As a young teenager, I used to love watching WWE wrestling. The Undertaker battling The Ultimate Warrior (and locking Warrior in an airtight casket!) is one of my first memories of those larger than life athletes fighting it out in the ring. Good versus Evil isn’t really a thing anymore in the WWE, which now prefers a more realistic, less morally clear course of action for its story lines, but the athleticism and motivations didn’t have to diminish along with this more realistic stance. However, they have diminished due to a string of bad decisions, writing, and unfortunate injuries that have diluted and degraded their product. Roman Reigns currently sits at the top of the pile as the world champion (or “Face”), despite the fact that the audience does not like Reigns and will not accept him as a Face.
Some of the WWE’s decisions have been so bad that casual fans have tuned out. I still pay attention to WWE but don’t actively watch it anymore, preferring to tune into Lucha Underground, a wrestling promotion that has far superior story telling and in-ring action. One of the worst decisions WWE tends to make over and over is pushing people they want to be pushed instead of looking at what works with the fans and what doesn’t work with the fans.
This list will look at 15 wrestlers who started out in WWE’s farm promotion, NXT, and then made their way to the main roster of athletes. All of these wrestlers had good things going for them in NXT but were then completely wasted by WWE, mostly for no good reason. All of these athletes could have made an important impact on RAW or Smackdown, but are now only on the periphery of anything remotely interesting in the world of the WWE.
15. Adam Rose
When Adam Rose debuted in NXT, he was the demented Leo Kruger, a heel role he played until being repackaged as the ultimate party animal. WWE thought this gimmick was great apparently and brought Rose (played by Raymond Leppan) to the main roster. “The Rosebud Express” was born, but didn’t catch on like WWE management wanted it to, it seems. The bunny guy who hung with Rose had a greater fan reaction than Rose himself, and the gimmick was dropped. But then Rose was also dropped, becoming a has-been jobber instead of being repackaged with a different, potentially more interesting, gimmick. Rose has a lot of potential and a great look, but WWE writer’s seem to not have any bright ideas how to use him the best.
14. Brodus Clay
When George Murdoch debuted on NXT season 4 as the monster Brodus Clay, it looked like a cinch that the WWE had a new star. Brodus dominated the NXT season, yet didn’t win the ultimate prize at the end, losing to Johnny Curtis. So Brodus became the enforcer for Alberto Del Rio, a spot that put him in place to be the next Diesel or Sid Justice, but Brodus vanished, and when he returned, he was a lot funkier than when he had left. The “Funkasaurus from Planet Funk” was a real puzzle, when compared to the kind of killer we expected from Brodus. Yet the gimmick was a lot of fun and the crowd responded surprisingly well. WWE didn’t seem to know what to do with funky Brodus though and instead of pushing him, let him dance and gyrate into oblivion as he called for his Momma. Clay now wrestles for TNA under the name Tyrus. Maybe TNA will give him the push he deserved.
13. James Storm
James Storm, a beer drinking, cowboy badass played to perfection by James Cox, is one of the most important wrestlers in TNA history, being a former TNA world champ and 7 time Tag champion. Storm’s antics helped define TNA as a company and drew an audience to TNA’s product as the struggling federation bounced from television station to television station over the past few years. When Storm debuted in NXT, it was a huge deal, signalling potential greatness for WWE, who still looked for the next Stone Cold Steve Austin, and potential loss for TNA. What would the WWE do with Storm? Massive Heel push or massive Face push? After wrestling two matches, Storm left NXT and is now back in TNA. Somebody in the WWE head office dropped the ball big time!
Karlee Perez has been killing it in Lucha Underground as the evil ghost Catrina. Her stable of wrestlers includes Mil Muertes, former LU champion, and the Disciples of Death, former LU Trios champions. Catrina is the best manager and top female Heel in the company, and was also the “general manager” of the entire federation for a short while. So what did Perez accomplish while wrestling for NXT? Next to nothing. As Maxine, Perez played the “mean Latina,” competing in NXT season three with Alicia Fox as her mentor and was eliminated from the tournament in short order. From there she had only lateral movement as Maxine remained in NXT for season 5, managing Derrick Bateman and Johnny Curtis at different times. She never came to the main roster before quitting the WWE in frustration. With her acting skills being better than her mat skills, maybe Perez wouldn’t have made a good wrestler, but obviously as a manager she could have been a WWE star. Oh well, this one is Lucha Underground’s gain.
