Ever since NXT began producing some of the biggest stars in the world of wrestling, WWE fans have had their epic main roster debuts to look forward to. The Raw after WrestleMania is usually the biggest show of the year when it comes to debuts from NXT but it seems that WWE decided to change things up a little bit this year. There have still been some incredible main roster debuts over the past year, but the WWE Universe is still waiting for a debut that will top AJ Styles’ introduction to the WWE at last year’s Royal Rumble.
Over the past 11 months, there have been some fantastic introductions to the main roster from NXT and all over the wrestling world, but some have definitely stood out much more than others. WWE tries to make sure their NXT stars are now brought up to the main roster after weeks of creative meetings to ensure that they are given the perfect introduction. With many of the stars who have since gone on to become huge stars like Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Big E and Kevin Owens, the company manages to get everything right.
The following list looks at 15 of the best main roster debuts over the past 11 months, from way back at The Royal Rumble in January up to the most recent NXT women who have finally been called up to the promised land. Here is who we think had the best introduction on either Raw or SmackDown Live.
15. Shinsuke Nakamura
The King of Strong Style changed the landscape of NXT during his time as part of the developmental brand and was even able to become a two-time NXT Champion. Nakamura was a star that was always going to make his way to the main roster in style and while his debut was interesting, Nakamura would have been much higher on the list if his main roster career hadn’t been so disappointing.
When John Cena left the SmackDown Live roster for a lengthy hiatus following WrestleMania 33 back in April, the company knew they needed star power on a Tuesday night and that pressure was placed firmly on Nakamura’s head. Nakamura did have an impressive win over Cena a few months back, but losses to Jinder Mahal and an early exit from the Survivor Series elimination match has left fans with a bad taste in their mouths when it comes to Nakamura.
14. Bobby Roode
Bobby Roode is another former NXT Champion who was promoted to the SmackDown Live roster recently after he lost his Championship to Drew McIntyre. Roode made quite the impact in a match against Aiden English on an episode of SmackDown back in August.
Since then Roode has stepped into an interesting feud with Dolph Ziggler that seemingly didn’t manage to give him the main event level push that the company was hoping for before he was also fed to Braun Strowman during the Survivor Series elimination match last weekend. Roode is a star who has more experience in that ring than many other stars on that roster but the company still refers to him as “kid” at 40 years old. Roode has been underwhelming since his main roster debut a few months ago. Hopefully, the company will allow this to pick up next year so he can become one of the biggest stars on the roster.
Elias was known as Elias Samson while he was part of NXT and was a star that was seemingly destined for something much bigger throughout his time on the developmental roster, but his debut still came as a shock to the WWE Universe. His debut makes the list because it was one of the most unique debuts WWE has ever created.
Elias was able to build towards his in-ring debut with weeks of his drifting through matches and backstage segments on Monday Night Raw until he was finally put into a match. Since then Elias has become well-known for his badly put together songs ahead of his matches on Monday Night Raw, to the point now where the WWE Universe has started to clap and cheer him when he’s a heel. Elias may end up having to be turned face in the future if his popularity continues to increase. His latest feud with Jason Jordan wasn’t one of his best but he’s already laid the foundations for his character moving forward.
12. Maria And Mike Bennett
Maria Kanellis worked for WWE a number of years ago when she auditioned for the 2004 Diva Search and was then hired as a backstage interviewer and casual wrestler. Maria left the company and went on to make a name for herself in both TNA and Ring Of Honor alongside her husband Mike Bennett before WWE once again came calling.
Maria and Mike were rumoured to be heading over to WWE, but there was no update ahead of the Money in the Bank pay-per-view back in May that suggested they would make their debut. For the shock factor alone this was one of the best debuts of the year, but because Bennett has failed to impress backstage officials over the past few months and Maria has recently announced that she’s expecting her first child, it seems that the WWE Universe won’t be seeing much of this couple moving forward.
