WWE NXT isn't just a developmental territory like Ohio Valley Wrestling was in the mid-2000s. Triple H's brainchild turned into a worldwide phenomenon. When it began, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns were there. The first four episodes under the new format of NXT were taped on May 17, 2012. It wasn't what it is today, but the "stars of tomorrow" were front and center.
Rollins was the first NXT Heavyweight champion. Triple H and Dusty Rhodes crowned him in the middle of the ring after he defeated Jinder Mahal in a Gold Rush tournament to crown the inaugural NXT champion on July 26, 2012. More main event stars were created after that point.
Bo Dallas, The Shield, Bray Wyatt, Luke Harper, Erick Rowan, Adrian Neville, Corey Graves and Big E were present in the early stages of WWE NXT. Fast-forward four years, it's the hottest wrestling product on the planet. They currently travel to several different cities a few months out of the year. Four-to-five times a year they hold NXT Takeover specials, which truly showcases the talent they have.
Many WWE fans don't believe Vince McMahon even watches NXT, simply because a few wrestlers haven't made the best transition since being called up. Bo Dallas, Tyler Breeze, The Ascension and Emma were notable examples. However, Triple H said in an interview last November that McMahon "loves" NXT.
Look, at the end of the day, NXT is his company, right? I mean, I'll see people say, 'oh, NXT is the second biggest promotion.' Well, no, it's part of the biggest promotion in the world. We've just kind of created our own thing in our own niche. And to be able to take it from what it was, a developmental thing and trying to get people to that next level, which is still the goal, right? It's still the goal. To take it to where we have is huge." Triple H continued, "we're just giving [the audience] an opportunity to have another brand and another thing to watch and enjoy. And if you're a fan of what we do, then that's awesome. And, look, it's designed to fill that niche. That's exactly what it's designed to do."
It's a testament to the talent and attitudes at WWE NXT that show when the CEO of the company recognizes the greatness personified at Full Sail University. Unfortunately, there will come a time when certain NXT stars will get called up to the main roster. Breeze was the last one to achieve that.
In 2015, NXT made an impact on the main roster. Kevin Owens was the star and is only getting better. Who will 2016's "Kevin Owens?" Here are 10 NXT stars that have the potential to do great things on the main roster this year:
When Emma comes up in a conversation, only one word can be used to describe her: transformation. Before her heel turn and massive change, she was a lovable babyface who was goofy at times. On the main roster, WWE officials put her with Santino Marella. Needless to say, it didn't go anywhere.
She was sent back down to WWE NXT, even though she was already a superb wrestler. A heel turn went the right way for Emma and now the Australian native is one of their top women in an already stacked division.
The partnership with Dana Brooke only enhanced both careers and they recently paired up against Asuka in back-to-back NXT Takeover specials. It won't be long until Emma is back on the main roster in her heel role challenging for the gold. Perhaps WWE fans can see a rematch between Paige and Emma that took place on the first NXT special.
9 Enzo Amore and Big Cass
Looking back to NXT Takeover London, not many people could've gotten the pop these two charismatic superstars did. Despite not winning a championship, Enzo and Big Cass are the hottest tag team and that even includes Jason Jordan and Chad Gable. With Cass' size and Enzo's mic skills, they're the perfect team.
Their ascension to the main roster was rumored for a few months, but the rumors died down. On the last episode of NXT, Enzo and Cass called out Dash and Dawson. It appears they may fight for the NXT Tag Team championship one last time before getting called up.
Just by merchandise sales alone, these two men would be huge draws on the main roster. It's never easy to say goodbye to one of NXT's mainstays, but the time will come when McMahon wants Queen's finest on WWE Raw and WWE Smackdown.
8 The Vaudevillians
Simon Gotch and Aiden English were NXT's top heel tag team at one point. Officials wanted to turn them face and see how the crowd reacted. It ended with a NXT Tag Team championship and a big crowd following. Unfortunately, it didn't last long for English and Gotch.
Dash and Dawson defeated them for those titles on the November 11 episode of NXT. Since their loss, they haven't made a big impact on the roster. This could mean these manly men could make their way to the main roster sooner than expected. Skill-wise, Gotch and English are top notch.
Their gimmick is new and different, which is something the main roster desperately needs. Full Sail will miss the Vaudevillians, but a big future on the big stage is easily foreseen with these two former NXT Tag Team champions.
7 Jason Jordan and Chad Gable
For those that watched the episode of WWE NXT that emanated in London, the reaction for Jordan and Gable was as loud as any large pop for Stone Cold Steve Austin. That's no exaggeration either. There's something special about these two future champions.
WWE officials took notice to their stardom, as they were backstage at WWE Raw last week. If that was intended to get them acclimated to the main roster, then Gable and Jordan are next in line to receive a call-up. Jordan's athleticism and Gable's charisma make them the perfect duo to compliment each other.
