It’s not a stretch to say that we’re currently experiencing the golden period of NXT. WWE’s developmental brand has been so successful that they recently spun off a UK territory. Success in NXT most certainly does not guarantee success on the main roster. Still, it can be used as a gauge of sorts to who WWE sees as their potential next big stars. In the star-studded rosters between these two developmental brands, there’s a lot of competition for call-ups to the main roster and best spots once they get there. Everyone wants to get to the top of the mountain, so let’s take a look at 10 who have the highest potential to do just that.
10. Kacy Catanzaro
When WWE first signed Kacy Catanzaro of American Ninja Warrior fame, it wasn’t the world’s most popular decision. Some felt the WWE just wanted her mainstream appeal and worried she was going to get shot right to the main roster without proper training.
This has proven untrue, as Catanzaro has spent the last year training in the performance center before having her first match in the Mae Young Classic. During the tournament, Catanzaro impressed, not just by knocking off Rena Gonzales, but by showing off her crazy athleticism. She had multiple replay worthy moments.
Right now, Catanzaro is green. She needs reps before she’s ready. When the time is right though, Catanzaro will be a force to be reckoned with on the WWE main roster.
If you’re going to talk about WWE’s most talented competitors at any level, Ricochet should have a spot on it. That’s especially true when looking at the current NXT roster, in which it feels like a bit of a sham that Ricochet isn’t NXT Champion.
The North American title is certainly a big deal, but Ricochet almost feels too big for it. He is easily one of the most entertaining in-ring performers we’ve ever seen. Whenever Ricochet enters the ring, we know that we’re in for a show. It’s the reason that Lucha Underground hung their hat on Ricochet, then known as Prince Puma, as their top face. WWE would be smart to do the same.
Although cruiserweights tend to get relegated to the side in WWE, Ricochet could be one of those transcendent competitors. He certainly has everything he needs in his tool belt.
8. Nikki Cross
This is hardly the first time someone has used an “unhinged” gimmick, and it will not be the last. What makes Nikki Cross different than say, the "Lunatic Fringe" Dean Ambrose, is how much she delights in her role. Cross is all-in at all times. She is unafraid to dial it up to 11, and because she commits so fully, it doesn’t feel forced. You can always tell when a wrestler is having fun, and it almost always leads to better performances from them.
This is a case where they should just let Cross do whatever she wants; she should write all her own promos and contribute to her own booking. She gets this character and what makes it work. It’s made for some of the most entertaining character work in WWE. That, plus her ability in the ring, she’s no joke.
7. Tommaso Ciampa
Has there ever been an NXT heel better than Tommaso Ciampa? Samoa Joe held that honor for a while, but Ciampa has long surpassed him. For months he didn’t even need to have theme music, his music was just the chorus of boos from the crowd.
As NXT Champion, Ciampa has not just been effective, he has been legendary.
WWE may have left ECW and hardcore in their past, but Ciampa still has a little bit of it in his soul. He’s not afraid to take things just a little bit too far. His mind games are second to none. The image of him waving the ambulance goodbye right after destroying Johnny Gargano is truly chilling.
6. Candice LeRae
When it comes to indie stars coming to NXT, Candice LeRae was as hot of a signing as any of the boys. It also seemed like an odd choice, as LeRae is known for something WWE doesn’t even allow.
LeRae made a name for herself on the indie circuit by facing men and holding her own against them. Her high-risk, high-reward style made up for her 5-foot-2 stature.
There is no intergender wrestling in WWE right now, and that seems unlikely to change any time soon. That means LeRae will have to find something else to distinguish herself from the rest of the very talented women on the roster. Once she finds her stride, she’ll be hard to keep down.
5. Toni Storm
It was hardly surprising when Toni Storm won this year’s Mae Young Classic tournament. She had been a heavy favorite from the very beginning after a stellar showing in the first one.
What was surprising, however, was the fact that Storm did not win the inaugural NXT UK Women’s Championship title. It seemed like she was the obvious choice for the small and young division. There are plenty of talented wrestlers in it, but none that really have Storm's name equity and her superstar persona.
If anything, it seems like they may be setting up for Storm to challenge, not for the NXT Women’s Championship, but for the NXT UK Women’s Championship. She will likely have the championship within a few months and go on to establish the brand. Once she gets called up to wrestle on Raw or SmackDown, her ceiling will be unstoppable.
4. Rhea Ripley
Who was the inaugural NXT UK Women’s Champion? It was none other than Rhea Ripley, the 22-year-old Australian. She had a major change of attitude between the first and second Mae Young Classic Tournaments. It did her well, as she got to the semi-finals before losing to Io Shirai. That change of attitude also helped her capture the title, and for the time being, she’s showing she can run that division.
Beyond just being a bully mean-girl character, Ripley brings more to the table. She has a chip on her shoulder and knows how to convey that with every single movement she makes. Her heel work has been miles better than her time as a face. It shows that given a solid storyline, Ripley is capable of really taking a character to the next level.
Who knows how long she’ll hold onto the NXT UK Women’s Championship, but when she does lose it, it won’t be the last we see of Ripley.
3. Pete Dunne
The current United Kingdom Champion also has the distinction of being the longest reigning champion of the current era. Passing 500 days in October, Dunne cemented himself in the WWE record books.
Beyond having a great championship defense streak, Dunne is a special kind of wrestler. He’s the kind of wrestler than only comes around once in a long time. There’s a charisma about Dunne that’s potent — he is a master of the little mannerisms and expressions in the ring that tell a larger story. He captures the audience from the moment he walks out on stage and doesn’t let them go the whole match.
In recent months, this has caused a shift in his character from heel to tweener and now solidly face. That range is worth noting, as it will allow him to mold his character into whatever he needs. Right now, Dunne could challenge Brock Lesnar and it would be 100% believable to his fearless, no-holds barred attitude.
2. Bianca Belair
Rounding out the women of NXT and NXT UK, Bianca Belair is possibly the best athlete in the performance center. Need proof? She was the MVP of the NXT Combine in 2017. Or, you can just watch her in the ring because she is incredibly impressive. Belair’s character hasn’t quite found its footing, but her ring work is stellar. What Belair needs is a great story that she can sink her teeth into, or maybe a partner in crime that will help her feel comfortable on the mic. She’s already in contention for the NXT Women’s Championship and she’s only been on the show regularly for a little over a year. Oh, and did we mention: she’s un.da.feat.ed.
1. Velveteen Dream
The reboot of WWE Tough Enough was a huge success or a hilarious failure, depending on who you ask. The two winners were let go of their Performance Center contracts without debuting on NXT, but several of the losers have made a splash of their own. On that list is Patrick Clark, now known as the Velveteen Dream.
Not only has the 23-year-old taken to wrestling with a crazy fast learning curve, he’s exhibited creativity beyond many wrestling vets. The Velveteen Dream character is so engaging, so mesmerizing, that he steals the show no matter who he’s up against. Over the past couple of years, he was involved in some of the best programs NXT delivered, if not the driving force. He has star written all over him, and he knows it full well.