Ever since Triple H took a bigger hand in the expansion of the NXT brand, the developmental promotion has gone from a training ground where new wrestlers learn the ropes to a fully-fledged promotion that houses some of the best indie talent in the world. While this transition has been great for fans, it has raised some questions regarding what the long-term plans for NXT’s biggest names are. Now, it seems that stardom in NXT doesn’t automatically mean a quick trip to the main roster. As for those who do go to the next level, there’s no guarantee that they’ll be given the chance to succeed. There's also no guarantee the same gimmick that got them over in NXT will relate to the mainstream audience.
The future is vague for NXT’s biggest stars, but the most recent series of call-ups and releases from NXT have given us a clue as to how WWE perceives some of the promotion’s most notable names.
With that clue, it becomes a little easier to decipher the prospects of wrestlers like Shinsuke Nakamura, Samoa Joe, and Asuka. While the fly-by-night nature of WWE’s booking sometimes leads to bizarre twists of fate, these are our likely projections for the future of NXT’s 15 biggest stars.
15 Hideo Itami: Will Feud with Shinsuke Nakamura and Then Leave WWE/NXT
Signing Hideo Itami is one of the best moves that WWE ever made in terms of building the NXT brand. At the time the acquisition, Itami – better known before then as KENTA – was seen as one of the best pure pro wrestlers in the world. Since signing to NXT, however, Itami is seen as a liability. His constant injuries have made it hard for WWE to rely on him in terms of long-term booking and – quite honestly – there’s very little reason to suspect that Itami will be able to overcome such devastating setbacks and become a main roster member.
Instead, look for WWE to try to put together an Itami/Nakamura program in order to give fans something of an NXT dream match and then release Itami sometime before next year’s WrestleMania.
14 Tye Dillinger: Moves To The Main Roster and Becomes A Comedy Character/Television Worker
The NXT career of Tye Dillinger has been interesting. He’s one of the few guys on the developmental roster you can call an NXT vet – he’s been with the brand since 2013 – but it wasn’t until recently that he really became a roster staple. His mastery of the “Perfect 10” gimmick has earned him a great deal of fan accolades, leaving some to wonder when he’ll make his move to the main roster. That should happen this year, but it’s highly likely it doesn’t go well.
As great as Dillinger is, WWE has had trouble when it comes to ensuring good wrestlers with great characters – like Dillinger and Tyler Breeze – find a home on the main roster. Dillinger could make a main roster debut as soon as the Royal Rumble, but unless he’s able to work himself into the cruiserweight division, don’t expect him to achieve much singles success.
13 Austin Aries : Becomes a Top Heel In The Cruiserweight Division
As difficult as it is to admit, Austin Aries’ run in NXT hasn’t exactly been everything that it could have been. Some of that is on Aries himself who hasn’t had that one blow-away match yet that puts him on everyone’s radar, but it has more to do with a lack of opportunities. Aries hasn’t been given the chance to really work a major program for long and develop his fantastic heel character. That should change this year as Aries makes the likely transition to the cruiserweight division.
While Neville is doing a fantastic job as that division’s top heel, Aries is simply too perfect for the role for WWE to possibly avoid utilizing him. Expect Aries to become a cruiserweight champion before the end of 2017 and possibly use his run to transition into a mid-card or tag-team main roster role.
12 Team DIY: Move to the Main Roster as a Team before Gargano Becomes A Singles Champion
Over the last few months, Johnny Gargano and Tomasso Ciampa have established themselves as the kind of tag team that NXT’s creative staff can build a division around. While both arrived in NXT as singles stars, they’ve quickly turned their real-life friendship into the foundation of Team DIY. While there is still a strong possibility that the two break up and feud while in NXT – this is WWE after all – it feels like they’re going to make the main roster move as a unit. Don’t expect that to last long, however, as WWE will likely be unable to resist utilizing these guys’ potential as singles competitors or having them feud on the main roster.
The popular theory is that Gargano is the one to distinguish himself, but it’s almost a guarantee that one of these guys ends up as a championship contender.
