The Nexus will go down as one of the biggest opportunities squandered by the WWE. A group of young stars arriving to invade the main roster and try to take over the company provided great entertainment. The product felt invigorated when The Nexus debuted by attacking John Cena, CM Punk and various employees ringside. You had no idea how much of it was scripted and it made you believe it could be real. WWE had the golden opportunity to make new stars for the future, but dropped the ball. Poor booking would see the momentum go downhill and the rising stars become obsolete.
Some of the individual talents in Nexus went on to have highly successful careers in the WWE. Most would be relegated to lower card work that they could never escape. Everyone has walked a different path with drastically various stories getting them to where they all are today. We’ll look at each individual story of where the once promising faction has evolved into today. The sad fact is we’ll never know just how great The Nexus could have been as a group, but we did get to see everyone showcase their personalities following their split. Let’s take a look at who has thrived and who has not with the “where are they now” stories for every member of The Nexus.
14 Justin Gabriel: Lucha Underground
Many believed Justin Gabriel had the most pure talent of The Nexus bunch due to his aerial maneuvers. Gabriel could pull off high risk moves with the best of them and impressed greatly on the first season of NXT that spawned the faction. WWE never valued him and his career suffered a great decline following the end of Nexus. Gabriel spent the majority of his WWE tenure working in tag team action or lower card work with no signs of relevance.
WWE eventually parted ways with Gabriel, but he has chosen to continue his wrestling career. Gabriel works under the name of PJ Black on Lucha Underground. The talented star has a noteworthy position on the show in a trios team with Johnny Mundo and Jack Evans. Black has found a way to succeed outside of the WWE bubble. Not many can thrive on the independents after a lackluster stint in the WWE, but Black lucked into scoring a deal with the unique Lucha Underground program.
13 Michael Tarver: Rapper/Indie Wrestler
The biggest bust from The Nexus group has to be Michael Tarver. WWE loved him due to his intimidating look as one of the toughest members of the faction. Tarver had the intensity that made you believe he was a bad man. The unfortunate part is that he was a horrible wrestler. Unlike most of his Nexus peers, Tarver couldn’t deliver compelling wrestling matches and quickly found himself released from his WWE contract once the group ended.
Following his WWE deparature, Tarver has tried his best to continue wrestling but has failed to take steps forward. Tarver is typically wrestling in lower level independent wrestling promotions as he’s not good enough to make it in the more buzz-worthy companies. He also is working on his rap career. Tarver claims backstage heat with John Cena led to his firing from WWE. That story is hard to confirm or deny but it is peculiar WWE released him out of the blue.
12 CM Punk: UFC Fighter
Not many remember, but CM Punk actually joined The Nexus as the leader during a transition period. Punk led the “New Nexus” replacing Wade Barrett as the man in charge of the group. This was quite ironic considering Punk actually was the first victim of The Nexus when they attacked him and John Cena to start the group. The story saw Barrett get exiled from the group with Punk giving them more star power since they needed a revamp. WWE viewed this as a last ditch effort to save Nexus, but it sadly didn’t work.
Punk wasted his talent being in the group for a couple of months. Punk's strengths make him better as a solo act. Despite being one of the best performers in the company, Punk just couldn’t rescue the failing faction. Things worked out as leaving the faction later that year led to Punk having the best run of his career with his pipebomb promo. We all know the story of where he is today after quitting WWE due to frustration. You can find Punk trying his luck in the UFC and likely not doing too well.
11 Darren Young: WWE Superstar
Darren Young was one of the least impressive members of the first season of NXT. The idea of The Nexus likely saved his career. If everyone went into singles characters following NXT, Young possibly would have been released or sent back down to developmental. Nexus gave him an opportunity to get television time on Raw. Young didn’t shine as bright as some of his peers, but did enough to hold down a roster spot.
The tenure has led to Young remaining employed by WWE to this day. Through various gimmicks and character changes, WWE believes there’s something special there for Young to break the glass ceiling at some point. Young currently is aligned with Bob Backlund in a feud with his former tag team partner Titus O’Neil. The most noteworthy fact about Young is his bravery in being one of the first openly gay wrestlers to come out during the peak of his career.
