Although the standard of the product would suggest that NXT has far transcended the brand’s old role as a developmental territory for the WWE’s primary roster, the platform is still, at heart, an incubator for the next big names in Sports Entertainment. We’ve seen this year alone, as numerous big names including Finn Bálor, Enzo Amore, Big Cass, Apollo Crews and Alexa Bliss have all gotten the call to head up to live television, that despite being an extraordinary product in its own right, the brand’s main goal is still to get talent ready for the task of competing on WWE’s predominant shows.
The company dipped into NXT to pull six of its most well-known performers out to be fixtures on Raw and SmackDown during the WWE draft, but even though those were the only stars to be brought up that night, this could just be the start of WWE’s raid of the NXT roster.
This list will look at fifteen of NXT’s most popular performers, weighing out those who should be in line to get called up between now and WrestleMania season, and those who should stay put for at least another year. Keep in mind, however, that with NXT drawing satisfying numbers at house shows and in merchandise sales, not being promoted to live television isn’t necessarily a step backwards for anybody’s career.
15 Should - Tye Dillinger
Before the inception of his “Perfect 10” gimmick last year, hope for Tye Dillinger to make an impact on the NXT roster was starting to dwindle. He really fell down the ranks after his tag-team partnership with Jason Jordan fell apart, being used solely for the purpose of getting other talent over. Since he found his niche, however, things have started to turn around for the best.
Yes, he has still been used in matches against the likes of debuting stars such as Andrade Almas and Apollo Crews, but the fact that the fans have taken to him means a lot for his future. With that in mind, however, much like Tyler Breeze before his debut on the main roster late last year, time is of the essence with Tye Dillinger. He has been a mainstay in NXT for quite some time now and, even though any hopes of climbing the ranks and winning the Holy Grail seem out of the question, he has enough organic support from the fans to be a real hit on Raw or SmackDown Live.
The “Perfect 10” shtick is infectious and he pulls the character off to perfection, and a fresh start on a brand new stage in the near future could be what Tye Dillinger needs to pull away and finally start creating a legacy for himself, without the need to make others look good at his expense.
14 Shouldn't - Andrade "Cien" Almas
Unfortunately for Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas, the hype surrounding the luchador subsided not long after his debut at NXT Takeover: The End. It’s not that the man isn’t impressive, it’s that his push on NXT programming has been lackluster and hasn’t resulted in a permanent fixture on the product.
What’s worse is that as soon as he got his chance to shine, he had to do it against Tye Dillinger, leaving Almas with very little hope to become a fan favourite on his first night. And now the odds are stacked against Almas again, with the announcement that he will be taking on Bobby Roode at the next Takeover event, in Roode’s debut match on NXT. Needless to say, he hasn’t a hope of coming out of that match with a win under his belt, which is a real shame.
That being said, if Almas was to get the call to go up to Raw or SmackDown Live right now, who’s to say the exact same thing wouldn’t happen again on the larger platform? If NXT, the true land of opportunity under the WWE umbrella, doesn’t want to maintain Almas’ push, it’s very likely he’d get the even worse treatment on the main roster. Before he can even dream of making it to the bigger leagues, ‘Cien’ has a lot of work to do in order to dig himself out of the hole he’s currently in.
13 Should - Johnny Gargano
Johnny Gargano is gearing up to be a major star. His in-ring ability, paired with the following he’s brought with him to NXT, has allowed him to become a sleeper candidate to take the WWE by storm for years to come. Though his start in NXT alongside Tommaso Ciampa was a slow one, he’s currently getting the credit he deserves after putting on one of the best matches we’ve seen this year against his partner in the opening round of the Cruiserweight Classic. Throw in the fact that he’s in line to become an NXT Tag-Team Champion and this guy has it set for the next few months.
But talent like “Johnny Wrestling” has would be the perfect fit for the new era in WWE. He has all the makings to be something special on either Raw or SmackDown Live, and as opposed to some other NXT talents who still need more time to develop, Johnny Gargano is good to go and the company shouldn’t hesitate to capitalise on that.
12 Shouldn't - Tommaso Ciampa
The idea of splitting up Ciampa and Gargano would be a big decision on WWE’s behalf, but it might be the best move for Ciampa going forward. As they built towards their first-round match of the Cruiserweight Classic, Tommaso spoke about how everywhere he goes, all he hears about is “Johnny Wrestling.” Though they may make an excellent team, the fact that everyone is so interested in Gargano could be detrimental to Ciampa’s solo career once the pair splits up.
If you were to call up Gargano and keep Ciampa on NXT, however, it would give him a chance to showcase the skills he’s amassed in over a decade’s worth of professional wrestling. On his own, he’d be more than capable of creating a name for himself, even if he re-joined his tag-team partner when he eventually got the promotion to live television. It would also open the door for a Zayn/Owens-esque feud down the line with Ciampa enraged that Johnny Gargano left NXT before he did.
