The rise of NXT completely changed the landscape of the WWE on two levels. First, the developmental promotion finally created a system for wrestlers to get ready for the main roster., while the popular shows created an environment that allowed fans to connect with the performers. Once a NXT star gets called up to the main roster now, a large percentage of the fan base is already familiar with them making it easier for the Superstar to get acclimated on the big stage. NXT also became its own entity with a product that has fans wanting to attend the shows and watch the live specials on WWE Network.
Triple H’s vision is the success behind NXT and it is a great sign for the future of WWE whenever he replaces Vince McMahon as the man in charge. The plethora of stars made in NXT is the main reason for their success as a touring brand and a great bridge to Raw and SmackDown Live. We’ll take a look at the history of NXT with the top performers to come from the underground brand. Some have become huge stars on the roster and others have flopped, but all made a name for themselves in the developmental system. These are the top thirty NXT stars of all-time, enjoy!
The signing of Kalisto from the independent wrestling scene gave the WWE a new luchador to push in hopes of making him a star. Kalisto connected with the NXT fans as a solid tag team wrestler with a couple of different partners. His team with Sin Cara as The Lucha Dragons is what gave him the most success and led him to the main roster.
The Lucha Dragons did not really get over on the main roster. Kalisto was clearly the bigger star of the two wrestlers and WWE tried to position him as a singles star, though it flopped. However, there’s a possibility he’ll be a bigger part of the cruiserweight division going forward. Kalisto could have been a bigger star in NXT with more time but he’s likely happy on the main roster.
29. Alexa Bliss
Alexa Bliss signed to the WWE at a very young age due to her background in gymnastics and fitness competitions. Triple H and the scouting team saw something special in her that has proven to be true. Bliss worked as a face early in her career and showed potential. A heel turn would shake up her career for the best with a new character.
The tag team of Blake and Murphy adopted Bliss as their manager to benefit everyone involved. Bliss’ heel work shined in helping her get to the next level as a performer, while her in-ring work of Alexa also improved over time. WWE called her up during the brand split and she’s now one of the top female heel stars on SmackDown Live. Bliss is without a doubt one of the best success stories from NXT.
28. Hideo Itami
We have unfortunately been robbed of the best of Hideo Itami due to injuries hitting him at the worst time. Formerly known as KENTA from his time in Japan and Ring of Honor, Itami signed to the WWE along with Kevin Owens and Finn Balor as one of the best free agency classes in NXT history. Itami had a couple of impressive matches but has been plagued with injuries that ruined his momentum.
Fans are hoping Itami is healthy enough to return soon and eventually continue his feud with Austin Aries. Both Itami and Aries are dealing with injuries at the moment, making us all hurt even more knowing how close we were to a dream match. Itami is still one of the most talented performers in the world when at his peak and has a lot left to offer.
Emma was one of the first women on the WWE roster to change her entire persona while down in NXT. The matches between Emma and Paige forced the fans to realize women could actually wrestle matches as well as the men if given an opportunity. Emma had an endearing gimmick of being a credible wrestler that happened to be very positive and loved dancing in a silly fashion.
Her first call-up to the main roster was a major flop, with fans not caring for her dancing gimmick. Emma went back down to NXT and reinvented herself with a new heel character. She looked even better this time around as a top level performer. Sadly, an injury saw her on the shelf, however, she is set to return with her new gimmick of “Emmalina” soon.
Rusev’s presence in NXT was rather forgettable for a couple of years until he was paired with Lana as his manager. Rusev and Lana are just perfect together with both finding their ideal roles in the WWE when made an on-air duo. Rusev’s stock continued to grow with him standing out as a credible heel on the NXT roster. Fans actually gave him heat and it led to a call up alongside Lana.
Rusev has achieved even more success on the main roster and became a top tier heel. His rise even saw him have a high profile match against John Cena during his first year at WrestleMania 31. Things have been up and down for Rusev since the Cena feud, but he’s clearly an upper level heel. NXT can take credit for another noteworthy star on the WWE’s main roster today.