11 The Revival: A Brief Run As Tag Team Champions Before WWE Forgets About Them
While Team DIY currently holds the belts, the best tag team on the NXT roster at the moment is still The Revival. At a time when it’s almost impossible for wrestling heels to really make fans hate them, The Revival have managed to consistently put on the best match every night and still get people to boo them. Their move to the main roster may only be a matter of weeks. From there, The Revival’s chances to make an impact are pretty good.
WWE seems to be willing to give main roster tag team wrestling a decent chance to shine, and The Revival are in a prime position to become the RAW champions, assuming that American Alpha remains on SmackDown. For a time, at least, expect them to become champions, enjoy a few months at the top, and inevitably start losing to The New Day when WWE becomes impatient.
10 No Way Jose: Doesn’t Make the Main Roster and is Out of NXT By the end of 2017
Calling No Way Jose a star may be a bit of a stretch, but on an NXT roster that’s a bit thin at the moment, he’s still one of the most distinguished names on the roster. While Jose isn’t the best in the ring, he brings a tremendous energy to every match he’s in that’s perfect for warming NXT crowds up. Unfortunately, that’s likely going to be Jose’s biggest career accomplishment. In times gone by, Jose could have actually made a main roster transition into a reoccurring jobber on some of the lesser WWE shows.
Now, it seems that WWE prefers to hire one-and-done local talent to fulfill that role. There just doesn’t seem to be a place for Jose at the next level and NXT is eventually going to run out of things for him to do.
9 SAnitY: A brief run at the top of NXT before a feud with the Wyatt Family
This entry could have focused on SAnitY leader Eric Young, but it seems likely that the fate of all the faction’s members are going to be intertwined for at least a while. Since NXT was turned into a distinct wrestling brand a few years ago, the show’s creative staff have refrained from doing a “faction dominates everyone” storyline. As that storyline can be a gold mine of entertainment when done correctly, it’s likely that SAnitY is going to get a brief run at the top of NXT. It’s even possible that every member could hold NXT gold.
In the long-term, though, the best bet regarding SAnitY’s future involves a potential feud with the Wyatt Family. WWE did good business with their Shield vs. The Wyatt Family/Evolution storyline, and they’ve been looking for a way to turn the Wyatts into faces for some time.
8 The Authors of Pain: A Shot on the Main Roster Followed by a Quick Departure
It’s clear that someone in WWE/NXT looks at The Authors of Pain and sees the Road Warriors of a new generation. They’re two big guys who work stiff wrestling matches and tend to injure their opponents as much as they beat them. They even have Paul Ellering as a manager just in case the similarities between the two teams wasn’t clear enough. However, The Authors of Pain are not nearly as good nor nearly as impactful as The Legion of Doom. Blame it on the current WWE style, but this team just doesn’t seem to be able to really come across as being truly dominant. Still, they’re big guys, and Vince McMahon still loves big wrestlers. They’ll get a brief main roster run before departing WWE within the next couple of years.
7 Kassius Ohno: Becomes an NXT Main Eventer before He Turns into an NXT Trainer
If you didn’t get to watch Kassius Ohno – aka Chris Hero – during his initial NXT run, you missed out on some of the best matches in the promotion’s history. At a time when NXT was still trying to find its identify as a promotion, Ohno was making a habit of stealing the show. The rumor is that he was let go because he refused to get into shape. Since then, he has gained quite a bit of weight and is having the best matches of his career. He’s back now, and his future is interesting. Ohno has the talent to be an NXT Champion, but it seems more likely that he’ll be a constant contender with main roster aspirations.
Once he’s on the big show, expect him to either team up with longtime friend Cesaro or otherwise transition into a trainer role.
