In the tradition of professional wrestling, workers traveled from territory to territory to develop their skills and cultivate their characters, often on the hope that they’d catch the attention of or build a sufficient resume to impress the people running the bigger promotions. One of the biggest of the big was none other than the northeast region run by the McMahon family that eventually became WWE.
In the contemporary American professional wrestling landscape, there’s WWE and there’s everyone else. With fewer places for wrestlers to learn the craft, and particularly fewer places to learn anything like the camera-friendly, personality-driven style WWE prefers, WWE took matters into its own hands, creating a farm system of its own through partnerships with smaller promotions, before arriving at the concept of NXT. NXT is a WWE owned and operated promotion based in Florida that blends true rookies with talents coming out of the indies, and puts them in a WWE-sized ring and on WWE-sized entrance ramp to learn WWE’s style. The brand has its own weekly TV show and recurring specials on the WWE Network and has blossomed into a popular product in its own right.
But what are the results of NXT? WWE has seen some successes—guys who graduated from developmental to become huge stars on the main roster. However, there have also been some flops that thrived while the lights were not on so bright but have either crumbled under the pressure or seen their star fade when the WWE creative team doesn’t have much for them. This article looks at eight NXT success stories, and eight main roster flops.
16 Success Story: Charlotte Flair
Charlotte Flair was one in a class of female wrestlers in NXT who pushed boundaries and arrived as some of the biggest draws for the developmental brand. She had a classic match with visiting veteran Natalya to win the NXT Women’s Championship and would later have a fantastic series of matches with Sasha Banks as both of them came into their own as workers.
Flair would kick things into the next gear on the main roster. With tremendous athleticism, a great look, and the pedigree that comes with her last name, she was a natural pick to lead the new era for women’s wrestling in WWE. Less than two years after her main roster debut, she’s a four-time Women’s Champion, two time RAW main eventer, and the only woman to ever win a WWE PPV main event.
15 Bust: Tyler Breeze
After putting in his time and working his way to a suitable gimmick, Tyler Breeze emerged as one of NXT’s top stars. He was especially well regarded in terms of in ring work as he put on classics with Sami Zayn, Neville, and visiting Jushin Liger toward the end of his run. It was no surprise when he got the call up to the main roster, and there was reason for optimism that he’d ride his self-absorbed pretty boy gimmick to at least a rock solid mid-card run.
It quickly became clear, however, that WWE didn’t have a long term plan for Breeze. After an OK introductory feud with Dolph Ziggler, he quickly moved down to the lower card. His best work since joining the main roster was quite arguably putting over fellow NXT alum Apollo Crews, because they knew how to work together well based on their time in developmental. Since then, Breeze has settled into a tag team with Fandango which at least gets the two guys TV time on a fairly regular basis, but the team is not taken too seriously as a threat to ever win championship gold.
14 Success Story: Seth Rollins
Seth Rollins was the very first NXT Champion after WWE merged and rebranded its developmental system. His success in NXT came with little surprise based on the resume he’d cultivated on the independent scene. While WWE surely hoped that success would carry over to the main roster, few could have predicted just how well Rollins would end up doing.
Rollins got a strong, but protected push, getting introduced as part of The Shield—a three man unit that crushed the competition. When the trio split up, there were questions about how the individual members would do on their own, and Rollins in particular seemed to have the least clearly defined character or direction coming out of the group.
In a master strike, Rollins was the one to kayfabe splinter the group when he turned heel on his partners, thus cementing his place as a villain to rival his old buddies as top faces. He’d end up the first Shield alum to win a world title, closing down WrestleMania 31 with the championship victory. From there, he’d hold onto the title for more than half the year to follow.
13 Bust: The Vaudevillains
In NXT, Aiden English and Simon Gotch developed a unique identity around their throwback gimmick, dressing in old school attire, using moves not seen in mainstream wrestling in decades, and using a black and white intro that underscored their old fashioned tendencies. They had a good run as a tag team and even won the NXT Tag Team Championships.
After a solid run in developmental, The Vaudevillains have largely felt like a square peg trying to fit in a round hole in the main roster. Their initial push upon debuting fizzled quickly, and now, even in the era of a new brand split with more opportunities to make weekly TV, the guys can rarely get camera time. With less than a year on the main roster to date, there’s still hope things might turn around for the pair, but given how little impact they’ve made so far, things aren’t looking great for their main roster legacy.
12 Success Story: Sasha Banks
Few wrestlers have come further during their time in NXT than Sasha Banks. That’s not to say she was bad when she started out in developmental, but she grew positively transcendent. Banks put on truly excellent matches opposite Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, and Bayley by the time she finished her tenure, and was considered by many to be cream of the crop out of that elite crop of female prospects.
While Banks looked lost in the shuffle in the early going of the Divas Revolution angle, in early 2016, as WWE began to shift its focus toward WrestleMania, she became a player. Her feud opposite Charlotte over the months to follow saw Banks win the Women’s Championship on three separate occasions, including two victories in Raw main events, and one PPV main event appearance. Even better, her best is probably yet to come on the main roster. She hasn’t had the chance to meaningfully work heel yet in front of a mainstream audience, and most would agree she’s even better cast in that role.
