There are countless ways for an aspiring athlete to become a WWE superstar, and these days, the most popular route seems to be through NXT. NXT serves the dual purpose of teaching Triple H how to run a wrestling promotion while introducing the superstars working for him to a national audience through the WWE Network show, and the result has been a rapid proliferation of ready-made stars debuting on WWE programming ever since NXT was founded in 2012. However, the truth is, not every single wrestler to spend time in NXT has managed to turn into a real superstar. In fact, plenty of NXT hopefuls turned out to be complete duds, who achieved next to nothing upon their promotion to WWE, and often found themselves fired and banished to the independent scene in a manner of months.
From top to bottom, what happens in NXT hasn’t always been indicative of any future success in WWE or elsewhere in the wrestling industry. NXT Champions and Tag Team Champions have turned into the top of their respective WWE divisions, but they’ve also fast become jokes without any chance of gold immediately upon arriving at the major leagues. None of this will stop fans from speculating which NXT wrestlers will be sure to succeed and who’s bound to fail, but it should give hesitation to the idea a wrestler doing well in NXT necessarily means they’ll become WWE Champions. Then again, plenty of NXT wrestlers will become WWE Champions, so maybe there’s nothing wrong with that speculation after all. Keep reading to learn which 10 NXT prospects were total bombs and 10 who turned into bona fide WWE superstars.
20 NXT Bomb: The Vaudevillains
Certain gimmicks work better on the small scale, and no wrestlers better explain this theory than The Vaudevillains, Simon Gotch and Aiden English. The ultimate throwback gimmick sees the two performing as over-the-top vaudeville era performers, without much effort towards translating the vaudeville spirit to pro wrestling. NXT fans willing to do the research, or who may have just been vaudeville fans to begin with, might have gotten the joke, but most of the WWE Universe seems to be in the dark on what The Vaudevillains are attempting to do with their characters. Gotch and English won the NXT Tag Team Championships from Wesley Blake and Buddy Murphy after a little more than a year teaming together, and found themselves promoted to the main roster not long after that. Although The Vaudevillains were pushed into Tag Team Championship contender roles on both Raw and SmackDown, fans have yet to react to them on either brand, and it doesn’t look like they’ve tried updating the gimmick to make it more mainstream.
19 WWE Superstar: Enzo Amore
It goes without saying that everyone on this list had some training at NXT, and yet Enzo Amore is still unique in having had absolutely no prior wrestling experience before signing with the brand. Therefore, his success story can be pointed to as perhaps the best example of how quickly NXT can turn a nobody into a top superstar. After several months of training at the WWE Performance Center, Amore made his NXT debut in May of 2013, soon forming a team with Colin Cassady (who himself just barely made this list). Though the two never won the NXT Tag Team Championships, they nonetheless stood out due to Amore’s charismatic promos, and thus were elevated into extremely high profile feuds immediately after getting called up to WWE. The team has already feuded with top stars like The New Day, The Club, and Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens, not to mention the perhaps even more important distinction of having allied with John Cena. Enzo continues to be the stand out thanks to his microphone skills, and if his in-ring abilities improve at the same pace as his interviews, he’ll continue shining as a WWE superstar.
18 NXT Bomb: The Ascension
While it isn’t entirely fair to cast aside The Ascension as pure Road Warriors knock-offs, at times it seems like there are too many similarities between the two teams to ignore. On the other hand, the one big difference is that while The Road Warriors were one of the most dominant and successful tag teams in wrestling history, The Ascension turned into high profile jokes almost instantly after getting promoted from NXT to WWE. The rip off was far more apparent in NXT, where Konnor and Viktor completely matched Hawk and Animal’s legendary destruction, holding the NXT Tag Team Champions for only one day short of an entire year. The Ascension were booked strong upon their initial arrival, only to start turning into a joke in a manner of weeks, with Michael Cole and company lambasting the group as pathetic imitations, and older superstars like The New Age Outlaws and the APA getting the easy advantage over them. Their credibility shattered, neither Konnor nor Viktor have been able to reestablish their momentum since.
