It seems like just yesterday that fans were hearing vague tales about the happenings in Ohio Valley Wrestling, which was, at the time, the place where WWE forged the Superstars of tomorrow from stone. Many men and women who would go on to become some of the biggest wrestling stars of our lifetimes were created in OVW, including an elite group of men known by the names Brock Lesnar, Batista, Randy Orton and John Cena.
But eventually OVW was phased out and WWE began training its future Superstars in a little promotion known as Florida Championship Wrestling. FCW then gave way to NXT, a newer brand of development for the company. With a weekly show on the WWE Network and several pay-per-view specials every year, NXT has grown into a worldwide phenomenon almost on par with WWE itself. Today, NXT is the natural progression for a professional wrestler after the independent circuit; it’s seen as more prestigious than the likes of Ring of Honor or Evolve and is the final stepping stone on the path to Superstardom.
With the rise of NXT, the WWE Universe has been presented with a scenario in which they’re always wondering which of their favorite up and coming performers will be called up to the main roster next. Then, it’s a matter of who will fail and who will succeed under the iron fist of Vince McMahon, but that’s another monster entirely. For now, let’s take a look at the top fifteen men and women fans hope to see on Raw and SmackDown Live in 2017.
15. Andrade “Cien” Almas
If you’re a regular viewer of NXT, you probably know Andrade “Cien” Almas as an up and coming Mexican star in the developmental brand. Between the yellow ropes, Almas has been impressing the WWE Universe for most of 2016 with his athletic maneuvers and he has been inching closer to the NXT Championship picture.
However, long before coming to perform in front of one of the biggest wrestling audiences in the world, Almas was a huge star in his native country. Originally known famously in the independent wrestling world as La Sombra, he made one hell of a career for himself in CMLL, winning several championships there as well as competing for New Japan Pro Wrestling. If WWE is looking for their next big Mexican wrestling star, Almas could be what they need. We really hope that he gets a shot at proving that in 2017 with a call-up to the main roster.
14. Blake & Murphy
The tag team of Blake & Murphy is the first of the NXT prospects we will look at who may possibly be called up to Raw and SmackDown Live as a unit. Of course, that is assuming the two are ever called up at all because it’s not as if Wesley Blake and Buddy Murphy have developed a massive following in NXT. The pair, who were once managed by SmackDown Live star Alexa Bliss, did hold the NXT Tag Team Championship for some time, but they’ve never been able to steadily hold the interest of the NXT crowd who is usually quite willing to give anyone a chance.
These days, it’s difficult to tell if Blake and Murphy are even still an official tag team. They’ve certainly faced some dissension among their ranks after Alexa Bliss’s departure, but it’s hard to say whether either of them could stand on their own. Together or apart, it’s now or never for these two.
13. Mandy Rose
We came to know her throughout the 2015 incarnation of the Tough Enough competition as Amanda Saccomanno, but now Mandy Rose has carved out a pretty comfortable spot for herself on the NXT roster. Mandy came in second place on Tough Enough, but she arguably has become the most successful of all of the competitors on the show, having made incredibly impressive strides as an in-ring performer. She already seems to have a pretty solid hold on the attention of the WWE Universe with her character and charisma, too.
Mandy Rose has the added benefit of being gorgeous and she keeps herself in the minds of her fans via frequent updates on her Instagram account with steamy selfies. If Mandy continues making such great strides in her wrestling performances it is entirely possible she will be drafted to Raw or SmackDown Live in 2017, and fans are certainly looking forward to it.
12. The Revival
Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder have become one of the most consistently entertaining acts of the tag team division in NXT. Known collectively as The Revival, the team is the first to ever win the NXT Tag Team Championship on two separate occasions and has proven to be a solid base for the division to continue to build upon. Two of their championship matches, one with American Alpha and the other against #DIY, made WWE.com’s list of the twenty-five best matches of 2016, with the latter coming in first place.
The Revival is named such for their throwback style of brawling their way to victory and is a force to be reckoned with. Dawson and Wilder will one day undoubtedly be an incredibly valuable asset to either Raw or SmackDown Live whenever they should be called up. Hopefully that will be in 2017 because it seems as if they may have done all they can do in NXT.
