10. Sami Zayn
Sami Zayn is the fifth men’s champion in WWE NXT history, as his reign began on Dec. 11, 2014 with an emotional victory over Adrian Neville at NXT TakeOver: R Evolution.
The appropriately-named TakeOver’s main event took place more than five years ago, yet it remains recognized as one of the best matches in NXT history. It’s hard to come up with too many more emotional babyface title triumphs in wrestling during that decade than Zayn’s win over Neville, who was the longest-reigning champion in the company’s history at that time.
Neville’s 286-day reign ended when Zayn put his career on the line to finally win the championship, as he had been thwarted by Neville’s cleverness multiple times.
Although Zayn celebrated his win at TakeOver: R Evolution with the locker room, the celebrations didn’t last long. His best friend Kevin Owens turned on him in one of the most famous turns of the decade, powerbombing Zayn onto the apron to begin their famous, long-running feud that extended to Raw.
Zayn’s reign was short, as he lost the title at the next TakeOver special to Owens. But his babyface chase has gone down in history and made it clear to WWE fans that he could be “money” as a face on the “main roster”. If only…
Nevertheless, Zayn had so many great moments in NXT. His matches with Neville were an absolute joy, and his NXT Arrival bout with veteran main roster star Cesaro was another one of the best matches in the brand’s history. It put Zayn on the map and really boosted NXT’s credibility as a whole.
He had so many great programs. Corey Graves, Tyler Breeze, Tyson Kidd…it truly was a different era in WWE, and Zayn was so vital in laying the foundations for WWE NXT’s later success.