17 WWE Superstar: Paige
The daughter of Sweet Saraya and Ricky Knight, the only thing separating Paige from the rest of her wrestling family was the fact she achieved success outside of their native England. She and her brother had tryouts at the same time, and though her brother didn’t make it, Paige was signed to a WWE contract in 2011. She started standing out as a competitor when Florida Championship Wrestling became NXT, where she won a tournament to crown the first NXT Women’s Champion. Paige kept making history by taking that belt to the main roster, challenging AJ Lee for the WWE Diva’s Championship, and winning to become the only woman ever to hold both championships at the same time. Upon winning the WWE Diva’s Championship, Paige was stripped of the NXT Women’s Championship, although it hardly mattered as her continued success was already a promise. Even after she lost the Diva’s Championship as well, Paige kept feuding with the top women in WWE, maintaining her role as an integral player in the Women’s Revolution. Unfortunately, Paige would experience a series of personal problems that gradually derailed her momentum, but that doesn’t take away the stardom she already achieved.
16 NXT Bomb: C.J. Parker
Having friends in the right places can be even more important than the right training when it comes to succeeding in WWE, so it’s surprising that C.J. Parker managed to fade into obscurity despite having both. His gimmick didn’t help, as the NXT audience was never quite sure how to respond to an uber-hippy eco-warrior. Thanks to the crowd disapproving of his gimmick, Parker generally found himself in the middle of losing streaks, albeit sometimes to significant stars like Cesaro and The Great Khali. Losing to a star is still losing, though, so Parker was never able to break out of NXT and reach the main WWE roster. Certain insiders thought he had great potential, including his friend Seth Rollins, who regularly included Parker when naming his favorite superstars he wanted to work with. To Seth’s chagrin, it seems highly unlikely such a feud could ever happen, considering Parker is even further away from WWE today than he was when Seth used to talk about him. Parker asked for and was granted his NXT release in 2015.
15 WWE Superstar: Charlotte
When talking about how Charlotte Flair’s origins predestined her for success in WWE, it seems far more appropriate to start with her father than her time in NXT. “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair will always be regarded as one of the greatest superstars ever to enter the ring, and it would be nigh impossible for the average wrestling fan to look the other way on his legacy when examining the potential of his daughter. Charlotte proved very quickly that her potential greatly outshined that of her half-brother David, winning the NXT Women’s Championship after barely a year of experience in the business. While reigning as champion for the next 9 months, Charlotte rapidly improved in the ring and on the microphone, and took those improvements to even greater success in WWE. Since her promotion to the main roster, she’s won the revived WWE Women’s Championship three times and established a Pay-Per-View winning streak that makes it clear she could be one of the top women in WWE for many years to come.
14 NXT Bomb: Adam Rose
One of the less immediate benefits of NXT is that it allows wrestlers the opportunity for experimentation that wouldn’t be as easy on a WWE television program. Adam Rose needed some time to find his character, trying a few less successful ideas before settling on an all night partier surrounded by his personal Rosebuds. The Rose character didn’t win any championships, but it was successful in the sense it gave him a chance on the main roster almost right away, with a call up occurring only a month after his gimmick change. He kept appearing on NXT, too, though, and losing—something that made it impossible for him to gain any momentum on either brand. It wasn’t long before the character started losing its way, dismissing the Rosebuds and turning into a generic pretentious heel, and eventually Rose was the fourth most important member in a group marked by their shared lack of importance. He managed to make things even worse for himself with a string of violations of the WWE Wellness Policy, earning suspension after suspension, and then ultimately getting fired after an alleged domestic violence incident.
13 WWE Superstar: Sasha Banks
Even with contemporaries like Charlotte and Paige, Sasha Banks is fully within her rights to call herself The Boss of the current Women’s Revolution thanks to her amazing in-ring performances defining the division in both NXT and WWE. She debuted in uncharacteristically forgettable fashion, turning her fortunes around in a matter of months by aligning with Summer Rae and developing her Boss persona, learning the finer points of microphone work while doing so. Once Rae moved up to the WWE roster, Banks was free to improve in the ring, as well, which she did during her incredible matches with the aforementioned women, Becky Lynch, Bayley, and plenty of others. Sasha and Bayley in particular made history by taking their Women’s Championship feud to the main event of multiple NXT shows. Once Sasha moved on to WWE, she kept the history making moves coming by doing the same thing with Charlotte in the main events of WWE Pay-Per-Views. Although Sasha is currently behind Charlotte in overall championships, the two remain neck and neck in terms of who the best female wrestler in WWE is, and there’s no denying both are absolute superstars.