11. Ember Moon
The woman known as Athena blazed a memorable path throughout the independent wrestling circuit, dazzling audiences with her infectious charisma and impressively athletic style of combat. She was already a pretty big star among the hardcore audiences when it was announced that she had signed a developmental deal with WWE, so when that announcement was made fans of women’s wrestling knew Vince McMahon had something special on his hands.
One only needs to look at Athena’s debut in NXT to see what all of her fans already knew: she was a huge Superstar just waiting to be discovered. In her first match under her new ring name, Ember Moon, she stunned the crowd with her eerie entrance and her vicious and outrageous wrestling style. If there’s someone in line to dethrone the seemingly unbeatable Asuka for the NXT Women’s Championship it’s Ember Moon, but let’s hope that doesn’t prevent her from a main roster debut in the coming year.
10. Tye Dillinger
The case of Tye Dillinger is a rough one to handle for Dillinger’s many fans. He has been working with NXT for years waiting for the opportunity to show that he could be something special, and even after receiving a gimmick that went over naturally with the NXT Universe he has continued to face loss after loss. Those who have followed Dillinger’s NXT journey for so long have begun to wonder if his time on the main roster will ever come.
Tye Dillinger is good looking and has a character with a chant that is likely to get many a wrestling crowd behind him, but there’s only so much room at the top and apparently he hasn’t managed to impress enough people to be drafted to Raw or SmackDown Live yet. At this stage in his career, it’s go time for Tye Dillinger and fans are hoping he finally gets a chance to show what he’s got on the main roster in 2107.
9. Hideo Itami
Japanese wrestling sensation KENTA has been compared to Hulk Hogan due to his level of popularity in his native country. He won a ton of championships with Pro Wrestling Noah in the years leading up to WWE offering him a developmental contract, and when that contract was signed hopes were high. The wrestling world couldn’t wait to see what KENTA would bring to the biggest wrestling organization in the world, but fans were dealt their first blow when he was forced to change his famous name to Hideo Itami.
The next blow came when Hideo suffered a severe injury only a few months into his NXT career which killed all of his momentum. After a hiatus which turned out to be quite a bit lengthier than anyone had expected, he finally made his return to the ring in 2016 only to be injured yet again. Now on the shelf for a second time, it’s starting to look like Hideo Itami’s time in NXT is being lost to some unfortunate coincidences and everyone knows timing is everything in WWE. We only hope WWE can put his career on the fast track once he’s recovered.
8. Austin Aries
For a man cocky enough to call himself the “greatest man that ever lived,” Austin Aries certainly has a pretty monstrous following within the wrestling community. Known most famously for his years of service to Total Nonstop Action Wrestling where he is a former World Heavyweight Champion, Aries got his fans incredibly pumped for his potential future in the ring when he joined WWE in 2016 under a developmental contract and reported to NXT.
Things were slowed down a bit for Austin Aries toward the end of the year when he suffered an injury that was expected to keep him out of action for several months, but he has been kept busy in the meantime by doing commentary for matches within the Cruiserweight division. We hope this means he has a comfortable spot in that division upon his recovery and can make his move to WWE’s main roster to start making history.
7. Eric Young
Another former World Heavyweight Champion for Total Nonstop Action Wrestling who made his way to NXT in 2016 is the incomparable Eric Young. Eric’s style, trademark raspy voice and noted intensity have made him a hit with wrestling crowds for many years in TNA, and it seems as though he will be a perfect fit for NXT going forward. Young has been placed at the head of his very own vicious stable in NXT and the future looks incredibly bright for them all.
Hopefully this stable, known to NXT fans as SANitY, will be well produced and protected going into this new year because Eric Young and his cohorts have the potential to go very far on either Raw or SmackDown Live. Young is an invaluable asset to any roster and with an already established following from his NXT days a lot of the hard work has already been done.
6. Roderick Strong
Being one of the longest tenured wrestlers performing with the popular independent organization Ring of Honor, it was beginning to look like Roderick Strong might never receive a welcome letter from WWE. Most fans believed Strong would likely retire as simply one of the most respected men on the indie circuit, but in 2016 all of those assumptions were proven wrong when he signed a developmental contract with NXT. Strong brought a wealth of experience with him and a huge following and has quickly jumped into the NXT Championship picture.
