Seth Rollins, Paige, Big E, Roman Reigns, Adam Rose, Emma, Dean Ambrose, the Ascension, Rusev, Bray Wyatt, Neville: These WWE Superstars and Divas all have one thing in common. They're all former NXT talent who got called up to the main roster.
With weekly shows airing out of Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida, NXT has served a few different functions over the years. From 2007 until 2012, it was known as Florida Championship Wrestling or FCW and was a purely developmental territory. New wrestlers eager to become a part of the WWE and old talent that needed a refresher course would perfect themselves here.
Then, between 2010 and 2012, NXT was born - but not as you know it. Instead, it acted as a reality show with a premise similar to WWE's Tough Enough, in which a handful of rookies showed off their in-ring and microphone prowess to win a WWE contract. The reality show portion of NXT gave us such Superstars and Divas as Johnny Curtis (now known as Fandango), the Prime Time Players, Kaitlyn, and Wade Barrett.
Finally, in 2012, NXT was rebranded to the program that it is today: a separate wrestling promotion still under the WWE umbrella where promising up-and-coming talent can showcase their skills for an hour each Wednesday night. Since then, the show has experienced a surprising resurgence. Like WWE, it began hosting its own live events in 2014, and as of 2015, NXT has held shows outside of Florida.
If you're not aware of NXT yet, there's no better time to begin watching. When you do, keep an eye on these 10 amazingly talented Superstars and Divas. You'll be seeing them on WWE programming soon enough.
10 Baron Corbin
Tall, dark, and intimidating, Baron Corbin is a man of few words. His stoic demeanor invokes "the Viper" Randy Orton, but with his leather jacket and endless tattoos, Corbin is a different kind of intimidating.
Born Thomas Pestock, Corbin has an incredibly well-rounded athletic background that makes him a force to be reckoned with between the yellow ropes of an NXT ring. Having won awards for his grappling abilities, including the amateur boxing prize the Golden Gloves, he has agility and hitting power on his side. Corbin also used to play professional football through the NFL on the Arizona Cardinals and the Indianapolis Colts as an offensive lineman for both teams.
Corbin's steamrolling success began in 2014. He tends to dominate his opponents in a minute or two with his dangerous modified lifting reverse STO called End of Days. Those that want a foreboding Sting-like character on regular WWE programming can look to Corbin to fill that void.
Bayley's gonna hug you! In nearly every match that this bubbly Diva is involved in, the crowd just can't help but break out into that chant. There's so much to love about Bayley, from her colorful ring gear often adorned with dinosaurs to her famous headband to her fun entrance theme complete with wacky wavy inflatable flailing arm tube men.
This sunny Diva is all about fun. She's often left in awe of her favorite Superstars and Divas when meeting them on episodes of NXT. However, she also shows a formidable and tough side during her matches that surprises her opponents.
Bayley (real name Pamela Rose Martinez), has been a professional wrestler since 2008, when she got her start in Big Time Wrestling. A lifelong fan, by 2012 she moved on to promotions like Shine Wrestling and Championship Wrestling from Hollywood. It wasn't too long before she was hired to appear on NXT. Bayley made her debut in 2013. She squashes her opponents with a belly-to-belly suplex she calls, appropriately enough, the Bayley-to-Belly.
In a Divas roster often overflowing with sexy girls, Bayley is a refreshing breath of fresh air. If WWE wants a great role model for young girls everywhere, Bayley is the one.
8 Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady
S-A-W-F-T, sawft! That's the insult that you'll often hear from Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady, who fancy themselves as certified Gs and the realest guys in the room. Amore (real name Eric Arndt) and Big Cass (real name Bill Morrissey) are from New Jersey and New York respectively. The two decided to use their home base as the inspiration for the brash, loud-mouthed, Jersey Shore-like team that they are.
Amore was completely green before starting in NXT, having only trained in wrestling but never having any matches. Cass, on the other hand, had been a part of World of Unpredictable Wrestling or WUV in 2010 before transferring to FCW in 2011. After staying with that promotion for a few years, Cass was a natural to turn up on NXT programming.