12 NXT Bomb: Raquel Diaz
The one black mark against Sasha Banks’ career thus far has been accusations she and WWE are exploiting the death of Eddie Guerrero in their constant references to him. The strangest thing about the exploitation is that Sasha and Eddie didn’t actually know each other, and she was merely a fan. On the other hand, short-term NXT wrestler Raquel Diaz knew Eddie extremely well, considering she was Latino Heat’s oldest daughter. Initially, Diaz joined Florida Championship Wrestling to act as a manager, but she was following in her father’s footsteps and wrestling by the time FCW morphed into NXT. Diaz had even been crowned the Queen of FCW and won the FCW Women’s Championship, although no such achievements would follow in NXT nor WWE. In fact, Diaz didn’t even make it to WWE, as she left NXT of her own volition only a few months after the switch. She made her return two years later, but again asked to leave before even appearing on television. Diaz later explained her departures were related to an eating disorder, and at this point she’ll likely need treatment if she ever wants to try her hand at becoming a true superstar ever again.
11 WWE Superstar: Rusev
Hopeless romantics might feel like they’re lost without someone to share their lives with, and they might be able to find an unlikely piece of evidence for that theory with Rusev. Rusev spent several years in Florida Championship Wrestling and then NXT achieving almost no success, repeatedly injuring himself before he could do anything notable in either company. He eventually stopped getting hurt, but fans were still having trouble connecting with him in NXT until Lana came along. As soon as Rusev paired with his future wife, WWE started making plans to move him up to the main roster, which he did at the 2014 Royal Rumble. This was more than three years after Rusev signed his WWE contract, but less than three months after teaming with Lana. With Lana by his side, Rusev quickly established an undefeated streak and won the United States Championship. Although his streak and title were eventually lost to John Cena, Rusev maintained his role as one of the top superstars in WWE today through a series of high profile feuds with Cena and others, not to mention his gorgeous wife forcing fans to keep paying attention.
10 NXT Bomb: Summer Rae
When a wrestler is constantly paired with others and never allowed to shine on their own, it typically means one of two things. Either that they have universal charisma, or WWE executives simply can’t find anything worthwhile to do with them. Summer Rae unfortunately has the second quality, and her employers have not only hurt her career for it, but also the careers of several wrestlers forced to spend prolonged time as her on screen allies. Rae was decent enough in NXT, where she actually served as Sasha Banks’ role model during her early transition to becoming The Boss. She was never NXT Women’s Champion, but she did compete in tournaments for the belt, and had a number of singles matches for it, as well. The title shots disappeared when she debuted on the main roster as the dance partner of Fandango, and any in-ring improvements were thrown away in favor of dance moves. Rae moved on to exponentially worse associations with Dolph Ziggler, Rusev, and Tyler Breeze, consistently shattering any fan interest in those wrestlers and herself while doing so. Recently, Rae has been on the injured list, and there’s always the chance she could come back strong. Given her past time in both NXT and WWE, though, it doesn’t seem terribly likely.
9 WWE Superstar: Sami Zayn
After nearly ten years of incredible performances on the indie scene as El Generico, Sami Zayn wasted no time in making a splash upon his NXT arrival in 2013. Sami almost instantly started challenging for the NXT Championship, only to get distracted with a modern day classic feud against Cesaro. After a handful of classic matches, Zayn resumed his quest for gold, culminating in a victory over Neville that made him NXT Champion. Zayn’s time as champion was hurt by his lifelong friend Kevin Owens arriving in the company and taking the belt from him, but Sami recovered with a promotion to the WWE roster that saw his profile rise yet again. Though Sami was injured in his first WWE match against John Cena, Sami is now back and better than ever, ready to start winning championships in WWE. He has already wrestled matches against top names like A.J. Styles, Chris Jericho, and of course his old pal Owens, and before we know it, Sami will have a resume equally as impressive as any of those superstars.