6 Roderick Strong: Challenges for the NXT Championship but Doesn’t Make the Main Roster
One of NXT’s newest signees is a man that independent wrestling fans have gotten to know well over the last several years. Roderick Strong made his name on the indie scene as the “master of the backbreaker.” He’s since expanded his in-ring repertoire and became known as one of the most consistent and incredible performers in the world. He’s also a bit boring. Strong still has trouble cutting a compelling WWE-style promo which will likely limit him to NXT for quite some time. However, there is no reason to suspect he can’t become NXT Champion within a year. From there, the most Strong can hope for is a mid-card title run, but it’s far more likely that he never makes the jump at all.
5 Andrade “Cien” Almas: Out of NXT and WWE Before the End of the Year
WWE had high hopes for Andrade Almas when they signed him in 2015. In Almas, they saw the kind of Mexican superstar that WWE have always tried to keep on the roster in order to ensure that they maintain their appeal in that region. While Almas has all the talent in the world, he hasn’t really connected with NXT fans in a way that allows him to reach that next level of stardom. One of two things are going to happen. Either Almas is going to use his current heel run to successfully build his character, or he’s going to be out of NXT within the year. Honestly, at this point, the latter option seems likelier. Almas is a great wrestler, but it’s going to be hard for him to find that “it” factor he’s missing.
4 Bobby Roode: Will Win the NXT Championship In 2017 Then Contend for the Main Roster Championships
If WWE was smart, they would have signed Bobby Roode eight years ago. Roode is a throwback wrestler who has often been compared to guys like Triple H. What that means is that he’s solid across the board and can often do exceptional things when given the right guy to work with. Combine that with his incredible NXT gimmick, and you’ve got a guy with a lot of potential. The problem is that Roode is 39 years old. No matter how good he is, that fact limits what he has left to accomplish.
An NXT Championship run seems like a distinct possibility, but will WWE really give Roode a main roster run with the belt? Probably not, but expect him to at least be in some main roster championship matches before he retires.
3 Asuka: Leaves NXT Before the end of 2017 and Enjoys a Brock Lesnar-like Run on the Main Roster
Asuka is coming along during an interesting time for the WWE’s women division. Slowly but surely, the company is starting to figure out how to use their female performers as valuable wrestling assets. Assuming that they continue to use their women’s division in a positive way moving forward, Asuka will likely become the queen of that division. Asuka will almost certainly remain an NXT champion throughout the year until the promotion refills the division following the women’s wrestling tournament later this year. From there, there is no reason to suspect that Asuka will not enjoy a Brock Lesnar-type run on the main roster that sees her destroy the competition for a period of around six months. Honestly, there is a strong possibility she ends 2017 without losing once.
2 Shinsuke Nakamura: Remains NXT Champion For a Few Months Before Becoming WWE Champion on SmackDown
When Shinsuke Nakamura joined NXT, his fans feared the worst. They said that WWE would make him change his name, change his style, change the way he wrestles, and change everything else that made him special. So far, none of that has happened. So far, Nakamura has been able to be himself. However, he’s still in NXT. Nakamura will likely remain champion for a few more months before dropping the belt to either Strong, Ohno, or Roode.
Following that, it seems likely that he will go to SmackDown as WWE seems to be treating that as their “internet wrestling fan” show. If he goes to SmackDown, there’s honestly no reason to assume that he won’t become WWE Champion at least for a brief time. However, it will be shocking if his main event run lasts more than a year.
1 Samoa Joe: A WrestleMania Main Roster Move Followed by a Long Championship Run
Much like Bobby Roode, WWE missed the boat on Samoa Joe’s best years. In 2004-2005, Joe let the world know that he was a uniquely talented competitor that was capable of serving as the centerpiece of any promotion. Sadly, WWE either overlooked him or Joe elected to remain faithful to TNA. Now, however, fans who didn’t get to watch Joe over 10 years ago are getting to see why he’s been a fan favorite for years. Joe will be on the main roster at or around the time of WrestleMania and will be the WWE Universal Champion before the end of 2017.
In fact, there’s a very good chance that Joe could grab the belt around the time of SummerSlam and not let it go until next year’s WrestleMania. Whatever years Joe has left in WWE will be spent at the top.
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