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10 Best Transitions From NXT To WWE's Main Roster

Those who emerged from the NXT cocoon as beautiful sports-entertainment butterflies.

Hello everyone. A quick reminder that Bo Dallas enjoyed an NXT Championship reign of over nine months.

With that in mind, not all transitions from NXT to the main roster go particularly well. Although wrestlers like Bo, Breeze, Konnor and Viktor make up an entertaining part of WWE's undercard, that's not quite the destination we had in mind when they were wowing Full Sail audiences on a weekly basis.

On the other hand, some go very well indeed. NXT's transformation - from almost deliberately bad reality show to Triple H's personal smark cave of wonders - is perhaps the most beneficial change to WWE in the modern era.

I'm not suggesting that NXT actually is a developmental territory. Its label is surely one of the biggest pranks in the industry today. Nobody needs to show Samoa Joe or Kevin Owens how to wrestle; they've been doing it for years to a very high standard indeed.

NXT's great strength lies not in preparing indie wrestlers for the main roster, but preparing mainstream crowds to accept them. Imagine, for a second, that you're a casual wrestling fan. Let's pretend you don't spend every waking minute trying to illegally download this year's PWG Battle of Los Angeles, or tweeting about how an AJPW match from 1983 is your favourite of all time. You may therefore never have heard of Prince Devitt, but did you get excited for Finn Balor's Raw debut? Absolutely; the NXT hype was huge.

Apologies for that incredibly patronising analogy, but I needed a way to finish this introduction and I panicked.

Here are the 10 best examples of this working - and it doesn't always work. Shinsuke Nakamura enjoyed an NXT run that felt major, with marquee matches against Zayn, Joe, and Roode. At the time of writing, he's Jinder Mahal's chew toy on SmackDown.

When it does work, however, it can pay off in a big way - as we're about to find out.

10. Sami Zayn


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Just before, in the intro, when I said we're about to find out how main roster call-ups can pay off in a big way. That may not actually happen immediately. Like, the first few entries aren't going to be that impressive, but we'll gradually get there. That's the nature of the beast when it comes to lists, I'm afraid. Trust me; I'm an expert in #contentcreation.

Anyway, who'd have thought that the answer for Sami Zayn was a heel turn!? His earth-shattering rescue of Kevin Owens at Hell in a Cell just about saved him from one of the most disappointing NXT call-up stories ever.

Zayn is, for my money, one of the most underrated components of NXT ever. You've got the Cesaro match, the awesome feud with Neville, and of course, the Dallas showdown with Nakamura. It was hard to watch him on Raw and SmackDown, clearly pouring his heart and soul into every match and promo, only to be booked to lose against Aiden English in one minute. Or being made to look like a buffoon, failing to open a little plastic ball with his Royal Rumble number inside.

Genuinely, they wrote a thing where he was unable to open a plastic ball.

This heel turn has come along in the nick of time for Sami, and hopefully - for my sake - WWE start giving him better matches and feuds to get his teeth into. NXT proved that he could do that better than almost everyone.


9. Baron Corbin


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Like Zayn, Corbin wouldn't have found himself on this list were it not for recent events. His main roster run started pretty strong, with many tipping him to become the next big heel on SmackDown. He had a strong Rumble performance and was made Mr. Money in the Bank.

Unfortunately, Baron was hit with the Kennedy Curse - the phenomenon of falling victim to unforeseen circumstances while holding the briefcase. I honestly can't remember the exact terms of the rumoured heat on Corbin, but I remember it being tedious to research and report upon. I think he insulted a veteran by accident, then apologised? There was maybe an argument with some guy during a concussion talk backstage?

Either way, things went down, because suddenly we went from Baron standing in line to become the next WWE Champion, to him losing his title shot in seconds to a fatigued Jinder Mahal. Then, on the next PPV, Cena called him a dumpster fire and squashed him, doing that really smug Cena thing where he's on the undercard and he knows he's winning. You know that thing? I can't describe it, but he becomes five times more unlikeable.

Somehow Corbin's turned it around, because at the time of writing he's the current US Champion. He even pinned Styles clean on TV in about 10 minutes, a decision I'm not...wild about...but a promising one for the Lone Wolf regardless.

It's nice for Baron, in fairness. He's been branded boring by many, but on NXT furnished a unique give-no-damns heel appeal (Or should I say appheel! Hahaha, oh man). Yelling "Go back to Ring of Honor" at Apollo Crews, a man who never signed for ROH at any stage of his career, is both charming and wonderful. For that alone, Corbin deserves his current redemption.

8. Asuka


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Nobody on this list enjoyed a more successful spell in NXT than the Empress of Tomorrow. Perhaps cashing-in on the growing popularity of NJPW - and perhaps just because she has one of the most devastating offences in all of wrestling - Asuka was booked like a creepy, colourful bulldozer. She pranced, she smiled. She kicked her opponents directly in the head.

