NXT was a former World Wrestling Entertainment television series that was changed into the developmental system for the company. Several noteworthy performers have made their way through NXT en route to becoming mainstays on WWE shows such as Raw and SmackDown. All three members of group “The Shield” that was introduced to WWE fans via NXT have become main-event wrestlers for the WWE. The best female performers who are currently part of the supposed “Diva’s Revolution” that is occurring in the WWE all developed in NXT. WWE fans can thank NXT for wrestlers such as Kevin Owens, Cesaro, Rusev and so many others.
Just as no Minor League Baseball system creates stars out of every player who attempts to make it to the Major Leagues, not everybody who has been given a chance to work in NXT has become a legitimate WWE Superstar. Some of these NXT busts were easy to predict even before those particular wrestlers were called up to the WWE main roster. Others, however, were seemingly cases of the WWE either not properly using a wrestler or the company saddling a performer with a gimmick that was not going to get over with fans. Yes, the WWE has, in the past, been wrong on multiple occasions, even as it pertains to NXT.
Some athletes become busts with sports teams because a coaching staff or front office did not do enough to turn that young talent into a better player. That has been the case with Cesaro since he went through NXT and became a full-time WWE performer. Cesaro has everything that the WWE supposedly wants from a superstar, and yet the company has repeatedly kept him behind other workers on the roster. The WWE continues to not have Cesaro working in main events even though several big names are currently dealing with injuries. It will be only the WWE’s fault if Cesaro ends up being a complete NXT bust.
19. Curtis Axel
Before he was repackaged as a “Paul Heyman guy” and Curtis Axel, the real-life son of “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig, was known by WWE fans as Michael McGillicutty. McGillicutty was a member of the NXT series of shows, and it was during his time in developmental when McGillicutty was pushed as a legitimate championship contender. McGillicutty did not, as WWE fans know, evolve past being a jobber and midcard worker, and changing his name to Curtis Axel was not enough to fill the glaring holes in the wrestler’s abilities. At least we can always remember “AxelMania.”
18. Justin Gabriel
Justin Gabriel was essentially playing the role of Neville on WWE television before Neville made his official debut on the main roster of the company. Gabriel was part of the original NXT crew that became the first version of “The Nexus,” and he also spent time in developmental as a solo worker and as a tag team wrestler. While Gabriel did show some promise working as a heel and a babyface in NXT, winning the WWE Tag Team Championship several times was as good as his run with the company would get. Gabriel became so underwhelmed with how he was being used by the WWE that he quit the company in January 2015.
17. Solomon Crowe
The WWE has a history of wanting to stay current with storylines, characters and gimmicks. That was likely the goal when the WWE introduced Solomon Crowe, a computer hacker who had decided to give pro wrestling a shot because one can apparently only sit behind the screen for so long. Crowe’s debut was advertised in promos and vignettes, but the character did not register great reactions among fans. As time went on, Crowe became more of a jobber for the NXT brand than a developing wrestler who could have become a WWE Champion. Crowe was granted his release in November 2015.
16. Devin Taylor
It was somewhat of a surprise to learn in October 2015 that the WWE had cut ties with Devin Taylor. Taylor was, as a backstage interviewer, no worse than anybody else who had a similar role in developmental. It had even been hinted for months that NXT was planning a storyline involving Taylor and Dana Brooke, a feud that was sparked by Brooke repeatedly patting Taylor’s head after interview segments. What Taylor could have been in the WWE as an on-air personality will now remain a question, as she never received an opportunity to get past NXT.
15. Oliver Grey
Some tag team members go on to find success once they branch out on their own. Neville is the example as it pertains to this portion of the piece. Oliver Grey, the other half of the tag team that also featured “The Man That Gravity Forgot,” was not as fortunate. Grey picked up an injury that sidelined him and that allowed Neville to produce some memorable matches as a solo act. While the company did bring Grey back to NXT once he was healthy, any momentum that he may or may not have had was gone. It would be understandable if casual fans forgot that Grey was even with NXT.
14. Richie Steamboat
Just as in legitimate sports competitions such as the National Football League, injuries can turn a once-promising athlete into a wrestler who is labeled a bust. Richie Steamboat, son of the living legend who shares the same stage last name, was on his way to being given a chance to shine on WWE television. Part of Steamboat’s impressive run in NXT involved the babyface feuding with Kassius Ohno. Steamboat’s career took an unfortunate turn, however, after he suffered a back injury. That injury has apparently prematurely ended his active in-ring career.
13. Thomas Latimer
There are some wrestlers who are busts because they just do not have all that it takes to become a star for an international company such as the WWE. Others, such as Thomas Latimer, waste opportunities. Latimer had been placed in an earlier version of group The Ascension, and it was with that faction that Latimer made his NXT debut. Any chance that Latimer had of being called up to the main roster disappeared in November 2012 when he was arrested for the second time in two years. That was enough for the WWE to cut ties with the performer.
12. Percy Watson
“Showtime” Percy Watson was part of both the NXT television series and also the NXT developmental territory. Watson seemed to have much of what the WWE would want in a future performer. He was a talented athlete who could cut entertaining promos. Watson was decent, if not incredible, inside of the ring. There were even times, particularly during his early days of NXT, when it seemed as if Watson had the “it-factor” that is often discussed by wrestling journalists and fans. Watson never made it as a WWE wrestler, however, and NXT would be as close as Watson would come to achieving that career goal.
