WWE: Power Ranking Every NXT Rookie in the Show's History

Graham GSM MatthewsFeatured ColumnistSeptember 22, 2012

WWE: Power Ranking Every NXT Rookie in the Show's History

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    Over the course of the last two and a half years, WWE has created a handful of Superstars while using NXT as its launching pad. While the show isn't as nearly popular as it once was, due to how badly it was treated for the longest time, there's no denying that the program has of course succeeded in providing us with fresh faces and future breakout stars.

    Through the show's highs and lows, some notable names emerged from the program, including current WWE Tag Team Champion Daniel Bryan, Wade Barrett and Raw General Manager AJ. However, for every success there is a failure, and we've witnessed quite a few bombshells over the years as well.

    All in all, with six seasons in the books, I'd say NXT has been an absolute success. Of course, it's not over yet, as it's since transitioned into WWE's developmental territory, including the likes of Seth Rollins, Leo Kruger and Richie Steamboat, among others.

    With this particular piece being my 300th article produced here on Bleacher Report, I celebrate my monumental milestone by power-ranking each and every rookie to come out of NXT since its debut in February 2010. My rankings are based on what the specific rookie has accomplished in WWE up to this point, and the impact he or she has left on the company thus far.

    That being said, let's start evaluating. 

28. Jacob Novak

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    Upon seeing him for the first time in the premiere of NXT Season Four, I presumed Jacob Novak would be the inevitable winner of the competition, following the promo he cut during his introduction. Apparently, I couldn't have been farther from the truth.

    In subsequent weeks, Novak came off as a low-budget knock-off who seemed completely unoriginal. Not even his mentor, Dolph Ziggler, who eventually traded Novak for Byron Saxton, could resurrect his career.

    By the fifth week, Novak was eliminated from the competition but received a second chance a few months later as part of NXT: Redemption. This time, JTG was appointed as Novak's Pro, which didn't help him in the least.

    Aside from overhauling his image to imitate the former Cryme Tyme member, Novak was once again the first to be sent packing from the show and hasn't been seen since. 

27. Eli Cottonwood

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    You may not remember the name, but you may recall his mind-boggling promo that was unintentionally one of the funniest things heard in WWE that year. Eli Cottonwood, who participated in NXT's second season, was mostly known for his gigantic size, but, as we all know, size doesn't matter.

    Similar to The Great Khali, Cottonwood's presence was somewhat intimidating, but he couldn't wrestle for jack-squat. With John Morrison as his Pro, his promos were almost as horrendous, once making the claim that he could "stare into the eyes of The Undertaker."

    However, his 15 minutes of fame came during the Talk the Talk Challenge, where Cottonwood was given the subject of "mustache." He rambled for nearly a minute, making contradicting comments that left everyone in the audience dumber than before they started listening.

    Needless to say, Cottonwood was quickly eliminated from the show, and his on-air presence was almost as short as his infamous mustache promo.

26. Jamie

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    Before taking part in in the first-ever full-female third season of NXT in 2010, Jamie Keyes announced briefly for the Tuesday night program during its second season. She transitioned into the role of a wrestler by the end of the year but didn't have anything that was all that unique about her.

    Sure, she was scary strong as well as gorgeous, but her mic skills were bland, and she was nothing special inside the ring. That'd eventually lead to her being the first one eliminated from the competition a few weeks in, before being released from WWE all together shortly thereafter.

25. Lucky Cannon

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    You know that one guy who's too overly nice that you just want to punch him in the face? Well, that was Lucky Cannon during his time on NXT in Season Two.

    With Mark Henry as his Pro, Cannon was nothing more than another wrestler with a sob story, which is all he had going for him, aside from his terrible name. He was fine in the ring, but no one really seemed to care at all about Cannon before his being eliminated early on.

    Thankfully, he was given a chance to redeem himself during NXT: Redemption, as Tyson Kidd was appointed the new mentor of Cannon. Developing a newer, cocky side to his character, Cannon came off as a Ric Flair wannabe with his sparkling robe, but at least it was a step in the right direction.