11. Summer Rae
Summer Rae was a hard working, if unsuccessful wrestler in NXT, competing for the NXT woman’s title but never getting the gold. Still, her tight body and good looks made her a natural candidate for being a successful WWE Diva, but when she came up to the main roster, she was made the valet of Fandango, instead of getting to show her wrestling skills. Her angle with Fandango quickly became a dud, and the WWE has not used her well at all since, putting her into a terrible story line with Rusev that was so bad that WWE literally dropped it, and giving her a number of completely non-memorable feuds with other divas. Can’t anyone find something for Summer Rae (played by Danielle Moinet) to do that has some meaning to it?
Brandon Silvestri has achieved major success as a pro wrestler under the ring names Low-Ki and Senshi. He has won major titles in TNA, ROH, New Japan, Pro Wrestling Guerilla, and just about every other federation you can think of. So when he was signed to a WWE contract and debuted on NXT season 2, a lot of fans were really excited. Given the name Kaval (which is kind of a stupid name but whatever), Silvestri dominated NXT and easily won season 2. Things were looking great, which is always when WWE management gets up to its usual tricks and ruins everything. Kaval debuted on Smackdown and lost match after match. His push completely destroyed, which also made the entire NXT season 2 seem worthless. Kaval languished as a jobber until finally being released from the company. What happened?
9. Wade Barrett
The wrestlers on this list showed a lot of potential or had a lot of success in NXT but then failed utterly to make an impact on the main roster when arriving on RAW or Smackdown, but that isn’t the case with Wade Barrett. Barrett, whose real first name is Stu, was a 5 time Intercontinental champion, which is an amazing achievement. I just feel like Barrett could have been so much more. Barrett dominated Season 1 of NXT, working with Chris Jericho to easily win the competition and become the first NXT crossover star.
Barrett was fierce, but for some reason the WWE backed down from him and did not allow him to win the world title from Sheamus. Barrett stayed in the mid-card for the rest of his career, and despite several different gimmicks which were received positively by the fans, he never wound up as a serious upper-card worker again. Barrett should have been the top guy in WWE for a long time, but I suppose being a dominant mid-card heel isn’t too bad. Barrett recently left WWE, so now we will never know how a “Barrett Barrage” with the World belt would have turned out.
8. The Nexus
Was anything as mind numbingly dumb as how WWE mismanaged the Nexus? The entire NXT roster (albeit, there had only been one season at that point) attacks Monday night RAW in the greatest invasion angle since the original NWO in WCW. The Nexus was poised to completely dominate the entire WWE, causing enemies and friends alike to ally together to retake the company from these devious upstarts. The wheels started to move, the complex chess game that is the WWE began to respond, the… Oh wait, it’s just John Cena, who destroyed the entire Nexus, ruining what could have been the best angle of the year. But hope still existed as CM Punk reformed the Nexus for a second shot at glory. Now WWE fans would really see something great and … Oh God, it’s Cena again to bury the Nexus permanently. Screw up a story line once, shame on you. Screw it up the exact same way a second time, and WE wind up screwed. What was the WWE thinking by sacrificing so much to make Cena look good when he was already so popular? This was the very definition of a wasted opportunity.
7. Ethan Carter III
Michael Hutter worked for WWE in their developmental territories before making his television debut as the character Derrick Bateman on the fourth season of NXT, partnered with Daniel Bryan as his mentor. Bateman had a great physique and the Daniel Bryan “bump” that could have easily pushed him to being a top star in the WWE, but the writers didn’t give him much personality at all and after losing season 4, and a few minor matches on the main television shows, he wound up back in NXT for the terrible season 5 (NXT Redemption) in which Daniel Bryan buried him, and he got caught up in a terrible love triangle storyline. The WWE gave him no forward momentum and eventually let him go, at which point he was snatched up by TNA, repackaged as Ethan Carter III, and almost immediately became one of the top “Heels” (villains) in that entire company. Now a two time TNA World Champion, the WWE must be wishing they had utilized his potential more.