11. The Singh Brothers
The Singh Brothers were known as The Bollywood Boys for a short time during their stint in NXT before they made their show main roster debut to help fellow Indian star Jinder Mahal to become the number one contender for the WWE Championship ahead of this year’s Backlash event.
The duo later became known as The Singh Brothers and have helped Jinder Mahal retain his WWE Championship over the past few months before he lost it to AJ Styles last week. With the Indian tour just around the corner, it seems that these two stars could help Jinder to win back his WWE Championship at Clash of Champions in three weeks. Without The Singh Brothers, Jinder would never have been able to retain his Championship for so long, especially since the Champion won one Championship match clean throughout his entire reign. The Singh Brothers had a shocking debut and have since been effective on the main roster, which puts them ahead of a number of other former NXT stars.
Lana has been part of the main roster now for a number of years, but the Total Divas star was yet to have a singles match in WWE. Lana made her in-ring debut back at WrestleMania 32 in 2016, but the company was yet to allow her to step back in the ring following her first outing.
Following the Superstar shake-up back in April, Lana was drafted to the SmackDown roster and was able to redefine herself as a wrestler. She faced Naomi for the SmackDown Women’s Championship at Money in the Bank back in May in a losing effort, before being part of two more matches against the Champion in the weeks that followed. Lana didn’t make the impression that she had hoped for as part of these matches, but she has since been able to align herself with Tamina Snuka and could instead be helping the second generation star to become Women’s Champion for the first time in her career.
9. Ruby Riot, Sarah Logan, And Liv Morgan
This past week on SmackDown Live, Ruby Riot, Liv Morgan and Sarah Logan made one of the most impactful debuts of the year when they sent a message to the entire Women’s Division. The trio attacked Naomi backstage before her friend Becky Lynch tried to make the save, but she also failed as the former NXT stars took the upperhand.
The women then invaded the Women’s Championship match between Natalya and Charlotte Flair where they attacked two of the most respected women in the company. Their debut sent shockwaves through the division as it was speculated that this could be the beginning of a much bigger NXT invasion. It’s only been a few days since their debut, so WWE hasn’t been able to mess this one up yet, but there is obviously still time. It is hoped that this will lead to more history being made by the women of WWE.
8. Mickie James
Mickie James is a former five-time Women’s Champion and one-time Divas Champion in WWE, but it seems that following a number of personal issues backstage with WWE, Mickie left WWE and went on to make a name for herself in TNA.
Mickie is the only woman to have held the Women’s, Divas and Knockout’s Championships and made her return to WWE at NXT Takeover: Toronto back in 2016 in a losing effort to undefeated Champion Asuka. Mickie returned to WWE as a wife and mother back in January when it was revealed that she was the woman behind La Luchadora. Mickie and Alexa Bliss seemed to work as a unit for a while before they recently proved that they had chemistry against each other as well. It’s been an interesting year for Mickie James in WWE. Hopefully, WWE decides to keep the veteran around to help some of the newest women who currently being promoted to the main roster.
7. Sonya Deville And Mandy Rose
It was rumoured for weeks that former Divas Champion Paige was about to make her return to WWE after more than a year away from the company. When Paige didn’t make her return at Survivor Series many of the WWE Universe thought that the British star may not have been returning.
This Monday on Raw Paige made her return part way through the fatal four-way match between Mickie James, Sasha Banks, Alicia Fox and Bayley and decided to bring some friends with her. Former MMA fighter Sonya Deville and Tough Enough finalist Mandy Rose both made an impact on Monday night when they attacked three of the biggest stars on Raw before Alicia Fox ran away. This was a huge moment for the Women’s Division and later led to an invasion on SmackDown as well. Only time will tell as to whether this will lead to something huge for the main roster women.
6. The Revival
Former two-time NXT Tag Team Champions The Revival had the biggest debut on the Monday Night Raw after WrestleMania this year when they came out to accept The New Day’s challenge. The popular team was expected to be added to the main roster at some point, but the cult crowd following of Raw after WrestleMania meant that the team of Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder received one of the biggest crowd reactions of the year.