11 Bust: Adam Rose
Adam Rose caught fire in NXT based on an intriguing party boy persona that saw him to the ring with a band of misfit revelers. There’s every argument to be made that he got bumped up to the main roster too soon. While the gimmick was working, the performer wasn’t polished. Moreover, as fun as his theatrics were, they wore thin without meaningful plot development. He went from fun to directionless in a period of weeks, before segueing to a heel turn and largely pointless rivalry with his bunny suit-clad sidekick.
Rose transitioned to involvement with the somewhat amusing Social Outcasts faction, but was the least developed character and least polished worker of the bunch standing alongside Heath Slater, Curtis Axel, and Bo Dallas.
For al of his professional frustrations, his personal life seemed more to blame for his dismissal from WWE, as the company released after having been suspended for a Wellness Policy violation, and after news broke he was being charged for domestic abuse.
10 Success Story: Paige
Paige has made headlines most recently for some rather extracurricular activities that were leaked against her wishes. Before that, she seemed to be on the outs with WWE on account of personality and creative differences, not to mention her romantic relationship with estranged Superstar Alberto Del Rio. For all of the more recent controversies, Paige cannot be called a failure in her WWE career.
Paige rose up, a forerunner to the proper revolution in women’s wrestling who put on outstanding matches with Emma in the earlier days of NXT before getting called up to the main roster at the age of 21. She immediately made an impact, defeating AJ Lee for the Divas Championship in her debut match the night after WrestleMania XXX. From there, Paige was generally the most featured woman on the roster for the better part of the year. She was a two time champ on the main roster and picked up a WrestleMania win tag teaming with former rival AJ Lee.
Paige has been out for suspensions and neck surgery for months now, and it’s unclear if we’ll see her on WWE TV again. Even if her time has already passed, she stands out as one of the company’s brightest stars for a brief period of time.
9 Bust: Bayley
Bayley is, at the time of this writing, the reigning RAW Women’s Champion, and surely has years ahead of her on the main roster—thus, it’s hard to really call her a bust. Just the same, after a highly decorated run in NXT in which she put absolute classics with Sasha Banks and Asuka, and brought the best of Nia Jax, her time on RAW has been less inspiring. She’s yet to be given time for a great match, and her title reign has centered on winning the championship via almost heel-ish shenanigans (Banks interfered heavily to help her win), and proceeding to lose more than she’s won since picking up the title.
With any luck, Bayley will get to have a proper feud with Sasha Banks on the main roster and really show what she’s capable of. For the time being, though, she hasn’t had much opportunity to shine on the main roster, and is looking, at best, fourth in line for most successful women of her class to move up from NXT, after Banks, Charlotte Flair, and Becky Lynch.
8 Success Story: Sami Zayn
After a decorated career on the indies, Sami Zayn was a joy to watch in NXT. A consistent underdog, he worked his way up the card to become one of the most popular stars in developmental, before he finally reached the top of the mountain, defeating Neville for the NXT Championship. He wouldn’t hold the title long, but would move on to a very heated and entertaining rivalry with newly arrived Kevin Owens.
Zayn’s feud with Owens ended up being that rare storyline that transcended NXT, onto the main roster, as Zayn followed him there and, in storyline, came to seek revenge for Owens kayfabe injuring him. Between feuding with Owens, and playing a lovable underdog in general on RAW, Zayn has carved a niche for himself as one of WWE’s most popular Superstars. While his trajectory is uncertain at this point, there’s every possibility for him to move up to the main event, particularly with the brand split and twice as many opportunities in play.
7 Bust: Apollo Crews
Apollo Crews is a truly impressive athlete. He’s got a great look, is extremely powerful, and demonstrates remarkable agility. On top of that, he honed his skills on the indies and in Japan before coming to NXT. With all of those factors working in his favor, it’s understandable that after just one, reasonably successful year in NXT, he’d be ready for primetime and got bumped up to the main roster.
If there’s one hole (relatively speaking) in Crews’s game, it’s his talking skills. Unfortunately, when it turned creative didn’t have much for him and he wasn’t able to talk his way into an interesting story he promptly became a man adrift on the WWE landscape. Despite getting the benefit of an early PPV win over Sheamus, and challenging The Miz for the Intercontinental Championship, he has yet to find himself in a coherent long-term program or with any great matches to his name. While he still feels like a prospect with good potential, it’s remarkable to think that a year has now gone by without him finding a direction. Another year like this, and it’s unclear if Crews will still be hanging around the main roster.
6 Success Story: Alexa Bliss
Of all of the women called up to the main roster between 2015 and 2016, Alexa Bliss came across more as a body to fill a slot after the roster split—not someone who many critics would peg as a star. Yes, she’s an attractive and athletic woman, but she didn’t have any NXT classics to her name like Sasha Banks, Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, or Bayley did, nor did she have as distinctive a persona as Nia Jax or Carmella. All in all, she seemed like a talent best left to simmer in NXT and see if she could step up after she had another half year to a year of experience.