    Despite having the hots for ex-host Maryse, Cannon was once again eliminated from NXT: Redemption a few months in, before being legitimately released from the company last June. 

24. Maxine

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    Being the only Heel Diva during the early beginnings of NXT Season Three, there seemed to be absolutely no chance of survival for Maxine, with a majority of the voting in the hands of the WWE Universe. Nonetheless, she still performed her best, both inside the ring and on the mic, whenever given the chance.

    She drew the most amount of Heel heat amongst the rookies that season but was eliminated early on due to unpopularity with the WWE Universe. She re-emerged a year later on NXT: Redemption, managing Derrick Bateman and apparently becoming his lover.

    In subsequent months, Maxine would be fought over by the likes of Bateman and Johnny Curtis while also honing her skills in the squared circle. Despite being the center of controversy on the Internet show, she was still one of the more underrated Divas on the entire roster.

    Once the longest-reigning season in NXT history came to a close early this year, Maxine asked for her release from the company shortly thereafter after, claiming she wasn't being properly utilized.

23. Connor O'Brian

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    Of all the strange gimmicks we've seen throughout the numerous NXT seasons over the years, I must say that Connor O'Brian's was certainly the most unique...and downright absurd. Upon his NXT debut as part of the show's fourth season, he stated in his initial introduction promo that he was always told he looked like a rat, so that's what he decided to be.

    Wait, what?

    Trust me, it gets even more embarrassing. He even managed to lose a match to ring announcer Ricardo Rodriguez during one episode, which of course would be the grounds for his termination shortly thereafter.

    He resurfaced in NXT: Redemption a new man, claiming that all he wanted to be this time around was himself. Regardless, his character wasn't all that exciting, and he made it to the final three before being eliminated last June.

    The only thing keeping him this high on the list is the fact that he's since reinvented himself as part of The Ascension in the newly-reformed NXT. Alongside Kenneth Cameron, his frightening yet awesome presence will soon lead him to tag team gold once he's called up to the main roster.

22. Percy Watson

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    Why is Eddie Murphy being featured on a list ranking NXT Alumni, you ask? Well, if you couldn't tell, that's NXT Season Two's own Percy Watson.

    Okay, bad jokes aside, Watson is undoubtedly an amazing athlete inside the squared circle, albeit the fact that his gimmick was terrible. Sure, he was funny at first, but his shtick quickly grew old, which called for his elimination while fourth in the standings.

    Thankfully, Watson resurfaced last year alongside Titus O'Neil in NXT: Redemption, where he began to portray just his normal self. That way, his promos didn't come off as forced, and his tremendous in-ring abilities did most of the talking for him.

    Watson acquired it all to become a valuable asset in WWE's mid-card division, but it's mind-boggling why he has yet to be signed to one of the main shows. Hopefully, it's sooner rather than later. Oh yeah!

21. Derrick Bateman

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    The third season of NXT was so bad that it was hilarious at times, whereas the humor found in the show's fourth season can be mostly credited to its actually being funny. Of all the rookies in that season's batch, Derrick Bateman was easily one of the most entertaining ones there.

    With Daniel Bryan as his Pro, the duo's chemistry was simply hysterical at times. Although Bateman didn't end up winning the competition, due to suffering an injury towards its conclusion, he vowed to return with a vengeance once it was fully healed.

    A few months later, Bateman made a surprise comeback during an edition of NXT: Redemption. He underwent a slow-burning Heel turn in subsequent weeks before being later joined by the returning Maxine.

    The two lovebirds made a wonderful couple, before Johnny Curtis came along, that is. Long story short, Bateman ultimately beat Curtis to win Maxine's heart but decided to confess his love for his best friend Kaitlyn instead.

    Confusing, huh?

    Bateman is primed for a push on the main roster but remains relegated to NXT for now. Recently, he's been teasing the debut of his alter ego, U.S.A. Guy, so maybe that will work out in his favor on either Raw or SmackDown.

