In a few short years, NXT has already become the most exciting brand in WWE due to the promise the superstars on that program are being groomed for incredible success. As the leader of NXT, Triple H has a lot to do with this, as do the various talent scouts helping him fill out the NXT roster with the most talented athletes they can find. While the stated goal of NXT is to prepare its wrestlers for careers in WWE, the reality is that plenty of the men and women stuck in NXT have been outperforming the main roster with such regularity it almost feels as though the system is completely backwards.
Maybe saying the superstars of NXT are across the board more talented than those of WWE would be an overstatement, but the idea isn’t without merit. For every NXT wrestler that’s already prepared to make their main roster debut, there are also a handful of WWE superstars who could probably use to head to Florida for a little retraining. Past performers like Goldust and Rhyno have proven even veterans have plenty to learn, while other vanguard talents like A.J. Styles and his friends in The Club stand as proof it doesn’t take long for seasoned athletes to adapt to WWE style. Keep reading to learn about 8 NXT superstars ready to get called up to WWE and 7 main roster performers who should report to developmental for further conditioning.
15 To WWE: The Revival
The nature of NXT means few people stick around long enough to win any championship multiple times and those that so much as hold various belts for especially long reigns typically earn a call up to the main roster immediately after they drop the gold. Despite this, The Revival is currently reigning as two-time NXT Tag Team Champions. After more than a year of dominating every developmental team WWE can piece together, Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder have more than proven their abilities in both tag team and singles competition. Either together or separately, they could serve an invaluable addition to the WWE main roster and their traditional style could add some hope towards The Revival not getting bogged down by the same problems that have faced other NXT teams once they hit the mainstream. If the team doesn’t make it to Raw or SmackDown soon, they may have no other choice than to break up, which fans probably agree shouldn’t happen until they achieve their glory in front of a larger crowd.
14 To NXT: The Headbangers
They say everyone loves a good comeback story and yet the 2016 return of The Headbangers primarily left fans scratching their heads and asking what WWE execs were thinking. It isn’t that Mosh and Thrasher were entirely horrible and the former Tag Team Champions probably still have a few nostalgic fans supporting them in principle, so we won’t pretend they absolutely needed retraining to become relevant again. The real issue was how completely out of nowhere The Headbangers return was, made worse by their inability or unwillingness to update their decades old gimmick in any way. Had The Headbangers first spent a few months in NXT, they may have proven they still have the skills in the ring necessary to back up their dated and silly gimmick. They also could have had a chance to realize a return wasn’t going to work without some kind of evolution.
13 To WWE: Oney Lorcan
The pros of NXT definitely outweigh the cons, though as this list will show, the most prevalent con of the current system is that plenty of superstars are more than ready to make their full time debut are getting sent to the developmental league for increasingly confusing reasons. New hires with next to no experience need some training, sure, but men like Oney Lorcan, aka Biff Busick, already have proven their in-ring abilities at a slew of independent promotions. In Lorcan’s case, he’s even made it to the top of some of the biggest indies in the country, having reigned as CZW World Champion. It could be argued he needs the time in NXT more than the others on our list and we’ll know in a few months if he starts showing rapid improvement and the experiment in improvement serves to be worth it.
12 To NXT: The Usos
Family ties can mean everything in WWE, which is why The Usos have been presented as one of the top tag teams in WWE for over six years despite generating virtually no crowd reaction with their every appearance. The Usos even took their bland smiling babyface act to the main event thanks to the fact Roman Reigns is their cousin, still unable to make the fans interested in them. The recent heel turn was a step in the right direction, but we believe it could have been even more effective at reinvigorating Jimmy and Jey’s careers had this change happened in NXT. In addition to allowing superstars the chance to shine, NXT is also special for its crowds, which would have at least reacted to The Usos in some way. With a crowd that cares about them, Jimmy and Jey may have finally been able to respond and develop some sort of character beyond being people with a famous family.