Fast forward a few months and Bliss found her footing beautifully, first and foremost as a wicked heel character, also show marked improvement in the ring. While she still may not be at the level of RAW’s elite female performers, she also doesn’t look out of place trading wins with Becky Lynch, or getting the better of Mickie James. With less than a year on the main roster so far, it could be interesting to see just how high she’ll rise in time.
5 Bust: Summer Rae
Summer Rae marks a pretty interesting intersection between WWE’s insistence on hiring models and hoping they could grow to become passable in the ring, and actually making a concerted effort to cultivate a talented women’s roster. Yes, she was hired as a pretty face, but she grew to become a better than average worker in her own right for the era.
On the main roster, Rae did well as Fandango’s manager and her initial appearances as a wrestler. As soon as the roster started to fill out with legitimately top-tier female talent, however, she got lost in the shuffle. You can add onto that a fumbled storyline with Rusev, in which their kayfabe coupling got disrupted when news broke about Rusev’s real life wedding to storyline rival Lana, and Summer lost what direction she had.
Summer Rae is due to return from a knee injury soon. It will be interesting to see if she can become relevant in a women’s division that seems to have passed her by.
4 Success Story: American Alpha
After spending three years bouncing between storylines with little direction in WWE’s developmental system, Jason Jordan found Chad Gable. Together, they had an NXT angle in which Gable tried to convince Jordan to forma tag team with him. He finally agreed, and the two went on to become explosively dominant faces. They unseated The Revival to become NXT Tag Team Champions.
At first blush, it seemed like a head scratcher when their team—American Alpha—dropped the titles back to The Revival, but everything became clear when American Alpha got the call up in the brand split to anchor SmackDown’s tag team division.
And American Alpha has run wild, including defeating the super team of Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton to win the tag titles. Since that time, the biggest knock on them has been that they’re too dominant, with no really fit to challenge them. That’s not a bad spot for a first-year team. Hopefully, WWE will shuffle the deck between brands a bit in the coming months, or else call up a great team like The Revival to work with American Alpha and add some legitimate threats to their great main roster run.
3 Bust: The Ascension
The Ascension was booked as a dominant force in NXT, including a nearly year-long reign with the tag titles. Despite still being a little green as wrestlers, the pair of intimidating big men looked like they could transition their monster heel act directly to the main roster.
While Konnor and Viktor’s early work on the main roster was along similar lines to their work in developmental, they were quickly exposed as less than great workers. Moreover, directly calling out comparisons to teams like The Legion of Doom and Demolition did the young pair no favors because they really didn’t hold up that well next to those legendary teams. Soon, the team devolved into jokes and then afterthoughts on the main roster.
Most recently, it appeared WWE might get behind the team again, booking them as the last challengers to a worn-down American Alpha in a Tag Team Turmoil Match at the Elimination Chamber PPV. The Ascension not only came up short in the effort, but looked especially bad for ultimately getting beaten decisively by a team that started the match injured.
2 Success Story: Bray Wyatt
In 2010, Husky Harris made his presence known on the main roster. His gimmick was that he was fat, but nonetheless fast, repeatedly referring to himself as “an army tank with a Ferrari engine.” While he had some success as a Nexus henchman, the gimmick didn’t ultimately go anywhere.
From there, the man became one of NXT’s most profound success stories. After experimenting with other gimmicks for a time, he settled on Bray Wyatt. Wyatt was a silver-tongued cult leader. So, the gimmick put the worker’s mic skills on full display and allowed him to cultivate a truly captivating character. With Luke Harper and Erick Rowan bundled alongside him as followers and henchmen, the package was complete for a unique, menacing new heel character.
Accordingly, Wyatt and his family translated well to the main roster. A series of spooky vignettes built fans’ anticipation, after which winning a feud against Kane set up Wyatt as a meaningful threat. While he seemed to stall out in the upper mid-card for a time, in 2017, he found his way to his first world title win, and looks like he’s here to stay as a top-tier fixture on the WWE landscape.
1 Bust: Bo Dallas
While his real life brother Bray Wyatt became a tremendous NXT success story, Bo Dallas slowly became one of the developmental system’s most disappointing failures. After a rock solid run in developmental, Dallas debuted on the main roster as a plucky underdog face who feuded with Wade Barrett. When the character failed to get over, he rededicated himself to NXT, and transformed from a hero the fans were reticent to get behind, into a villain who had deluded himself into think he was a hero. His work in the role was brilliant, and all signs pointed toward a promising main roster run when he came back in this redefined persona.
While Dallas has had his moments as a heel—first playing his NXT gimmick straight, then as a more generic bruiser—the guy still hasn’t found his footing. He peaked in the mid-card, and seems to keep sliding back down to lower card status as an able mechanic in the ring who rarely wins over anyone with any name value. The jury’s out on whether the man or his booking are more to blame. Regardless, one of NXT’s top stars has thus far been a bust on the main roster.
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