8 NXT Bomb: Emma
Having a comedic character has never been enough to prevent wrestlers from becoming famous, as Emma’s one-time partner Santino Marella knows full well. For whatever reason, though, The Dancing Queen never turned into nearly the star her first partner in WWE, almost immediately falling off the map when Marella announced his retirement and left Emma by herself. She had previously been doing pretty well in NXT—although she never won the NXT Women’s Championship, Emma made her way to the finals of the first championship tournament, where she lost to Paige. Without Santino to guide her, Emma bounced back and forth between NXT and WWE for several years, never standing out in either brand or achieving championship success. Emma felt like one of the lowest profile competitors during the 10-woman tag team match at WrestleMania 32, and hasn’t exactly done anything notable outside of that one match. Vignettes have recently been airing promising a repackaged Emma under the new name Emmalina, and while fans may be optimistic this means her fortunes will soon turn around, the fact remains she’ll be remembered as a bomb until they do.
7 WWE Superstar: Neville
Gravity may have forgotten him, but the same aerobatics that earned Adrian Neville that moniker were the qualities that caused fans to take notice, in NXT, WWE, and anywhere else the English superstar has traveled. Neville made his NXT debut in early 2013, and it was literally only a few weeks until he and his British Ambition partner Oliver Grey became the inaugural NXT Tag Team Championships. Unfortunately for Grey, he soon found himself injured, causing the team to lose the belts. Not long after, though, Neville formed a new team with Corey Graves, with whom he won the championships for a second time. Once that team dissipated, Neville achieved even greater heights, winning the NXT Championship in a ladder match. After a then record-setting 287 days as champion, Neville lost the belt to Sami Zayn, and then quickly moved on to the main WWE roster. His time in WWE thus far has been a mixed bag, with some high profile opponents like Chris Jericho and Seth Rollins serving as good signs, but low-level feuds against celebrities calling Neville’s long-term prospects into question. Celebrity feuds nonetheless make him a superstar, though, so he belongs on this list even if it isn’t clear how things will turn out for him in the long run.
6 NXT Bomb: Dana Brooke
Dana Brooke debuted as Emma’s lackey, so it shouldn’t be a shock that she turned into a dud herself, considering her mentor has already been covered by this list. Making matters worse for Brooke, Emma’s true misfortunes didn’t start until after the two started teaming, and Emma’s Santino-related momentum was thrown away in favor of another cookie-cutter blonde with little skills to differentiate them. The two weren’t helped by the fact they constantly lost as a tag team, and it wouldn’t get much better for Brooke when Emma was injured, leaving her alone. Brooke was pushed to the main roster around the same time as the injury, now aligning with Charlotte, in another pairing that wouldn’t do either women any favors. Charlotte at least wasn’t hurt by things, but it’s hard to see how Brooke was supposed to benefit, as she only gets in the way and drags segments down with her poor timing and lesser charisma. Perhaps it’s too early to call on Dana Brooke’s ultimate legacy, but for now, it doesn’t seem like she has the skills to stand out in an increasingly important women’s division.
5 WWE Superstar: Big E
Part of what makes NXT (and any wrestling developmental territory) effective is the ability for wrestlers to grow and practice their craft even before they’ve completely found themselves as a performer. Given his size and natural strength, Big E Langston was destined for WWE superstardom the second Vince McMahon laid eyes on him, as evidenced by his incredible success as a dominating monster in NXT. Big E steamrolled through competition en route to the NXT Championship, which he won from Seth Rollins in a no disqualification match. Though he lost the title to Bo Dallas, Big E moved up to the main roster only a few months later, instantly getting involved in a main event program with John Cena, Dolph Ziggler, and AJ Lee. Slowly but surely, Big E’s tough persona started getting a little silly, preparing the WWE Universe for his current day turn as one of the most popular superstars in the company as a member of The New Day. Big E was the only NXT wrestler to need two tag team partners to truly reach the stratosphere of wrestling fame, but with The New Day’s success reaching unparalleled levels, it hardly feels like a distinction worthy of any criticism.
