No matter what WWE would have you believe, NXT is basically the minor leagues for the WWE main roster. It is where wrestlers are sent to get acclimated to the WWE style of wrestling and get their feet wet in the company. They develop their characters and gimmicks, and have freedom to express themselves and get over with the WWE universe.
NXT is the brainchild of Triple H and he deserves a lot of credit for his hard work. In fact, a large part of the current main roster spent some time in NXT. However, spending time in NXT is hardly a guarantee of success on the main roster. Even if a certain wrestler gets naturally over with the crowd, that might not be the case in WWE for one reason or another. Triple H is trying very hard to build the future of the WWE, but Vince will be Vince.
More often than not, this reason has to do with creative booking. No matter how much Triple H and Stephanie McMahon are the future of the company, Vince McMahon still has the final say on all things. There’s no way around it. If he wants a wrestler to be pushed, they will be pushed, no matter what.
Vince has completely ruined several wrestlers who experienced success in NXT, often at the expense of other established wrestlers who he just prefers. John Cena and Roman Reigns are the common suspects when this happens. This is not to say that all NXT wrestlers get buried once they hit the main roster. There have been a number of wrestlers who have gone on to success and won multiple championships. Here are eight NXT stars who Vince completely ruined on the main roster, and seven who managed to find success.
15 RUINED: BAYLEY
Bayley was such a huge star in NXT that the WWE fans were begging for her to be promoted to the main roster. When she got called up to WWE in August 2016, it took WWE only a few months to completely ruin her character. She was supposed to be the “female John Cena,” who would appeal to kids and be a big babyface draw. Vince completely messed up the booking of Bayley to the point where nobody really cares about her. Her whole feud with Alexa Bliss, punctuated by the Kendo Stick match and the “This Is Your Life” segment, is what killed her momentum the most. Bayley comes across as very one dimensional to the extent that fans got so annoyed they started booing her out of frustration for the booking of her character. Vince and the creative team need to figure out what worked for her in NXT and slowly build her back up as a babyface because what they are doing now is not working.
14 SUCCEEDED: BRAUN STROWMAN
In NXT, Braun Strowman was just one of those guys. He was never in any real consideration for a shot at the NXT Championship and he was never really involved in any prominent way. He was called up to the main roster to be a part of The Wyatt Family in 2015 and, as one might expect, he garnered no real reaction. Yeah, he is this big strong guy, but what else?
Then the 2016 Draft occurred and Braun Strowman stormed onto the scene as a monster singles wrestler. He had a lengthy undefeated streak and then eventually entered a successful feud against Roman Reigns. Killing Roman Reigns, while proclaiming “I’m not finished with you!,” really put Strowman over the top with the fans. It might have taken some time but Strowman eventually emerged as a perfectly solid wrestler who looks to be a main event type of talent for the foreseeable future.
13 RUINED: FINN BALOR
Finn Balor came over to WWE hyped as one of the top wrestlers in the world and he has not disappointed. It is Vince and the booking of Finn Balor that has been a huge disappointment. He had a successful run on NXT where he was treated with importance because of his demon entrance and every match of his felt like a big deal. Upon being called up to the main roster, Balor was initially hyped and won the Universal Championship, but sadly got injured. Maybe that’s what (unfairly) soured Vince on Balor because he now just feels like another guy on the roster. Balor has the talent to be one of the top babyfaces on either SmackDown or Raw and it’s a shame he is in being used in storylines that are doing absolutely nothing to help him.
12 SUCCEEDED: KEVIN OWENS
Kevin Owens may not have the typical “look” that Vince likes but, for the most part, he has succeeded on the main roster. It’s hard to argue he has done pretty well when he immediately won against John Cena and has since won a few championships during his run as a top heel. He had strong storylines with many top stars, including Chris Jericho, AJ Styles, and, recently, Shane McMahon. Owens is one of the best heels WWE has right now and has proven himself to be a very well-rounded wrestler. He has the ability to cut a good heel promo to get fans to boo him, but he is also no slouch in the ring. Kevin Owens might be one of those guys who Triple H kept pushing even though he doesn’t really have the look Vince prefers – it’s paid off for WWE big time.