Nobody can really pinpoint the exact moment they got over with the NXT audience, but it's as if it happened overnight. When Jordan and Gable's music hits, the place erupts. It won't be long until that takes place on the main roster. Predicting these two as the next big thing on WWE Raw isn't out of the ordinary.
6 Baron Corbin
If NXT had an award for "Most Improved," then Baron Corbin would be a clean sweep of that category. At first, Corbin was a big guy who would win in 15 seconds. The crowd even counted down as soon as the bell rang. It was a gimmick that didn't have an end game. His match with Bull Dempsey put an end to the king of squash matches.
Much like Emma, a transformation occurred and Corbin became a viable option to challenge for the NXT championship. In fact, he's involved in a triple threat match to be the no. 1 contender for the NXT title in two weeks. He ended Apollo Crews' undefeated streak at NXT Takeover London.
NXT officials are letting Corbin be himself, but turned up a notch. In real life, Corbin is a self-proclaimed jerk. Well, he tapped into that on television and his stock skyrocketed. With the right direction and opponent, Corbin has big potential on "the show."
5 Apollo Crews
At NXT Takeover Brooklyn, Apollo Crews debuted in front of the world. He won handily and it was on his birthday; talk about a day to never forget. As seen on an episode of Breaking Ground, Crews is a big part of the future of NXT and WWE as a whole. Triple H was working with him on a new finisher that Crews already debuted.
In just a few months, he had a championship match against Finn Balor and became a star. With his physique, charisma and in-ring ability, all he needs to do is make the microphone his own. Until he does that, there will be a missing element of his game.
If HHH is high on this kid already, then sky's the limit for Crews. They will probably keep him in WWE NXT throughout 2016 and give him a title reign, but if injuries keep piling up on the main roster, the WWE Universe may witness Crews early. His pedigree in the indies speaks for itself. He will be a champion in 2016.
“According to an e-mail received by Bryan Alvarez on Thursday night, a long-time WWE executive believes that Bayley is ‘so ungodly over, especially with little girls,’ that if she were to start granting wishes through Make-A-Wish, ‘she will destroy John Cena.'”
At the pace Bayley is currently on, she will make one emphatic statement on the main roster. As the last member of the Four Horsewomen of NXT, she isn't quite ready to get called up. Her time in WWE NXT is special and it's not easy to swiftly pick up and move to a different creative team and atmosphere.
One year ago, most wouldn't want any NXT star there, especially a female wrestler. Becky Lynch and Charlotte are in a great rivalry, which is fantastic for women's wrestling fans. Bayley will certainly have a place on WWE Raw. Plus, how could McMahon not like all those merchandise sales?
3 Hideo Itami
If it weren't for a gruesome injury, Hideo Itami would've won the NXT Heavyweight championship at the Beast in the East show on the WWE Network. There were plans for Finn Balor to turn heel on Itami and set up a long-term program between the two friends. History was on the officials' side, because Itami debuted Balor on NXT in November of 2014.
Itami is almost ready to return from injury and if WWE officials do it the right way, they won't keep him in NXT for very long. Plus, three stars from Japan are coming to the WWE and those are easy feuds to create with Itami. Age isn't on his side, as the 34-year-old needs to be used immediately.
A main roster call-up in 2016 would remedy that.
2 Sami Zayn
Much like Jordan and Gable, Sami Zayn is a special breed of professional wrestler. Everything from his entrance music to his passion in the ring, Zayn is one of those who isn't in it for the money.
During his return at NXT in London, Zayn received a standing ovation. His match with Tye Dillinger wasn't a 5-star spectacle, but it didn't need to be. Zayn already grabbed that brass ring long ago. The fans at Full Sail respect him and so does the WWE Universe. It was evident after his match with John Cena on WWE Raw.
2016 will only get better for Zayn. He's finally healthy after his first surgery in WWE. Give the people what they want, and that's a feud with Kevin Owens for a championship on the main roster. That is best for business.
1 Finn Balor
This was obvious just by looking at the title. There are too many options for Finn Balor on the main roster. One easy storyline is a reunion with his friends from the Bullet Club that are coming to the WWE. Doc Gallows, Karl Anderson and Shinsuke Nakamura could align with Balor.
That, or Balor simply goes to the main roster by himself and becomes the mega-star he's intended to be. The only negative part about Balor's progression as NXT's biggest star is his age. He's 34 years old, and like Itami, he doesn't have 15 years in the WWE to donate.
Anyone could look at Balor and predict he'll be a WWE World Heavyweight champion soon. If not, they aren't looking quite clearly. He's the WWE's brightest diamond and it'd be a shame if they didn't notice it. At the Royal Rumble, have Gallows, Anderson and Styles come out at numbers 27-29. Bring out Balor at no. 30 and let him win the Rumble and the WWE championship.
WWE fans would have no choice but to see how talented Balor really is. He's doing it on WWE NXT and will do that on the main roster in 2016.