NXT has become a phenomenon over the past few years, so it comes as no surprise that the WWE has began relying on their own developmental territory when it comes to bringing new superstars onto the main roster. The WWE draft in 2016 allowed many new talents to be brought up to the main roster and placed on either Raw or SmackDown. This allowed there to be many more debuts than there usually is in a calendar year.
NXT stars are all over WWE right now with Kevin Owens as a former NXT Champion, Sami Zayn, Cruiserweight Champion Neville, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and many others all coming up to the main roster and having a huge amount of success following their stints in NXT.
It is hoped that the new class, who are currently spread out over both brands, will have just as much success as the superstars who came before them. Some of them have already left a lasting impression on their main roster since their debuts merely months ago, while others have failed to make the impact that they were promised following their promotion.
As mentioned, there were quite a few memorable main roster debuts in WWE in 2016, but here are some of the ones that the WWE Universe will want to remember in the years to come.
15. Dana Brooke
Dana Brooke and Emma became an impressive heel duo down on NXT, much like Peyton Royce and Billie Kay are currently, but she was called up to the main roster back in May 2016 so that she could continue her partnership with Emma outside of NXT.
It was during a backstage segment on Raw that Emma and Becky Lynch got into it with the Australian wrestler telling Lynch that she needed to develop eyes in the back of her head. Dana then made her long-awaited debut by running in and blindsiding Lynch as the duo then began to beat down the Irish star. Sadly, the feud was never finished because Emma was injured and forced out of action when back surgery was required, so WWE then decided to align Dana with Charlotte instead.
14. Alexa Bliss
Alexa Bliss has become a convincing heel on the NXT brand ever since she sided with Blake and Murphy and helped the duo achieve Tag Team gold. The five-foot star was then drafted from NXT to SmackDown as part of the WWE Draft in July and made her official debut on their roster the following week.
Alexa came out and interrupted Becky Lynch to put the SmackDown locker room on notice and to announce her arrival. Her debut didn’t go as planned, since Naomi, Carmella, and Eva Marie all decided to come out and announce their arrivals too. Luckily for Alexa, she has been the most successful of all the women drafted to SmackDown since, as a current two-time Women’s Champion.
Rhyno had a stint in WWE a few years ago and after making an impressive return to the company on its NXT brand, WWE decided it was time for him to be brought up to the main roster.
At the time, Heath Slater was attempting to earn himself a contract for the SmackDown brand and decided to list off his entire resume to SmackDown commissioner Shane McMahon before stating that he was the hottest free agent in WWE. Rhyno then slid into the ring and Shane stated that he was, in fact, looking at the hottest free agent in WWE, referring to Rhyno. Rhyno then hit Gore on Slater and later earned himself a SmackDown contract. Heath and Rhyno later teamed together and became the first ever SmackDown Live Tag Team Champions.
12. The Vaudevillians
The Vaudevillians are former NXT Tag Team Champions and already proved just how talented they were when they were competing on NXT, but just two nights after WrestleMania 32 back in April 2016, WWE decided to call the team up to the main roster.
Aiden English and Simon Gotch were called up on an episode of SmackDown and faced The Lucha Dragons in their first match on the main roster. The Lucha Dragons are another team that began down in NXT and knew The Vaudevillians quite well, but it was the men from the early 20th Century who picked up the win on their first outing together outside of NXT, to set the tone for what was hoped to have been a decent run on the main roster.
11. Apollo Crews
The night after WrestleMania has always been known as one of the most exciting Monday Night Raws of the year. In the past few years, this has become well known because of the call-ups that usually happen on that day.
Last year’s Raw After Mania didn’t disappoint either, as Shane McMahon took control of the show and stated that there was going to be opportunities for people that didn’t usually receive them. Apollo Crews was one of these stars and he made his debut on the Raw roster in a match against another former NXT star Tyler Breeze. Prince Pretty put up a good fight, but it was Crews that made a lasting impression when he showed off his impactful finisher and put Breeze away easily.
10. James Ellsworth
Back in July 2016, Braun Strowman was becoming a monster in WWE and taking out many jobbers en route to becoming one of WWE’s most feared superstars. One of the men who were on the list was James Ellsworth.
Ellsworth was easily defeated by Strowman but the fact that he looked different, and the WWE Universe were amused by the fact that he hardly had a chin, meant that WWE decided to bring him back on the SmackDown roster and have him in a match against WWE Champion AJ Styles, a man that he managed to defeat three times. Ellsworth was only supposed to be part of one match in WWE but the company decided to sign him to a permanent contract afterwards.
9. Mojo Rawley
Mojo Rawley is a man who has been championed by WWE COO Triple H many times for the amount of hard work he is willing to put in when it comes to his wrestling career. Mojo was part of The Hype Bros when they were down in NXT and it was decided as part of the WWE draft in the summer of 2016 that Mojo would be a shock pick for SmackDown Live.