10 John Cena: WWE Superstar
It is easy to forget that John Cena actually was forced into The Nexus faction for a very short time period. WWE booked Nexus against Cena instantly as he was the top star in the company. New heels going after the biggest dog in the yard makes sense to establish them. A big win for the Nexus group saw Cena have to join them as part of the stipulation. There were some entertaining moments with the heels bossing him around until he was “fired” for failing to comply with the group’s wishes.
Cena didn’t even miss any television time to sell the angle and resurfaced in humorous moments for weeks. Nexus looked like fools every time Cena got the better of them and they would eventually lose to him. Cena going over Nexus at the end of the day was the crushing blow to destroy the faction’s momentum. The career of Cena continued to thrive in the main event picture following The Nexus storyline and he still is the most popular star in the WWE today.
9 Mason Ryan: Cirque du Soleil
The second incarnation of Nexus with CM Punk as leader spurred changes to the group. Punk’s new version of Nexus gave us a couple of new members joining the group to replace the former names associated with the yellow and black. Mason Ryan was given the opportunity to learn under Punk and have a role in the once respected faction. The muscle head look of Ryan appealed to Vince McMahon’s favorite traits of a wrestler. Sadly, his wrestling talent couldn’t match his impressive look.
Ryan was a stiff in the ring with nothing standing out aside from his muscles. Fans didn’t care for him and his place in the New Nexus helped show how far they fell from prior days as the focal point of Raw. Ryan still works occasionally on the independent wrestling scene, but his main source of income comes from a new field. You can spot him working as the chief archer on Cirque du Soleil's "KÀ."
8 Ezekiel Jackson: Indie Wrestler
Ezekiel Jackson was never truly in The Nexus but he was a member of the spinoff group known as The Corre. Wade Barrett led the alternative to Nexus, who basically had the same goal as Nexus. The move of Barrett, Heath Slater and Justin Gabriel from Raw to SmackDown saw them add Jackson to their group with the new name. WWE badly wanted to squeeze any juice left out of The Nexus, but The Corre completely flopped.
Jackson is someone WWE always wanted to become successful, but he could never deliver to match his push. Following the end of The Corre, Jackson won the Intercontinental Championship and provided another stinker with the new opportunity. WWE eventually cut bait realizing Jackson didn’t have the tools needed to become a big wrestling star. Jackson has had failed stints in TNA and Lucha Underground in recent years. The big man has not retired but the writing is on the wall that he has to look for work in another field.
7 Michael McGillicutty: WWE Superstar
It is nearly impossible to believe this today, but WWE once had faith in Curtis Axel becoming a top star for the company. The son of legendary superstar Mr. Perfect signed with the hopes of following in his dad’s footsteps as one of the better WWE talents. Unfortunately, his career got off to a horrible start on WWE television with the name Michael McGillicutty. Fans laughed at it from day one and he couldn’t get over in the revamp of The New Nexus under CM Punk.
The overall bland in-ring work of McGillicutty didn’t help things either. WWE gave him a golden opportunity with the name change to Curtis Axel and being paired with Paul Heyman. The new identity and manager failed to help him out. Axel floundered but still has a job on the main roster. You can rarely find him on Raw though. The work of Axel takes place on smaller shows like Superstars and Main Event as a glorified enhancement talent.
6 Heath Slater: WWE Superstar
Heath Slater's career has seen various ups and downs. No one expected him to last this long during the original season of NXT and the early days of Nexus. It was hard to take Slater seriously due to his humorous personality in a faction based off intimidating others. Slater was always an afterthought but still found a way to impress in the ring. Everyone knows Slater is an entertainer first, but he can put on good matches when needed.
Slater has currently become one of the shocking highlights of WWE SmackDown. His comedy has made him a memorable part of the show and fans enjoy watching him perform silly antics. Slater was the only active member of the roster to not get drafted during the brand split. This has given him the biggest singles push of his career as a fun act desperately trying to get hired in the most humorous of ways. Expect Slater to continue shining in a role similar to Santino and many other comedic characters in WWE.
