We're now deep into the Road To WrestleMania and the pomp and circumstance are getting ratcheted up several notches as we approach New Orleans. After a brilliant weekend for both NXT and the main rosters with Takeover: Philly and the Royal Rumble delivering in spades, anticipation across the board is high as we head to Elimination chamber and FastLane. That can only mean that WrestleMania is under even more pressure than usual, if that's possible, but once that's done there's the rest of the year to contend with. To keep interest from cooling off expect WWE to both debut (and re-debut) a host of talents and to pull some NXT acts onto the main rosters.
With NXT now a dedicated developmental hybrid, delivering high-quality wrestling as well as training acts for prime time, their graduates are in theory better placed than any others to succeed when unveiled to the world. That's not always the case, however, with some acts imported directly onto main rosters with small or non-existent stop-overs via NXT whether they've been there before or are returning from stints elsewhere entirely. WWE rosters are fluid with only a few exceptions at the top locked in at any time, so when WrestleMania is in the books look for these additions, some surprising and some long anticipated, to really shake the environment up and make some noise.
15 Debut/Return - Bobby Lashley
The hottest free agent in the wrestling world right now is more than likely a signature away from being WWE's post-WrestleMania bombshell. With his impressive MMA record and refinement of his persona in Impact Wrestling, Bobby Lashley is almost guaranteed to explode into the main event the second he returns to WWE.
His stint away from WWE has only furthered his credentials and legitimacy, both in wrestling and combat sports, enhancing his value to WWE several times over.
Despite approaching 42 years old, he's not showing it physically or aesthetically, meaning he looks the part as much as ever and can back it up once the bell rings. He worked with several Impact Wrestling stars turned WWE stars, like Bobby Roode and Samoa Joe, so he's connected and likely to find friendly faces whichever brand he ends up on (Raw most likely). In summary, Bobby Lashley is coming and could be headlining come SummerSlam.
14 Called Up - Lars Sullivan
NXT's current monster, Lars Sullivan presents a monstrous yet surprisingly intellectual package that hasn't been seen often and could challenge Braun Strowman for epic supremacy. There have been recent rumors that he's had his NXT storyline's cut short and that has worried some people over his future, but we see it as more likely he's caught Vince McMahon's eye and they've had to begin preparing him for his main roster debut.
With a look and size that are fewer and farther between these days than ever before, Lars can probably claim the vacant monster role for SmackDown, perhaps after an impressive showing in the Andre Memorial Battle Royal if he gets the chance. Despite his looks he's still not even 30 years old yet, so if WWE can make another viable monster who has years left in the tank, they'll be putting a lot of eggs in Sullivan's basket.
13 Debut/Return - Kaitlyn
The former Divas Champion was one of the highlights during her stint in WWE, bringing a likable personality with some solid wrestling talent before she abruptly left to pursue other ventures. After her relationship outside of wrestling soured she's dipped her toe back into professional wrestling and with her phenomenal physique and still being only just into her 30s there are plenty of reasons for her to return to WWE's squared circle.
Kaitlyn is a viable addition to the ever-growing women's division in WWE and with some time in the Performance Center and perhaps a stop in NXT she'd be ready to once again grace WWE television.
Funnily enough her former running buddy Big E has reached out to her a few times on social media calling for her to make a comeback as well, so with little but time and opportunity standing in her way we may see her return by years end, but hopefully earlier.
12 Called Up - The Iconic Duo
One of the most surprising omissions from the Women's Royal Rumble, NXT's Peyton Royce and Billie Kay are surely in line to make their main roster debuts once Wrestlemania is in the books. The Aussie duo has an intensely annoying dynamic that can play off of whichever of the two main rosters they find themselves on. Becky Lynch, in particular, would be a tremendous foil for them to spend months antagonizing and confronting.
Peyton Royce has shown much improved in-ring acumen and is deserving of the call-up, while Billie Kay has remained less an in-ring performer recently, mostly assisting Royce in her matches. Either way, with another Women's Royal Rumble surely coming next year, look for the female ranks to swell and for The Iconic Duo to be a part of that.
