The transition from NXT to the WWE main roster has become important to a wrestler’s success. Kevin Owens, Charlotte Flair and Alexa Bliss each achieved instant success as top stars solely based on their work in NXT. Finn Balor was the first-ever Universal Champion before the injury prevented the massive push that came from his momentum. Basically, the popularity of NXT is a huge tool to help a wrestler become a major player in WWE. Most of the current main roster talent on both Raw and SmackDown spent time down in NXT developing their characters and learning from the coaches at the Performance Center.
There have been changes for most of the wrestlers on the long road from NXT to Raw or SmackDown. Some of these wrestlers have drastically changed their characters or overall physical appearances. It makes it a surprise to watch back today and realize these are the same performers currently doing big things on the main roster. We'll look at some of the current WWE stars that spent time in NXT. These wrestlers have made big changes through the years to get where they are today. Here are fifteen photos of WWE stars you probably wouldn’t be easily able to recognize from their NXT days.
15 Roman Reigns
WWE wanted Roman Reigns to be a top star from day one. The look, background and potential of Reigns clearly all worked in his favor. CM Punk revealed during a podcast interview that he pitched the idea of The Shield, but WWE had one demand that Reigns become a part of the group. Reigns was meant to be the chosen one a long time before his monster push.
This shows a couple of the promo pictures Reigns took during his time in NXT. Roman did a few matches in NXT before coming up to the main roster, but he was never a true fixture there. The plan for Reigns was obviously to get to the main roster in a strong role. These pictures showed early ideas for his character, but nothing was set since NXT wasn’t as important for him as others.
14 Charlotte Flair
The journey for Charlotte Flair in NXT saw her receive opportunities right away due to being the daughter of Ric Flair. However, she was quite new to wrestling and has stated she felt overwhelmed quite often in NXT. The first look of Charlotte is unrecognizable today as she used to rock the brunette hair and tried to present a different package.
NXT minds eventually decided Charlotte should switch to blonde and start adopting things that tie into her legacy. The Figure Eight finisher and other changes to her character helped get her over in a major way. Fans already knew who she was when joining the main roster. Charlotte has arguably been the most successful woman in WWE history if you factor in all the records and first-time matches she has taken part in.
Vince McMahon is high on Elias’ potential. This is the reason we have seen him hold his own against the likes of John Cena and Roman Reigns. In a time where many singles stars on Raw are seeing their stock go downhill, Elias gets consistent television time and has been able to develop his character. It took quite some time in NXT before Elias would get his current character as The Drifter.
A few different looks would be experimented with during his early run on NXT live events. Elias is shown here with shorter hair and a white vest different to the current rocker look. The gimmick change to the annoying guitar player took place in NXT. While the act was a jobber role in NXT, McMahon loves it and is giving him a chance to do something big on the main roster.
12 Braun Strowman
Braun Strowman is one of the few call-ups from the Performance Center in recent years to avoid having a run in NXT. Vince McMahon has been his biggest supporter and it led to him getting called up with minimal in-ring experience to be a member of the Wyatt Family. The early matches of Strowman on the main roster were tough to watch, but he has improved dramatically at a fast pace
Strowman’s prior television appearances in NXT saw him work as an extra in the Rosebuds. Adam Rose’s group of odd supporters in party costumes featured the NXT talent dressing in weird outfits. Strowman appeared as a Rosebud on multiple occasions. No one knew him at the time, so it didn’t stand out as much that a monster of a man was in the Rosebuds. Today, it's hilarious to view Braun dancing around in these costumes.
11 Tyler Breeze
The NXT run of Tyler Breeze showed just how pivotal the right character could be. Breeze was in WWE developmental for quite some time struggling to find his way. It wasn’t until he adopted the arrogant male model gimmick that he found the magic to get positive results. Breeze became one of the top stars in NXT during the strongest time of growth.
A call-up to the main roster has seen him become a comedic tag team character as one half of Breezango with Fandango. Breeze’s old look is a bit different with the longer hair and blank tank top. It was one of the different looks he experimented with before realizing the Tyler Breeze character was the best route to success for him. We likely won’t see him going back to this look any time soon.
Bayley is a great success story of how to develop a character with great storytelling. We saw Bayley get introduced backstage as a super fan in awe of the big stars she would encounter backstage. This evolved in a major way when it became more important that we realized that this love for professional wrestling is what drives her to achieve her dream and be the best.
It is impossible to think of Bayley without her colorful hear, headband and everything associated with her current look. Things were different in the early stages of NXT before she found her character. Bayley wore gear like the one shown here and just wrestled as a generic talent. Luckily, she found the right way to get over with the look we know today.
9 Baron Corbin
The main roster run of Baron Corbin has seen various ups and downs in a short time period. Corbin’s high moments have been debuting at WrestleMania 32, winning the United States Championship and winning the 2017 Money in the Bank ladder match. Unfortunately, the way he lost the MITB title shot in a matter of seconds to Jinder Mahal was the lowest moment.
Corbin is still in a good spot as an upper card heel on the SmackDown brand. WWE has a lot of belief in him going back to signing after his NFL career ended. Corbin looked very different from the man we know now during his early days in the Performance Center. The shorter hair provides a completely different look. At some point, Baron realized long hair and changing up the facial hair was the way to go.
