The success of NXT is as much about access as excellent wrestling and booking. When Cena, Orton, Batista, and Lesner were burning up OVW (Ohio Valley Wrestling) in the early 2000s, most fans couldn’t see these young stars in action. The same held true when Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW) served as the WWE’s developmental area. The first version of NXT appeared in February 2010 on SciFi Network in timeslot taking over the restarted ECW brand. That show only lasted a short time, moving to a web site only model, and now serving as original programming on the WWE Network. The first NXT takeover special was the network’s kick-off original program, and those specials remain one of the most popular offerings.
For such a short period of time some impressive talent has moved through FCW then NXT. Some, like Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose, worked the indies for years, while others, such as Roman Reigns and Big E, were athletes turned into pro wrestlers. The focus on NXT seems to be shifting away from developmental and toward a third touring brand, the system seemed to be working pushing one day Hall of Fame talent onto the main roster. Not to say there have not been those who have not acquired the Ascension anticipated.
It is way too early to tell which FCW / NXT talent might be Hall of Famers. They don’t have enough history on the main card to determine if they can make a difference. Roman Reigns is the test case if a person can matter or if the brand remains the drawing card. But let’s speculate anyway. Do these wrestlers resemble talent in WWE HOF, or as noted in past two columns, headed there one day? Other than Reigns, do any other alumni FCW / NXT alumni stand a chance to be person the WWE hands the ball to carry all the way to the Hall of Fame? Who is the next Hogan? Austin? Rock? Undertaker? Cena? Could it be one of these those listed below? Or could it be someone working in the indies or in college football waiting for their NXT chance?
15 Jason Jordan
A long shot as the only one listed here yet to appear on main roster TV. That’s why he’s in the number 15 slot. While his partner Chad Gable seems to have won the fans’ hearts, Jordan’s got the goods. A three-time NCAA wrestling qualifier, Jordan (real name Nathan Everhart) resembles Kurt Angle in both his mat based ring work, but also a stud jock charisma. While not smooth yet on the stick, there’s potential. He also looks like Kurt Angle and The Rock’s love child. If he can measure up to even half of his “parents” success, that’s a Hall of Famer.
14 Big E
With the pedigree of a young Mark Henry, which might not be such a good thing, Big E’s finally come into his own. While he showed some personality in earlier work, since joining New Day, he’s the most entertaining part of the trio. Woods remains the better talker, Kofi better in the ring, but Big E’s solid in both departments. His Rick Rude inspired pelvic thrusts might turn him into the next “sexual chocolate” or might thrust him up the ladder once New Day disbands. A long feud with future Hall of Famer Henry ending WSM’s career might propel Big E to top tier heel status.
13 Finn Balor
If Daniel Bryan leaves or can’t wrestle again, then Finn Balor seems a natural follow-up. While more of a high flyer without the MMA spots, Balor can play the undersized underdog babyface. Like Bryan, Balor has a great entrance to the ring, but one wonders if his entrance into the WWE came too late. Did he fill up his bump card in Japan and on the indy scene? Will he become the next Daniel Bryan and connect with the fans with his personality, or the next Matt Sydal who wows them with high spots, but doesn’t get traction. With limited verbal skills demonstrated in NXT, he’s a long shot. Very similar to Sami Zayn except Balor has a better name, gimmick, entrance, and finishing move (Helluva kick? Hell no?). Zayn’s good but Balor’s better.
12 Bray Wyatt
After a failed stint as Husky Harris (another example when creative wasn’t), Windham Rotunda was given the Bray Wyatt gimmick. While the character’s a Waylon (Lord have) Mercy knockoff, he’s made it work. Like Kevin Owens (yeah, he’s here), Bray doesn’t look like everyone else but that makes him different. His heel card is beyond played and his entrance is Undertaker like baby face, so it’s only a matter of time before he turns on his family. Perhaps this leads to the long delayed debut of Sister Abigail. Even though he’s beat in every feud and most every match, he’s still over. Fans must just bo-lieve in him, unlike his younger brother Taylor.
When he returns, will he get stuck in the League of Nations playing the foreign menace role? While there are a few of those in the Hall of Fame, it’s not a gimmick built for the long term. If Cesaro’s going to gran that brass-ring and earn his HOF gold ring, it will be as a babyface doing power moves. Maybe it takes a manager or a change of look, but when he returns his character needs to take a giant swing forward. The athleticism and work-rate is there, but he’s yet to make the Chairman / the only Hall of Fame voter that matters, a fan of the Swiss Superman.
10 T8. Paige
Ranking the women wrestlers at this point is difficult. The potential shown off in NXT pales compared to what they’ve achieved in WWE. Paige spans the Bella-nation and non-Diva’s revolution. She can play either heel or face. Paige matches strong ring work with solid mic skills. Like most talent, she’s been on TV every week for years, thus terribly overexposed, and unable to break out of the pack. The second generation star might rank higher (with me) if she wouldn’t have spent the entire Stone Cold podcast nervously pushing the hair out of her eyes.