At NXT TakeOver: Dallas, Asuka didn't just win the NXT Women's Championship. She rendered Bayley unconscious and prized the title from her twitching hands, breaking the hearts of thousands in the process (especially Izzy; Izzy was a mess).

This wasn't the Bayley we now know on the main roster - the one scared of using a kendo stick in a hardcore match. This was the most heroically booked NXT superstar ever, the same Bayley who defeated Sasha Banks in maybe the best women's match ever, outlasted her again over 30 minutes, and cleverly wore down Nia Jax like a new-age Bret Hart.

Asuka didn't care about any of that, and she sure as hell didn't care about the resumes of her subsequent challengers either. Ember Moon, Ruby Riot, Peyton Royce, Billie Kay - all fell before the woman who was quickly beginning to resemble a Japanese Brock Lesnar. (Not literally. There's like over a foot of height difference between them. You know what I meant.)

Yes, her beginning on Raw has been underwhelming - but Asuka gets onto the list by virtue of her undefeated streak remaining intact. Her first match with Emma may have been a little too even for most fans' liking, but her NXT past has ensured that her terrifying aura remains.

7. Paige


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Paige is about two months older than me, which I find silly. She's achieved things far beyond my comprehension, and it makes me both impressed and envious. Never is this more evident to me than when I think about her main roster debut, an explosive graduation from NXT in 2014.

Paige came over unannounced, dressed up like she was something else, on the Raw after WrestleMania XXX. It was kind of a confusing debut, to be honest. The Brit strode out all cocky, congratulating AJ Lee on her successful title defence. AJ slapped her in the face and challenged her to a match, and Paige immediately became scared and overwhelmed. It didn't quite add up, but that's not really the important part.

The important part is that she won in a matter of seconds, shocking the wrestling world and becoming the youngest ever WWE Divas Champion at the age of 21. When I was 21 I got drunk at a music festival in Spain, lost all my friends, ate an entire sleeve of Pringles, and woke up with the driest mouth known to man. It was mundane and stupid.

Paige's debut was neither mundane nor stupid, and she instantly became one of the most popular wrestlers in WWE's women's division. Sure, she's fallen afoul of injury and controversy since, but with a return set for the very near future, she can still be considered one of NXT's most popular alums.


6. Alexa Bliss


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Whereas Paige made an instant splash, winning the title on her first night on the main roster, Alexa's progress has been slightly more gradual. The first wrestler to win both the SmackDown and Raw Women's Championships, it's clear that WWE believe in Bliss - even if she's not the most skilled or experienced in-ring worker around.

The thing that really sets Alexa apart is charisma. She's a natural heel (despite reports of her actually being very nice in person), and does a great job of being generally awful to her fellow competitors.

Originally I wasn't going to put Bliss this high on the list, but I realised that I actually couldn't remember too much of her NXT run - which I think demonstrates just how much she's improved since transitioning to the main roster.

I've also realised that I haven't made a single joke in this entry; it's been very dry, hasn't it? Errm.

What do you call a mixed grill that realises it's about to be eaten?

Five meat of fury!

I'm so sorry.

5. The Shield


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Hey so, this is kind of a cheat entry. Seth Rollins was, of course, the inaugural NXT Champion (during his uncool phase, where during his entrance he used to flail around like a goth-nerd fending off imaginary alien foes in his bedroom). Reigns really didn't spend long on the developmental brand at all, rocking a weird smarmy heel gimmick. He'd, of course, go on to be a weird smarmy babyface. Ambrose wasn't on any taped NXT shows at all, so I've penalised The Shield a few places on this list because of that.

However, they had to make it on here. All three members are surely going to become Hall of Famers, unless one of them takes a school bus hostage or something. (My money's on Dean. Everybody's money's on Dean.)

The Shield boys are now the backbone of WWE's main roster, and will be looked back on as defining wrestlers of this generation - just as Austin, Rock, DX, and Mankind are synonymous with the Attitude Era.

It's hard to really gauge their transition to the main roster because it seems to have been 100mph since their debut at Survivor Series 2012. The trio crashed the main event looking cooler than, like, anything ever. I wish I'd been a small child when The Shield debuted, in the same way people wish they'd been a teenager when rock and roll was born. The vests, the hair, the walking through the crowd - if you saw that aged twelve or under, it must have blown your mind.

Since then we've seen their rise, their dominance, their break-up, their (very differently received) singles careers, and their reformation. They are absolutely pivotal - and they came up from NXT.

Well, two of them did.

Actually, I think Ambrose wrestled a few NXT house shows or something?

I've ruined my own snappy ending, I realise.

4. Samoa Joe


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Samoa Joe is one of those wrestlers where it feels like a constant delight to see him on WWE. After years watching him kill it in ROH and TNA, doing things a man of his size really shouldn't be doing in case they offend God, it's wonderful to see him finally given the big platform he deserves.