11. Wyatt Family
The Wyatt Family serves as a reminder that a stable constantly being on WWE shows does not mean that it cannot be an NXT bust. There was a lot of hype for the Wyatt Family leading up to its official WWE debut, and it seemed early on as if the company was going to push Bray Wyatt and his deranged followers straight to the tops of cards. Such a push, if one ever existed, cooled down almost immediately after it began, and the company even broke the group up for a time for reasons that have never made sense. Maybe the WWE will eventually get things right regarding the Wyatt Family, but it certainly does not seem like it at the end of 2015.
10. Brodus Clay
All the WWE had to do with the giant of a man known as Brodus Clay was book him to be a monster heel. Perhaps the WWE could have even linked him with a manager if the company was concerned about Clay’s skills as a talker. Instead, however, the company went in a totally different and weird direction, repackaging the wrestler as “The Funkasaurus,” a babyface who danced before, during and after matches. While this made for an unexpected and humorous debut for Clay, it was a gimmick that absolutely killed his chances of becoming a real Superstar. What a waste of what could have been.
9. Derrick Bateman
It does seem as if the WWE may have given up too early on the performer who was known as Derrick Bateman. Bateman had a good look, but the character was also a generic wrestler who did not stand out and stand apart from other talented wrestlers working in NXT at the time. The WWE and Bateman ultimately parted ways, and the wrestler went on to find success in Total Nonstop Action Wrestling as the character Ethan Carter III. The Carter character is better than anything that Bateman did in NXT, and it does appear as if Bateman’s failures may have been more the WWE’s fault than because of anything that he did while with the company.
8. Ryan Nemeth
The real-life brother of WWE wrestler Dolph Ziggler was given a chance to make his way through the company’s developmental system back in 2011. While Ziggler has won the WWE World Championship on multiple occasions and has been a mainstay on shows and in storylines, Nemeth did not get all that close to matching his brother’s achievements while working for the company. Nemeth, given the name Briley Pierce, was not given all that much to work with during his days in NXT, and he was released before he ever featured on main WWE TV. He is an NXT bust even if he was not provided with a massive opportunity to succeed.
7. CJ Parker
There are undoubtedly some wrestlers who would be thrilled with just being able to consistently work underneath the WWE umbrella even if doing so meant not getting any further than NXT. Others, such as CJ Parker, want more. Parker was a WWE veteran of four years who had never made it onto the main roster in the spring of 2015 when he asked the company for his release. The character of an Eco-Warrior who was as concerned with saving the environment as he was with being a good wrestler was one that would not have become a star in the WWE, and that idea played a part in why Parker was an NXT bust.
6. Adam Rose
Pro wrestling fans were introduced to the man Raymond Leppan during an episode of E:60 that took a deep look at the NXT program. What was learned from that show was that the WWE is trying to give Leppan a real chance to be something in the company. Leppan has thus far been given two different characters. The first was Leo Kruger, which was an absolute disaster when compared with the party-lover known as Adam Rose. Rose did not get over among WWE fans, though, and so the WWE has now repackaged him yet again. What exactly the WWE is trying with this idea remains somewhat of a mystery.
5. Johnny Curtis
It does not seem as if it was only a few years ago when the WWE repackaged the wrestler who had been known as Johnny Curtis. Curtis, of course, became “Fandango,” the ballroom dancer who hated that other wrestlers didn’t know how to properly say his name and the performer who earned a WrestleMania victory over Chris Jericho. That win and also fans singing along to his theme song as they danced at arenas would be as good as things would get for Fandango. His decline in status on the WWE roster was quick, and Fandango is now largely an afterthought for casual WWE fans.
4. Mason Ryan
The WWE did not keep it a well-hidden secret that the company wanted to make Mason Ryan into a Superstar. Ryan, who looked like a bodybuilder and who has a background in sports and also sports-entertainment, was put into the “New Nexus” group, and it seemed during television segments that the WWE had hopes that the large wrestler could become a monster heel. While he may have shown some improvement after he was dropped down to NXT, Ryan was still, at best, below-average inside the ring and on the microphone, and he was not even given the NXT Championship before he and the company parted ways.
3. The Ascension
You have to give the WWE credit for trying something different with tag-team act The Ascension. The WWE elected to make The Ascension an updated version of teams such as the Road Warriors/Legion of Doom and Demolition, and The Ascension were made into a duo that dominated NXT as Tag Team Champions. What the company did not do, however, was make two good wrestlers out of the gimmick, one that fell flat on its face once it debuted on WWE TV. It does not, at the end of 2015, seem as if The Ascension will achieve much as part of the WWE roster.
2. Bo Dallas
There were two things that were clear during the final days of the Bo Dallas character in NXT: That gimmick was one that made for a great heel in front of smaller NXT crowds, and it was also one that would be greeted with silence from larger WWE audiences. Dallas is, as of the posting of this piece, not a complete bust or loss for the company. The company could always make tweaks to the character, or WWE creative could decide that it would be best to just start over with the wrestler. Heading into 2016, though, it cannot be denied that Dallas would have to be considered to be an NXT bust.
1. Chris Hero
Chris Hero, who made his name working on the independent scene, was given the character Kassius Ohno in NXT. Hero seemed to be well on his way to earning a promotion to the WWE main roster in the summer of 2013 when questions began to arise about his dedication to being in his best possible physical shape. This would prove to be the beginning of the end of Hero’s time in NXT and with the WWE. While Hero unquestionably had the goods to be at least a midcard worker for the WWE, he may have been his own worst enemy. Whatever happened behind the scenes, Hero is no longer working for the company.