11 Should - The Revival
Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson have been a staple of NXT’s tag-team division since late-2015, doing their best to deliver some of the most memorable matches at recent Takeover events, against some game competition in American Alpha and Enzo & Big Cass. Though they are currently engaged in an ongoing feud with Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano, there’s no denying that both Raw and SmackDown Live’s respective tag-team divisions would benefit from having these two on the roster.
Their “no flips, just fists” style of in-ring competition would be a welcome breath of fresh air for either of the company’s primary shows, particularly SmackDown Live, who is in dire need of some more tag-teams to emerge as worthy recipients of the blue brand’s inevitable tag-team championships, which are expected to debut following SummerSlam. Just the thought that we might be able to relive some of The Revival’s finest matches against American Alpha on Tuesday nights would be reason enough to consider bringing these two guys up to the big leagues.
10 Shouldn't - TM61
When the tag-team formerly known as “The Mighty Don’t Kneel” were announced to be heading to NXT, fans with knowledge of Nick Miller and Shane Thorne’s talent were extremely excited to see their style come to life on WWE programming. With the amount of talent that’s been oozing out of NXT’s tag-team division, however, since debuting back in May, it’s been hard for the duo now referred to as TM61 to make a name for themselves in the NXT tag-team title picture.
They are still relatively unheard of as NXT talents, but now that American Alpha has made the transition to the main roster, with The Revival hopefully gearing up to follow suit soon enough, there will be a distinct opportunity for TM61 to rise through the ranks. Tag-team wrestling has played a vital role in making NXT must-see in the past and a duo with as much chemistry as TM61 would be a great candidate to continue that going forward. These two guys are just getting started.
9 Should - Austin Aries
As he heads towards his clash with No Way Jose at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn, Austin Aries can look back at his first few months on the roster with pride. There have been moments in which it felt like Aries wasn’t quite getting the spotlight he should have been, but with a competitive bout against Shinsuke Nakamura and some useful victories against Baron Corbin and Tye Dillinger under his belt, things could be a lot worse for “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived.”
With that in mind, however, there’s a big decision ahead with regards to who will be the next NXT Champion. Nakamura and Booby Roode are bound to be leading the pack in terms of candidates, and without an available spot on top, you have to question Austin Aries’ continued role on NXT.
The downside to the brand’s limited amount of airtime each week is that it means opportunities to wrestle in the main event picture are few and far between, and since Austin Aries may not have an NXT Championship reign in his future, it might be smarter to bring him up to a platform like SmackDown Live, where he could easily shine in the upper mid-card.
8 Shouldn’t - No Way Jose
Though his energy may be infectious, and he has been known to showcase aggression in the ring when he gets pushed to his limit, No Way Jose is, at best, a comedy character. WWE and comedy have always gone hand-in-hand, but as of yet, there is not a whole lot unique about No Way Jose.
If you were to see him arrive on Raw or SmackDown Live next week, it wouldn’t be too different from the crazed antics of Adam Rose or Brodus Clay from recent years. A joyous athlete who dances his way to the ring, only to bring the fight to his opponent and walk out victorious. We’ve seen it before.
NXT is currently exploring Jose’s ability to get serious when the circumstances call for it, with his heated rivalry against Austin Aries about to come to a head at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn, which could be a really good step for his character. As of now, however, No Way Jose needs to undergo a little more development on NXT before he can be expected to act as a regular feature on either of the WWE’s main rosters.
7 Should - Asuka
Asuka’s arrival on NXT was a fitting breath of fresh air following the departures of Charlotte, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch. The women’s division has been held to a high standard since the brand’s popularity skyrocketed a couple of years ago, and the current NXT Women’s Champion maintains that standard every time she steps in the ring, with her hard-hitting style and alluring sense of charisma. Though NXT wouldn’t exactly benefit from losing all of its top female talent in one fell swoop, there’s no denying that now would be the perfect time to debut Asuka on WWE television.
SmackDown Live’s female roster is thin to say the least, but the introduction of a phenomenal athlete like Asuka would give the blue brand a distinct shove in the right direction. Plus, if WWE does plan on debuting a new women’s title on SmackDown Live, it’s only logical to ensure the competition for said title is up to scratch. A competitor like Asuka would not only make the brand that much more intriguing, but it would encourage the other female talent on the roster to push themselves that little bit further to believably pose as a threat to Raw’s women’s division.
6 Shouldn't - The Authors of Pain
These two behemoths had one of the most eye-catching debuts in NXT this year, completely decimating American Alpha on the night that they lost the NXT Tag-Team Championships. The enormous statures of Gzim Selmani and Sunny Dhinsa come as quite the alternative to what we’ve grown accustomed to in NXT, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Sure, we may prefer to see guys go out there and put on a technical wrestling clinic, or blow the roof off of Full Sail with their undying charisma, but variety is the spice of life. And with a legend like Paul Ellering by their side, there’s no reason The Authors of Pain shouldn’t go far in the WWE.
