The WWE NXT brand represents the future of the biggest wrestling company in the world and it’s also the best aspect of WWE programming right now. The idea behind NXT in its infancy was to create a developmental system that gets superstars ready for WWE’s main roster shows like Raw, Smackdown and Pay-Per-View events.
But over the last two years, NXT has evolved into the hottest product in the entire wrestling business while still trying to get people ready for the main roster. (If you’re wondering, the letters “NXT” don’t stand for anything. It’s just a creative WWE way of saying “next” without spelling it the right away.)
This past weekend in Dallas, WWE held two major wrestling events: NXT Takeover Dallas in front of about 9,000 fans and then WrestleMania 32 before 101,000 fans. Which was the better show? NXT Takeover Dallas. It wasn’t even close, really. The Nakamura/Zayn match was the best match in WWE this year and may not be topped. New Women’s Champion Asuka had a great battle with long-time champion Bayley. Meanwhile, the American Alpha team of Jason Jordan and Chad Gable won the Tag Team Titles for the first time against The Revival, which drew a huge reaction from the crowd. In the main event, Finn Balor beat Samoa Joe once again to keep the NXT Title around his waist.
What WWE does with the NXT brand isn’t that complicated. They cater to the adult male hardcore fans that want to watch great wrestling matches featuring basic storylines. There aren’t that many over-the-top characters with gimmicks that are ridiculous. It’s more about putting on memorable matches while telling simple stories. The problem is that sometimes when these people get called up to the main roster, the majority of WWE fans may not be as familiar with who these people are.
— WWE Music Group (@WWEMusic) April 6, 2016
As is the case every year post-WrestleMania, WWE also called up NXT talent to be a part of its main roster going forward. While some of these performers have had success in NXT in the last couple of years, history has shown that just because you were good in NXT doesn’t mean a whole lot on the main roster.
Names like The Ascension, Tyler Breeze, Emma and Adam Rose were NXT performers that haven’t really done much on the main roster. Others like Kevin Owens have succeeded very well on the main roster partly because he had a decade of experience prior to signing with WWE. It’s always going to be a hit-or-miss thing. It depends on the performer, but a lot of the time success or failure depends on the creative direction as well.
Here’s a look at who the WWE moved up to the main roster from NXT this week:
Corbin’s a guy with a look that WWE likes a lot because he’s listed at 6-foot-8 and 275 pounds. He’s a former offensive linemen in the NFL, although was never able to make the Colts or Cardinals rosters as a regular contributor. He signed with WWE developmental in August 2012. In WWE Network’s Breaking Ground series, Corbin appeared to be agitated by the fact that he was in NXT so long. But if you watch him as a performer, it’s easy to see why he spent so much time there since he’s not a polished performer yet.
In a move that was unannounced beforehand, Corbin was a part of the Andre the Giant battle royal at WrestleMania. Despite getting no hype going into it, Corbin emerged as the winner of the match — last eliminating the veteran Kane. The next night on Raw, Corbin brawled with another veteran babyface performer, Dolph Ziggler. It looks like they’ll have a feud that Corbin will likely win as a way to establish him over an established veteran performer.
Due to his size, Corbin is going to have plenty of chances to get over as a major star. The question is, can he improve enough in the ring and on the microphone to become a top guy? It may be tough for him. It’s also a bit of a surprise that WWE would call him up as a heel before a guy like Samoa Joe, who is a much better overall performer with name value. Maybe they felt like they needed to see if Corbin could thrive on the main roster now since he’s been in developmental for so long. He has all the tools to get to that next level. It may take some time, though.
Enzo Amore & Colin Cassady
This past week on Raw, the Dudley Boyz did a beatdown on The Usos once again. They took their time getting out of the ring and as they did that, the popular NXT tag team Enzo Amore & Colin Cassady made their debuts to a huge ovation. This was the perfect crowd to have them debut in front of, although perhaps a Raw in Brooklyn would work really well too. Putting them against the evil Dudleys is the perfect feud for them to start out with on Raw and Smackdown.
The cocky duo from New York feature a gifted talker in Enzo, who reminds people of the Road Dogg. Then there’s Big Cass, who is seven feet tall (and you can’t teach that), who reminds people of Billy Gunn. Of course Dogg and Gunn were known as the New Age Outlaws, who were one of the most popular tag teams during WWE’s Attitude Era.
