NXT has grown into a key part of the WWE machine. As the superb TakeOver shows demonstrate time and again, it’s a compelling brand in its own right with riveting storylines culminating in an excellent in ring product. At heart, though, the core of NXT remains being a developmental space for WWE to cultivate and tailor newly signed talent to become main roster stars.
Not everyone who signs, or even succeeds in NXT goes on to become a main roster success story. Sure, Seth Rollins was the original NXT Champion and became a steady main event level player on Raw. Guys like Finn Balor and Kevin Owens, too, haven’t translated as well, but have nonetheless worked at the main event level and enjoyed longevity. But for each success story like this, there are cases like Bobby Roode or Neville who went from longstanding NXT Champions, to more often than not serving in forgettable mid-card roles.
This article takes a look at ten current acts in NXT who will main event when they get to the main roster.
10 Velveteen Dream
Some fans will diminish the accomplishments of NXT by pointing out that so many of the brand’s best stars were already accomplished wrestlers working for smaller promotions like New Japan, Impact, Ring of Honor, or Pro Wrestling Guerilla. Velveteen Dream defies this narrative as a young and truly homegrown talent who has worked essentially his whole wrestling career under the WWE brand. Dream moved from the ranks of Tough Enough to NXT where he developed a unique persona, promo style, and in ring skills to become a standout.
At press time, Dream reigns as the North American Champion and it feels like less a matter of if, but rather when he’ll get his call up to the main roster. Related, there’s a question of whether he’ll capture the NXT Championship - if he hangs around the Performance Center for another year or more, it will start to feel like an inevitability on the road to a successful main roster tenure.
9 Kyle O’Reilly
Kyle O’Reilly has been booked largely as a supporting player for the Undisputed Era faction in NXT, mostly working in tag teams with Bobby Fish and Roderick Strong. Throughout this tenure, O’Reilly has had more opportunities to shine than most tag guys. He has typically been tasked with either opening up TakeOver specials with show-stealing matches, or main eventing when the whole Undisputed Era has been involved in War Games bouts.
O’Reilly may or may not emerge as a main roster main eventer on his own. Indeed, he did work solo main event level runs for small promotions, including winning the top singles titles in Ring of Honor and Pro Wrestling Guerilla. His greatest potential, however, may come with the Undisputed Era faction if WWE opts to move the whole faction to the main roster together. If there NXT run is any indication, they could emerge as something akin to The Shield—a group of hungry, technically proficient young talents who could be a force as a unit.
8 Shayna Baszler
The main event glass ceiling has officially been removed from the women’s roster, with more than sporadic main event appearances for them, but now the first women’s WrestleMania main event under the division’s belt. So it is that top female talent coming up from NXT may now cast their sights higher than ever, and it’s entirely realistic to think that the top stars among them may main event PPVs on the main roster.
When we consider top female talent from NXT, Shayna Baszler has to be a key part of that conversation. She has largely dominated the NXT Women’s Championship picture for the last year, proving naysayers wrong with very good matches, utilizing her MMA-informed technique and natural heel tendencies to become a top attraction. With her friend Ronda Rousey seemingly out indefinitely, Baszler could step into a not so dissimilar role as a premier, legitimate athlete.
7 Matt Riddle
Matt Riddle has a unique presence. On one hand, his carefree King of Bros persona feels a little too lax, and as though it would have a mid-card ceiling over it. On the other hand, he has a legitimate MMA background and impressive strength, agility, and striking to make him come across like an instant star. On top of that, his size and look make him believable as an upper card threat.
Riddle has only been in NXT for a few months and, as such, the jury’s out on his longer-term trajectory. His credentials do set him up as someone who could be a viable main event threat, though, either with the face character he has portrayed in developmental so far, or with a bit meaner edge as a heel.
6 The War Raiders
On first glance, The War Raiders come across as another in a long line of big man teams akin to The Road Warriors, Demolition, The Powers of Pain, The Ascension, The Authors of Pain, or The Bludgeon Brothers. As the duo has proven in NXT, however, they have striking agility and speed to bolster their power game. Despite looking as though they’re not in as great shape as some of the aforementioned teams, with their less chiseled physique, Hanson and Rowe are in the conversation for the very best in ring performers of the bunch.
Neither of these men, individually, is lined up to be a main event level guy. However, they could readily emerge as a top tier tag team and be ready and waiting for Survivor Series matches or other team-oriented events that would invite them to support more bona fide top guys in PPV main events.
5 Johnny Gargano
Johnny Gargano is one of NXT’s greatest success stories. Rising from relative anonymity in the Cruiserweight Classic tournament, Gargano rose through the tag ranks with Tommaso Ciampa as #DIY, en route to feuding with each other until they were the top two stars in NXT.
Gargano finally captured the NXT Championship at TakeOver: New York, solidifying his place as a top guy in the developmental brand. He has been operating toward the top of NXT for well over a year now, and while nothing is guaranteed on the main roster, his ability to play face and heel both brilliantly, and pull out a great match against basically anyone will have to put him into main event conversations down the road.
4 Dominik Dijakovic
Dominik Diijakovic made a name for himself on the indies en route to signing with WWE. While he’s not necessarily the biggest name coming out of NXT today, many pundits have pegged him as a star in the making. It appeared that WWE was heating him up with a right-wing political gimmick, leading to a tweet in which he called out various political leaders. The tweet got taken down promptly, so it all may be a work in progress. Nonetheless, WWE seems to want Dijakovic in an attention-grabbing position, and for his part, Dijakovic seems eager to get his hands dirty. He’ll be one to watch as his NXT career progresses, and a potential very big deal if or when he gets to the main roster.
Walter has made a name for himself wrestling around the world. Rumor has it that WWE was interested in the Austrian big man for some time, but that he resisted overtures on the basis that he wasn’t interested in the WWE schedule and being so far from home most of the time.
WWE’s still new NXT UK brand offered a natural opportunity for Walter to wind up working with the company, including his crowning moment to date, capturing the UK Championship from Pete Dunn at TakeOver: New York. It’s yet to be seen how American fans, in particular, will respond to Walter in the long term, and whether he’ll soften his stance on shifting his career stateside. Regardless, his size and brutal ring style mean that he could be a unique main event attraction down the road for WWE.
2 Tommaso Ciampa
Not unlike Johnny Gargano, with whom he has spent almost all of his time under the WWE umbrella either teaming or feuding with, Tommaso Ciampa’s is a story of a guy with limited size and an indie style that didn’t necessarily look bound for WWE glory. His commitment to his heel act, paired with his commitment to reshaping his body, particularly when he was out due to injury, allowed Ciampa to capitalize on his stellar ring skills to arrive as the top guy in NXT.
Ciampa seems to have the favor of Triple H, and will little doubt have the game in his corner if or when he does get the call up. Ciampa is out for a long term injury again, and some pundits fear that his body might never allow him a full-fledged run on the main roster. Based on what he has done in NXT so far, though, if he does get the opportunity, we can expect him to work his way up to the top of Raw or SmackDown for at least a short spell.
1 Adam Cole
To look at him, Adam Cole doesn’t exactly come across as a guy who would star for WWE, particularly given his relatively small size. However, he’s a sensational talker and quite good between the ropes. His run as the leader of Undisputed Era in NXT has established him as a manipulative heel in the mold of a Ted Dibiase or Edge. Meanwhile, his ability to connect with fans through chants and electrifying spots has also suggested he has untapped potential as a face.
Cole has been steadily good enough at whatever he’s been asked to do in NXT that he feels like a lock to become a player on the main roster. Particularly if he gets called up with his Undisputed Era faction intact, we can expect him to arrive at or around the main event level.