Since its inception, NXT has gone through a number of changes. Initially, it was a reality show, which then transitioned to being a program that took lesser known talent or promising wrestlers with little experience, brought them into their performance centre to develop their skills, and then put them on the air. Over the years, a number of performers that have gone through NXT have become champions on the main roster. Seth Rollins, Rusev, Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose and Big E all earned their way onto the main roster after cutting their teeth in NXT.
However, for all the promotion’s success stories, there are a number of talented men and women who never made it beyond NXT. However, leaving NXT doesn’t mean their careers are by any means over. They knew that there were other opportunities out there for them. This list includes men and women who may no longer be with the WWE’s NXT brand but are carrying on doing what they know and love. Their stories are individual to each one of them, but are brought together by one commonality: they were all once NXT.
Do you remember some of these names? Feel free to share with us what you think on social media.
15. Kassius Ohno
He is known all over the world, and yet during his time in NXT, it appeared as though the company wanted to change him. It has been speculated that WWE wanted the man with the roaring elbow, known as Chris Hero on the independent circuit, to work on his physique. However, with his depth of knowledge, unbelievable stability, and articulate nature, was changing the way he looks really that necessary?
During his time in NXT, he had feuds with Ritchie Steamboat and NXT General Manager William Regal and was on the cusp of being on the main roster. Their parting of ways didn’t hurt his stock in the least. Hero returned to Ring of Honor briefly, before competing in promotions all over North America and Japan. He is respected for his ability both inside and out of the ring and is more in demand now than ever.
14. Briley Pierce
If the name doesn’t sound too familiar, then maybe his real last name might. His real last name is Nemeth, and if that sounds vaguely familiar, then you may have heard of his brother Nick, who competes under the name Dolph Ziggler. Ryan Nemeth is the younger brother of Nick and competed for NXT between 2012 and 2013 under the name Briley Pierce.
After Ryan’s release, he has continued to travel on the independent circuit. He also wrote a book titled I Can Make Out with Any Girl Here, which isn’t autobiographical, but rather a book about a college student in the first semester at a University. Nemeth has also kept quite busy as an actor. He has appeared in a couple of short films with an uncredited appearance in Pee-wee’s Big Holiday. His diversity appears to be genetic, Ziggler has also starred in films from WWE Studios.
13. Derrick Bateman
If there was ever someone that was on the verge of breaking through WWE’s glass ceiling, it was none other than Michael Hutter. If the name doesn’t necessarily ring a bell, then you may remember him as Derrick Bateman during his time with NXT. He underwent a number of different personas during his time in NXT, but it wasn’t until he was released that his untapped talent had a chance to shine.
Today Hutter competes as Ethan Carter III as part of Impact Wrestling. Hutter has captured multiple championships with the promotion and provided some of the most compelling and riveting television that the company has seen in many years. It is clear that one company’s loss is another one’s gain, as he is a vital character today.
12. Marcus Louis
Louis’s character evolved during his time in NXT. He went from a supportive and naïve follower of Sylvester Lefort to an enraged animal that came completely unglued. This allowed Louis to show depth, but unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to keep him in NXT as he was released earlier this year. Instead of being constrained by the customary 90 day no-complete clause that can hamper talent from making a living, Louis signed with Impact Wrestling the following month.
Despite losing in his debut appearance, he has remained an important character on TNA’s brand. He is currently aligned with former ECW alumni Al Snow as part of a faction known as The Tribunal. One wonders what could have been with Louis in NXT, considering he was quickly snatched up by a rival promotion. And Louis isn’t the only former NXT talent to seek employment with Impact Wrestling after his release.
11. Rachel Diaz
She wrestled as part of NXT under the name Rachel Diaz, and Shaul Guerrero, the pride and joy of Vickie and Eddie competed as part of Florida Championship Wrestling as well. In fact, she captured the FCW Divas Championship. Since she has left NXT, Guerrero married current WWE SmackDown Live superstar Aiden English. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear as though she has continued on with the family tradition of wrestling. In an interview in 2014, Shaul said she left NXT because she was battling an eating disorder.
In fact, she went into rehab because of it and needed to recover physically from it. Her trainers recognized that she needed to get herself in the right frame of mind both physically and mentally in order to continue. She is multi-talented, and has been noted as being a singer and actress so there are a multitude of career opportunities out there in the entertainment field.
10. Bull Dempsey
Bull Dempsey competed as part of NXT from 2013 to 2016 and had a couple of different characters while he was there. In both instances, his characters resonated with the live crowds. Towards the end of his run, Dempsey was branded with the ‘Bull-Fit’ character, an out of shape wrestler who was in need of recapturing the discipline that he once had.
The former trainee of Tazz and Matt Bourne, Dempsey has continued his career after leaving NXT. He now competes on the independent circuit as Bull James, which combines the ‘Bull’ name with James, which is his actual name. Even if he wasn’t one of your personal favorites, you have to give James credit for being able to sustain a career after the WWE and NXT. He currently competes all over North America.
9. Sylvester Lefort
The French-born wrestler has been competing since 2006 and was trained by Lance Storm. Lefort competed with the WWE NXT brand from 2012 to 2016, playing various roles. He was more of a mouthpiece, initially for one-half of the now current NXT tag team champions Scott Dawson and current United States champion Rusev. He would later go to form a tag team that would be known as The Legionnaires, then was off television for eight months until being brought back.
However, the animosity that the character had built was now gone. While he managed Billie Kay on NXT house shows, he never appeared on-screen. On February 5th, Lefort was released from his contract with the WWE. What happened to him after his time in NXT ended? He signed with TNA Impact Wrestling with a different look. His head is now shaved, as the long locks he sported in NXT are gone.
