Before becoming a multi-time world champion and first ballot WWE Hall of Famer, CM Punk was just another "local athlete" on an episode of Sunday Night Heat in May 2005. However, he actually stood out more than most local athletes do, likely because the company was aware of his potential and his buzz on the independent scene. If they weren't, the commentators wouldn't have said as such on commentary, so it was clear he was being groomed for greatness.
Interestingly enough, Punk wasn't signed to a developmental deal by WWE until that September, so this was merely a tryout for him (except in a televised setting) to see if he had what the company was looking for. I've never been the biggest Val Venis fan, but he was probably the perfect person for Punk to face in his unofficial WWE debut, as Venis had plenty of experience and could typically be counted on for a quality performance.
This past week, it was made official: Kenny Omega has signed with All Elite Wrestling. Admittedly, I thought there was a small chance he would go to WWE, but the more time passed, the more it became apparent that he was AEW bound. Thus, no one should be shocked by the news whatsoever. He can be the one the brand is built around, and who knows, maybe he'll wind up in WWE some day down the road.
I remember reading not too long ago that a match or two of Omega's from his WWE developmental days were available on the WWE Network, so coming off the announcement, I figured it was only fitting that I checked them out. This bout was from his time spent in Deep South Wrestling and took place on September 3, 2006. He took on Cru Jones in a quick exhibition, and although the entrances weren't televised, a pre-match promo from Omega was shown. It was evident even then that the guy had a presence about him that made him a star.
Although NXT UK didn't officially launch as a full-fledged brand and begin airing on the WWE Network weekly until October 2018, the United Kingdom competitors had been making the rounds in WWE for a lot longer than that. They popped up on Raw and 205 Live on occasion, but most notably, they had a home in NXT (and still do to this day).
Of course, it was the WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament in January 2017 that started it all. One bout during the tourney I remember being particularly impressed by was Pete Dunne vs. Mark Andrews, which took place in the semifinals. Although Dunne went over decisively and advanced to the next round, I was hoping for an eventual rematch, and luckily, it wasn't long before they did battle again on the Feb. 22 episode of NXT. That match was won by Dunne as well.
In April 2016, Bobby Roode and Kota Ibushi nearly broke wrestling Twitter when they both appeared in the audience at NXT TakeOver: Dallas. They were two of the hottest free agents in the business at that time, and of course, nobody shows up at a TakeOver without having some sort of involvement with the brand. Roode had just wrapped up his run in TNA, and shortly following WrestleMania weekend, he signed a deal with NXT. As for Ibushi, while he never ended up becoming a full-time competitor for NXT, he did take part in the first-ever Cruiserweight Classic that summer and made it all the way to the semifinals before losing to TJP.
Fast forward six months to an NXT show show on October 30. Having been to multiple NXT live events myself over the years (including one where Samoa Joe won the NXT Championship from Finn Balor), I can tell you that every house show NXT puts on is must-see because you never know what to expect. The black-and-yellow brand is known to surprise fans every now and again, and this night was no exception.
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