11 RUINED: SHINSUKE NAKAMURA
In fairness, Shinsuke Nakamura has only been on the main roster for a couple of months at this point. In that short time, however, his booking has been questionable at best. So far, WWE has not been able to get the most it can out of Nakamura because they make him look like just another guy. That is a far cry from when he was excelling in NXT and won the NXT Championship, beating guys like Finn Balor and Samoa Joe. His feud with Jinder Mahal, including the awful racist promos, hurt Nakamura quite a bit especially since he lost consecutive big matches to Mahal. Nakamura has a reputation for being one of the best wrestlers in the ring but he has not been given the opportunity by WWE to show that so far. Hopefully WWE gives him a real chance to showcase his talents in the ring before Nakamura is completely ruined.
10 SUCCEEDED: DANIEL BRYAN
It might be hard to believe now, but there was a time when Daniel Bryan was a part of NXT in its early days. He was a heel and involved in the Nexus invasion angle in 2010. He never spent much time with NXT as he was released for being too violent on-screen, after he choked Justin Roberts with his necktie during an invasion of Raw. Bryan would of course return the next year as a singles wrestler mostly.
Daniel Bryan succeeded on the main roster despite the efforts by WWE to ruin him. He finally reached the summit of his success at WrestleMania XXX when WWE changed their plans and gave Bryan the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Injuries would eventually end his in-ring career with WWE (for now at least), but Bryan succeeded in WWE because of the fan support. He is now loved as the General Manager of SmackDown Live.
9 RUINED: BRAY WYATT
Bray Wyatt was one of the most popular heel acts in NXT for a long time. During his first year or so on the main roster, Wyatt’s momentum continued. He always got a strong reaction from the crowd because of his very unique and eerie entrance. They were captivated by his promos and the unique aura he created. He had a strong initial run on the main roster as the leader of the Wyatt Family until he had his feud with John Cena. For the better part of the past few years, Wyatt has been directionless. While he has engaged in feuds with some top wrestlers, Wyatt has come out on the losing end far too often. His promos seem like they are the same and WWE has just dropped the ball with him creatively. Wyatt needs to change his direction, but they just won’t let him do that it seems.
8 SUCCEEDED: ALEXA BLISS
Yes, Alexa Bliss is another attractive blond female wrestler WWE signed. After a long stretch of time where WWE hired attractive blondes who can’t wrestle (such as Kelly Kelly), Bliss has been a massive breath of fresh air. Bliss has undeniable charisma and is one of the best talkers in the women’s division right now. Her in-ring work might not be the best, but she is far from the worst and is steadily improving. It could be argued that she carried the WWE SmackDown women’s division for a stretch of time. Bliss has obviously proven herself to the WWE front office and Vince himself, as she continues to be booked strongly on the main roster. She has a unique look and will hopefully be a key part of the women’s roster for years to come.
7 RUINED: SAMI ZAYN
Sami Zayn has every right to be frustrated with the way he has been booked on the main roster ever since he was called up in early 2016. He is the ultimate underdog, sure, but why couldn’t he win a feud every now and then? In NXT, Zayn was booked as a top guy who had a good run as the NXT Champion. On the main roster, Zayn hasn’t even come close to sniffing any championship. Zayn is a very talented wrestler who fans want to get behind, but it’s hard to take him seriously when he is booked to lose to lesser talents like Aiden English. This just shows that Vince ruined Sami Zayn on the main roster, probably because he doesn’t have that “look” that Vince loves so much. Hopefully his recent heel turn and alliance with Kevin Owens freshens up his character and leads to better things for Zayn.
6 SUCCEEDED: CARMELLA
Pair Carmella with James Ellsworth and she instantly becomes one of the best women’s heels. Go figure.
