WWE NXT: All 26 Champions in Brand’s History, Ranked

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11. Samoa Joe

Samoa Joe walked into WWE NXT in May 2015 as arguably the leader of this age of outside-the-company signings. While Kevin Owens, Finn Balor and Sami Zayn had been part of this, all took on different identities and had to reestablish themselves in front of a new audience. This wasn’t the case for Joe, who walked in with his name and as a recognizable figure.

It took the Samoan Submission Machine seven months to get a chance at the NXT Championship, and another five months to actually claim the title. He did so at an NXT live event, defeating Finn Balor.

Joe’s reign took off afterward, taking down Balor in a Steel Cage match and entering a grueling feud with Shinsuke Nakamura for the next six months. Fantastic microphone work was done here, and he put on a few good matches with Nakamura. None of them were standout classics, but quality one-on-ones that eventually put the King of Strong Style over.

The problem with Joe’s reign was he won the NXT Championship twice, becoming the first Superstar to do so. That’s a great accomplishment to have on his résumé, but it lasted 14 days. NXT only set it up to have Nakamura go over at a live event in Osaka, Japan. It was an inevitable but disappointing thud.

Joe still goes down as one of the strongest NXT Champions, but had a useless second run. If not for that, it may have moved him up.