20. Michael Tarver

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    During his time in the inaugural season of NXT, Michael Tarver played the rebellious role, refusing to take part in ridiculous challenges and publicly degrade himself. Sure, he didn't stack up many points during the course of the competition due to his lack of participation, but at least he was getting noticed and making a statement.

    Needless to say, Tarver was the first one eliminated from the show due to his lack of confidence, which essentially got his own self booted from the program. Other than Barrett, Tarver had some of the best mic skills of all the rookies that season, a trait of his that is consistently overlooked.

    Following the season's conclusion, Tarver debuted as part of Nexus in early June 2010. He didn't play much of a role in the group for as long as he was, there aside from taking multiple beatings from John Cena, but he was still involved nonetheless.

    It's also interesting to note that Tarver's only singles victories came over Daniel Bryan, who went on to become a future World Heavyweight Champion.

    Due to an injury sustained in late 2010, Tarver was effectively removed from the black and yellow stable, before reappearing in a few backstage segments in early 2011. He was seen stalking various Superstars backstage, but he was released from the company before anything could ever come of it.

19. Byron Saxton

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    Prior to participating in NXT's fourth season, you might've recognized Byron Saxton (or maybe just his voice) from his time as a commentator on ECW. Now playing the role of an arrogant prick, Saxton wore a unique shirt each week to promote the love he has for his own self.

    His cockiness later caught up to him, as he was ultimately eliminated despite switching Chris Masters with Dolph Ziggler as his Pro. He, too, had a shot at "redemption" as part of NXT's fifth season but once again came up short.

    Nowadays, Saxton finds himself back at the commentary table alongside William Regal and Jim Ross to call NXT's matches.

    Basically, Saxton was an announcer turned wrestler...turned announcer again. Sounds about right.

18. Kaval

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    Being the equivalent to Season One's Daniel Bryan, Kaval was a favorite of the IWC who competed in the second season of NXT. However, the only major hindrance with his participation in the show was the fact that he lost almost every match he competed in, added to the fact his Pros were Michelle McCool and Layla.

    Despite all that, Kaval ultimately won the competition, with some help from the WWE Universe. Following his upset victory, he was attacked by all the former rookies, which pretty much foreshadowed the failure his WWE tenure would soon be.

    He was immediately signed to the SmackDown brand, where he lost almost every single one of his matches except for one. His first triumph on the blue brand came over then-Intercontinental Champion Dolph Ziggler, who he decided to face in the Survivor Series, since he was guaranteed a shot at any title after winning NXT.

    At the event, he came up short of capturing the gold and departed from the WWE no more than a month later. Yet another case of WWE burying someone with major potential.

17. Johnny Curtis

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    Aside from Derrick Bateman, Johnny Curtis was another friendly face as part of NXT's fourth season who managed to entertain the WWE Universe on occasion. He ended up winning the show with R-Truth as his Pro, which guaranteed him a roster spot on either of the main shows, as well as a tag team title match with Truth.

    Of course, per WWE logic, Curtis never did receive that promised shot at the tag team titles.

    Nonetheless, Curtis reappeared months later in various SmackDown vignettes, promoting his eventual debut on the brand. He made strange yet silly puns in each of them, coming off as a complete creeper.

    He finally made his in-ring debut in mid-August, quickly being demolished by Mark Henry. After that, Curtis was never featured in a one-on-one match on the blue brand again.

    By the end of the year, Curtis made his way back over to NXT with his sights set on both Maxine and Kaitlyn. Through all the drama, Curtis ended up with Maxine, but that wouldn't last long either.

    Nowadays, he makes random appearances on NXT, as well as WWE's YouTube page. Why not pair him back with Truth again? Their similar styles would make for an interesting clash with WWE Tag Team Champions Kane and Daniel Bryan. 

