The best part about NXT, aside from those incredible specials they put on, is the collegiate elements it adds to professional wrestling. As we watch the very best NXT stars do their thing in the WWE developmental promotion, it’s impossible to not wonder what they are going to do when they get to the next level. The promotion has turned the process of bringing new stars into WWE from a crapshoot into a highly analyzed and anticipated call-up system that reminds some sports fans of the weeks leading up to an annual draft.
The re-introduction of the brand split has only added to that atmosphere. Now, WWE fans around the world look at wrestlers like Samoa Joe, Asuka, and Shinsuke Nakamura and try to imagine how those great wrestlers might fit into the current Raw and SmackDown rosters. The call-up process is quickly beginning to resemble an arms races that each brand and their fans want to win. To add a little fuel to that fire, here are our predictions for which show the next 15 NXT call-ups will go to.
15 Asuka - SmackDown
Asuka has been ready to work the main roster since the moment she stepped foot in NXT. She’s arguably been the very best wrestler in the world for the last few years and is the kind of performer who just draws attention wherever she goes. Her continued presence in NXT has much more to do with the company’s desire to rebuild the women’s division than it does with any skills she might lack. It’s almost a guarantee that she will go to SmackDown when she finally makes the main roster leap. The SmackDown creative team has done tremendous things with the female wrestlers they have, but Becky Lynch needs someone like Asuka to have great matches with. While she's the figurehead of the NXT Women's division, it won't be long before Asuka is on the blue brand.
14 Austin Aries – RAW
Austin Aries has had an interesting time in NXT. He’s been a solid hand, but he hasn’t really reached the same heights that he enjoyed in Ring of Honor and TNA. It’s hard to say what’s missing, exactly, but it feels like he’s still waiting to get that one golden opportunity to really shine. He needs a feud that will let him be the brilliantly cocky heel, which he is when at his best. That obvious personality of Aries probably makes him a great fit for RAW. Aries could either be worked into the cruiserweight division or become a mid-card contender with an option to transition to the main event. In either role, he would probably finally get that opportunity to show how great he can be on the big stage.
13 Roderick Strong - SmackDown
First off, we’re pretty sure that Roderick Strong is going to spend some serious time in NXT. Strong has always been a really solid worker, but in the last few years, he has turned into one of the great heels in wrestling. His in-ring style is similar to a guy like Arn Anderson in that he’s someone who works a very methodical match highlighted by a couple of devastating moves. This old-school wrestler might very well become NXT Champion, but when the main roster does come calling, we’re predicting that Strong goes to SmackDown. Strong’s isn’t a guy that can just get himself over on personality alone meaning that he needs to benefit from the way that the SmackDown team maximize the skills of their available wrestlers.
12 Eric Young - SmackDown
Eric Young has been an underrated wrestler for years now. He looks like the kind of guy that could walk on to Duck Dynasty and become a regular without anyone noticing. TNA spent years treating him as a guy that was good enough to go out there and put on a cruiserweight-style match, but not someone who was necessarily ready for some time at the top. By the time that he did get some more opportunities, TNA was in pretty bad shape. Young can still get it done in just about any role, though. Most likely, he’s going to be getting it done on SmackDown who could use some mid-card babyface talent to keep things fresh in the Intercontinental championship scene, a place where he can make a strong impact.
11 Andrade “Cien” Almas - RAW
NXT fans may just be starting to get to know Andrade Almas, but those that follow the wide world of professional wrestling have known him for years. Almas made his professional wrestling debut before he was 14. As Brillante Jr., Almas quickly established himself as one of the best young luchadors in Mexico. By the time that he adopted the La Sombra character, Almas immediately entered WWE’s radar as potentially the next big Mexican wrestling star. Almas is still trying to really his groove, but if he sticks around the company for long enough, it makes sense that he will join Raw if for no other reason than WWE might try to use him to attract a larger Mexican wrestling fan audience to the flagship show.
10 No Way Jose - RAW
It’s going to be quite some time before we forget those catchy promos that preceded the debut of No Way Jose in NXT. Jose needed the hype as he wasn’t really one of those guys that the NXT fanbase already knew about before he formally stepped into an NXT ring. Jose’s previous work didn’t include many appearances in major indie promotions, but those that did see the guy wrestle back then know that he’s always had his own style. To be honest, Jose has a ceiling on his career. Whether or not a trip to the main roster is in reach for Jose is a matter of some debate, but it feels like there is always a spot for another high energy entertainer somewhere on the roster. Surely, there is a place for him on the weekly three-hour RAW program.
9 The Revival - SmackDown
There are a lot of contenders for the best tag team in the world at the moment, but the argument against The Revival gets a little harder to make with every big match they have. Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder initially drew quite a lot of flak from the NXT fanbase for their boring personalities and basic style. Slowly, though, they have managed to prove that they are capable of having top tier matches with just about anyone. It could just be a matter of days before these guys finally get the roster bump. When that happens, it seems obvious that they are going to be SmackDown bound. SmackDown could use a team to take the belts off of Heath Slater and Rhyno as well as feud with American Alpha down the line.