11 Debut/Return - 'Cowboy' James Storm
The Cowboy has finished up his time with Impact Wrestling and has openly stated that he sees the next stop on his journey is a return to NXT and hopefully the main WWE rosters after that. A massively underrated talent even though he's a former World Champion, James Storm has shown the ability to play almost any role from a Bray Wyatt-esque cult leader to a Stone Cold style beer-drinking, good ol' boy and a dozen others on top that.
Like his former partner Bobby Roode, he has a lot left to offer WWE despite his age, and he would also complete the set WWE is currently cultivating by scooping up former Impact World Champions.
He's had a cup of coffee (or is that a brew or two) in NXT before so they've even already got his music and setup on file. All it'll take is a phone call and the stroke of a pen and a Storm could be heading to WWE in a matter of months.
10 Called Up - SAniTY
Triple H's long-gestating idea for a faction has spent a large chunk of the last two years down in NXT establishing and refining their unit, and it's time for the collective to come up to the main rosters and fill the gap left by the Wyatt Family.
Eric Young, former Impact Wrestling World Champion, is a proven commodity at all performance levels and deserves the worldwide recognition.
Alexander Wolfe has surprised many by becoming a standout performer in both SAniTY's Tag Team Championship win and the War Games match where he survived a horrific table encounter that left him bloody and battered.
Killian Dain also impressed in that War Games match, with athletic feats that belie his size.
Nicki Cross rounds out the group as their rabid female ingredient, making a somewhat unique attribute in a mixed gender faction, which has become rare in WWE.
They seem poised for a SmackDown debut, likely going head to head with The Bludgeon Brothers if they manage to capture the SmackDown Tag Titles.
9 Debut/Return - Chris Masters
The former 'Masterpiece' recently left Impact Wrestling and if we're on the mark he'll be headed back for a third crack at WWE in the coming months. Now a journeyman who has plied his craft around the country he can be a valuable addition in the same vein as Shelton Benjamin, propping up the middle of the card and perhaps higher if he catches on.
His untapped babyface potential is what WWE will be looking to use here, probably inserting him into a tag team as the de facto 'big man' who throws opponents around while a smaller partner keeps the speed high energy.
His relationship with Randy Orton, being that they are close friends, will help smooth this transition back into the fold overall, and assuming he can stay on the good side of WWE's wellness policy, he'll fill a spot that's currently vacant.
8 Called Up - Velveteen Dream
One thing Vince McMahon should have learned by now about certain NXT acts, is to not let them burn through all their potential and storylines in NXT, only to call them up with nowhere to go. Bayley is the prime example of this, and Velveteen Dream should not be another. While the man is only 22 years old, he has already captured something akin to a Goldust vibe for a new age. He is confronting, beguiling, and somehow displaying fully developed personality and consciousness of goals that other superstars take years to even approach.
His recent feud with Aleister Black, followed by his various matches against Johnny Gargano and Kassius Ohno displayed other traits that are ready for Raw right out of the box. He needs to develop more directly in front of the worldwide audience so that there is zero disconnect between what he's doing and what people understand about him. Velveteen Dream can finish his education on Raw like Braun Strowman or Elias, and he'll be all the better for it.
7 Debut/Return - Laurel Van Ness
One thing WWE and particularly Vince McMahon loves is a ready-made character he can plug into storylines right off of the bat, and 'Hot Mess' Laurel Van Ness ticks that box. Her unique take on a scorned woman losing her marbles is WWE fodder 101 and with her recent request and granting of a release from Impact Wrestling it looks like she's on to greener pastures that WWE is the most likely to provide.
Whether she debuts in NXT or finds herself with a ready-made storyline on the main rosters she has potential that working with the current crop of top-line wrestlers can only strengthen.
While her gimmick is a throwback to a trashier time in women's wrestling, it is a necessary ingredient in the overall landscape that makes her inclusion valuable.
6 Called Up - Heavy Machinery
A classic 'Hoss' tag team, Otis Dozovic and Tucker Knight have settled somewhere into the middling range of NXT tag teams. With no clear direction up or down, and little likelihood that they'll be thrust into championship contention anytime soon, it's more likely the pair will join one of the main tag team ranks. They'll probably bolster the Raw ranks which are going to be in dire need of replenishing now that Jason Jordan, Sheamus, and other tagging members are heading to the injured list. They also present a useful pair of large, impressive bodies that Vince McMahon can use in singles action as fodder for more prominent singles acts without damaging the team too much.