16. Husky Harris

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    Throughout most of NXT Season Two, rookie Husky Harris was highly praised by backstage officials and heavily rumored to win the competition. Oddly enough, he ranked fifth in the competition's culmination but was still able to make an impact on the program by attacking Matt Striker and many others.

    He'd eventually re-emerge months later, one of the two mystery assailants to Wade Barrett during his match with John Cena at Hell in a Cell. They helped the Evil Englishman defeat Cena, and, in return, they were granted spots in Barrett's Nexus stable.

    Once the group was taken charge of by CM Punk in early 2011, each member had to go through an evaluation stage. For Harris's test, he was relentlessly whipped with belts by each Nexus stablemate, which he ultimately passed.

    After coming up short in a WWE Tag Team title match in an edition of Raw a few weeks later, Harris was punted in the skull by Randy Orton and hasn't been seen on WWE TV since. Unlike the other members, Harris never seemed to recover from the fatal kick but recently re-debuted on NXT as Bray Wyatt.

    With his latest gimmick, I can see him quickly becoming one of WWE's brightest stars once he returns from injury.

    I can't be the only one who thinks this guy strongly resembles Chum from Pawn Stars, right?

15. Naomi

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    Naomi participated in NXT's first-ever all-female season in late 2010, where she shined considerably well. She was easily one of the more athletic rookies of the batch, which made her matches some of the most exciting, especially since almost every bout during that season was terrible.

    She came close to winning the competition but was ranked second behind Kaitlyn. Nonetheless, Naomi returned to WWE programming earlier this year as a dancer for Brodus Clay, where she's been ever since.

    Although seeing her perform alongside Cameron during Clay's catchy entrance is fun and all, I'd much rather see her compete inside the squared circle where she belongs. Her match against Natalya at a live event a number of weeks ago received rave reviews, so maybe that's a sign that WWE should put her in a wrestling role more often.

14. Aksana

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    During the trainwreck that was NXT Season Three, Aksana seemed to be the most mind-boggling rookie of them all. Of course, she is Lithuanian, so her thick accent made it incredibly hard to understand her during promos.

    Her Pro was Goldust, who she instantly fell for and planned on marrying. However, what Goldie didn't know was that she was only marrying him so she could remain a citizen of the United States.

    Once that bit of information was discovered, he dumped her almost immediately, but that didn't stop her from nearly stealing Ted DiBiase's Million Dollar Championship title belt. She eventually lost possession of it, which led to her elimination from NXT shortly thereafter.

    Nonetheless, Aksana returned to WWE television last August, where she flirted with then-SmackDown general manger Teddy Long for many months. Her in-ring work didn't seem to improve, so it was a good thing she remained a manager for the most part.

    After Long was removed from his position of general manger, Aksana left him for Antonio Cesaro, her new boyfriend she opted to bring to WWE. She'd ultimately help him win the United States Championship in August at SummerSlam before being dumped by the European sensation Saturday night on SmackDown.

13. Michael McGillicutty

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    Another shining star amongst the NXT Season Two batch was Michael McGillicutty, the son of WWE Hall of Famer Mr. Perfect. Despite the ridiculous last name, he still showcased his impressive abilities throughout the season, with Kofi Kingston as his mentor.

    McGillicutty even managed to develop a winning streak for the first month or so of the competition, but that was ultimately snapped at the hands of The Miz. However, despite his excellent in-ring abilities, he was still extremely boring as a character, with less charisma than Lance Storm.

    More than likely, that's what cost him the NXT victory in the end. Either that or the horrendous "moment" promo he cut during the show's second season finale.

    Whatever the case, he quickly resurfaced on television a few months later, distracting the referee during Wade Barrett's match with John Cena at Hell in a Cell. Due to McGillicutty's help, he and Husky Harris were granted spots in Nexus by November.

    Once the group was overhauled by CM Punk, it quickly lost steam, which also saw McGillicutty getting punted in the skull by Randy Orton that March. He'd return the following month as part of a tag team with David Otunga, where the two captured the WWE Tag Team Championships from Big Show and Kane in May.