Sadly, the Revival hasn’t been able to continue the great work that they started while they were in NXT because injuries have kept them off the show over the past few months. The duo has become one of the most popular teams in WWE over the past few years, but it’s sad that they haven’t been able to make the impact that they had the potential to make because of small injuries that could have been avoided.
Asuka is one of the most dominant female wrestlers in the history of WWE. She has been making and breaking records ever since she made her debut in NXT back at NXT Takeover: Respect. After more than 500 days undefeated as NXT Women’s Champion, Asuka decided to relinquish her Championship after it was revealed that she had been recruited by the main roster.
After weeks of waiting for The Empress to make her main roster debut, Asuka faced Emma at TLC: Tables, Ladders and Chairs last month, where she came out victorious in quite an interesting match. Asuka has since remained undefeated on the main roster and this past weekend was even able to become the sole survivor in the Raw Women’s Team at Survivor Series, which helped the red team to come out on top overall. Interestingly, Asuka wasn’t part of the women’s invasion this week either, so her reaction to it could be the best part.
4. Austin Aries
WWE confused many of the WWE Universe when they announced that Austin Aries was heading to NXT rather than straight to the main roster like AJ Styles. Much like Styles, Aries had a wealth of knowledge of the wrestling business and had already made a name for himself all over the world, so NXT was a little bit of an insult.
Aries came through it, but following an eye injury, he was moved over to the commentary table for 205 Live. For weeks Aries would commentate on matches until he was finally given the chance to interview Cruiserweight Champion Neville and went on to attack him and set up a future match between them. The duo collided in a number of matches for the Championship, including one at the WrestleMania 33 pre-show before Aries left the company and the WWE Universe with just memories of his brief stay.
3. Pete Dunne
Pete Dunne has become a household name over the past few months ever since he was part of the WWE United Kingdom Championships back in January. Since then he has been able to dethrone the inaugural Champion Tyler Bate and has gone on to become one of the most popular UK stars in the company after appearing on numerous NXT shows and having a match of the year candidate against Tyler Bate in Chicago.
The fans in Manchester, England were given a huge treat a few weeks ago when Pete Dunne came out to interrupt Cruiserweight Champion Enzo Amore. Dunne doesn’t do much talking; he lefts his fist speak for him and after a brief back and forth, it was Dunne who picked up the win over the former NXT star. Dunne is destined to be a huge star in WWE in the coming years, so it seems that the company is currently laying down some interesting foundations.
2. Tye Dillinger
Remember how I said that The Royal Rumble is usually the place where WWE tries to shock their fans by bringing out some of the most unlikely candidates? Well, last year AJ Styles had WWE fans losing their minds and this year the company decided to allow “The Perfect 10” Tye Dillinger to debut on the main roster at number 10 in the annual match.
Dillinger is a popular star among the WWE Universe and his inclusion gained the biggest crowd reaction of the night, even though he was sadly unable to win the match. Dillinger has since gone on to become part of the SmackDown Live roster, where like many other former NXT talents, he hasn’t been used effectively, which is a shame considering what the WWE Universe already knows he is capable of doing when he’s given a chance. Dillinger was briefly in the United States Championship picture a few months ago, so perhaps that is something that will be revisited in the future.
1. Samoa Joe
Former two-time NXT Champion Samoa Joe definitely made the most impactful debut of the year when he came out to attack Seth Rollins the night after The Royal Rumble back in January. Joe’s ambush of the former World Champion put The Architect’s match against Triple H at WrestleMania in jeopardy for a number of months, because of the knee injury he suffered in their encounter.
Joe later went on to become a star in his own right without the shadow of Triple H and had a fantastic match against Brock Lesnar at Great Balls of Fire before he was put on the shelf with a knee injury. Joe has recently returned to Raw and played his part in the Survivor Series match this past weekend. Joe is building towards another Universal Championship match in the coming months, which could finally see the former Champion lift the biggest title on the Raw roster.
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