25. Corey Graves
Corey Graves had a promising wrestling career in NXT before his transition to a broadcaster. Graves wrestled in the WWE developmental programs for over three years and the high point of his career came when he won the NXT Tag Team Championships with Neville as his partner. Not many realize this due to the early NXT days being less relevant, but Graves worked in feuds against both The Shield and The Wyatt Family.
Concussion injuries forced Graves to retire much earlier than he would’ve liked. WWE didn’t want to risk his health and offered him a new position as a broadcaster. From there, Graves exceled both on the pre-show panels and as a color commentator. His current spot at the Raw announcing table is likely his for many years to come as another NXT success story.
24. The Revival
The tag team division in NXT reached new heights in 2016. A couple of teams stepped up to make the division red hot, but one has remained constant. Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder are not the most exciting talkers or wrestlers, but they get the job done. Their old school approach of tag team wrestling has made The Revival the elite tag team heels down in NXT.
The Revival has delivered classic matches against American Alpha and Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa at every TakeOver special this year. They’re one of the rare acts to prove old can be new with throwbacks to wrestling of the past. Dawson and Wilder are still the active NXT Tag Team Champions, but will likely be on the main roster sooner or later.
23. Samoa Joe
The wrestling world was stunned when Samoa Joe showed up in NXT a couple of months after leaving TNA. WWE appeared to have no interest in former TNA stars, but diehard fans have wanted Samoa Joe in the company. Triple H finally appeased them with Joe becoming a fixture in NXT over the past year. Joe has already feuded with Kevin Owens, Finn Balor and Shinsuke Nakamura, giving us a bunch of dream matches.
Fans are already itching for him to come up to the main roster, where he could potentially have a dream match against Brock Lesnar. Joe is currently the top heel in NXT and has cemented a legacy in the history of the promotion as a former NXT World Champion. One of the coolest things about NXT is the high level of talent coming in from all over the world and Joe is a perfect example of that.
Another high level talent signing by Triple H was bringing in top Japanese female wrestler Asuka. Her reputation in Japan was up there with the best of the best. Asuka has made an instant impact as one of the most popular female wrestlers in NXT. Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair moving to the main roster last summer left spots for new women and Asuka claimed one.
Asuka has become the face of the NXT women’s division as the current NXT Women’s Champion. Her inability to speak English fluently could hold her back on the main roster, but her talent is good enough to overcome this issue. Asuka may very well stick around in NXT for quite some time until someone is ready to take her place.
21. Adam Rose
The thought of Adam Rose being a top level NXT star is a bit hard to believe now, but it was once true. Rose spent many years in WWE’s developmental system. The character of Leo Kruger is what he most enjoyed playing, but it didn’t connect enough to make an impact. A huge change saw him become Adam Rose as a wrestler wanting to party every step of the way.
NXT fans made Rose look like a million bucks with the singing of his entrance theme and enjoying the dancing of the rosebuds. WWE then called him up to the main roster and it completely flopped. Rose had little chance of succeeding with the gimmick on a bigger stage. This was cute enough with the NXT fans being a part of the act but the larger audience could not understand it with the WWE doing a poor job of conveying it to them.
20. Shinsuke Nakamura
Shinsuke Nakamura was a massive star in New Japan for many years before shocking the North American wrestling world. WWE signed him at the beginning of 2016 and he instantly became the top face in NXT. Nakamura debuted in a classic match against Sami Zayn. Fans were treated to the gifts of Nakamura as one of the most credible in-ring performers and charismatic personalities in the world.
Many of the top NXT names have been called up to the main roster following WrestleMania 32 and later the brand split. Nakamura made up for the absences by adding a new dynamic to the developmental promotion. As the current NXT Champion, Nakamura is still adding to his NXT legacy. A talent like him is rare to find and he is bound for the main roster sooner or later. NXT fans need to enjoy him while they can.
19. American Alpha
The most talented tag team to come out of NXT has to be American Alpha. Chad Gable and Jason Jordan both lacked an on-air role on NXT until they paired together as a tag team. Their backgrounds in amateur wrestling synced them together and their personalities started to develop as a unit. Jordan and Gable won the NXT faithful over with incredible matches every time they were put in a position to succeed.
