WWE’s developmental brand, NXT, has a completely different staff of writers, producers, and even upper management than the WWE. It’s not surprising then that it can be hard to transition to the main roster once WWE decides to call up NXT stars. The environment is completely different and there may not be a spot open at the top. Some struggle to make the jump, whether due to booking, writing, or something else. Others find the transition to be beneficial and find themselves in a larger, or more enjoyable, role on the main roster. Today we’re running through the best and worst of NXT transitions.
5. Best: Carmella
This second-generation wrestler did not seem to have a very high ceiling when she came into NXT as Enzo and Cass’ manger. As Alexa Bliss once said about Carmella: she was simply an accessory. So when she came up to the main roster shortly after the tag team, there weren’t high hopes for her. She won Money in the Bank under questionable circumstances, but boy did she make the most out of it.
Carmella became a credible champion and an incredibly entertaining character.
Now, as a face, she’s doing some of the best work of her career, and clearly having so much fun with R-Truth. Don’t sleep on Carmella, she’s got something special.
4. Best: Buddy Murphy
Bliss was right, Carmella was an accessory, but she was the money in the team of Wesley Blake, Buddy Murphy, and herself. In fact, once she came up to the main roster without them, it didn’t seem like they would be able to go much further. Both were in developmental purgatory for a while, but Murphy broke out by joining the 205 Live roster. He’s just on the cusp of the cruiserweight limit and had to drop weight to do so, but it’s done wonders for his career.
Now he’s able to be the biggest guy in the match, and he’s doing a great job in that position. Currently, he’s the Cruiserweight Champion, and he didn’t even need Bliss’ help to do it.
3. Best: Sonya Deville
After being eliminated from Tough Enough, Sonya Deville was offered a developmental contract. In NXT, she hovered in the mid-card of the women’s division before getting called up a bit on the early side to join Paige in Absolution. Then when Paige had to retire, Absolution broke up. It would have been so easy for her and partner Mandy Rose to fade into the background. Deville managed to push through, though and has come into her own as one of the baddest women on the SmackDown roster. She was selected for the Survivor Series team without any hesitation and always seems to be just outside the title conversation.
We’ll see Deville as SmackDown Women’s Champion soon enough.
2. Best: Elias
Elias might be the poster boy of a gimmick that didn’t work on NXT but soared on the main roster. Back in the day, no one was really feeling the whole 'drifter' thing. The best part about his character was when Corey Graves made fun of him!
Somehow, once he got to the main roster, he found a way to make it click. Maybe it’s because by traveling with Raw, he’s able to run down the city each and every time, getting himself major heat. Either way, Elias has gone from a sideshow attraction to one of the hottest. It’s impressive how he’s spun this gimmick into gold and really speaks to his long-term potential.
1. Best: Becky Lynch
Right now, Becky Lynch is the single most popular wrestler in WWE. This isn’t to say that her career in NXT was bad, it just wasn’t, well, this. Lynch may very well have a shot at main-eventing WrestleMania now.
In NXT, Lynch was certainly popular: her NXT Women’s Championship match against Sasha Banks cemented her as a superstar and she didn’t even win it. After her loss, the crowd sang her theme song back to her, so we knew she had a special connection with the fans. Still, she was the only of the Four Horsewomen who came up without being an NXT Women’s Champion first. Lynch always felt like an afterthought, until now. Now, she’s not just in the conversation, she is the conversation.
5. Worst: Bo Dallas
It can be easy to forget, but Bo Dallas was an NXT Champion. His debut on the main roster was teased for weeks and felt like a genuinely big deal. Then it went absolutely nowhere. Throughout the years, Dallas has run the gambit of various gimmicks, none getting him much above the lower mid-card. 2018 may have been his best year thus far, with both the Miztourage and then the B-Team being pretty good, if short-lived.
The B-Team may be a grand old time, but after dropping the Tag Team Championships, no one has given them a second thought. He’s a long way from the world title.
4. Worst: Emma (Twice)
Emma is not just a case of one bad transition from NXT to the main roster, but two. She had one of the first pivotal moments in the women’s revolution in a match with Paige for the inaugural NXT Women’s Championship. When she got to the main roster, she valeted Santino Marella, and just danced weirdly for a reason no one understood. So they sent her back to NXT with a new heel persona, before trying to bring her up again. This time, she was a discount Eva Marie called Emmalina, but was clearly not comfortable with all those slow panning shots of her Instagram photos. At least her floundering was short-lived. Now Tenille Dashwood is busy kicking butt on the indie circuit. WWE who?
3. Worst: Apollo Crews
This was a textbook case of being brought up too quickly, but it was a huge disappointment.
Apollo Crews was a big deal on the indies under the name Uhaa Nation, his signing came with a lot of buzz. Unfortunately, they just didn’t give any time and effort to his character in NXT. There were a few moments of shimmering potential, but then he was abruptly called up without much of a rapport built.
While most on this list were brought up with great gimmicks that didn’t translate, Crews didn’t even have that much. They tried to revive his character by putting him with Tyson Worldwide, but anything it accomplished was short-lived. Maybe there’s still hope for Crews, but it’s hard to say what we should even hope for, given we haven’t seen any of what made him special before.
2. Worst: Bobby Roode
Sometimes it feels like the WWE main roster writers don’t watch NXT. Bobby Roode was one of the multiple cases where NXT stars were brought up as the wrong character. In NXT, Roode was a snobby businessman, trying to bring some class back to the business. Apparently, all the producers saw was a guy with a very over entrance theme, because they brought him up as a smiling good guy. It feels so forced and you can tell he’s not enjoying the gimmick. Nowadays, he’s tag-teaming with Chad Gable because of …reasons? It seems so haphazard. No matter how much fun your theme song is, that can only get a wrestler so far.
1. Worst: Asuka
The WWE’s longest winning streak belongs to Asuka, but it put them in a position where they didn’t know what to do next. Asuka didn’t even lose the NXT Women’s Championship, she willingly vacated it to go up to the main roster. It put her in this untouchable realm, but it didn’t do any favors for her.
Once it was decided that Charlotte Flair was the only one who could realistically end the streak, the magic was gone. They didn’t invest enough in her character, so now there’s nothing to do. Ending it back in NXT would’ve been a lot better for her career, allowing her to come up to the main roster with a clean slate. Instead, it doesn’t feel like anyone knows what to do with her anymore.
Bonus! Best And Worst: Finn Balor
Out of all the many call-ups that have debuted on Raw or SmackDown, Finn Balor may be the most inconsistent of them all. He was selected in the first round of the draft, broke onto the scene, and almost immediately became a number one contender. He won his first championship match and was the first ever Universal Champion, but had to relinquish a day later due to injury.
It’s never been the same for Balor, maybe due to the crowded Raw roster or because management worries he’s injury-prone. His last challenge for the Universal Title was unceremoniously interrupted, and although he’s done great work fighting for the Intercontinental Championship, he hasn’t even won that.
There’s also a sense that WWE knows he’s so over with the audience that they don’t have to book him to win. He will always get a huge pop and will consistently sell merchandise. Balor always seems right on the cusp of doing something big, but never quite gets there.