His many years inside a wrestling ring may make it seem as if he is nearing the end of his career, but at 33 years of age Roderick Strong still has plenty of time left to build a potentially legendary career in WWE. And with his obvious talents and marketability, that’s just where he’s headed once he’s drafted to Raw or SmackDown Live.
Two other men who are likely to be drafted as a unit to the main roster when their time comes are Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano. These two internet darlings have been tearing it up on the independent circuit for a while, with Ciampa establishing a foothold in Ring of Honor and earning himself a run as the World Television Champion while Gargano is known for his appearances in Dragon Gate and Evolve. Both men have been competing for over a decade and have finally made it big.
Teaming up and calling themselves #DIY, Ciampa and Gargano now have a reign as the NXT Tag Team Champions on their resume and have become one of the most popular acts in developmental. After earning the number one spot on WWE.com’s list of best matches of 2016, the only way is up from here for #DIY in 2016, and hopefully, that means a call-up.
4. Bobby Roode
Wrestling stars who were formerly known as the faces and backbone of Total Nonstop Action Wrestling have been jumping ship and flocking to NXT in droves as of late. Like Austin Aries, Eric Young and others, Bobby Roode is one of many former TNA World Heavyweight Champions to have broken into WWE’s developmental program in 2016. Roode himself brings an immense amount of experience with him when he steps between the yellow ropes, but the “glory” of his grand and extremely popular entrance is what first catches the eye.
With his innate wrestling ability, an entrance theme to put an end to all others, and a captivating character, Bobby Roode is destined for greatness in WWE. He seems a natural fit, having the look Vince McMahon would seem to go for in a WWE Superstar and his legions of fans certainly don’t hurt his prospects. He has recently seen himself in the main event picture on NXT, but here’s to hoping we soon see him in the same position on Raw or SmackDown.
3. Shinsuke Nakamura
In what has easily been one of the most valuable signings for the company in years, WWE managed to get Japanese wrestling icon Shinsuke Nakamura on board with NXT in 2016. Only months after making his debut with the organization Nakamura already found himself in the top position as the NXT Champion. He’s wrestled countless classics with the likes of Sami Zayn and Samoa Joe and his memorable entrance theme might just be the most popular in all of WWE.
Shinsuke Nakamura indeed has an outstanding following that rivals just about any of the biggest stars on Raw and SmackDown Live. His presence has lifted NXT to new heights and his “strong style” of wrestling has been a refreshing addition to WWE programming. Whether it is to Raw or SmackDown, Shinsuke Nakamura needs to be drafted soon to the main roster so he can start making waves on the main roster.
The women’s wrestling revolution was already well underway when WWE signed the intimidating Japanese star known as Kana to a developmental contract. It initially seemed like an awkward pairing; Kana was known for her intense and brutal style of fighting and WWE was still referring to its female wrestlers as “Divas” at this time. Divas were known to not be very physical, so how exactly was Kana supposed to fit into this mold?
Soon after Kana adopted the ring name Asuka and plowed through the competition straight into the comfortable position of NXT Women’s Champion, WWE dropped the “Divas” term and women’s wrestling has since been embraced in all its glory. Women’s matches in WWE have become as vicious as those involving the male Superstars and Asuka suddenly seems like a perfect fit for WWE. After the lengthy feud between Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks, Asuka is just what the women’s division needs to keep the ball rolling.
1. Samoa Joe
Of all the former TNA World Heavyweight Champions to have left the slowly sinking ship known as TNA for greener pastures in NXT, Samoa Joe might just be the biggest star of them all. Joe has been an epic independent sensation for many years on the level of AJ Styles, which is why it is so baffling that it took so long for WWE to offer them both contracts. Samoa Joe is one of the most intense wrestlers to ever grace the ring. The man is huge but moves like a man half his size, and he has such a rabid following that even many casual fans knew all about him before he came to the biggest wrestling company in the world.
Samoa Joe has been a steady beacon of light in NXT and has held that brand together almost single-handedly for the past year. Rumors are swirling that the first man to ever hold the NXT Championship twice is destined for a spot on the main roster in 2017 and his impending draft to Raw or SmackDown might be the most anticipated NXT call up ever.