8 The Authors of Pain - SmackDown
It’s actually been quite a while since WWE had a proper power tag team. In fact, the idea of two bruisers teaming up and just destroying the competition is one that hasn’t been that popular since the ‘80s. Slowly but surely, however, The Authors of Pain are reminding us why the occasional power team is a great thing. They’re not quite where they need to be yet, but this duo is starting to discover what it takes to really come across as world beaters capable of realistically dominating everyone in their wake.
It feels like they're on track for a main roster call-up at some point and will most likely debut on SmackDown. The SmackDown roster’s tag division really does need a lot more talent.
7 TM61 - RAW
Prior to arriving in NXT TM-61 went by the highly marketable name of The Might Don’t Kneel. It’s a shame they had to change that name to one that sounds like something a 12-year old might pick at their gamer tag. Luckily for wrestling fans around the world, the team’s skillset didn’t change with their name. This is a duo that came up through the school or hard knocks known as the Japanese wrestling scene, and they’re finally starting to find a way to adapt that style to a more NXT-friendly version. If they do go to the main roster, they will likely be bound for RAW. Their skillset is fairly similar to American Alpha in that they’re two guys that really know how to work the ring, and that’s something that RAW could use.
6 Tommaso Ciampa - RAW
The following two selections are working under the presumption that Team DIY is going to split before heading up to the main roster. It’s quite possible that Gargano and Ciampa could stay together and keep being an incredible tag team, but these guys are talented enough to also be singles stars, which WWE is always looking for. Of the two, Ciampa is much more of the natural heel type who is capable of working as a street fighter or as a pure wrestler. It’s really a toss-up so far as who goes where is concerned, but for the sake of discussion, let’s send Ciampa to RAW. Ciampa obviously fits into the mid-card pretty well, but don’t completely write off his chances of making a splash in the main event.
5 Johnny Gargano - SmackDown
As good as Tommaso Ciampa is, Johnny Gargano might be even better. The man affectionately known as “Johnny Wrestling” has long been one of the best pure professional wrestlers on the planet. The really scary part is that Gargano is getting better every day. He makes everything he does in the ring seem so effortless even when he is doing things that even the best wrestlers in the world could never hope to do. There's no denying that he’s going to be a star wherever he goes. That said, we’re calling Gargano a SmackDown call-up. SmackDown seems to be leaning towards a slightly smaller main event roster and Gargano is most certainly a main event guy that would benefit from working with similarly talented wrestlers.
4 Tye Dillinger - SmackDown
You might not know it to look at him, but Tye Dillinger is already a 35-year-old veteran of the squared circle. It wasn’t until recently, however, that he really established himself as a fan favorite thanks to the evolution of his perfect 10 gimmick. That gimmick might not be the deepest character in wrestling history, but Dillinger has managed to turn it into the perfect exhibition for his particular personality and skillset. Would he ever leave NXT when he could just serve as the promotion’s gatekeeper for young guys? Maybe not, but it’s easy to imagine Dillinger getting some main roster time before his career is done. If that does happen, SmackDown seems to be the best destination for him due to their recent history of turning great characters into big stars.
3 Bobby Roode - RAW
Bobby Roode…wait, excuse me…the GLORIOUS Bobby Roode is a true gift to the world of professional wrestling. He’s one of the few wrestlers left on this planet that has mastered the art of traditional wrestling psychology and one of the few wrestlers left on this planet that is able to get people to genuinely hate him. He’s been compared to the likes of Triple H and Ric Flair, and he’s just getting started in his WWE career. Bobby Roode will be a world champion in WWE before it’s all said and done. As for which show he will be a champion on, our money is on RAW. Roode is a classic type of wrestler that would fit in well with the more traditional RAW presentation style.
2 Samoa Joe - RAW
It may have taken Samoa Joe way too long to make it to the WWE, but now that he’s here, those who didn’t follow the career of this veteran monster are now aware of why fans have been begging for WWE to sign him for years now. Joe was once considered to be among the most feared wrestlers on the planet and he’s still considered to be one of the very best. He’s a monster wrestler that knows how to get a crowd to love him or hate him based on what his objective is at that particular moment. Sadly, his current status as NXT champion means that he’s still a ways off from his main roster debut. Joe would excel on SmackDown where some of the best opponents of his career reside, but Joe could easily make an impact on Raw and give that show the monster they need when Brock Lesnar is taking time off.
1 Shinsuke Nakamura - SmackDown
NXT’s acquisition of Shinsuke Nakamura may very well be the promotion's biggest signing to date. Few thought they would ever have the chance to see Nakamura wrestle in a WWE ring, and those who did feared that WWE would change everything that makes the guy so great. So far, NXT has allowed Nakamura to be Nakamura. That means that they’ve let the guy be weird, indefinable, and an all-around great performer that may very well be the best in the world at what he does. If the secret to success for Nakamura is letting him be himself, we’re going to have to root for him to go to SmackDown.
So far, SmackDown has been the program that isn’t afraid to give a character time to find their place in the world which is something Nakamura is going to need in order to become the star he deserves to be. He may have to switch to a blue leather jacket though.