Together, Amore and Cassady are so entertaining on the mic that you almost forget that they're just as talented in the ring. Amore's small stature allows him to set up tag team opponents for Cass' devastating sitout swinging side slam called East River Crossing.
If Enzo and Cass make it to the main WWE roster, they'll verbally enchant crowds like no tag team has since the New Age Outlaws back in the late 1990s.
7 Hideo Itami
If Hideo Itami looks familiar, that could be because you know him as his former persona, KENTA. Since 2000, Itami has been a trailblazer in such major wrestling promotions as Pro Wrestling Noah, Global Wrestling Alliance, Ring of Honor or ROH, All Japan Pro Wrestling or AJPW, and New Japan Pro Wrestling or NJPW. Before he ever got into a wrestling ring though, he was a kickboxer. To this day, his kicks can and do often knock an opponent out cold.
Itami, whose real name is Kenta Kobayashi, also enjoys baseball, giving him plenty of bodily strength. Through Noah, he's a one-time Global Honored Crown GHC Champion, a three-time GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion, a 2005 Differ Cup winner (where tag teams fight across promotions), a 2012 Global League Championship winner, and a 2013 Matsumoto Day Clinic Cup Contention Heavyweight Battle Royal winner. Overall, he's very highly decorated and one of the most renowned professional wrestlers on the planet.
One scary part about facing Itami is that his opponents never know which finisher he might use to end the match. There's his Go to Sleep or GTS, which fans surely remember from CM Punk. Itami may also give his opponents a running single leg front dropkick called the Shotgun Kick or a corkscrew roundhouse kick.
At WrestleMania 31, Itami earned the right to participate in WWE's second Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal among WWE's current roster. With that experience under his belt, it seems like just a matter of time before Itami is plucked and put on the main roster.
Charlotte claims herself to be genetically superior, and as the daughter of Ric Flair, you have to believe her. Of course, she doesn't just want to be known as another wrestling offspring, and so Charlotte has worked extra hard to establish herself as one of the single most dominating forces in all of women's wrestling.
Born Ashley Fliehr, Charlotte had an in with NXT, which she officially joined in 2012. However, she hasn't rested on her laurels for a second since her debut a year later in 2013. In her debut match, she defeated Bayley, starting her off on the right foot. You may have recognized Charlotte with Sasha Banks and Alexa Bliss as the masked women who helped Triple H out to the ring during his entrance at WrestleMania XXX.
However, that's far from Charlotte's main accomplishment. After Paige left the promotion in 2014 and with it her NXT Women's Championship, Charlotte fought tooth and nail through a bracket of Divas to earn herself a shot at the gold against WWE Diva Natalya in May 2014. In a match where the famous relatives of both women appeared in their respective corners (Bret Hart for Natalya and Flair for Charlotte), Charlotte won at a live NXT TakeOver event.
Charlotte would proudly retain her title until February 2015. During her time with the strap around her waist, she proved to be unstoppable. With a choice between her bone-snapping figure-four leglock the Figure Eight or her powerful forward somersault cutter called Natural Selection, she is one deadly Diva.
WWE already knows that Charlotte can compete against its best Divas. With her esteemed family legacy, Charlotte seems like a shoo-in to join the WWE roster.
5 Tyler Breeze
Never before has NXT or the WWE seen someone so... gorgeous. Tyler Breeze, a male model, calls himself Prince Pretty and seeks to rid NXT of uggos, or ugly people. With his furry jacket, fuzzy boots, colorful ring gear, and ever-present smartphone, Breeze may not look too serious, but he has experienced an evolution that few NXT Superstars have enjoyed.
Breeze, real name Mattias Clement, began his professional career in 2007 when he competed in Power Zone Wrestling. A year later, he moved on to NWA Extreme Canadian Championship Wrestling or ECCW, where he was trained by legendary Canadian wrestler Lance Storm. The training must have worked, because by 2010, Breeze was hired by WWE to appear on FCW.