There’s no doubt they would be the best tag team in NXT history if they stayed around longer in the top spot. WWE’s brand split just happened to coincide with the timing of American Alpha’s NXT Tag Team Championship reign. They dropped the titles quickly and have become a part of the SmackDown Live roster. American Alpha has the potential to become one of the best duos WWE has produced in many years.
18. Bo Dallas
WWE signed Bo Dallas at a young age with the hopes of him becoming a future star. They clearly saw potential there with his lineage as a second generation star (he’s the son of Mike Rotunda – I.R.S.). NXT saw Dallas hit his peak as a performer. His heel character as an obnoxious character pushing fans and other wrestlers to “Bo-lieve” in him made him a top NXT draw.
Fans hated Dallas and the heat led him all the way to the NXT Championship. Dallas actually did a good job working against Sami Zayn and Neville in feuds that helped bring new eyes to NXT. His main roster tenure has not gone as well, with him failing to find something that connects with a larger audience. Fans don’t care for the “Bo-lieve” character and the WWE are still trying to repackage him into a credible name.
17. The Ascension
The difference between NXT and the main roster has hit The Ascension more than just about anyone else. Konnor and Viktor dominated the NXT tag team division for a long time. At a point, it almost felt as though they were guaranteed to win almost any time they faced anyone in a tag match.
The Ascension holds the record for longest reigning NXT Tag Team Champions at 364 days before losing the titles to The Lucha Dragons. WWE called them up to the main roster and they’ve been floundering ever since. Many fans viewed them as a rip off to The Legion of Doom on the main roster. That led to them falling apart before they could really get started. Konnor and Viktor may be better going back home to NXT where they’re a bigger deal.
16. Baron Corbin
The original intent of the Performance Center and NXT was to sign ex-athletes to developmental contracts and give them a chance to learn the job. Most of them have floppedm but one former NFL player to make the most of the opportunity is Baron Corbin. The Lone Wolf gradually improved, picking up the fundamentals needed to match his athletic talent.
Corbin developed a heel persona as someone that was given a contract and often looked down on all of the veterans that worked their entire lives to get to NXT. His character worked and it made him a top level heel in NXT for quite some time. Corbin is now a member of SmackDown Live with the potential to be a fixture on the WWE main roster for many years to come.
15. Big E
Big E is known today for his hilarious antics as a pivotal member of the New Day but many are unaware of his huge success in NXT. The talented prospect did some impressive work in the developmental promotion and actually defeated Seth Rollins to become the second ever NXT Champion. Big E caught the attention of many and Vince McMahon was rumored to be very high on him as a singles star.
His initial singles push did not work out too well. Big E struggled to find a voice until he joined Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods in the New Day. Today, he remains a hot commodity as a member of that group. However, the potential for another singles run is always there. If you watched him in NXT, you know Big E is good enough to make it work with the right booking.
This may be a controversial pick due to the limited time Cesaro actually spent in NXT. Unlike many others on this list, Cesaro actually made his name in FCW before moving up to the main roster. WWE had him go back and forth between the main roster shows and NXT after he was already established on television.
Cesaro helped NXT get new viewers with his presence. The fact that he put out some of the best performances of his career also helped the brand. Sami Zayn became Cesaro’s rival with many of their matches putting NXT on the map. WWE Network streaming the first ever NXT live special is mostly remembered for Cesaro defeating Zayn in a classic encounter. Cesaro did not spend a lot of time in NXT but made a huge impact nonetheless.
13. Bray Wyatt
An important aspect of NXT has been giving young performers a chance to reinvent themselves. Husky Harris completely flopped on the main roster and things looked bleak for him. NXT allowed him the opportunity to create a new character. The birth of Bray Wyatt saw one of the most unique additions to the roster. It progressed with all three original members forming The Wyatt Family.
