Despite how dominant Kevin Owens has been since his debut on NXT, his title reign was bound to come to an end sometime. The inevitable happened during The Beast in the East special event where he lost to Finn Balor, who will now represent the best of the best for WWE’s developmental brand.
Just the same, though, Balor will eventually drop that title to someone else. So who should that person be?
First off, we can rule out Kevin Owens. He has already become a main roster member and for him to spend the next few months bouncing back and forth only to regain the title be back at square one is a step back. There are bigger and better things for Owens, which may or may not start with him acquiring the United States Championship at Battleground. One way or another, Owens has proven himself to be above NXT—as good as that show is—so don’t expect to see the belt change hands in the obligatory rematch.
Also, we can assume that no other main roster talent will drop down for this spot. Is it possible? Sure. However, it’s unlikely. Folks like Tyson Kidd, Adam Rose and Titus O’Neil have spent time in NXT but none of them were given the titles as they are better served around the waists of the people who need the boost for their future. Really, Sin Cara is the only exception to the rule, but he wasn’t doing much on Raw or SmackDown anyway and his pairing with Kalisto made sense.
Looking at the current crop of NXT stars and their relative positions in the company, there are basically five names that stand out as the top candidates who could end up taking the belt away from Balor:
By default, Zayn has to be on this list considering his status as one of the most popular people in NXT. Outside of that, there isn’t much else that would point to him being the one for the job. Face vs. face matches do occur and it’s not out of the realm of possibility for him to defeat Balor in that scenario, but Zayn is another person who may have already reached the breaking point for being in developmental. It’s hard to imagine that the WWE Universe would disagree with moving him up to the main roster once he has healed up, so if that’s a possibility, that’s probably what is going to happen more so than him sticking around NXT.
He has his critics and he is nowhere near the top draw of the brand, but Baron Corbin is still coming off as a commodity. No longer undefeated, it’s not as much of a guarantee as it would be if he still hadn’t lost, although there has to be some sort of plan for him down the line. If he continues to improve and is booked as a particularly tough guy for the next few weeks, he may be the person WWE is setting up for a title reign. Clearly, he’s not ready for the main roster, so it isn’t even in question whether or not he’ll still be part of NXT. The more his mean streak comes out, the better his chances are to take the belt.
Breeze is someone who appears to be in the Dolph Ziggler position where he is very good and everyone can recognize that, but he just doesn’t get that big opportunity. Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, so the more time that goes by with him being pushed aside, the harder it is to imagine that he will ever win the NXT Championship. Still, do you remember a time where people said that about Mark Henry and Christian? What about when it seemed as though Kane would only have his one 24 hour title reign and never have a legitimate run with the belt? It doesn’t always happen for everyone, but stranger things have occurred, so Breeze isn’t totally out of the running.
Now that Samoa Joe is locked into WWE, the chances of him holding a title have increased drastically. Beforehand, I would have assumed it would essentially be an edict that he couldn’t win the championship for fear of giving too much praise to a relative outsider, but now that he’s a company man, I would be surprised if it wasn’t an edict that he has to win the belt. Despite how problematic TNA is and how poorly it’s viewed by most people, there still is a certain level of credibility that Joe has that most others don’t. He’s a former world champion (sort of, now that PWI has changed TNA’s status) who was a major player in the second biggest company for years. Whenever someone jumped from WCW to WWE or vice versa back during the Monday Night Wars, if they were a big enough name in one, they tended to be treated as a big name in the other. Obviously, the crossover between WWE and TNA is nowhere near as important as its predecessor was, but there have already been signs that he has more weight to his name than others. That being the case, if WWE wants to have Balor move up to the main roster, Joe could end up being the one trusted to be the top star of the brand and to carry that championship with a certain level of predisposed clout. You may or may not be a fan of Samoa Joe, but the concept of him as the champion of developmental doesn’t sound ludicrous, does it?
I have a sneaking suspicion about Itami being the next person to hold this title. Perhaps it’s just my mind playing tricks on me, but I keep thinking that Itami could turn heel when he comes back. He’s been a babyface in his entire run in NXT so far, so it isn’t as though he switches sides often like Big Show, but I keep feeling like he has a bit of a jerk character in him that’s waiting to come out. Balor came into NXT alongside Itami and they’ve worked together as allies as well as fought each other and I would not be surprised to see a typical “friend turns on friend” thing happen with these two. Hopefully, if WWE goes that route, it doesn’t feel like a tired retread of Owens vs. Zayn, as that would just be lazy writing. Itami’s injury has put him on the shelf, but when he returns, Balor will have probably been champion long enough that a change could be imminent and there may not be anyone better suited to take him down at that time.