During his debut in 2013 on NXT, Breeze began as someone more interested with snapping selfies during matches than defeating his opponents. He had a strict policy about no wrestlers touching his face, which made his career choice pretty ironic. However, gradually, Breeze has shown a mean streak. He's no longer afraid of his hair moving out of place or getting roughed up during a match. Breeze still won't part with his beloved smartphone–he even has a selfie stick now to make taking snapshots easier–but his appearances in the NXT main event picture have solidified Breeze as a tough and entertaining competitor.
In a world where WWE has largely moved away from gimmicks, Breeze is a nice change of pace. His self-obsessed demeanor fools opponents and makes it easier for him to put them away with his jumping spinning heel kick branded the Beauty Shot. He's a versatile young talent with many good years ahead of him.
4 Finn Balor
A highly-anticipated NXT debut, Finn Balor was once known as Prince Devitt during his time in NJPW. His speedy aerial style instantly made him a natural part of the NJPW roster, so it's no surprise that Balor netted the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships a grand total of six times with such talents as Ryusuke Taguchi and Minoru Suzuki. He's also held the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship an impressive three times.
Balor, who was born Fergal Devitt in Ireland, even has Mexican wrestling experience under his belt. He appeared in Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre or CMLL and earned himself the NWA World Historic Middleweight Championship. Balor has also wrestled in his native Ireland for NWA Ireland (an organization that he and Paul Tracey created), in the United Kingdom in NWA UK Hammerlock, and in the United States in Pro Wrestling Guerilla or PWG.
Departing from NJPW's famed Bullet Club in 2014, Balor appeared on NXT late that year. He formed a natural alliance with Hideo Itami, but Balor has also stood out from the pack himself. Not only is his Venom-like face and body paint impressive, but his agility and ability to fly across the ring fills in the gap left behind by Adrian Neville. Balor's diving double foot stomp, called the Coup de Grace, shows a level of brutality not unlike Seth Rollins on the main roster.
With his lengthy resume and amazing talent, WWE will not want to wait long to bring up Balor. He's certainly proven himself to be one of the best wrestlers in the game today, and he could easily have five-star matches with a number of current WWE Superstars.
3 Sasha Banks
Sasha Banks doesn't call herself "the Boss" without a reason. Since her 2013 debut on NXT programming, she's evolved from a talent with potential to the queen of the ring. She struts around with sunglasses, a stylish leather jacket, and a whole lotta attitude, but she's earned every bit of it.
Banks, real name Mercedes Kaestner-Varnado, is only 23 as of 2015, making her one of the youngest Divas in WWE (second only to Paige, who is one year younger). Still, she knew what her calling was early, as she was only 18 years old when she appeared in Chaotic Wrestling after learning the sport there. During her time with the promotion, Banks unsurprisingly won the Chaotic Wrestling Women's Championship by the end of 2011. She became a record-breaking champion, retaining the title longer than any woman in Chaotic Wrestling history.
In the end, Banks didn't even lose. Instead, 260 days after her stunning victory, she left the title behind to move on to the greener pastures of NXT. In her early days, Banks tagged along with WWE Diva Summer Rae (who was then a regular face on NXT) and Charlotte in a group called the Beautiful, Fierce Females, also known as the BFFs.
However, dissension between the BFFs led to the group fragmenting. Summer Rae went to WWE TV full-time and Charlotte and Banks never made up. However, as she got more wrestling experience under her belt, Banks' "Boss" persona began to appear. She became a mean girl who would use anything to her advantage to win. Along the way, she and Charlotte put on arguably some of the best matches in the history of women's wrestling.
Banks was in the NXT Women's Championship title picture many times, but she was always just out of reach of winning. Finally, in February 2015 at the live NXT TakeOver: Rival event, she defeated Bayley, Charlotte, and Becky Lynch to become the champion.