    Honestly, I found them to be two of the most boring tag team champions in the company's history, but their never-ending reign mercifully came to an end three months later at the hands of Air Boom. Following the title loss, McGillicutty was rarely featured on either brand again, mostly being relegated to working WWE Superstars and NXT.

    It's been recently rumored that Triple H sees major long-term potential in McGillicutty, so maybe there is some hope left for the second-generation star.

12. Kaitlyn

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    Days before NXT Season Three got started, one of the original participants, Isis the Amazon, was removed from the competition by her scheduled mentor, Vickie Guerrero. In reality, Amazon's removal was due to racy photos of her, found online, that officials deemed inappropriate.

    In the season's premiere, she was instead replaced by the lovely Kaitlyn, who claimed she was your typical "girl next door." I instantly fell in love with Kaitlyn the moment I first laid eyes on her, but I do have some journalist integrity left, so let's carry on.

    Anyways, it seemed her gorgeous looks are what helped her win the competition, as her in-ring work was terrible at the time. What really helped get her over with the crowd was the fact that she appeared on most of the main shows while still an NXT rookie, due to her close relationship with Dolph Ziggler, so that was certainly beneficial. 

    Once she emerged victorious, she was granted a spot on the SmackDown brand. She did little to nothing her first few months there and didn't make her in-ring debut for the blue brand until a few months later in a losing effort against Lay-Cool.

    Her close friendship with AJ Lee is what gave her more television time earlier this year, as AJ's mental breakdown saw Kaitlyn become a victim of her ruthless antics. Kaitlyn also appeared on countless episodes of NXT: Redemption, forming a relationship with Derrick Bateman.

    Just last month, she shockingly won a battle royal on Raw to become the no. 1 contender to the Divas Championship at Night of Champions. At the event, she was "mysteriously" ambushed from behind backstage, which left her unable to compete later in the evening.

    There's no doubting that her skills inside the squared circle have improved over the last two years, and I hope to see her with gold around her waist at some point down the road. 

11. Titus O'Neil

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    Aside from Eli Cottonwood, it was no secret that Titus O'Neil was one of the worst of the bunch during his time on NXT Season Two. Despite having Zack Ryder as his mentor, O'Neil was the first to be eliminated early on in the competition.

    However, he made a remarkable recovery on NXT: Redemption, winning almost every challenge and match he was involved in. He had become the most over of them all in time, but randomly-turned Heel on the show's 100th episode earlier this year.

    While I initially thought the abrupt Heel turn was a terrible move, it ended up being the best thing for him.

    Now portraying a ruthless rookie, O'Neil went roughshod on the entire Redemption roster. It wasn't long before his foe-turned-friend Darren Young and he were signed to SmackDown, calling themselves the Prime Time Players.

    At the No Way Out pay-per-view, the duo became the no. 1 contenders to the WWE Tag Team Championships and formed an alliance with A.W. Their various losses to Kofi Kingston and R-Truth weren't their biggest concern, as A.W.'s controversial release last month left Young and O'Neil with nearly nothing.

    Nonetheless, they've continued to carry their own and strive to become the WWE Tag Team Champions in the very near future. O'Neil's aggressive side came to light this past week on Raw, giving me hope that maybe their act isn't completely done with.

    Also, if you still don't believe me when I tell you O'Neil is hysterical, check out his numerous backstage segments with Young. You'll surely get a kick out of it. 

10. Darren Young

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    Speaking of Titus O'Neil, his Prime Time Players teammate cracks the top ten. He's endured quite a journey since his WWE debut in early 2010, but he's a rookie that you shouldn't take lightly.

    His original gimmick on NXT's inaugural season saw him play the role of "the party boy," but his Pro CM Punk would have nothing of it. Punk attempted to convince Young on numerous occasions to shave his head and join the Straightedge Society, but Young was determined on just staying himself.

    Young was eliminated at the fifth standing, but that wouldn't be the last time we saw him on WWE TV. He'd join Wade Barrett in his crusade against the WWE as part of a group known as Nexus.