Rawley made his debut on SmackDown as part of their Battleground pay-per-view when he came out to rescue his Hype Bros partner Zack Ryder following his match for the United States Championship against Rusev. This signalled that the group was getting back together and the duo have since been working together on the main roster. Zack recently suffered a knee injury that required surgery, so Mojo has been forced to work singles matches for a while.
8. Baron Corbin
Baron Corbin had already proved during his time in NXT that he had what it takes to go all the way in WWE, but it still came as a huge shock when Corbin took part in the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royale on the Kickoff Show for WrestleMania 32.
Corbin wasn’t only a shock inclusion in the match, but he was the shock winner and went on to make his debut on the main roster the following night. Corbin has since been drafted over to SmackDown and has climbed through the ranks to be considered one of the top superstars on the roster at the moment, and definitely one of the three main heels on the Tuesday night show.
7. Enzo And Cass
Enzo and Cass had technically already been on the main roster when they were part of the Tag Team Championship match against The Revival at Roadblock in March, but it wasn’t until the night after WrestleMania 32 that the duo finally made their official debut on the main roster.
Enzo and Cass came out to interrupt The Dudley Boys and Enzo proved just how good he was on the mic when he absolutely ripped the legendary team apart and set up a future match between them. The WWE Universe hadn’t seen much of Enzo’s mic skills before this, but after this episode of Raw, he was one of the most talked about debuts and many of the WWE Universe were sure that he would become a future star. Sadly for Enzo and Cass, they are still one of the most popular teams on the roster, but they haven’t come very far in the past year.
Bayley was the only member of the Four Horsewomen that wasn’t promoted to the main roster in the Summer of 2015 as part of the Divas Revolution. Instead, WWE decided to leave Bayley down in NXT without Charlotte, Sasha Banks, and Becky Lynch and allow her to become the new Women’s Champion.
In the Summer of 2016, Sasha needed a partner at Battleground as she took on Charlotte and Dana Brooke, and since Bayley had been undrafted as part of the WWE draft, there was nothing stopping her from being Sasha’s partner. The Boss tried to tell the WWE Universe that she hadn’t chosen Bayley but the arena erupted at Battleground when Bayley arrived and helped her team to victory, defeating Charlotte in a pay-per-view match for the first time.
5. American Alpha
The team of Jason Jordan and Chad Gable were part of some of the greatest Tag Team matches ever seen on NXT when they were part of the developmental set-up, but after a successful Tag Team Championship run, the duo was chosen as one of the first picks for SmackDown Live in July 2016.
It took a few weeks for the team to make their debut following the draft, but in August they made their SmackDown debut against The Vaudevillians and proved why so many of the WWE Universe had wanted them to debut a long time before. The team are the current SmackDown Tag Team Champions after they defeated Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton a few weeks ago.
4. Nia Jax
Nia Jax is one of the most dominant female wrestlers of all time. She was undefeated for a number of months while she was in NXT until she was defeated by Bayley in London, but she was still considered to be a monster of a pick for Monday Night Raw as part of the draft.
Nia made her official Raw debut a few weeks later and it was made obvious that WWE was hoping to build her into another undefeated monster. Nia looked relentless in the match and proved why she was such a big pick for Raw and has since become the most dominant female in WWE currently. Nia has only been defeated twice since her debut in WWE in the summer of 2016 and could be added to the Championship match at WrestleMania in two weeks time.
3. Finn Balor
Finn Balor is one of the most talked about WWE superstars in WWE history. After controlling NXT for more than a year as the champion, it was time for The Demon King to head to the main roster after he was one of Raw’s first overall picks in the draft.
Finn had a fantastic debut night as he was put in a fatal-four-way match that he then won, and he later defeated Roman Reigns clean to go on to face Seth Rollins for the newly debuted Universal Championship at SummerSlam. Finn won that match too and became the first ever Universal Champion, but an injury in the match forced him to vacate the title and undergo surgery, something that has kept him out of action ever since.
2. Luke Gallows And Karl Anderson
Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson are two of the biggest stars in the world when it comes to tag team wrestling, and the team have won tag team titles all over the world. There was a huge buzz around the WWE when it was revealed that they had signed with the company.
Gallows and Anderson made their debut the week after WrestleMania on an episode of Raw when they ran out and attacked The Usos following their number one contenders match against The Social Outcasts. Anderson and Gallows put the WWE Locker room on notice and have since become one of the most dominant teams in WWE, and are the current Raw Tag Team Champions.
1. AJ Styles
The 2016 Royal Rumble was thought to have been a slightly disappointing one, because of the predictability. Many of the WWE Universe expected Triple H to make his return and to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship after Roman was forced to put it on the line in the match.
The WWE Universe didn’t expect former TNA and NJPW superstar AJ Styles to be a surprise entrant at number three, though. The former TNA legend made his way to the ring to take on Roman Reigns and even though he was prematurely eliminated, he still made quite the impression and after only a year in WWE, he is already a former WWE Champion and currently one of the biggest stars on the SmackDown brand.