Every wrestler viewers now see on Raw and SmackDown Live has paid their dues in NXT, save for a handful of exceptions like AJ Styles and Bobby Lashley and veterans like Rey Mysterio.
These days, no matter how big a name you’re on the indies, a wrestler is bound to go through NXT. Even the former Intercontinental Champion and The Chosen One in Drew McIntyre had to do a short spell with NXT before moving to the main roster.
Most NXT alumni, despite managing to get over with the Full Sail University, have faltered on the main roster. In this article, we’ll be looking at five main-roster wrestlers who haven’t built on their NXT success. In addition, we’ll also be looking at five NXT busts who’ve gone on to be prominent figures on the main roster.
10 Have Not Met Expectation: The Ascension
Most main roster fans won’t even realize that The Ascension are still working for WWE. Despite WWE’s recent attempts to promote tag-team wrestling, Konnor and Viktor have found their main-roster opportunities limited.
In NXT, however, they were booked as monsters, and even secured wins against The Colons, The Lucha Dragons and Too Cool. The first-ever NXT Tag Team Champions, they went on to hold the titles for a whopping 364 days—the longest reign in NXT history. Although they defeated The New Age Outlaws in their first “feud,” their maiden main-roster loss to The Prime Time Players reduced them to Main Event and Superstars appearances. They haven’t recovered since.
9 Exceeded Expectation: Alexa Bliss
When Asuka, Paige, Emma, and The Four Horsewomen dominated NXT, put on critically-acclaimed matches and started the women’s revolution in WWE, Alexa Bliss quietly watches from the sidelines. While her talent was there for everyone to see, her most notable work in NXT was being Buddy Murphy and Wesley Blake’s valet.
She was the 47th of the 59 initial drafts in the 2016 brand split. The Internet wrestling fans expected her to be an Alicia Fox figure at best. However, less than five months into her main-roster debut, she stunned everyone by beating Becky Lynch for the SmackDown Women’s Champion. Since then, she’s had four more Women’s Championship reigns and even won the Money in the Bank ladder match in 2018.
8 Have Not Met Expectation: Bo Dallas
Much like The Ascension, Bo Dallas had a top-notch NXT stint, which included a 260-day NXT Championship reign. He collected wins against numerous big names, including Wade Barrett, Bray Wyatt, Cesaro and Sami Zayn. His NXT heel persona is still regarded as one of the best characters in recent times.
He even had a cracking start to his main-roster career, going on a 17-match undefeated streak—including wins against world champions Dolph Ziggler, The Great Khali and Kofi Kingston—and even rubbing shoulders with legends Mark Henry, Brock Lesnar, and Sting. His “push” started fizzling out in 2016; he has since become a shadow of his former self, jobbing to undercard wrestlers.
7 Exceeded Expectation: Daniel Bryan
In the original version of NXT, Daniel Bryan was the first to be eliminated alongside Michael Tarver after a series of losses. Even when John Cena introduced him as the final member of Team WWE against The Nexus ahead of SummerSlam 2010, the casuals weren’t excited.
However, he won the United States Championship just weeks into his main-roster debut. Even the casuals started getting behind him as he became the first NXT product to win a world title, World Heavyweight Championship, months later. His working with Kane, The Shield, Randy Orton, and CM Punk only helped him become super over with the fans, and the Yes Movement started as a result. The rest, as they say, is history.
6 Have Not Met Expectation: EC3
EC3 has all the makings of a top-tier WWE wrestler. He looks like The Ultimate Warrior but is miles better than the late legend. When he signed for NXT after a successful spell with Impact Wrestling, where he established himself as a world-class athlete. Many expected Vince McMahon to push him to the moon considering his alleged penchant for charismatic athletic men.
After a short NXT sojourn, it was touted that he was being readied for a huge main-roster push. He even collected a win against Dean Ambrose on his main-roster debut. However, he has since fallen down the card, even losing to Apollo Crews twice in a row on Main Event.
5 Exceeded Expectation: Braun Strowman
Bray Wyatt, Harper, and Rowan became huge as parts of The Wyatt Family even before moving to the main roster. Braun Strowman, however, only joined later and was hardly ever featured. He only wrestled in house shows predominantly before being fast-tracked to the main roster during a period when smaller wrestlers like AJ Styles were becoming more popular than their bigger counterparts thanks to their ability to pull of aesthetically-pleasing moves.
However, he managed to fill a void that had been left by the aging Big Show and Kane. After years of The Great Khali, Viscera and Snitsky, he managed to get over with the fans. Although he hasn’t won any singles title, he’s destined for greatness.
4 Have Not Met Expectation: Neville
Neville, now known as PAC, enjoyed immense success in NXT, becoming the inaugural NXT Tag Team Champion and holding the NXT Championship for 286 days. He put on spectacles, including the celebrated fatal four-way with Sami Zayn, Tyson Kidd, and Tyler Breeze at TakeOver: Fatal 4-Way.
As former NXT alumni, Seth Rollins and Daniel Bryan had become world champions by the time he joined Raw, and many hoped he’d follow suit. However, he did nothing of note until joining 205 Live. He put 205 Live on the map with help from Austin Aries and Enzo Amore. For most wrestlers, winning the Cruiserweight Championship counts as great success but, given Neville’s talent, it wasn’t much.
3 Exceeded Expectation: Elias
Elias was a relative unknown when he signed for NXT. Understandably, Triple H and co. didn’t book him as strongly as he lost more often than he won. The Full Sail University crowd didn’t take to him either.
Elias’ gimmick made him look a jobber to-be, but Vince McMahon saw something in him Triple, perhaps, never did. He handed him wins against Dean Ambrose and Finn Balor and had him wrestle big names like Roman Reigns, John Cena, Seth Rollins, The Undertaker, and Jeff Jarrett. Elias has now become a huge star thanks to his constantly delivering excellent promos and character work. It won’t be long before he wins a world title.
2 Have Not Met Expectation: The Revival
You don’t get endorsed by Bret Hart and Steve Austin without being excellent at what you do. Triple H recognized The Revival’s talent and made them a huge attraction in NXT. At one point, it felt as though they’d revolutionize tag-team wrestling.
After they registered two consecutive wins against The New Day on the main roster, many expected them to reach unforeseen heights. However, back-to-back injuries to Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder derailed their momentum. They haven’t recovered since, losing to The Club, The B-Team and DIY, among other teams. The fact that they didn’t even have a match on Money in the Bank 2019 despite feuding with The Usos highlighted how far they’ve fallen.
1 Exceeded Expectation: Becky Lynch
Becky Lynch was the only member of The Four Horsemen to never win the NXT Women’s Championship. It felt as though she’d become the Marty Jannetty of the group.
Although she struggled on the main roster, her fan base grew gradually, and their support reached its peak following a failed heel turn involving a babyface Charlotte Flair. As a result, she tweaked her character to become The Man and went on to not just main-event WrestleMania but end the show lifting two Women’s Championship titles above her shoulders. Who would have thought she’d reach the heights she’s done when she was wrestling as La Luchadora?