WWE is all about its Give Divas a Chance campaign, and Banks would be a fantastic way to do just that. She can put on 15+ minute matches with any Diva that will leave the crowd absolutely speechless.
2 Kevin Owens
Fight, Owens, fight. Yes, the tagline is a modified and tamer version of Kevin Owens' (real name Kevin Steen) old chant of "kill, Steen, kill." However, when you see what Owens can do in a wrestling ring, you'd understand why.
Owens has dominated the independent wrestling circuit since beginning his career in 2000. Trained in Canada by Serge Jodoin, Carl Ouellet, and Jacques Rougeau, Owens grew up as a lifelong wrestling fan, being hooked in at just 11 years old. He was only 14 when his parents granted him permission to chase his dreams and learn how to wrestle. When Owens stepped into the squared circle for his first official match, he had just turned 16.
By 2004, now with considerably more experience and age, Owens appeared in Combat Zone Wrestling or CZW. It wasn't long before he captured the CZW Championship. Not long after that, he began splitting his time between CZW and PWG. He experienced great success there as well, having won the PWG World Tag Team Championship three times as well as the PWG World Championship just as many times.
Owens is also known for his time at ROH, in which he wrestled alongside close friend Sami Zayn, who was a masked wrestler called El Generico at the time. The two experienced immense success as a tag team, eventually winning the ROH World Tag Team Championships. However, always able to hold his own, Owens also was the ROH World Champion.
In 2011, Owens' didn't renew his contract with ROH after some financial issues cropped up. Eventually he was resigned, and he continued wrestling there until late 2014, when he appeared on NXT. Surprisingly, the first Superstar he targeted was former friend Zayn, who had just won the NXT Championship. In February 2015, at NXT TakeOver: Rival, Owens took the title from Zayn, winning gold in only two months.
Naturally, with his powerhouse frame, ramshackle attitude, and general disregard for anyone, Owens would make for a deadly force in WWE. His Pop-up Powerbomb has made a lot of victims, and in WWE, that list would only grow.
1 Sami Zayn
Ole! Ole! Ole! With his smiling demeanor, love of punk rock music, underdog appeal, and inability to accept defeat, Sami Zayn is arguably the most relevant and memorable talent in the history of NXT. Surprisingly, if you knew of Zayn at all, you sure didn't see his face. His former gimmick, which is that of luchador wrestler El Generico, required that he wear a mask, which he did from his debut in 2002 until he appeared in NXT in 2013.
Zayn, born Rami Sebei, was a firecracker in the independent wrestling circuit much like his friend Kevin Owens. In his home country of Canada, he wrestled for International Wrestling Syndicate until he was picked up by PWG. While he did wrestle with Owens as his partner, as El Generico he held the PWG World Tag Team Championships on five different occasions with other partners like Quicksilver, Paul London, and Human Tornado.
Zayn continued showing off his talent for tag team wrestling during his Chikara run from 2005 until 2012. He and Owens did have some tag team moments here, such as appearing in the 2005 Tag World Grand Prix together.
When he was absent from Chikara, Zayn was occupying his time in ROH, where he also appeared off and on between 2005 and 2012. However, he and Owens weren't favorites at the company and both left together. By 2006, Zayn returned and showed off his tenacity, wrestling alone. During his time with the promotion, he was an ROH World Television Champion.
After perfecting his skills in Dragon Gate USA and Japan, NXT hired Zayn, who made his television debut in 2013. An instant and easy fan favorite, Zayn's running big boot, known as the Helluva Kick, knocked out opponent after opponent. However, it seemed like every time that Zayn had the NXT Championship in his grasp, he couldn't get the job done. Although he almost left the company after doubting his skills, he finally obtained the gold in December 2014 before later losing it to Owens in 2015.
Zayn is easily the kind of talent that WWE needs. Fan-friendly, talented on the mic, and a thrill to watch, he could easily be gunning for the WWE World Heavyweight title. Given that the WWE has brought along Zayn to Abu Dhabi, included him in a video game, and released an action figure in his likeness, Zayn's time is now.