Bray specifically stood out as a Superstar with promos and a new look that made you wonder if he’s actually the same person that portrayed Husky Harris. His success on the main roster has been the shining example of how successful NXT can be. Triple H specifically names Bray among the stars he believes represent the purpose of NXT.
12. Becky Lynch
The current women’s movement in the WWE all started in NXT with many of the female performers having incredible matches. Fans were forced to take them seriously due to the excellent matches taking place in the squared circle. Becky Lynch is one of the major stars that helped change the nature of WWE when it came to women’s wrestling. Lynch’s in-ring work is special and NXT provided a platform to show it off.
Becky’s earlier days in the WWE saw her Irish accent hurt her chances at getting pushed in the WWE. Becky’s track record in NXT gave her the ability to show her skills and eventually become the first ever SmackDown Live Women’s Champion. Lynch is the face of the women’s division on the blue brand. NXT’s role in her success is shown every time she has a crowd on their feet viewing her as a star.
11. Tyler Breeze
Tyler Breeze struggled in developmental for years until he finally perfected the gimmick needed to get over. The self-absorbed wannabe male model walked to the ring with a selfie stick taking photographs of himself in the most vain way imaginable. Breeze won over Full Sail with his great character work and impressive wrestling matches. The opportunity to work with top talent like Sami Zayn and Neville showed Breeze could hang with the best of them.
WWE has not done right by him on the main roster. Breeze has had little to no momentum as a singles character on the main roster. Now, he teams with Fandango as a comedic tag team wrestler on SmackDown Live. Breeze still provides entertainment, but most of us miss his NXT days. The classic big fish in a small pond scenario has seen Breeze’s best days fly by during the run in NXT.
10. Seth Rollins
NXT needed a credible star to be their first champion and set the brand off to a good start. Triple H did just that by putting the title on Seth Rollins as the first face of the NXT brand. Rollins had a great reputation from his days in Ring of Honor and helped attract viewers to the matches online. The first title tournament saw Rollins defeat Jinder Mahal of all people in the finals to win the title.
Rollins moved up to the main roster along with Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns as the first big success story from NXT. Ambrose and Reigns weren’t that noteworthy in NXT, but Rollins was a huge contributor. Rollins made history at WrestleMania 31 by becoming the first man to have held both the NXT Championship and WWE World Championship in his career.
9. Big Cass and Enzo Amore
Big Cass and Enzo Amore are each individual success stories from NXT, but they needed each other to succeed. The tall and athletic Cass lacked microphone skills, while Enzo lacked some of the in-ring skills. Together they merged their strengths to hide their weaknesses. Their opening promo, with Enzo leading the fans to chant along, and the in-ring legitimacy of Cass won over the NXT Universe.
Strangely, Cass and Enzo never won the NXT Tag Team Championship. There’s a belief that some stars are over enough on their own and don’t need titles as much as others do to find credibility. This was true for the duo as they moved on to the main roster without any tag gold. Fans love Enzo and Big Cass these days with a chance of more success coming down the line.
8. Charlotte Flair
Ric Flair’s daughter has clearly attracted attention and expectations that comes with following in the footsteps of a legend. Charlotte picked up the skills needed to excel in pro wrestling quickly thanks to the Performance Center. A memorable NXT match featured Charlotte defeating Natalya to become NXT Women’s Champion in an incredible star-making performance. Charlotte became the face of the division.
With matches against Sasha Banks, Bayley and Becky Lynch, Charlotte stepped up to match her more experienced peers. Her call-up to the main roster has been a massive success for Charlotte, as WWE has positioned her as the face of the women’s movement in the company. Charlotte is a main eventer and has helped push the women to the top of the WWE with full confidence behind her.
7. Kevin Owens
Diehard wrestling fans were ecstatic about WWE signing Kevin Owens, but held caution about how he would be used. Well, the independent wrestling legend shattered the glass ceiling as one of the biggest success stories in NXT history. Owens entered a feud with longtime rival Sami Zayn and won the NXT Championship after a couple of months.