11 To WWE: Roderick Strong
Its probably a little early to decide whether or not Roderick Strong is fit for NXT, but the point remains that he easily could have made his debut directly on the main roster thanks to his incredible resume on the independent scene. Strong was only the second ever ROH Triple Crown winner, proving his ability to transcend on every level of the card. He achieved similar success in Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, wrestling current WWE top stars like Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens while he did so. The purpose of NXT is supposed to be training future stars for television and Strong’s history should have made it clear he transcended the need for that conditioning. That said, Strong is only one of many on this list who arguably could have bypassed the developmental territory and some of the others will likely prove our point even better as the list goes on.
10 To NXT: Fandango
WWE has never been great at cutting their losses and recently they’ve been showing repeat hesitation when it comes to realizing they messed up the timing of a fad. Fandango became a big star shortly after his debut thanks to his ultra catchy theme song, but four years later, the gimmick has run its course and both the performer and the company don’t have any idea how to move on. The dancing has been phased out in lieu of a partnership with Tyler Breeze, forming a tag team whose success is determined on how childish one’s sense of humor is. Had Fandango instead taken a trip back to NXT to rethink his character and evolve past the short term meme he was, the results could have been enjoyable to more than just the WWE writers. All teaming with Tyler Breeze has done is allowed the possibility Breeze should accompany Fandango to NXT, if he gets reassigned.
9 To WWE: Austin Aries
Wrestling is a world of grandeur, so calling oneself The Greatest Man That Ever Lived isn’t exactly a unique boast. Nevertheless, with a track record like that of Austin Aries, there could be more to the claim than mere egomania and he instantly made it clear there’s plenty of gas left in the tank upon his first few appearances in NXT. Still, Aries was more than prepared to have made his debut directly on the main roster and his opponents in NXT have already proven they may not be ready to hang with him. Every match has at least two competitors, but there’s no denying Aries has had some of the most tepid in his career since debuting in NXT, and the problem is more on his weak competition than his own lack of ability. Making the jump to WWE could bring his fire back, most likely to such an extent he proved he deserved to be there all along.
8 To NXT: Braun Strowman
Certain old school concepts don’t work in modern day WWE anymore, which is yet another reason why NXT is such a great alternative. One such trope that seems to be falling by the wayside is the big destructive monster who beats up jobbers in record time, something WWE has been attempting to bring back with their latest boilerplate hoss, Braun Strowman. As a member of The Wyatt Family, Strowman had the look down well enough that we won’t blame them for letting him bypass NXT. However, now that he’s on his own and beating up nobodies, Strowman has fast been exposed as someone without the abilities to make themselves look good in a squash match against a master at selling. His shtick would work great in NXT regardless of his skill level, though, as the point would be his improvement and not merely WWE telling us he’s awesome while he’s unable to prove it.
7 To WWE: Bobby Roode
In hindsight, it’s kind of surprising WWE didn’t pull an audible the second Bobby Roode made his NXT debut and received one of the biggest reactions of WrestleMania weekend simply by watching NXT TakeOver: Dallas while wearing his nicest suit. Roode continued earning huge reactions from the NXT crowd as he walked around the hallways and spoke calmly to William Regal, and when he finally stepped into the ring, fans were gloriously singing his theme song in loud approval despite his status as a heel. Less than a year and a half before his WWE debut, Roode was in his second reign as TNA World Champion, making him one of the highest profile stars NXT has seen. The only comparable performers are either on this list or A.J. Styles, all of whom stand as examples that NXT might not always be a necessary step for wrestlers of this caliber.
6 To NXT: Dana Brooke
In order to have a women’s revolution, WWE obviously needed a good number of woman to make this revolution important. They found several more than qualified female superstars to do so, but they also needed to fill out the ranks with women who will lose to these prodigious talents, as well. While Dana Brooke isn’t a lost cause destined forever to that second category, it is where she landed pretty much as soon as she was called up to the main roster as Charlotte’s lackey. Dana is a solid enough worker to hang with the better women on the roster for now, but if she wants to stand out as more than a sidekick, at least for now, it looks like she might have been called up too soon. Granted, a sidekick gimmick on the main stage could help a later run back in NXT, so we’ll let this one can play itself out for the time being.
