove to be a gamble that either pays off a ton or ends up being a total bust, but I have to imagine that she'll be worth the while in the end.
Someone who has an edge over Nia Jax, though, is Asuka. These two are clearly set to feud with each other soon and I think Asuka is going to be the one looking the strongest in the grand scheme of things. So far, Asuka has yet to lose, and that will undoubtedly change against Nia Jax at some point (probably their first match), but Asuka will look tough for hanging with her over repeated matches and getting a few wins here and there. This will help humanize Asuka's character a bit so the fans don't get too tired of seeing her just toy with the likes of Emma and Dana Brooke. Everyone loves an underdog, so when she's up against someone like Nia Jax, the crowd will be rooting for her even more.
Once Bayley makes the trip up to the main roster, look out for Asuka to be the de facto top babyface in the women's division in NXT.
6. Samoa Joe
Poor Samoa Joe didn't get his title reign in 2015 as many expected, but unless he comes up to the main roster beforehand, I think it's almost a guarantee that he'll be holding the strap at some point in 2016. He's too big of a name not to be the champion for at least a few months, isn't he? I actually thought that there was a good chance he could have defeated Finn Balor at NXT TakeOver: London, but since that didn't come to pass, NXT TakeOver: Dallas seems to be the next best fit. For a while, I've been thinking that a title change is guaranteed to happen there, and that we could very easily see a Fatal 4-Way match featuring Joe, Baron Corbin and Apollo Crews all getting a shot at Balor's title. If that happens, Joe could easily steal the victory from someone like Crews, setting up a new feud going into the post-WrestleMania season.
5. Baron Corbin
The Lone Wolf started off 2015 as someone who would only have quick squash matches and was somewhat impressive, but not enough to really sink your teeth into. Towards the end of the year, he proved that he has a much brighter future than many of us would have been willing to admit earlier on. Even though I think there's a chance Corbin doesn't win the NXT Championship in 2016 over someone like Samoa Joe, I think he'll end up making even more improvements to the point where he could actually get called up to the main roster at the end of the year or walk into 2017 as the biggest name on the brand. This is going to be a big testing period for Corbin to see if he can either be trusted with a lot of responsibility and succeed or if he'll crumble under the pressure, and I'm betting that he'll be able to pull it off.
4. Chad Gable & Jason Jordan
These guys turned crap into gold and we love them for it. The idea of them winning the NXT Tag Team Championship isn't a matter of "if", it's a matter of "when" and all signs point to that time frame being "next" as well. Soon enough, they'll receive a title shot against Dash & Dawson, and they'll defeat them, I guarantee it. Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady seem to be perpetually used as the guys who set up other people to look stronger, so it's sad to not have them on this list, but that just helps solidify my expectations even more that Gable and Jordan will be winning the straps. If Enzo and Cass didn't dethrone Dash & Dawson, then are we really supposed to expect The Hype Bros or Blake and Murphy to do it? Absolutely not. Gable and Jordan weren't much to talk about for a lot of 2015, but at the tail end of the year, made names for themselves. 2016 will be very good to them, I'm sure.
3. Finn Balor
The current NXT champion is someone that you'd have to include on a list like this, as it's hard to imagine him not continuing to do well. Two things that I think stand in his way, though, are that he's clearly main roster bound (which will cut down on his time on the brand in comparison to some others) and that to bring him up, he has to fall down a tad by dropping the NXT Championship. Considering the amount of injuries going on right now in WWE, they might want to call him up sooner than I would have originally imagined, and he could be gearing up for an appearance on Monday Night Raw sometime around WrestleMania rather than my original prediction of the summer.
Balor is just too talented and too popular to expect anything less than a great year from, if you think about it. The only thing stopping him from becoming even better is if he were to succumb to some kind of an injury, which hopefully won't happen. I'm looking forward to seeing him feud with The Wyatt Family in particular, which will be a massive boost to his career and yet another accolade to his WWE tenure.
Make no mistake about it, when it comes to the women's division in NXT, it's far different from the one on the main roster and just as important as the men. Because of her stellar performance in what I voted as the best match of the year from NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn, there's no doubt in my mind that Bayley will be the #1 or #2 featured player of everybody in NXT for 2016. This woman is a star and her popularity is only growing, which means she's not taking a backseat to anybody for months.
Eventually, when she does get moved up to the main roster, it will be when WWE feels as though there are enough women in NXT to make up for the gaping hole that she'll leave behind. When she does that, she'll go straight to being a major player on Raw and SmackDown and could even possibly win the Divas Championship in 2016 as well.
1. Apollo Crews
If you want to place your bets on anybody making an impact this year from NXT, double down on Apollo Crews. WWE obviously loves him (and with good reason) and it's only a matter of time before he not only becomes the top babyface on the brand, but also the NXT champion. As I mentioned before, I expect to see Finn Balor drop the title at NXT TakeOver: Dallas and to start gearing up for a main roster run. This is where I think Crews will be forced to step up and take Balor's spot. He'll feud with Samoa Joe, eventually beating him for the championship at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn #2 before SummerSlam. Then, he's either carrying that belt until 2017, or losing it at the end of the year to Baron Corbin or a heel that we can't see coming yet. Either way, I expect Crews to be given a huge push this year, judging by the way WWE's handled him so far.
You might be wondering why Sami Zayn isn't on this list. Well, I think he's in a special class on his own where he's not going to be in NXT much in 2016, as he'll be called up to the main roster sooner than later. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised at all if he made it official by appearing in the Royal Rumble match and sticking around after that. The NXT return was a red herring, in my belief, to get the fans to think that he wouldn't be showing up there. That way, when he does make his entrance, the crowd will pop considerably louder than if he had already been on the main roster for a few weeks. Sami Zayn will have a great year, but I just don't think it will be in NXT, as it will be on the main roster in WWE.
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