The summer of 2016 is a fascinating time in World Wrestling Entertainment. Roman Reigns, the hand-picked wrestler to be the company’s top babyface ahead of even John Cena, is, as of July 13th, serving a suspension following a violation of the WWE’s Wellness Policy. The WWE is going back to the brand split that will divide the rosters, a storyline that failed following the death of World Championship Wrestling. While plenty could go wrong for the WWE during the upcoming brand split, the split will provide opportunities for wrestlers who are currently featured on the NXT brand or who are not yet signed by the company. The WWE roster should, by the end of 2016, be as deep as it has been since the top days of the “Attitude Era" even though there is no Rock or Steve Austin on the roster today.
Those who are the best performers on the WWE roster should theoretically thrive during what is being referred to on shows as the “New Era.” As the saying goes, the cream rises to the top. Not everybody can be a champion, however, and thus some wrestlers signed by the WWE will fail and will either be relegated to midcard status or to NXT. Some will even be cut. Then, there are wrestlers facing unpredictable futures heading into a brand split that could either make or break their careers. A lot can and will happen before the next WrestleMania season begins, and multiple performers could cement themselves as legitimate stars in the WWE between July and the start of the winter months.
15 Seth Rollins: Thrive
We’ll start out with an easy one that should not surprise any WWE fan giving this piece a read. It is no secret that Seth Rollins has the goods inside of the ring to carry the figurative ball and the WWE Championship. We are admittedly disappointed that the WWE did not bring Rollins back as a babyface following the serious knee injury that sidelined him and cost him a WrestleMania appearance, but this is something that can be remedied in time.
Fans continue to embrace Rollins as their own regardless of how he is booked. Rollins may, when all is said and done, be the top singles star to emerge from The Shield faction that also included Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose. It is also seemingly only a matter of time before the WWE reunites the three, either for a brief feud against a different group or on a long-term basis.
14 Braun Strowman: Fail
In all fairness to Braun Strowman, it is still very early into his WWE career. With that said, you can never go back and re-do a first impression. The first impressions fans had upon watching Strowman was that he was a big guy who could barely work a match on live WWE television. Thus, the perception exists that Strowman is only on the main WWE roster because of his size.
It is, to steal the phrase and make the pun, a new day in the WWE, one during which fans are no longer impressed by a wrestler just because he towers over babyfaces. Perhaps Strowman will prove his critics wrong and make it on his own in time, but he has a long ways to go before he even flirts with getting there. We don’t see it happening, in part because the WWE did Strowman no favors by not having him spend a lengthy amount of time on the NXT roster.
13 Bray Wyatt: Unknown
Can Bray Wyatt be saved? It is a question on the minds of at least some WWE fans now that Wyatt has returned from injury and is back on WWE programming. The WWE had something special in the original Wyatt character, a heel that stood out from everybody else on the roster. Then, the company turned Wyatt into just another guy who repeatedly lost matches to babyfaces and who lost a promising program to The Undertaker.
Wyatt remains on the roster, and it has been teased that the company could turn Wyatt and other members of his group babyface at some point. Maybe such a turn is just what the Wyatt character needs. Perhaps, however, Wyatt is a lost cause due to mistakes made by the WWE. It would be a shame if the WWE cannot rehabilitate Wyatt, as he is talented inside of the ring and also on the microphone when he is not tasked with talking for a long segment.
12 Enzo Amore: Thrive
Some wrestlers simply possess that often-discussed “it factor” that gets them over among fans and television viewers. Enzo Amore oozes charisma, he is responsible for a ring entrance that gets fans on their feet each time his music hits, and Amore plays an entertaining and believable babyface in peril. Amore likely will never win the WWE Championship for a variety of reasons. That does not, however, mean that Amore will not thrive as have other babyface wrestlers who never headlined a top-tier pay-per-view.
