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WWE Developmental Champions (1999-2019)

posted Apr 6, 2019, 5:31 PM by Wrestling Scout
Last night at NXT Takeover: New York, a new NXT champion was crowned.  Although this is the 17th reign of a champion of NXT, it is only the latest it long lineage of champions at the top of the various developmental territories.

It has been twenty years since the WWF first set up formal arrangements with regional groups.  While they had worked with Jerry Jarrett's USWA, Paul Heyman's ECW, Jim Cornette's SMW and groups over throughout the 1990s, the system was really started by Jim Ross in 1999.  While these groups had varying levels of success, most had a featured champion and many times this champion was someone with a developmental contract and was being groomed for bigger things down the road.  Some relationships like those with IWA (in Puerto Rico) were more about sending a new talent somewhere to gain some experience and others like those with Les Thatcher's HWA (Heartland Wrestling Association) were about sending in extra talent they did not know what to do with trying to evaluate them.

Power Pro Wrestling
Image result for kurt angle power pro    In 1999, Randy Hales hooked up with the WWF and was able to secure young talent for his Power Pro Wrestling company.  Their initial champion, Baldo (Albert) upset Memphis legend Jerry Lawler.  Over the course of the next two years, they used a mixture of veterans and young talent.  It was the place where Dok Hendrix returned to the Michael Hayes identity with an update.  It was where Fatu became J.R. Smooth, the predecessor of Rikishi.  It was where Wolfie D had his last run, where Kurt Angle had his first and where men like Steve Bradley and Rico Constantino first turned some heads and seemed like future superstars.

Memphis Championship WrestlingImage result for regal mcw
    In 2000, the WWE began a relationship with Terry Golden and their top title, the Southern Heavyweight title, was brought in with Jerry Lawler holding it.  Beyond Lawler, the company gave the title to a mix of veterans like Lord Steven Regal and Lawler as well as up-and-comers like K-Krush (R-Truth), Joey Abs and Steve Bradley.

Ultimate Pro-Wrestling
Image result for upw samoa joe    The California-based company run by Rick Bassman had developmental ties to the WWF for a short time.  Their first champion, Sylvester Terkay, enjoyed a short run in the WWE's ECW reboot.  Among their other champions were The Prototype (John Cena), Samoa Joe and Christopher Daniels also enjoyed title runs.  The parallel careers of John Cena and Samoa Joe since their early training together have long had fans clamoring for the two to meet in WWE.

Ohio Valley Wrestling 
    The Louisville-based company started by Nightmare Danny Davis in 1993 and Jim Cornette saw it as the perfect opportunity for him to leave the grind of the WWF schedule.  While it was just one of several developmental territories at first by 2002 it was clearly the best run and became the final step before coming up to the main roster.  Like the other territories, OVW used established talent like Bill Dundee and Rip Rogers (the latter became a highly respected trainer) as early champions.  Cornette tended to revolve the top title around the "big four" of the company Nick Dinsmore (10 reigns), Rob Conway (5 reigns), The Damaja (4 reigns) and Doug Basham (4 reigns) while mixing in impressive looking, but green talent like The Prototype (John Cena) and Leviathan (Batista).  The relationship between the WWF/WWE and OVW was strained at times and they frequently misused the talent that came up.  
Image result for cm punk ovw        After Cornette slapped a trainee (the future Santino), the WWE removed him from his position and a rotating cast of bookers tried their hand at it including Paul Heyman, Al Snow and Greg Gagne.  Their focal point shifted with them focusing on competitors like Brent Albright, Paul Burchill and Jay Bradley who never found success on them main roster.  The one standout, CM Punk, climbed his way up the ladder in OVW and then on the main roster.  Cody Runnels (Cody Rhodes) enjoyed a one-day reign in 2007 shortly before being brought up to the main roster.  By 2008, the WWE decided to cut ties with the company and focus on the new FCW group in Florida.

Deep South Wrestling
Image result for deep south wrestlingA relaunch of Jody "The Assassin" Hamilton's Deep South Wrestling in 2005 meant creating a new title.  While it was never held by anyone as notable as Tommy Rich, Mr. Wrestling II or The Assassin himself, it was held by The Miz upon its inception.  Other holders included Roughhouse O'Reilly (Konnor of Ascension), Big Vito and Bradley Jay.  When the group relaunched after the WWE pulled out their talent, they held a tournament that was won by Austin Creed.  Creed was their champion until they completely closed a few months later.  Three years later, he would sign with the WWE and became better known as Xavier Woods of the New Day.  Deep South does not have a favorable legacy as their featured talent did not make waves on the main roster while their underneath talent included Kenny Omega and Brian Cage (who went on to great success internationally).

FCW (2007-2012)
The WWE concentrated its talent and sent them to Tampa, Florida under the direction of Steve Keirn over the course of several months as they broke ties with Deep South Wrestling and Ohio Valley Wrestling.  The lineage of FCW Heavyweight champions, like previous development territories, is a mixture of washouts and success stories.  Several like Sheamus O'Shaunessy, Drew McIntyre and Jake Hagar (Jack Swagger) have achieved success on the main roster after undergoing some makeovers.  There are also plenty like Heath Miller (Heath Slater), Rick Victor (Viktor of Ascension), Mike Dalton (Tyler Breeze), Joe Hennig (Curtis Axel) and Bo Rotundo (Bo Dallas) who wore the title but went on to be just undercard talent on the main roster.  The most notable of all of these champions is Seth Rollins who went on to success in NXT and is now a top star on the main roster.  In 2012, the WWE decided to rebrand FCW as NXT, a brand they had established with a "rookie" TV show and a short-lived stable.

Related imageThe transition to NXT as their sole developmental brand fairly quick and with the creation of the WWE Network, it gave a regular outlet for this talent to be seen.  The brand has evolved, but is, according to many, the best and most consistent product that the WWE is putting out.  While there is a wealth of talent, they are careful not to oversaturate the brand and stars tend to move up to the main roster (where they are used well or used poorly).  The champions have by and large been individuals with reps from New Japan, Ring of Honor, the independents or elsewhere.  Only two, Big E (Langston) and Bo Dallas, are purely WWE products.  The difference between NXT and previous developmental groups is that their champions have gone on to be crucial superstars are the main roster.

Seth Rollins (Tyler Black)
Big E Langston
Bo Dallas
Adrian Neville (Pac)
Sami Zayn (El Generico)
Kevin Owens (Kevin Steen)
Finn Bálor (Prince Devitt)
Bobby Roode
Drew McIntyre
Andrade "Cien" Almas (La Sombra)
Aleister Black (Tommy End)
Tommaso Ciampa
Johnny Gargano