It seems like a lock that they will succeed on the main roster. Their pre-match promos are so good that everybody is going to fall in love with them if they haven’t already. Enzo’s improved a lot in the ring although really his role is to get beat up for most of the match, make the hot tag to Cass and go to the finish from there. The two men are likely going to be a very successful team on WWE’s main roster. That is, until Vince McMahon thinks it’s time to push Cass as a singles guy because he loves the big guys.
Here’s a main roster call-up that was a bit of a surprise. While Crews had a lot of success on the indie wrestling scene prior to debuting in WWE last summer, he really hasn’t had a standout match or feud in NXT yet. He’s also lacking in terms of promo skills. That’s something that he needs to develop, but apparently WWE is confident in him enough to call him up to the main roster.
What Crews brings to the table is athleticism that is unmatched. He’s not a small guy, yet he’s able to pull off power moves at all times while also doing aerial stuff such a standing shooting star press with ease. He has all the physical tools to be a big star. Can he become an all around attraction? It’s not going to be easy.
My concern with Crews is that the audience may not be that interested in his character. Compare it to Enzo & Cass, who have an act that the crowd loves and it shows what he needs to be better at. He’s going to need some sort of gimmick to allow him to stand out a bit, because if he’s just a basic guy that smiles a lot, he’ll get boring fast.
The tag team of Aiden English and Simon Gotch, aka The Vaudevillains, offer up something completely different from every other team in the WWE. They come out looking like they are from a different era while talking about how they are real men.
What’s good about this team is their experience together. They teamed together for about two years, worked as heels and faces and had a big moment at the NXT Takeover Brooklyn event when they won the Tag Team Titles. That was a face win, but they are back in a heel role now.
While there is some concern that their gimmick is too old school, if WWE gets behind them like they should, then they should succeed. There’s nothing wrong with having tag team depth. It’s only going to make the division even stronger. Now that they are on the main roster along with Enzo & Cass, we could be looking at a tag team renaissance on WWE’s main roster.
There are others like Emma who was called back up prior to WrestleMania, although she’s been on the main roster. It seems as though she’s feuding with Becky Lynch based on an angle on Smackdown. Then there’s Eva Marie although there’s no sign that she’s fully on the main roster. They may have just put her in that women’s tag match at WrestleMania because they needed somebody in that spot.
What Other NXT Talents Should Be On The Main Roster In 2016?
Now that we are past WrestleMania season, the expectation is that there will be more NXT talents who debut on the main roster in the coming weeks and months. If you call up too many of them at once, it minimizes their value.
Here’s a list of names that not only are ready for the main roster, but could be major players as soon as they get up there.
Finn Balor – The current NXT Champion has been the face of NXT for about a year now. He is more than ready for the main roster, but has spoken openly about wanting to stay there for a while. It’s easy to see why he likes it there. However, WWE management will likely call him up later this year, especially with his New Japan buddies Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows debuting in WWE, soon to form what could be the Balor Club.
Bayley – It seems likely that she’ll be on the main roster within a few months. Bayley is a true babyface that is beloved by men, women and especially children. Don’t be shocked if she’s the one that beats Charlotte for the WWE Women’s Title this summer.
Samoa Joe – After losing a NXT Title match to Balor for the second Takeover special in a row, there’s not much more for Joe to do in NXT. The main roster is in desperate need of top heels. He fits the bill. The man is one of the 10 best North American wrestlers of the last 15 years. If he’s not on the main roster within a month, it would be a surprise.
Jason Jordan & Chad Gable, aka American Alpha – The current NXT Tag Team Champions have been incredible since teaming up together last year. As former standout collegiate wrestlers, they took a similar path to get to WWE and have developed a great chemistry as a team. They are going to be WWE’s tag team of the future.
Asuka – The Japanese sensation is undefeated since debuting last September. She’s been so impressive that WWE gave her a clean submission win over the popular champion Bayley last Friday at Takeover Dallas. There are few women in the company that can keep up with her in the ring if they let her loose. A main roster run seems likely for her.
Shinsuke Nakamura – It’s going to be hard to keep Nakamura in NXT for long, considering he had the best match of the year at NXT Takeover Dallas last Friday with Sami Zayn. When a guy is that good, why should they waste time with him in NXT? Sure, he adds name value and is big for the Japanese market, but he’s so good that he needs to be on the main roster right away. If he’s not there by SummerSlam, I’d be surprised.
There are plenty of other NXT talents that are main roster ready too. It shows how well WWE has built up their brand in terms of putting on great shows now, but also setting up building blocks for the future.