Carmella initially debuted on the main roster, separate from Enzo and Cass, as a babyface. The WWE audience wasn't really connecting with her character – that is until she paired up with The Chinless Wonder. You have to give credit to Carmella for making it work herself, as James Ellsworth recently revealed that Carmella pitched the idea to put them together. Give credit to Vince for allowing it to happen and not shutting down the talent's creative ideas like he has been known to do in the past. The move turned out to be brilliant as Carmella is getting a strong heel reaction and is delivering solid promos. Ms. Money In The Bank will inevitably become WWE SmackDown Women's Champion at some point and expect a FABULOUS celebration when that time comes.
5 RUINED: RUSEV
Rusev has been the victim of some awful booking over the past few years. In NXT and when he was first called up, Rusev was a great heel because he was paired with Lana. Rusev, along with Lana, received major heat and seemed destined for great things, including a championship run. Then the whole John Cena feud happened and destroyed his momentum. He could have been rebuilt after that, but he just hasn’t been, for whatever reason. It’s a shame because Rusev is a good wrestler and has a good look, but he is treated as an afterthought. As seen on social media and sometimes on Total Divas, Rusev has a sense of humour – something that would probably help him get over as a babyface.
4 SUCCEEDED: BIG E
Big E was actually a product of NXT! There was once a time when the gyrating superstar was a dominant NXT champion, defeating several other NXT stars such as Seth Rollins and Damien Sandow. He had a good run during his early days on the main roster as a heel bodyguard for AJ Lee and Dolph Ziggler. Then he had a run as Intercontinental Champion for a few months as well. Once he joined with Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods and formed The New Day, his career really took off. The New Day is one of the most popular acts in WWE right now because they got over naturally and are genuinely funny. While Big E might be the most likely to succeed as a singles wrestler of the three, he seems to be having a lot of fun in the successful stable.
3 RUINED: WADE BARRETT
Wade Barrett is one of the original NXT stars, long before NXT was it is today. When he first came up, Barrett was a good heel who the fans absolutely hated. He formed The Nexus and engaged in a meaningful storyline that captivated WWE fans. His downfall came when John Cena insisted on defeating Nexus and then beat Barrett again later that year in a singles match. Sound familiar? He was mired in mediocrity despite being capable of so much more, as she showed during the NXT heel angle. He got over naturally with his Bad News Barrett gimmick where he got to show creative freedom, but WWE made him drop the gimmick. Vince never liked Barrett as a babyface and wanted him to play a foreign heel, something that never worked. Vince ruined Barrett by not letting him portray a character that he enjoyed and that was winning over the audience.
2 SUCCEEDED: ROMAN REIGNS
Well, duh. Roman Reigns is Vince’s guy and he's stubbornly going to keep pushing him as a top babyface whether we like it or not. He will be the next face of the WWE because Vince said so.
Roman barely spent any time in NXT as he was called up as a member of The Shield fairly early on. He spent time as a heel with The Shield before they turned face and engaged in epic battles with Evolution before Seth Rollins turned on them. Since then, Roman has been pushed directly to the top of the main roster. He has been in the championship picture consistently and engaged in very high-profile feuds with The Undertaker and John Cena, presumably to further put Reigns over. Reigns has succeeded on the main roster because Vince continues to keep pushing him relentlessly.
1 RUINED: THE CRUISERWEIGHT DIVISION
Triple H deserves a lot of credit for rebuilding and resurrecting the cruiserweight wrestlers on the WWE Network. They became so successful that WWE eventually brought back the division and gave them their own show, 205 Live. Many of the cruiserweight wrestlers were over with the crowds on NXT (where they performed between the Cruiserweight Tournament and 205 Live), as they were given the freedom to express themselves. As soon as they got called up to the main roster, they all failed. When they wrestle on RAW, they are only given a few minutes to wrestle a match. The ratings for 205 Live are also flopping. A lot of this blame falls on Vince since he has never really taken a liking to the high-flying style that cruiserweights are known for. It was only until recently when Enzo Amore was immediately pushed to the Cruiserweight Championship picture that they received some airtime, but that likely won’t last forever.