5 To WWE: Asuka
Pro wrestling generally has two types of monsters: the big, powerful kind and the unhinged, crazy kind. Few female superstars have defined that latter type as well as Asuka and she did so within weeks of her NXT debut. By now, she’s been there over a year, and she’s already proved herself so far above the other women on the brand the company needs to bring back returning ex-champions to serve as her competition. Asuka has a unique charisma that supersedes words, so the company can’t even hide behind her foreignness and claim she needs time to adapt to an English speaking audience. If she has any downsides, it's that she’s one of the older women in the WWE Universe, which means WWE seriously needs to call her up soon before her talents start to wear off. The good news is that it seems like there should be some time left until that happens, though it would be best if WWE called her up sooner rather than later, anyway.
4 To NXT: Curt Hawkins
Practically any crowd response is a good response, because as bad as boos are, silence is the one thing that means fans don’t care. Curt Hawkins has generally met silence since his 2016 return, made by way of an outrageously outdated meme followed by further clichés that couldn’t even make a new and exciting superstar stand out. In the hands of Hawkins, the idea is particularly bland, which should have been predictable considering his last stint with WWE ended when he got fired from NXT after failing to make any impact for several years. Hawkins only success in the company came in tag teams with Zack Ryder and Tyler Reks, although even these teams only lasted a few short months and quickly faded away. Hawkins already has one incident of asking to return to developmental on his record, having done so in late 2009 when his career wasn’t going anywhere. Now that WWE seems interested in giving him a chance again, maybe they should think about doing so down in developmental where even Hawkins knew he belonged.
3 To WWE: Samoa Joe
Fans had been dying for Samoa Joe to get signed by WWE for over a decade before he finally made his debut and yet he made that debut not on the main roster but in NXT. Joe isn’t the only wrestler on this list with a past career in TNA or ROH, but he is the only one who experienced Goldberg-esque winning streaks in both promotions, becoming world known as one of the most dominant wrestlers in history well before he found his way to the WWE Universe. Instead of taking that destruction to WWE, executives decided to use Joe as yet another expert talent filling out the ranks of NXT, depriving the larger audiences of his talents and taking main event spots away from people who actually need training. Now that Joe lost the NXT Championship, fans are still hoping for him to make his way to the main roster, expecting a feud against a huge star the second he debuts. Given WWE's track record, we’ll hold our breath, although we firmly agree something big should happen soon for Samoa Joe.
2 To NXT: James Ellsworth
A harsh reality of business is that luck often plays as much or more of a role than talent ever does, and the meteoric rise of James Ellsworth is a textbook example of a lucky break. Ellsworth was a 14 year veteran when he made his WWE debut in July 2016 against Braun Strowman, and yet he showed none of his experience in the quick squash loss Strowman handed him. Though Ellsworth does have years of practice, he has only worked for exceptionally small indie promotions, none of which had any television exposure of noteworthy stars amongst Ellsworth’s co-workers. Not to knock these promotions, but it isn’t the same as the people on this list who had careers in ROH, TNA, NJPW, or any promotion with national exposure. Many fans noticed Ellsworth nearly botched a Styles Clash in one of his first main events, showing just how dangerous it is to give someone with this little appropriate training such a major role. While it's true Ellsworth is one of the most over performers on the roster, he could take that same status to NXT and learn how not to hurt himself when he does so.
1 To WWE: Shinsuke Nakamura
The only justifications for Shinsuke Nakamura getting stuck in NXT for as long as he has been are the great matches he’s had thus far against Sami Zayn, Samoa Joe, and whoever else he’ll do battle with while allegedly developing his skills. Nakamura was heralded as one of the top superstars on the planet before his name was ever uttered on WWE television and the night after his debut match, fans were already chanting his name during the main event of WrestleMania. Fans had doubts about Nakamura’s English and ability to translate his skills to America, only for these worries to instantly be removed during Nakamura’s first match and promo, followed by dozens more that continue to make it clear he’s deserving of a place in the upper echelon of the WWE Universe. Rumors indicate Nakamura will continue as NXT Champion for some time, which means we’ll see great matches on that brand. The downside is it also means fans are being deprived of Nakamura on the main roster, where he has arguably belonged since the day he debuted.