5 Husky Harris: WWE Superstar
One of the best things about The Nexus is that it gave opportunities to new talents trying to find their place in the WWE. The problem is most of the young talents would be squandered with subpar booking making them look like fools. That is the story of Husky Harris’ time in The New Nexus. NXT Season two had less fanfare and star power than Season one, but Harris stood out among the more talented performers of the bunch.
WWE tried to shoehorn him into the new version of Nexus with CM Punk recruiting new stars. The stable was already on its last legs and Husky had no chance of showing his talent in the role.
What the hell happened to Husky Harris, you ask? He became Bray Wyatt and the rest is history. Wyatt has gone on the record to say the failure under the Husky moniker led to him growing even more desire to completely turn his career around. Now he is one of the more popular stars on the SmackDown brand.
4 Skip Sheffield: Indie Wrestler
It is common knowledge that Ryback used to be Skip Sheffield, but it is still extremely hard to process. The fact that Ryback used to drop the “yep yep yep what it do?” catch phrase is absolutely hilarious to consider. Sheffield was one of the weaker performers on the first season of NXT and would be the first person voted off based on the talent exhibited. Daniel Bryan and Michael Tarver were eliminated before him, but it was due to showing lack of confidence.
The work of Sheffield in Nexus was surprisingly decent until he unfortunately broke his ankle and was forced out of the group. It ended up being the best thing for his career as he was reintroduced as Ryback and he had a successful stint on the main roster for years. The moderate success wasn’t enough and Ryback felt like he deserved more for the work he was putting in. This led to Ryback recently choosing to leave WWE. The Big Guy is planning to try his luck on the independent wresting scene and other projects.
3 David Otunga: WWE Commentator
WWE badly wanted David Otunga to be the star out of NXT. His look, speaking ability and relationship with mainstream singing star Jennifer Hudson all played into the potential of Otunga. You can just tell Vince McMahon and company hoped he would progress at a level that could see him become a future World Champion. Otunga finished second overall in the NXT competition to Wade Barrett before coming to the main roster in The Nexus.
The positioning of Otunga in The Nexus made him a valued prospect as one of the more protected members of the group. He actually won the World Tag Team Championship with John Cena at one point during The Nexus storyline. The ending of the group saw Otunga completely fall apart with no sustainable pushes. Otunga’s in-ring work just couldn’t match his other strengths. WWE has transitioned him into a broadcaster and he is currently stinking up the joint as a color commentator for SmackDown.
2 Daniel Bryan: WWE General Manager of SmackDown
The shortest reigning member of The Nexus happened to be the most successful one. Daniel Bryan had a terrible time in NXT and was expected to play a big role in Nexus having reason for wanting to take down WWE. The first night of the debut called for the group to beat down everyone ringside realistically. Bryan would choke announcer Justin Roberts with his own tie and spit on John Cena. Both of those acts were against the rules and WWE fired him later that week.
WWE hired Bryan back a couple of months later after everything smoothed over. The face return of Bryan saw him compete against The Nexus and it helped him become more successful than anyone else in the group. Bryan was able to work on his own and had one of the greatest in-ring runs in WWE history. Sadness would occur with various head issues causing Bryan to retire due to a history with concussions. Bryan has returned to WWE as the General Manager but continues to tease returning to the ring for the WWE or another promotion.
1 Wade Barrett: Acting
All of the members of The Nexus had their own unique strengths but each man had glaring flaws. Wade Barrett was the closest thing to the total package and that’s why WWE had him win NXT Season one. This led to Barrett being the clear leader of The Nexus as he orchestrated the group coming to fruition to run amok in the WWE. Barrett impressed against the likes of John Cena and Randy Orton in main event feuds and appeared ready to become a huge star for the company.
Everything quickly went downhill. Barrett lost to the bigger stars and fell into obscurity. WWE completely gave up on Barrett and killed all of his momentum gained as Nexus' leader. The career of Barrett would see more stop and start pushes for years until he finally got fed up. Barrett decided to let his contract expire this year and has left the WWE. There’s no telling what he will do next in wrestling as he remains on the free agent market. The only thing certain is Barrett has high hopes of getting more acting gigs, but he’ll likely return to wrestling sooner or later in a new promotion.