Despite saturating cable television with hours of weekly programming, the best wrestling show each week is usually on the WWE Network. Since debuting in its current incarnation, in 2014, NXT has been the gold standard for pure in-ring action, allowing their young superstars and divas a low-risk opportunity for prolonged matches and live promos, preparing many of them for their eventual promotion to the main roster.
However, success (both with crowd reaction and victories) at Full Sail University hasn’t always necessarily translated to positive outcomes, when the big leagues come calling.
The crown jewel of NXT to WWE achievement has probably been The Shield. Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, and Roman Reigns joined the main roster in November 2012 and made an immediate impact, inserting themselves in main event storylines, scoring victories over big-name opponents, and carrying championship gold. The Shield were the epitome of bad-ass heels, and elicited a huge response wherever they appeared.
The Shield’s license to print money for the company turned into a mixed bag of results, however, when the stable was split in June 2014. Labeled as three sure-fire singles superstars, and predicted to be the company’s cornerstones for the next decade-plus, only Seth Rollins has truly reached anticipated heights, having a great heel run with the Money in the Bank briefcase before capturing the WWE Title at Wrestlemania 31. Ambrose, however, is languishing in the mid-card, and Reigns is a babyface getting harsh ‘go away’ heat, stuck in a meaningless feud with an aging Big Show.
The story of The Shield is eerily similar to that of The Wyatt Family. Bray Wyatt, Luke Harper, and Erick Rowan made their presence felt on a July 2013 edition of Raw, and went on to have exciting story arcs with Kane, Daniel Bryan, The Shield, and John Cena. The Wyatts were creepy, cool, and different. Of course, this meant they had to be separated, creating (in theory) three stars instead of one group entity. Since then, Wyatt has dropped two consecutive ‘Mania matches, Harper had a brief I-C title run (and is an excellent in-ring tactician) but seems to be spinning his wheels, and Rowan has been reduced to a punchline in a goat mask.
Bo Dallas, at one time the longest-reigning NXT Champion, and someone who truly connected with the fans at Full Sail, has become whipping boy for top talent, serving no purpose other than to interrupt promos and eventually succumb to a Scorpion Death Drop, Spear, Shellshock, or RKO.
Even the goofy Adam Rose had a unique gimmick, while on the NXT roster. The entrance music, ‘Rosebud’ followers, and ring apron back plunge all elicited a positive response from the NXT fans. Thus, Rose was rushed to the main roster, where his shtick quickly wore thin, and an NXT standout has been a Raw jobber.
Konnor and Viktor, better known as The Ascension, ruled NXT’s tag team division for 364 days as champions. They developed a hardcore reputation while destroying all who stepped in their path. A promotion to the main roster was long overdue.
However, the WWE just couldn’t allow them to join the Raw roll call without giving them a dose of 1980s flair. The cool jackets and sleeveless tees were replaced by Demolition-ripoff shoulder pads and shoddy Road Warrior face paint. The Ascension were promptly beaten up by elderly 1990s tag teams (NWO, DX) and clotheslined by Fox News’ JBL. Hardcore indeed.
While early returns for Rusev, Adrian Neville, and The Lucha Dragons have been very positive, time will tell whether the effect of the WWE machine on them will be good or bad. Just ask Charlotte, who, after a nearly 20-minute classic win over Natalya at NXT’s May 2014 Takeover event to capture the NXT Diva’s Title, jobbed to Natayla in her Raw debut seven months later in under three minutes. Charlotte, no doubt, couldn’t wait to return to Full Sail, where her talents are appreciated.
All told, many fans are now conflicted in their desires to see their favorite NXT stars jump to Raw and Smackdown. Stars like Finn Balor, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Tyler Breeze, Hideo Itami, and Sasha Banks may lose the intricacies that make them special, once they represent WWE stockholders on a weekly cable show, instead of a Network-only audience.