9 T8. Sasha Banks
Her matches with Bayley (who misses the list; while a great worker, Bayley’s character may not translate to the main roster) Banks has shown she can go in the ring. She’s got “The Boss” bit down, but often there’s a sense she’s acting a part rather than becoming the character. With her ethnic look, she’s more likely than Charlotte or Paige to be a crossover star. Yet, being paired with “old” divas in Team Bad isn’t helping, nor is the lack of a serious push showing she IS the boss. Sasha’s going to a major star, bank on it. Hall of Famer? Too early to tell, but a smart bet.
8 T8. Charlotte
One of her great attributes – her Flair pedigree – might also work against her in ever achieving against the impossible standards of her father’s success. Just as good as Paige in the ring, but scripted interviews come off as false. Her matches, while strong, also often seem too laid out as often happens in the false finish fetish modern era. She’ll rarely be given the time in a WWE ring like in NXT to put together great matches, so she’ll need to kick up the charisma to be queen bee. All these women need a prolonged yet intense feud like Lita v Trish to get to the next level.
7 Daniel Bryan
Why so low? While his main event run was fun, it didn’t draw money or boost ratings. It created a great chant, some neat visuals, and a fantastic story, albeit one that was unplanned by WWE (which sometimes hold that against talent: How dare you get over and Reign down on our plans!). Reading between the lines, it seems clear that Bryan wants to wrestle and just as clear the WWE doesn’t want to take the risk. The WWE can’t chance of him hurting himself (bad) or of fans leaving the Roman Empire for the Yes Man. If he exits the WWE, that sets his quest for the HOF back years, and depending on the parting, might lead to a clear NO vote from VKM.
A natural mid carder with a friend in very high management, Sheamus seems locked into the WWE main event scene for some time. His unique look and okay mic skills cover for his solid but never spectacular ring moves. Sheamus seems like a young HHH, but doesn’t have that “it” to get him constantly over either as a face or a heel. He’ll probably bounced around serving as interim champion, much like Chris Jericho, as the WWE looks for next big thing. With no other alternative – he’s not right for Japan– Sheamus will probably be a WWE lifer. He’ll get his HOF ring for lifetime achievement not peak performance. A definition D Hall of Fame candidate.
5 Dean Ambrose
Until the evitable turn, Ambrose’s great playing “Robin” to Roman Reign’s “Batman” (okay Superman). Some guys are meant to be number two, and Ambrose fits that bill. He’s just one shy in everything of being a top guy: size, promo, work, appearance, and charisma. That he’s over as badly as he’s been booked shows he’s got a solid fan base, but not enough to push him to the top of the card. It’s not lunacy to think that Ambrose might likely become a Hall of Famer.
4 Bella Twins
They should go into together, despite Nikki’s “record breaking” title reign. More than anything, when and if depends on backstage politics. If Bryan bolts, then Brie’s going to wait for a gold ring. These long time stars of the Divas division had good matches, but just as many bad ones. They also starred in Total Divas, so they’re “crossover stars.” As the top women in the division for a number of years – normally in the women’s WrestleMania match – the twins should start writing their speeches now, but just hope they don’t get cut if the HOF show runs long.
3 Roman Reigns
Reigns was number one after his title victory. The fan response felt authentic in front of the very Philadelphia crowd which turned on him (and the Rock) at the Rumble. Then came Monday Night Raw on 12/27 where he became Stone Cold Reigns. Rather than letting him develop his own character – and he’s got a lot to work with – Vince rewrites past stale angles: same king, new pawns. The question is does Reigns become the next Cena or Luger? All three charismatic if limited workers who got the rocket push: one got over despite it, the other never overcame it. Reigns is good enough to be the guy, if they’d just let him became an alpha male organically.
2 Seth Rollins
The 2015 Slammy Award winning Superstar of the Year will be, unless suffering another major injury, a first ballot Hall of Famer. With good looks, great on the mic, and even better in the ring, Rollins really is the total package. He’s got plenty of turns ahead of him, but the one time Tyler Black seems destined for the dark-side in the conniving heel mode. As the first FCW Grand Slam champ, then first NXT champion, Rollins (real name Colby Lopez) also succeeded in the indies before joining the WWE machine. The biggest obstacle between Rollins and the Hall of Fame is hailing from Davenport, Iowa. No knock on Davenport – it was the birthplace of the guy who invented sliced bread – but that’s not the cache for a Hall of Famer. Hollywood? Yes. Victoria TX? Hell, yeah! Death Valley? Yes. Parts unknown? Maybe. Davenport, Iowa?
1 Kevin Owens
Unless creative totally screws this up, Owens might be the break-out star of the FCW / NXT alumni. He didn’t really need his time in NXT, but it made his call-up more exciting. Beating Cena on the first night made him special and despite creative jobbing him, taking titles away, and the rest to bury him, he’s still over. And more over as ass-kicking babyface if the turn comes at the right time against the right opponent. With his physique, or lack therefore, Owens might never be a “superstar” like Austin / Rock / Cena, but he’s a sure bet Mankind like Hall of Famer. Great matches, better interviews, and a persona that reeks of bad-ass, no doubt he’ll step up to get his HOF ring in about 2025 and people will chant “Speak Owens Speak!”