WWE felt Owens was too good to not be on the main roster and called him up in a feud against John Cena within five months of his NXT debut. Owens has since become a fixture on the main roster as one of the most entertaining all-around performers. His talent has landed him an opportunity as the current WWE Universal Champion leading the Raw brand. As great as NXT is, some performers don’t need it and Owens is one of them.
One of the first successful main eventers during the growing stages of NXT was Neville. The high-flier dazzles fans with his incredible moves, but he was always to show even more in NXT. Neville is not impressive on the microphone and it would be viewed as a weakness. NXT fans looked past it and allowed his personality to shine as a person rather than a character.
Neville being selected to defeat Bo Dallas in the first NXT live special main event for the NXT Championship was designed to show that he represented what the brand was all about. His long feud with Sami Zayn made Neville one of the most impressive performers in the business. WWE called him up on the main roster, but has not used him to the best of his abilities. Neville desperately needs direction now like he received with the booking in NXT.
The first big female star to make an impact in NXT was Paige. WWE signed her at the age of 19 due to her obvious potential. NXT built the women’s division around her and it clearly led to fans taking the women seriously. Diehard fans respected Paige for her early introduction into wrestling. Her matches against Emma made her a big star in the the WWE world and that’s thanks to NXT.
Paige was called up to the main roster and won the Divas Championship by defeating AJ Lee on the night after WrestleMania XXX. It felt like Paige would dominate the women’s division for many years. However, the ascension of Sasha Banks, Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch caused Paige’s stock to diminish. Currently with injuries and in the doghouse of the WWE, her legendary NXT tenure feels like ages ago.
4. Sasha Banks
Sasha Banks’ evolution in NXT is what earned her the reputation as a special performer that could change the business. Her classic matches against Bayley outshined the highly renowned men on the roster at the time. Banks became a must-see performer in NXT with her character as “The Boss” equally matching the superb matches.
WWE called Sasha up as part of the women’s revolution and she was the most beloved of the women. Charlotte has been the dominant champion, but fans have shown more support for Banks. There’s no way WWE would have been able to pull off the first ever female PPV main event this year without Banks being one of the competitors. It all started with her confidence growing in NXT, making Banks who she is today.
3. Finn Bálor
Finn Bálor’s star power in NXT added the most drawing power of anyone to wrestle there. WWE signed Finn out of New Japan. Bálor was a huge star in Japan and it seemed like a downgrade to have to work in a developmental promotion. With the new challenge, Finn made the best of it and helped take NXT to the next stage as a touring brand.
Between his overall cool demeanor and “The Demon” aspect, with Balor using unique face paint for big matches, Bálor made people want to watch NXT and come to shows. WWE kept him there longer than he should have been, but needed him to sell tickets. Finn debuted on the main roster and was the first ever WWE Universal Champion before suffering an injury. Whenever he returns, the NXT icon will continue his legacy on Raw.
The ability to create a special character is the most important thing someone can do in NXT. Bayley did just that when she found the magic by tapping into her fandom. The lifelong wrestling fan played a loveable character, overly happy to achieve her dream and it connected with the fans. Young fans are inspired by Bayley and even the most jaded fans take her seriously due to her in-ring credibility.
Bayley played the underdog for quite some time before finally defeating Sasha Banks to win the NXT Women’s Championship in Brooklyn. The classic is widely considered the best match in NXT history. Bayley helped make up for the losses of Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch in NXT for a year before finally getting her turn on the main roster recently.
1. Sami Zayn
No one deserves to be considered the top star in NXT history more than Sami Zayn. Before he arrived, most people forgot NXT even existed due to them not having a television deal in the United States. Zayn shed his former El Generico gimmick and started wrestling without a mask. It was the right move as Zayn connected with the NXT fans as the first big star made in Full Sail.
Zayn delivered classic matches with Cesaro, Jack Swagger and many others that made fans start to take note of the show online. The WWE Network debuting and airing NXT helped showcase Zayn to even more fans. Zayn’s journey to winning the NXT Championship in an incredible feud with Neville and his title loss to Kevin Owens are two stories that stand out at the top of NXT. Today, Zayn is on Raw trying to get to the next level, but he’ll always be an NXT icon.
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