Both Amore and his current tag team partner will likely be given opportunities to impress and to work with major stars. That team should not be broken up anytime soon, as doing so could sink either or both wrestlers before they are ready to swim on their own. As long as the WWE protects Amore up through the end of 2016, he should be just fine moving forward.
11 Blake and Murphy: Fail
Remember when the WWE pushed The Ascension as the next big team on the NXT brand before bringing that duo up to the main roster? Fans did not buy The Ascension starting out on day one and the team is now barely an afterthought for viewers who watch weekly WWE programming.
It appears as if the WWE learned from that mistake, as the team of Blake and Murphy has essentially been destroyed in NXT before either man was called up to the main roster. No offense meant to the two wrestlers, but this is a wise call for all involved. The best part about the team of Blake and Murphy was the female valet who will be mentioned later on in this piece. Even with her in the mix, the team itself was floundering in NXT. Maybe one or both of the wrestlers will make it in the WWE. The team of Blake and Murphy should remain buried.
10 Hideo Itami: Unknown
There was a time when Hideo Itami seemed well on his way to becoming one of the top babyfaces on the NXT brand and a wrestler who could achieve success on the main WWE roster. Then, Itami suffered a serious shoulder injury that sidelined him from the spring of 2015 all the way through June 2016.
Itami has since made a successful return to the ring, but that alone may not be enough to save the character. The WWE essentially has to start over with Itami, as the NXT brand has changed quite a lot since he first injured his shoulder. There are a plethora of interesting feuds awaiting Itami in NXT if the company chooses to keep him as part of NXT for the time being. If he is drafted as part of the brand split, though, it is easy to see how he could become lost in the shuffle and doomed to midcard status.
9 American Alpha: Thrive
It is nearly impossible to imagine the WWE wasting the gold that it found in American Alpha, the tag team made up of Chad Gable and Jason Jordan. Gable and Jordan should not only be on the main roster before any draft or brand split. American Alpha would, in a fair world, be made Tag Team Champions on their first night of WWE programming.
Gable and Jordan will get over with fans because they are awesome and entertaining inside of the ring. That they can cut good babyface promos as a duo which is icing on top of the cake. American Alpha have not had a bad match since making their debut on NXT and they should be on the main roster before SummerSlam. From there, the sky is the limit for the best team in all of the WWE and maybe the best tag team that WWE has produced in over a decade.
8 Eva Marie: Fail
The Eva Marie heel character is nothing short of brilliant. Eva Marie is a drop-dead gorgeous woman who was signed to the WWE roster because of her looks, who knows she is signed because of her looks and who is, thus, an over heel in the eyes of NXT fans who boo and jeer her every time she emerges from the curtain.
The problem with Eva Marie is that she has failed to make vast improvements as a wrestler, to the point that she should not take up a spot on the main roster as of the summer of 2016. Sometimes, it just clicks for a performer out of nowhere and maybe that will be the case with Eva Marie one day. That day is not in the foreseeable future, though, and there are a handful of women who deserve opportunities to shine ahead of Eva Marie. She will always be able to say she worked at a WrestleMania. We can’t take that away from her.
7 Elias Samson: Unknown
There are probably some wrestling fans who cannot drop down to the comments section quickly enough to scoff at even the idea that Elias Samson could be anything but a “Fail” in such a piece. The character of “The Drifter” is television death, and it needs to go away and never make any sort of return.
Samson suffered an ankle injury in June of 2016, and that injury removed him from the WWE Network shows and also from the active NXT roster. While it is unfortunate that a wrestler experienced a physical setback, it could end up being a positive for Samson. Disappearing for a time could allow the WWE to create a new character for a wrestler who has a unique look and who also has heat among fans. Remember that NXT is a developmental product and all would do well to allow Samson to develop before automatically assuming he will fail on the WWE main roster.
6 Alexa Bliss: Thrive
When Alexa Bliss first debuted on NXT programming, she was an undersized pretty girl who was an inoffensive wrestler and who cut forgettable promos. After turning heel and linking up with the team of Blake and Murphy, though, Bliss evolved and became one of the top overall female performs in all of NXT.