8 Bray Wyatt
Bray Wyatt technically looked this way during the original NXT days when the show was about a wacky competition for a WWE contract rather than an exciting developmental promotion. The second season of the original NXT concept saw Bray work under the name of Husky Harris. He was one of the standout performers on the show despite ultimately losing to Kaval.
Wyatt coincidentally changed his look when getting a chance to rediscover his talent in the new and improved NXT. The failed run as Husky Harris allowed him to channel that anger into creativity with the Bray Wyatt character. It made him an instant success in NXT and got him called up to the main roster faster than expected. Wyatt is a former WWE Champion proving the change worked in a strong way.
We are celebrating Rusev Day by looking back at his early days in NXT. The road to NXT truly was hard work as Rusev worked two jobs each day in between his training as a wrestler before getting to WWE. Rusev showed great potential from day one and became one of the first successful call-ups. The talent of Rusev saw Triple H push him in NXT and Vince McMahon allow him to have an undefeated streak on the main roster.
Rusev went through a few physical changes through the years before getting to the current look. The picture here shows his early days in NXT with a short hair cut and rocking a singlet. Rusev clearly didn’t feel this look was for the best as he changed it before becoming a fixture on NXT television.
6 Alexa Bliss
Alexa Bliss had one of the most successful transformations in NXT. The first character she played on NXT television was a fairy like gimmick. Bliss would come out with glitter for her entrance while sporting a blue tutu. This babyface character would never get momentum as it was a bit hokey compared to the characters of the current era likes.
Bliss turned into a ruthless heel when managing Blake and Murphy. It allowed her star power to rise and get her to the main roster. Alexa has been among the most successful performers in the company consistently in the Women’s Title picture over the past year and a half. No one would have predicted that when seeing the fairy character as shown in this photograph.
5 Sonya Deville
The recent debut of Sonya Deville on the Raw brand as a member of Absolution has seen her become one of the most credible ladies on the roster. Deville pairs with her real life best friend Mandy Rose and former Tough Enough judge Paige to play the top heel group in the Women’s Division on Raw. A short run in NXT using her legitimate MMA background helped her get to the main roster faster than most expected.
As mentioned, Sonya and Mandy are quite close off camera as they’ve been roommates since signing developmental contracts. This picture was taken during their first Christmas as roommates. Deville made changes later to try to present a tougher look for the showcase of her MMA character. The photo shown here gives us a glimpse at the silly side of things of both ladies on their off time.
4 The Revival
Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder both struggled to find the right role in NXT for quite some time. You can find matches of Dawson on old NXT shows playing just about every role as an enhancement talent. It wasn’t until he formed a tag team with Wilder that things started rolling for both men. Their old team was known as The Mechanics.
Both guys went with different looks as shown in this picture here. This portrayal clearly didn’t work, and they became a forgotten team in NXT. Things changed when they adopted the Revival name and started to develop characters looking to bring back old school wrestling. Dawson and Wilder have yet to make an impact on the main roster due to injuries, but they appear on the right track now that Dawson is back.
3 Jason Jordan
The push of Jason Jordan has seen him become an upper card act on Raw in the storyline as Kurt Angle’s son. Jordan is currently one half of the Raw Tag Team Champions with Seth Rollins after defeating Cesaro and Sheamus on Christmas night. This makes Jordan the first person to win both Raw and SmackDown Tag Team Champions with different partners.
Jordan spent a few years in the Performer Center before finally finding a role with Chad Gable as American Alpha. One of his older looks saw him rocking longer hair. Jordan would go with the very short cut later in his NXT run before teaming with Gable to find success. WWE has high hopes for Jordan if they feel he is good enough to be placed in a storyline with Angle.
2 Enzo Amore
Enzo Amore has been one of the wrestlers to go through the most changes through the years. We have seen Enzo with different hair styles, different hair colors, different facial hair styles and different gear. Amore changed from a beloved face to an annoying heel in 2017 following the split of his tag team with Big Cass leaving him with nothing to do. WWE sent him to the Cruiserweight Division to be the face of 205 Live.
The Enzo we know today looks different compared to the wrestler that started in NXT a few years ago. Enzo was a different person with the more traditional haircut and a clean-shaven face. The changes would come shortly after. Enzo’s ridiculous hairstyle today worked out for him as WWE made money selling wigs for fans to wear when imitating him.
1 Becky Lynch
The career of Becky Lynch has taken many turns through the years. Lynch retired for a short time before finding her way to NXT. We're all better off with Becky back in the wrestling business as she has made her mark in wrestling. Lynch along with Charlotte Flair, Bayley and Sasha Banks make up the Four Horsewomen that helped bring the Women’s Revolution to WWE with outstanding matches.
Becky had the honor of being the first-ever SmackDown Women’s Champion. The current look of “straight fire” associated with her bright red hair wasn’t always part of her appearance. Lynch had a darker shade of red hair in the picture shown here and was a brunette at one point. This specific image shows her in the green gear she wore back when she tried an Irish jig dancer gimmick. Luckily, we got to see a more well-rounded side of her today.