4 NXT Bomb: Bo Dallas
Like many inspirational speakers, the positive message of Bo Dallas was emboldened by a few impressive victories early in life so powerful they couldn’t destroy Bo’s spirit even as his success turned into an ironic and embarrassing failure. After winning singles and tag championships with his brother in Florida Championship Wrestling, Bo Dallas emerged as the motivational speaker he would become in NXT, where he competed in the tournament to crown the first NXT Champion, in addition to becoming one of the first NXT originals to spend time in WWE while still competing for the brand. Dallas kept his momentum going by winning the NXT Championship from Big E Langston several months later, and he went on to hold that belt for an impressive 10 months. Though Bo experienced a brief winning streak upon his promotion to the WWE roster, his success didn’t last long, and he progressively turned into more and more of a joke over the course of the next three years. It almost seems impossible for fans to picture Dallas as a legitimate player anymore, even amongst modern day rookies in NXT.
3 WWE Superstar: Seth Rollins
As the first ever NXT Champion, it probably could have turned into an embarrassment for the entire brand had Seth Rollins not turned into a considerable success in WWE, as well. Granted, a peak at the full list of competitors Rollins beat to become the champ make it clear The Architect was the only choice from the start, as his potential far outweighed whatever executives saw in Curtis Axel or Jinder Mahal. Rollins debuted in WWE as a member of The Shield while still NXT Champion, though he lost it the next month without ever bringing the belt to WWE TV. Of course, this loss was only a necessity for Rollins to make room for the WWE Tag Team Championships, which he won a few months later with Roman Reigns. Not long after that, Rollins turned on Reigns and Dean Ambrose to stand with Triple H and The Authority, who would select him as their representative WWE Championship, helping him defend the title for months after he won it at WrestleMania 31. Rollins success was such that he never was defeated the title, only losing it to injury, and now that he has returned, a resumption of his status as a true superstar is soon to follow.
2 NXT Bomb: Curtis Axel
It can be hard for any kid to live up to the reputation of their famous parents, and that goes doubly true for someone whose father was world-renowned for being perfect. Curtis Axel still managed to do his father, Mr. Perfect Curt Hennig, proud during his stint in NXT, coming in second place during season two of the original contest version of the program. Still known as Michael McGillicutty, he represented his NXT class as a member of The Nexus, only to return to the brand when he failed to catch fire as The Nexus went their separate ways. McGillicutty resumed his status as a top NXT wrestler and challenged for the NXT Championship, although he didn’t win. He then was called back up to WWE, this time as Curtis Axel, and was paired with Paul Heyman. Even with Heyman backing him, Axel never rose above Intercontinental Championship status, and fans never responded well to the idea of him holding even that belt. Heyman left Axel behind before he even lost the belt, and The Axe Man was so forgettable without Heyman he was renamed Mr. Irrelevant two years later, with almost nothing of note happening in between.
1 WWE Superstar: Kevin Owens
Wrestling is all about making an impact, and no superstar has a better track record for making an impact than Kevin Owens. The night he debuted in NXT, Owens attacked his best friend, NXT Champion Sami Zayn, promising to steal whatever glory Zayn had managed to achieve without him. Two months to the day after his debut, Owens defeated Zayn for the belt in dramatic fashion, the match ending via technical knockout due to the severity of the beating Owens was giving Zayn. While still NXT Champion, Owens made his main roster debut by attacking and cleanly defeating John Cena, somehow one upping his already bombastic arrival in NXT. Despite his momentum slagging when Cena won a series of rematches, Owens pulled himself back up by winning the WWE Intercontinental Championship, followed by an ongoing reign as the WWE Universal Champion. With these accomplishments coming at the beginning of Owens tenure in the WWE Universe, there’s no saying just how far he can go. The one thing that we can say for certain is that The Prizefighter is without a question a WWE superstar, and his journey to such recognition started turning into a reality in NXT.