There is not much else for Bliss to do in NXT unless the company is going to put that brand’s title on her following the upcoming roster draft, and thus we should see Bliss on the main roster in 2016. Assuming that the company will keep Bliss heel and have her play the character she portrayed on NXT, Bliss should thrive while feuding with babyface wrestlers. There is one change that we would make regarding Bliss: she needs a new finishing move. That splash off of the top rope is just not working for her.
5 Neville: Fail
It's too bad that Neville suffered a gruesome ankle injury while working a match with Chris Jericho during an edition of Raw. It did seem, however, as if the writing was already on the wall regarding Neville’s position in the WWE even before the accident that sidelined the high-flyer.
Neville can produce tremendous matches with a variety of performers and he is also able to play an undersized babyface when matched up against a large heel. There was no sign before the ankle injury that the WWE saw Neville as a star worthy of carrying a championship for any major length of time. Why would any WWE fan expect that to change because fate frowned upon Neville during a match? It does not give us any joy in predicting this, but we just don’t see Neville thriving when he makes his return to the main roster in the future.
4 Samoa Joe: Unknown
One would think that the WWE could not possibly waste a talent such as Samoa Joe. Joe is currently the top heel signed to the company, somebody who can have five-star matches and who can cut some of the best promos in the WWE. Joe also happens to be a wrestler who made his name in promotions such as Ring of Honor and Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, and Joe is also closer to 40-years-old than he is to what should be his physical prime.
Kevin Owens has done well to become one of the best heels on the WWE main roster. Are there two available spots for both Owens and Joe, even if there is a brand split? We do not know for sure as of July 2016, and that, more so than anything else, is why we are listing Joe as an “unknown.” Joe has the goods to thrive. Will he be given a chance to do so?
3 Finn Balor: Thrive
Finn Balor is everything the WWE could possibly want from its top star of this “New Era.” Balor can cut good promos when he is taken off of the invisible leash and allowed to be himself on the microphone. Nobody can deny that Balor can entertain with his work inside of the ring. “The Demon” character portrayed by Balor for NXT: Takeover shows is unlike anything else on the main roster, and that character will be a hit with audiences of different ages and will sell merchandise at arenas and online.
Whether or not Balor is reunited with The Club is irrelevant. The same can be said for Balor being a heel or a babyface on the main roster. Balor’s entrance alone will get him over among pockets of fans and his wrestling ability speaks for itself. Don’t be surprised if Balor becomes a future star in the WWE.
2 No Way Jose: Fail
Some gimmicks that get over with the smaller crowds that flock to NXT weekly shows flop once they are presented on the main roster. The original Adam Rose character and Fandango are two examples that come to mind. No Way Jose could be next on the list unless changes are made to the character. Jose is fun and entertaining on NXT shows and when feuding with Austin Aries during a midcard program in the company’s developmental brand. One can envision WWE fans quickly turning on Jose once he debuts on cable television.
Perhaps that will be the point and Jose will be made to be a heel who irritates fans so much that they want to see him defeated by babyface workers. We don’t give the WWE that much credit as it pertains to planning ahead. Best of luck to Jose once he makes it out of NXT. He may need all of it.
1 Shinsuke Nakamura: Unknown
Shinsuke Nakamura is similar to Samoe Joe in that both will be big stars on the WWE main roster if they are allowed to get to such a point before they are buried in storylines. Nakamura is the most charismatic wrestler in the WWE today and would be the top pick of any WWE draft if that draft was based on reality. Pessimistic WWE fans have to admit, though, that they would not be shocked if the company dropped the ball regarding Nakamura for whatever reasons.
Maybe Nakamura doesn’t have the right look or maybe the company won’t push Nakamura because English is not his first language. We hope that isn’t the case and that Nakamura becomes the face of one of the brands following the roster draft. We have our doubts, though, and those doubts exist because of curious and bad decisions made by the WWE over many, many years.