That being said, if the team was to debut on the main roster now, they’d just be two more sharks in a sea full of them. The thing that sets them apart in NXT is the contrast in size between them and everyone else, whereas with Braun Strowman, Erick Rowan, Luke Harper, Kane and Big Show on Raw and SmackDown Live, these two powerhouses wouldn’t be quite so special. They should have a future on the main roster, but right now the WWE should be trying to milk everything they can out of their unique look on NXT.
5 Should - Shinsuke Nakamura
Shinsuke Nakamura was ready for the main roster before he even signed a WWE contract. His time on NXT has been exquisite thus far and although it might not be over just yet with a potential reign with the NXT Championship in Nakamura’s near future, the company shouldn’t take their time in bringing "The King of Strong Style” up to the main roster.
Even with the language barrier, Shinsuke Nakamura carries with him a charisma that most wrestlers can only dream of achieving. His entrance alone is the epitome of showmanship, which is something that is of key importance in WWE. To introduce strong style to some of WWE’s main roster talents would make for some impeccable combinations and would be money right in the company’s pocket no matter which brand Nakamura goes to.
It’s hard to even comprehend what Shinsuke’s entrance would be like on a stage as extravagant as WrestleMania and since he is getting up there in age, it would be wise on WWE’s part to bring the Japanese sensation up to weekly programming as soon as possible, even as late as the Royal Rumble, so he can build towards his first match at "The Showcase of the Immortals.” That should give him more than enough time to amass an impressive reign with the NXT Championship between now and when we head into 2017.
4 Shouldn't - Hideo Itami
Although Hideo Itami has been a well-known name on the NXT roster for almost two years at this point, the man is just coming off a year-long absence due to a shoulder injury. When Sami Zayn came back after injuring his own shoulder on Monday Night Raw last summer, he had already accomplished everything he needed to on the NXT brand.
Hideo, however, despite putting on a number of great matches and even being showcased in the André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania 31, was never featured at the top of the card. This man still has a whole lot left to do on NXT and with the amount of incredible talent on the roster that wasn’t there last year, there is so much potential for Itami to feud with some of the best professional wrestlers in the world, if he sticks around.
There’s undoubtedly going to be a spot on the main roster for Hideo when he does eventually get the call up, but he’s always going to be at risk of getting lost in the shuffle. As an established name on NXT, there’s no reason to think he shouldn’t have a lengthy reign with the NXT Championship in his future once Samoa Joe’s run with the title comes to an end.
3 Should - Samoa Joe
Samoa Joe has done exactly what he set out to do as a member of the NXT roster. He’s been cheered, booed, fought in great match-ups and, most importantly, defeated Finn Bálor for the NXT Championship. You could even argue that the manner he did it in makes his championship victory the most shocking of all, considering it took place at a non-televised house show.
But now that Samoa Joe has accomplished all there is to on the brand, we find ourselves thinking more and more about what kind of carnage Joe could bring to the main roster. Even Joe himself has spoken recently about talent on Raw and SmackDown Live that he’s excited to mix it up with and there’s no time like the present to make that happen.
As we’ve said, Bobby Roode looks to be gearing up to become the next huge heel of NXT, which leaves Samoa Joe a clear chance to head up without fear that the brand would suffer without him. He has been through the ringer during his career and, after all he’s done in NXT over the last year, a man with Joe’s experience belongs on WWE’s biggest platform.
2 Shouldn't - Bobby Roode
Bobby Roode has finally made his debut and he did it in glorious fashion, to say the least. He’ll be competing for the first time at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn and it’s going to be the start of something huge for the brand. Roode is no stranger to this industry - he’s been wrestling since he was 21 and although he’s going to make a tremendous addition to the main roster someday, he's much better suited at this moment in time to take NXT to new heights for the next year.
He has the makings to become one of the finest heels in NXT history, and if he captures the NXT Championship at any stage, it could result in some of the brand’s most anticipated matches to see who can knock the man off his throne. His cocky persona, hand-in-hand with his in-ring ablity will be what sets Bobby Roode as the next man to watch as NXT shifts into the next gear and bids farewell to some of its most beloved talent.
1 Should - Bayley
Now that we’ve experienced Bayley in her rightful spot on the main roster, it would be madness to hold off on her official transition to Monday Night Raw at this point. The fans went crazy for NXT’s resident hug-enthusiast when she was revealed to be Sasha Banks’ mystery partner at Battleground, and the fact that she helped “The Boss” take the then-WWE Women’s Champion, Charlotte, and Dana Brooke to their limits makes her a fit for the main roster without question.
Her quirks and mannerisms translated onto the main roster better than anybody could have anticipated in her debut match and now that we’ve had our fix, we need to see more. Bayley is the current #1 contender to NXT’s Women’s Championship right now, but even if she’s successful in her efforts to become the only two-time titleholder on NXT’s female roster, the WWE shouldn’t waste any time in bringing her up as a permanent feature on Monday Night Raw once SummerSlam fever subsides.