Already in its third year of existence, we’ve seen a fair share of MOTY candidates, underrated gems, and some show-stealers for the championship with so few reigns.
10. Johnny Gargano vs Kushida (Takeover: Vengeance Day)
In his record-setting third reign as champion, Johnny Takeover defended the title against talented journeyman Kushida this past February that accomplished two things. One was it established Gargano’s reign as legit and not just him keeping it warm, and two being that although many vie for the NXT Championship, the North American title is a good stepping stone for those looking to be top dog. Kushida and Gargano made magic in the ring and continued to set the standard for title matches in NXT.
9. 5-Man Ladder Match (Takeover: XXX)
When Keith Lee won the NXT Championship from Adam Cole, he relinquished his North American Title that set up a five-man ladder match at the following Takeover. Damian Priest, Bronson Reed, Johnny Gargano, Velveteen Dream, and Cameron Grimes were announced as participants. It was interesting to see how a ladder match could play out without an actual audience, but the five made lemonade with the lemons that were given to them. It had what every ladder match can include: high spots, brutal hard-hitting action, and seeing five men demolish themselves all for the glory of being champion. The common factor between this ladder match and our number 1 pick is that both involve Velveteen Dream (who unfortunately ruined his own career).
8. Bronson Reed vs Johnny Gargano (NXT on USA, 5/18/2021)
Continuing the tradition of having a workhorse title for your promotion, all eyes were on NXT back in May when Bronson Reed finally got his moment against three-time champ Gargano. Contested in a steel cage match, both men put on an incredible performance in a reverse “David versus Goliath”-like match. Gargano tried his best to take advantage of Reed’s power and strength, while Reed built momentum against the elusive wrestling machine that is Johnny Gargano. It was a great main event on a random episode of NXT that felt like a Takeover-esque match.
7. Velveteen Dream vs Peter Dunne vs Roderick Strong (Takeover: Toronto II)
Another day, another Dream. Despite real-life situations, Velveteen Dream was quite possibly the most popular wrestler on NXT for the three years he was there. A homegrown talent rather than an indie journeyman, Dream capitalized on the sports entertainment aspect of pro wrestling and made a big name for himself. His match in August 2019 defending his North American Title against not one, but two opponents aided his pursuit of being a main event player. The technical style of Dunne and the jaw-breaking style of Strong complimented Dream’s storytelling style perfectly in a match that, on paper, just looked like filler.
6. Johnny Gargano vs Ricochet (Takeover: Phoenix)
As previously mentioned in another article, Gargano wore a unique outfit to this Takeover that helped make this match memorable. Going into this match, Gargano was showing heelish tendencies since his attack on Aleister Black in late summer 2018. Ricochet, then North American champion, was in his sights as the two met in Phoenix. The high-flying Ricochet attempted to counteract Gargano’s hybrid techniques, but in the end, Gargano seized his first singles title in NXT. It also led to one of the best Takeover endings.
5. Ricochet vs Adam Cole (Takeover: Brooklyn IV)
The first year of the North American Title’s existence saw instant classics every time it was defended. Adam Cole BAYBAY! had his hands full with incumbent star Ricochet heading into Brooklyn that August. With Undisputed Era lurking around, Ricochet would have to do everything and anything to secure the title. A perfect blend of high spots and near-falls, the two made magic that hot night in Brooklyn…including a brutal superkick to Ricochet mid-moonsault. And that is Undisputed.
4. Leon Ruff vs Johnny Gargano (NXT on USA, 11/11/2020)
An interesting choice, yes, but the story behind it makes this match memorable. Gargano’s second reign as North American champion brought forth the ever-present discussion of his own ‘championship curse’. Losing a title mere one defense in, Gargano’s streak of bad luck would continue as up-and-coming gem Leon Ruff made a stunning performance and winning his first North American title.
3. Velveteen Dream vs Matt Riddle (Takeover: New York)
Takeover: New York saw an entire card of MOTY candidates with every match on the card for a title. In the second match of the night, new signee Matt Riddle went toe-to-toe with the popular Dream in a contest that saw creative counters, interesting spots, and a smart story of somewhat still green Velveteen Dream proving himself against an experienced grappler and MMA veteran. Of course, both wrestlers had some of the best ring attire that night, which adds some flavor to this being our third-place choice.
2. Keith Lee vs Dominik Dijakovic (Takeover: Portland)
This was a tough choice to make. Do we put this as our number 1 or number 2? Regardless, what. a. match. In the opening match, THE OPENING MATCH, of Portland, we saw two big men duke it out like it was Godzilla vs King Kong. The Limitless One and the now Limited Ring-time One put on a spectacle that saw spots no big men should be able to do. Mauro Ranallo’s commentary was on form as his reactions added to the momentous occasion as both grapplers proved to NXT why they belong on the big stage. In the end, we saw a winner and an almost winner. It didn’t matter who won: we were witnessing greatness.
1. 6-Man Ladder Match (Takeover: New Orleans)
What else did you expect? Our number 1 choice is the ladder match for the inaugural NXT North American Championship. Another opening match, this match went on to show the WWE Universe why a new NXT championship should matter. Both EC3 and Ricochet were debuting, Cole was set to defend the NXT Tag Team titles later that night, Sullivan and Dain were monsters looking for their moment, and Dream had his own priorities. It was unpredictable mayhem as in any ladder match, but the spots themselves were unique. We sure got a treat that night in New Orleans.
Like our choices? Sound off in the comments on some of your favorite NXT NA title matches!