This year was huge for WWE’s developmental program, NXT. From the rise of the Four Horsewomen to the epic feud between Kevin Owens and John Cena, no other wrestling promotion gained as much traction or attention this year as NXT.
Rather than the regular weekly programming featuring a pre-taped WWE NXT in front of the home crowd at Full Sail University, the last edition of WWE NXT on the WWE Network for the year was the first of a two-part retrospective of the best stories and moments from NXT in 2015. The special was hosted by Rich Brennan and Corey Graves.
- Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn feuding over the NXT Championship: Sami Zayn was the NXT Champion at the beginning of 2015, having won the strap from Adrian Neville in December of 2014, the same night that Kevin Owens debuted. Of course, the Zayn/Owens feud began in December and resulted in Kevin Owens winning the NXT Championship on February 11 at NXT TakeOver: Rival. Highlights of the match were shown on the year-end special.
- The rise of Hideo Itami: One of the biggest professional wrestling stars of Japan, Kenta Kobayashi — known simply as KENTA — was officially introduced to the NXT Universe with his new name in September of 2014. Firmly established as a top NXT contender right away, Itami won a tournament at WrestleMania Axxess (defeating Neville and Finn Balor along the way) to earn a spot in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania 31. His momentum was slowed, unfortunately, when he suffered a legitimate shoulder injury in May (reported by WWE.com as an attack by a mystery assailant) and has been unable to return to action since that time.
- No. 1 Contender’s Match — Finn Balor vs. Tyler Breeze: Originally scheduled as a Triple Threat featuring Hideo Itami, this match — which took place at NXT TakeOver: Unstoppable in May — was the match that set up the huge NXT Championship match at The Beast In The East in which Balor took the NXT title from Kevin Owens. Highlights of this match were shown on the special.
- NXT on the road: For the first time since it’s inception, the NXT brand left Florida and their home base at Full Sail University to get a taste of life on the road. Their very first tour was incredibly successful, and would be the first of many more mini-tours to come. The first tour also included a stop at the Arnold Sports Festival, where WrestleZone reports that Dana Brooke competed in the international fitness competition. Several dates for a NXT tour of the Midwest in 2016 are already sold out.
- Never before seen match — Neville vs. Cesaro: At the Arnold Sports Festival, referred to often as simply the “Arnold Classic,” Neville and Cesaro put on a much-talked-about match that never aired on NXT programming. Used to help plug an upcoming DVD release — NXT’s Greatest Matches, Vol. 1 — a portion of the match was shown for the first time during this NXT year-end review. The DVD is scheduled to be released in March.
- The “Four Horsewomen” emerge: Charlotte, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch and Bayley played a big part in 2015’s “Divas Revolution” by causing everyone to treat the NXT’s women’s division as something more than a gimmick or a beauty contest. By the end of the year, Charlotte, Sasha, and Becky would graduate to the WWE’s main roster, while Bayley has become the dominant force in NXT’s women’s division as the current NXT Women’s Champion.
- Ironman Match — Bayley vs. Sasha Banks: After an incredible match at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn in which Bayley took the title from Sasha Banks, the rematch was granted at NXT TakeOver: Respect, in a 30-minute “Ironwoman” Match. To up the ante, it also served as the first WWE or NXT live/PPV special headlined by a women’s match. The conclusion of the match was shown on the special.
- Rhyno, James Storm and Samoa Joe: In 2015, with all of the buzz created by the NXT product, a lot of wrestlers that had become established outside of the WWE were given a chance to show their talents under the WWE umbrella through NXT. Former WWE and ECW star Rhyno made a huge impact in NXT, and TNA stars James Storm and Samoa Joe used NXT to get their first real taste of the WWE Universe.
- NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn — Samoa Joe vs. Baron Corbin: Having finished up a feud with Kevin Owens, they set Samoa Joe up in a feud with up-and-comer Baron Corbin at the first NXT TakeOver to be recorded outside of Full Sail University. A portion of this match was shown during this Best of 2015 episode.
- US Open Challenge — Sami Zayn vs. John Cena: Although Sami Zayn had to go up to the main roster for this match on WWE Monday Night Raw, this bout gave even more credit to the NXT brand when its most popular star almost defeated the biggest name in the industry — all while wrestling with a dislocated shoulder. Highlights of the match were shown.
- Kevin Owens feuds with John Cena: After winning the NXT Championship from Sami Zayn, Owens debuted on WWE Raw by attacking John Cena. In arguably the most successful debut match in WWE history, Kevin Owens defeated John Cena in a non-title match at WWE Elimination Chamber, a portion of which was shown as part of this special.
This WWE NXT special can be streamed on-demand through the WWE Network. If you have a Hulu Plus subscription, you can this episode of NXT on-demand beginning Thursday. Part II of this NXT retrospective will air next week on the WWE Network.
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