Pleasingly, Joe has been portrayed as an utter monster throughout his NXT and main roster runs. He's ruthless and fearless and pulls it off so well. It helps that he's utterly terrifying, of course. Ditching the Elvis look for a buzzcut was a very wise decision.

A two-time NXT Champion, many wondered how Joe would be incorporated onto a packed main roster - particularly when rumours surfaced that it would be on Monday Night Raw. That was answered emphatically the night after the 2017 Royal Rumble, where he jumped Seth Rollins and rag-dolled him around like if Harambe had been evil.

You could argue that Joe perhaps doesn't deserve to be this high on the list, given that he's yet to win a championship on the main roster. On the other hand, just look at his recent feud with Brock Lesnar. The former TNA and ROH Champion was treated like a legitimately big deal, and didn't show an ounce of fear at all. Brock didn't beat him down and slap him around, like he did to Roman at WrestleMania 31. It takes a special kind of talent to make Lesnar look like he got lucky, and Joe is exactly that.


3. Charlotte Flair


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All hail the queen.

Charlotte has improved as a wrestler at a terrifying rate. During her time in NXT, clear signs of inexperience and uncertainty were apparent during her matches - although she was still impressive in terms of presence and potential.

It's mind-boggling to think how quickly Charlotte has gone from total greenhorn to one of the best women's wrestlers in the world. It seems like one moment she was slightly botching a rollup on NXT, the next she was tearing the roof off at WrestleMania 32 alongside Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch.

Although those names may be more immediately popular with the majority of WWE fans, neither make it onto this list. Neither have transitioned from NXT with quite the same sustained momentum as Charlotte.

That's not their fault, by the way. Both are brilliant wrestlers too, but Charlotte has been booked with an air of untouchability. She's the Triple H of the women's division, but without the sledgehammers, and she kinda loses sometimes.

But in terms of carrying herself like the top dog, wrestling like the top dog, and therefore being the top dog, Charlotte is beyond her peers by some margin. I'd like to make a point about Ric Flair and how it's in her blood, but more evident is her dedication and hard work.

2. Finn Balor


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At the time of writing, Mr. Balor is stuck in a bizarre cosplay weird-off with Bray Wyatt. The biggest compliment I can give the feud is that neither man has accidentally laughed mid-promo so far, and I find that genuinely impressive.

Much as been said online about how WWE has done the impossible: made Finn Balor boring. But that very sentiment speaks volumes about his initial transition from NXT, and just how white-hot he was upon making his first main roster appearances.

Were it not for this recent decline (and his ludicrously ill-timed injury at SummerSlam 2016), Balor would probably top this list. I feel bad for knocking him into second place, but at the same time, I'm jealous of how handsome he is and how many girls like him. So I'm not that sorry.

Balor's first two Raw matches saw him dominate several opponents (one being Roman Reigns) and landed him a shot at the newly-created Universal Championship. This massive immediate push caused Vince Russo to be very angry online, which I feel only gives it more bonus points as a genius booking decision.

Finn, of course, went on to defeat Seth Rollins for the belt, injuring himself in the process and derailing a great deal of his own momentum. WWE have pretty much dropped the ball since. Whose idea was it to stick one of their most marketable stars in a (pretty damn even) feud with Elias Samson to build up a new head of steam?

However, the potential remains. Balor's time in NXT was so explosive - and his main roster transition so immediately impactful - that he could be dropped into the main event scene again whenever WWE desire. For his sake, let's hope they remember to soon.

1. Kevin Owens


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You don't saunter onto the main roster while NXT Champion to challenge John Cena to a PPV match. That doesn't really happen. You certainly don't beat him, are you crazy!?

That's exactly what Kevin Owens did in 2015, and although he lost the two subsequent rematches, a new star was born. It hasn't exactly been smooth sailing since then, and every step forward has seemingly been met with a step back. He was given the Universal Championship (when Triple H essentially won it for him), but was made to look incredibly weak during his reign. He eventually dropped the belt to Goldberg in seconds.

He was traded to SmackDown, where people salivated at the prospect of various match-ups on the blue brand - before embarking upon a weirdly underwhelming feud with AJ Styles. Now he's back with Sami Zayn, and I'm praying that it goes well - because if any two wrestlers deserve to convince everyone that they're awesome, it's surely those two.

So Owens hasn't enjoyed the best booking of an NXT call-up ever; why on earth does he top this list?

Despite a ludicrously hot start, KO hasn't simply been handed the smoothest transition to the main roster of all time. He's encountered several roadblocks, but he's still managed to excel where others would have become overlooked or demotivated.

The secret is that Owens is a born entertainer. He's one of those people that is interesting to watch all of the time, whether he's squashing a lowercard babyface in two minutes, ripping Chris Jericho's heart out of his chest, or almost being killed by Shane McMahon.

I firmly believe KO could have debuted on the main roster as a dancing panda, and he'd still be over as hell today. When you're as good as he is, it's just hard to fail.

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Jack G. King

Written by Jack G. King

Head of News at Cultaholic.com | [email protected]