8. Mason Ryan
The Welsh-born wrestler was not only a part of NXT, but was originally part of a revamped Nexus that was led by CM Punk. After competing on the main roster between 2011 and 2012, Ryan returned to the WWE’s developmental system from 2012 and 2014. Despite being on the roster, he wasn’t seen very often on the NXT program during that time.
After being released by in April 2014, Ryan continued to compete over the independents while using his WWE name. He competed once in TNA as part of the promotions Gut Check Challenge. He also competed as part of the Japanese wrestling promotion Inoki Genome Federation in 2015 under the Mason Williams ring-name. He is now part of the traveling group Cirque du Soliel as one of their performers.
7. Sofia Cortez
Cortez first joined the WWE after competing on the fifth season of Tough Enough. She was signed to a contract and began to compete in the WWE’s developmental territory of Florida Championship Wrestling under the name Sofia Cortez. As FCW transitioned to NXT, she stayed with the promotion in 2012. Years later, she revealed in an interview that she reported Bill DeMott’s conduct to management, which she believes was the reason for her release.
Since departing NXT, Cortez has been in high demand in the wrestling world. After competing for such notable women’s promotions as Shine, she went to TNA in 2012 and 2013. Her most successful stint may have been when she earned popularity in Lucha Underground, competing under her real name Ivelisse. Ivelisse has captured the Trios championship alongside teammates Son of Havoc and Angelico.
6. Percy Watson
Before competing with NXT and FCW before it, Watson was an all-Southern conference college football player and played in the NFL with the Washington Redskins. While in FCW, Waston teamed up with current WWE Raw superstar Darren Young.
After FCW transitioned to NXT, he stayed with the brand from 2010 to 2013. He was also part of second season of the NXT reality show. Since his release in 2014, he has been competing on the independent wrestling circuit under the name Cordell Porter.
5. Solomon Crowe
After years of touring the independent scene competing for the likes of Dragon Gate, Combat Zone Wrestling and Ring of Honor, Crowe made his way to NXT in 2012. His time was spent primarily under development. He did appear on a live event the following year competing against now WWE Raw superstar Xavier Woods. His character was supposed to be a computer hacker that controlled all the pyrotechnics in the building. However, it wasn’t until 2015 where Crowe debuted on the NXT program and said who he was.
It was less than a year after being showcased on the NXT brand that Crowe requested and received his release from the company. Since returning to the independent circuit, Crowe has appeared for a number of different promotions all over North America. It has now been reported that Sami Callihan, Crowe’s alias on the independent scene, will appear in the third season of Lucha Underground.
4. Ricky Ortiz
The former NFL and CFL player first debuted with WWE’s Ohio Valley Wrestling developmental program, and when WWE developmental moved to Florida Championship Wrestling in 2008, Ortiz competed there for a year before being called up to the ECW brand and given the name Atlas Ortiz. He wasn’t on ECW very long, as he was drafted to SmackDown in April 2009, and then released from his contract that same year.
Whatever happened to Ricky Ortiz? He continued to apply his craft on the independent circuit since, and currently works as a trainer at Bubba Ray and D-Von Dudley’s Team 3D wrestling academy. He also appeared in an episode of the short-lived television program Cha$e. Most recently, Ortiz married former WWE Diva Layla in November 2015. Ortiz has a ton of charisma, and it is only a matter of time before he is able to earn a shot with another promotion.
3. Brad Maddox
Maddox debuted for the WWE’s Ohio Valley Wrestling developmental promotion in 2008 and remained there until, much like a number of other talent, he moved to Florida Championship Wrestling in 2010. While he was there he captured the FCW 15 Championship. He later transitioned to being a referee on WWE’s main roster. It was there where he was used during the CM Punk/Ryback feud, refereeing the main event between the two. From 2013 to 2014, Maddox was made the Raw General Manager, a role he shared with Vickie Guerrero.
After being relieved of his duties as the Raw General Manager, he competed on house shows, teaming with former WWE superstar Adam Rose. Since being released in November 2015, Maddox has been actively working the independent wrestling scene, primarily in the United States. He is still quite active on social media, in particular, Twitter and Instagram.
2. CJ Parker
If there was ever a guy that could be considered a team player it was CJ Parker. He started competing under this persona in 2012 after starting with FCW. Over the course of his time in NXT, Parker went through transitions, starting as a face and ultimately becoming a heel. It was interesting to see the peace-loving hippie become an in your face heel that criticized how our choices are making the world an awful place.
He took part in notable matches against the likes of Kevin Owens, Baron Corbin and Hideo Itami. During the Spring 2015, Parker requested and received his release from the company. Since departing NXT, Parker began competing under the ring name CJP for promotions as CZW, and now wrestles as Juice Robinson with New Japan Pro Wrestling. He has worked alongside the likes of Michael Elgin against The Bullet Club’s Young Bucks and Kenny Omega.
1. Eli Cottonwood
If you don’t remember the name, it’s probably because his time in Florida Championship Wrestling and the second season of NXT was so short-lived. For a brief period of time he competed as part of the Wyatt Family, but asked to be released from his contract in 2012. What happened to Eli Cottonwood? He retired from active competition six years into his career. He is currently co-owner of an independent wrestling promotion in Florida called Florida Hardcore Wrestling. He can be found on Twitter @ChristiansonNXT and has actively helped promote his wrestling promotion in the Florida area, which showcases local talent along with bringing in notable talent from major promotions all over the country.