Naomi (who at the time was called Naomi Knight) appeared in the third season of NXT, played by Trinity Fatu (who at the time was named Trinity McCray). Naomi was easily the most impressive athlete of the bunch, winning many of the “challenge” events without much challenge at all. She was up against AJ Lee and Kaitlyn that season, but still demonstrated a ton of potential as a wrestler. So what did the WWE do with her when she finally came to the main roster? They made her a dancer for Brodus Clay. She should have been headlining the Divas division at that point, but Naomi wasted her time making Clay’s entrance memorable. Since then, she has wrestled steadily (most currently as a member of Team BAD) and also managed a little bit (the Usos, featuring her real life husband) but has still never held a title in the WWE despite being an amazing wrestler.
5. Tyler Breeze
Here is a recent one. Tyler Breeze, real name Matt Clement, developed a fun, sustainable, and believable heel persona in NXT that made him one of the promotion’s most recognizable villains. He had talent, charisma, and all the tools he needed to go to the big show (also channeling my favorite wrestler of all time, Ric Martel, in the deal) so what did the WWE do? They buried him almost immediately upon his debut. This was a complete and sudden attack on Breeze, who I have heard was not a favorite of Vince McMahon‘s. Since McMahon, as current fans can attest, knows nothing about what his fans want, this seems especially unfair. I don’t know if Breeze’s career can be salvaged at all now; his character momentum is frozen in place.
WWE dropped the ball when they brought Emma to their main roster. Tenille Dashwood plays Emma, the upbeat party girl who can’t dance if her life depended on it. With her silly gimmick, she became one of the most popular “face” divas in NXT even though she never was the NXT women’s champ. When she came to the main roster she immediately allied with Santino Marella, which could have been a sign of a push, but as soon as Marella retired, Emma was gone. She wasn’t on TV, wasn’t part of the “Divas Revolution” story line, and wasn’t given any opportunities to challenge for the belt. Only now has Emma, with a new “heel” gimmick, began appearing again on TV. So what happened WWE???
3. The Ascension
Sometimes WWE writers or officials make choices that seem based on being terrible to fans and employees alike. These choices don’t always start out terrible though. Ryan Parmeter had played a character named Conor O’ Brian on season 4 and 5 of NXT (mentored by Alberto Del Rio and Vladimir Kozlov respectively) and, while he didn’t win either season, he was an impressive athlete with a unique look. When he was a member of the non-televised version of NXT, the WWE put him with Rick Victor (played by Eric Thompson), a former FCW and OVD World Champ. Connor and Victor became Konnor and Viktor (because of who knows why) and, as The Ascension, dominated the tag team division in NXT. After retaining the world belts for an entire year, The Ascension went to the main WWE roster where they immediately became jobbers. Uh, what? Why did The Ascension get buried? Letting these guys go to waste is absolutely mystifying.
Curtis Hussey debuted on season 4 of NXT as Johnny Curtis and began a major push. He had R-Truth as his mentor, and won season 4 after crushing all his competition. And then, suddenly, WWE completely dropped him. Curtis and R-Truth never even got their prize for winning NXT (a tag title shot) and Curtis completely disappeared, only to reappear on season 5 of NXT to engage with Derrick Bateman in a terrible love triangle story line. So what the heck happened? To push Curtis so hard and then dump him seemed like a huge waste. Curtis was repackaged as Fandango, the ballroom dancing villain, and upon his debut, was a surprise hit with the fans, with everybody it seems, doing his Fandango dance. Then, the Authority (Triple H and Stephanie McMahon) buried him and his dance on live television for no reason and killed his push, relegating him to jobber status. That is twice Fandango has been wasted by the WWE for no discernible reason.
1. Bo Dallas
The scion of two great wrestling families (the Windhams and the Rotundas), Taylor Rotunda (brother of WWE superstar Bray Wyatt) seemed destined for greatness. Playing the character Bo Dallas, Rotunda dominated in NXT and held the NXT world belt for a long while. When he debuted on the main roster, he began a push that indicated he would have the same success on television that he had in NXT, but suddenly Dallas was relegated to jobber status and has never achieved any measurable success on Raw or Smackdown. With all the amazing possibilities Dallas could have had as a WWE superstar, his current role in the company, working as a member of a group of jobbers, is a tremendous waste.