It'll be the start of a lengthy gestation period as the pair finds their feet, but they both have size and particularly Otis Dozovic has unique charisma and presence.
5 Debut/Return - Jeremy Borash
Having signed with the WWE at the behest of Triple H, ostensibly to work with NXT and at the performance center, we nevertheless expect Jeremy 'JB' Borash to make his presence felt on television pretty soon.
The rumor making the rounds is that Borash's signature is directly linked to Matt Hardy and WWE wanting to fully embrace and utilize the 'Broken Universe' which Borash was instrumental in expanding.
JB is possibly Impact Wrestling's ultimate loss given his years behind the scenes in various roles, and now that WWE has gotten their hooks in him he is sure to prove value beyond even what is initially expected of him. When he ends up in a position on television though, he will bring something intangible that can't be taught, which is a passion for professional wrestling, and that beyond everything else will make him stand out to fans who are introduced to him.
4 Called Up - Roderick Strong
He's constantly flirting with being called up into the Cruiserweight Division, he's currently the number one contender for the United Kingdom Championship, and he's a proven commodity between the ropes, so it's only a matter of 'where' he's being called up to, rather then 'when' for Roderick Strong. Admittedly, still struggling with exuding the required personality for a main roster WWE superstar, Strong has been helped by regular mic time and a series of vignettes in NXT. Given similar treatment and protection on the main rosters, he'd be a valuable addition to SmackDown or 205 Live.
The match quality he brings to the table is undeniable and given room to showcase this he could get fans on his side in short order. Whether it's a straightforward call-up after Wrestlemania or in another draft, Roddy is primed to make the jump.
3 Debut/Return - Neville
WWE and the King of the Cruiserweights remain silent on the progress in talks between the two, but WWE is clearly not willing to let the man walk away. If they go to the lengths they can to convince him he is valued and will be used correctly, we expect Neville to return to WWE better and perhaps 'bigger' than ever. By bigger, we mean that Neville's time in the cruiserweight division may be over, with his determination to be unbound by weight classes seeing him join Finn Balor as a smaller athlete among the main roster.
He clearly has the pedigree between the ropes and given his debut year where he won the Breakout Superstar of the Year out from underneath expected winner Kevin Owens, Neville clearly gains the fans interest effortlessly along with their gasps of amazement for his physicality. A big return for the aerial royalty.
2 Called Up - Drew McIntyre
The former chosen one's last NXT match where he lost the title to Andrade 'Cien' Almas may have ended in legitimate injury and heartbreak as his bicep injury became apparent, but it will allow his main roster return to eclipse all other call-ups we expect this year. Drew McIntyre's reinvention is a template for floundering WWE talents wondering how to jumpstart their careers.
Between improving every aspect of his arsenal, McIntyre could appear on either main show and immediately challenge the top tier of stars.
A few years ago that was a wildly optimistic statement, but given the magnitude of the development as he won the Impact World Championship and traversed the globe defending it, he has proven his value. Not only improving in-ring but excelling with passionate and sincere promos that no-one else is currently able to pull off, McIntyre should be expected to not only get called up but to be challenging for or involved in World Championship business come Survivor Series.
1 Debut/Return - Batista
The Animal has expressed interest over and over again that he wants to have one last crack at WWE in a full-time capacity, and with his acting well and truly taking off and his age not about to begin regressing anytime soon the obvious answer is that sometime sooner rather than later he'll find a way to rejoin WWE. Batista has the same urge to correct some mistakes as Rey Mysterio and Goldberg had with their penultimate runs, his last go around completely skewered by timing and circumstances.
Now with the leverage of true recognized Hollywood success compared to last time, he can dictate terms he's happy with to ensure both he and the fans get to enjoy a few Batista Bombs one last time. With the stocks of Attitude Era wrestlers to recall finally running dry, Batista is one guaranteed marquee star from the Ruthless Aggression Era they can recall for maximum effect.