10. Lars Sullivan
Ah, the big, bad, ugly, Braun Strowman of NXT. Lars Sullivan got his start in NXT by murdering (not really) his tag team partners after losses. He would go on to receive the “Monster treatment:” squasing multiple guys at once, dispatching No Way Jose, looking big and scary at all times, etc. Unlike Strowman, though, Sullivan is billed not only as a freakazoid monster, but an intelligent freakazoid monster which is a pretty big diversion from the norm and is very interesting. Sullivan made his Takeover debut at Takeover: War Games against Kassius Ohno after Ohno requested the match from William Regal. What would be Sullivan’s biggest challenge to date, Ohno brought to fight to Sullivan, but it was mainly a showcase match to show that, like Braun Strowman, Lars Sullivan was not your usual lumbering monster. The higher ups are obviously very high on Sullivan and all signs are pointing to him either (1) getting an NXT Championship push; or (2) dispatched by an underdog babyface. Whichever it is, expect Lars Sullivan to be on many Takeovers this year and put in some solid performances.
9. Billie Kay and Peyton Royce
Ok, yeah, I know…they’re two superstars in one entry. There will be much more of this further into the list. Sue me! (Seriously, don’t, though. I’m a lawyer and you’ll lose. #LawyerClub). In all reality, though, Billie Kay and Peyton Royce literally go hand-in-hand. You don’t think of one without the other. The Iconic Duo have been a mainstay on NXT TV for the better part of 2 years, if not more, now. They’ve had big matches here and there, some championship opportunities, but they were mainly cannon fodder for the uppercard women like Asuka and Ember Moon. HOWEVER! With the departure of Asuka, Ruby Riott, Sonya Deville, Sarah Logan, Liv Morgan, and Mandy Rose, the NXT Women’s division is left devoid of numbers. With Ember Moon as champion in need of challengers, look to the veterans of the Iconic Duo to step up to the task while Kairi Sane and Shayna Baszler develop more as performers. As a pair, they’ve looked very formidable as a heel team on NXT TV lately and It was a shock that they weren’t brought up to the main roster, especially since they made 2 new NXT-based women’s stables on the main roster. But, that makes their main roster debut that much more anticipating. My bet is if there’s a Women’s Royal Rumble match, we’ll see these two make an appearance. Or perhaps they could vie for the rumored Women’s Tag Team Championships which may be coming soon.
ANOTHER STABLE! WOOOO! To hell with my rules!
SAnitY (wow that’s really annoying to type) was always an interesting act, but seemed to have no direction. I suppose that’s the general attitude of a stable based in pure chaos, but it was beginning to become stale. Then Takeover: Brooklyn III came around and we saw what they really could all do as performers. Alexander Wolfe had a breakout performance as an in-ring performer and Nikki Cross continued her growth into over-ness from being exciting and unpredictable (and absolutely bat-sh!t crazy). On that night, SAnitY captured the NXT Tag Team Championships from the then-undefeated Authors of Pain and finally had a purpose. Their celebration was cut short when reDragon came in and beat the ever-loving hell out of everyone and joining forces with Adam Cole (baybay). THEN came Takeover: War Games where SAnitY went to WAR (oh my GOD I’M FUNNY) with the Undisputed Era and the weird team of the Authors of Pain and Roderick Strong (by the way, what was with Roddy wearing the AoP gear? That was the deal with the entire month of November. Kurt wore the Shield gimmick, so did HHH. Weird. ANYWAY…). SAnitY shone in the match, specifically Killian Dain who went full on balls to the wall berserk. SAnitY lost the match, but solidified themselves as a top team in NXT. Also, Nikki Cross is awesome and should have incredible matches with Ember Moon and Kairi Sane all year.
7. Aleister Black
It’s no secret that this writer has a big ol’ man-crush on Aleister Black. Can you blame me? NO! NO, YOU CAN’T! Aleister Black is such a unique talent that we legitimately cannot be friends if you don’t dig him. Despite this, he comes in at only 7 on this list which is legitimately the upset of the year. Why’s this you ask? See what I said about Ember Moon before? Yeah, same applies to Aleister Black. Since exploding onto NXT TV at Takeover: Orlando (and delivering the kick that knocked some sense into Andrade “Cien” Almas) Aleister Black has not lost and has not had a bad Takeover match. Most recently, Black tore the house down at Takeover: War Games with the Velveteen Dream, further solidifying him as a top talent in NXT. Black is ending 2017 in the hunt to become #1 Contender for the NXT Championship with a massive match against Adam Cole (baybay) on NXT tonight. The winner will go on to face Johnny Gargano, Killian Dain, and the winner of Lars Sullivan vs. Roderick Strong in a Fatal Four Way to determine the #1 Contender. A fluke loss in this scenario will not hurt Aleister Black. In fact, his breakout of 2018 may not even come on NXT because, like I’ve said time and time again, PUT THIS MAN ON RAW ASAFP.
6. Kairi Sane
The Pirate Princess Elbow Dropped her way into our hearts as the winner of the inaugural Mae Young Classic. After defeating Shayna Baszler in the finals, Sane was the first woman from the tournament to be featured on NXT TV and was inserted into the Women’s Championship match at Takeover: War Games. Although that was a rather underwhelming Takeover debut, Sane showed throughout the tournament that she has the skill and charisma to be a major player in NXT. Even if you don’t buy into that, her flying elbow drop is undeniably the best in the game, indies or otherwise, and is a thing of beauty to see. She may need a couple of months to develop a bit more, but by 2018’s end Kairi Sane should be having excellent matches with Ember Moon, the Iconic Duo, and Nikki Cross.