    Unfortunately, Young probably took the most beatings of all the members, more specifically from John Cena. After being the first one eliminated from Team Nexus at SummerSlam, he chose to face John Cena the next night on Raw with his spot in Nexus on the line.

    Obviously, he lost against the Cenation leader and was subsequently removed from the black and yellow stable. He returned a month later on Raw, costing Barrett his match against Randy Orton and claiming that he wasn't the weakest link of the group but the missing link.

    For some odd reason, that odd angle went absolutely nowhere, as Young was mostly featured on WWE Superstars from that point forward. Despite being contracted to Raw, Young found himself back on the yellow brand to participate in NXT: Redemption with Chavo Guerrero as his mentor.

    A few months in, Young developed a chip on his shoulder, after Guerrero asked for his release from the organization and turned back Heel in the process. He'd do nothing noteworthy on Redemption but later formed a partnership with O'Neil to become the Prime Time Players of the WWE.

    As I stated in the previous slide, it's only a matter of time before the duo is wearing WWE Tag Team gold around their waists. 

9. Brodus Clay

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    Of all the rookies who competed in NXT's fourth season, Brodus Clay was undoubtedly my favorite. His sheer size and intimidating presence made him one of the most feared competitors in the entire division, not to mention the mainstream rub he received from being Snoop Dogg's former bodyguard.

    Despite having the complete package of an ideal WWE Superstar, Clay ultimately ranked as the runner-up of the show. Following his loss, he cut probably the greatest promo of his career, stating how he'd do anything at this point to secure a spot on the WWE roster, even if it meant destroying "those that we love."

    While eventual-winner Johnny Curtis disappeared from television, Clay maintained his on-air presence alongside his mentor, Alberto Del Rio. He even had the opportunity to appear at WrestleMania 27, managing Del Rio during his World Heavyweight Championship match against Edge.

    He took time off following the Extreme Rules pay-per-view to film WWE Studio's latest film, No One Lives. Clay later returned last August on WWE Superstars, defeating a number of local athletes before disappearing yet again.

    For months, he was hyped on both Raw and SmackDown as a pending force to be reckoned with. His re-debut was delayed so many times that it eventually became a running gag amongst viewers by the conclusion of 2011.

    In January, he finally made his Raw debut, but in unexpected fashion. No more was he the Mastadon of Mayhem, but instead the Funkasaurus. I first thought it was a joke, but I adapted to the gimmick over time and have come to love it.

    Simply put, Clay is just being himself in the role he's currently in. It's apparent that he loves doing it, and the audiences certainly enjoy the act as well. But how long will it be before he gets stale to the point where he's no longer wanted on television?

    With No One Lives soon to be released, I expect him to turn his back on the WWE Universe sooner rather than later. WWE is in desperate need of ruthless monsters, and I honestly think that Clay could be the one to fit the bill.

8. Skip Sheffield (Ryback)

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    NXT Season One rookie Skip Sheffield looked like the kind of guy who could be capable of mass destruction, but he was instead given a campy cowboy gimmick that hindered what he could do in the ring and on the mic. His mentor, William Regal, obviously wasn't pleased, as he showed signs of disappointment on more than one occasion.

    After being eliminated early on in the competition, Sheffield re-emerged as a member of Nexus that June, showing signs of excessive aggression and intensity. Of course, he was the powerhouse of the group, and he played the part to perfection.

    Unfortunately, his Nexus tenure came to an abrupt end two months after the stable's debut, due to an ankle injury sustained at a live event. Originally, it was rumored he'd be back within only a few months, but he remained off television for much longer than that.

    During his time off, a report surfaced on dirt sheets saying Vince McMahon thought highly of Sheffield and hoped for him to one day be one of the company's two top faces. I liked Sheffield, but I never thought he'd ever become a top player in WWE, especially as a Babyface, so I blew off the report as an absolute joke.

    Following a total of three surgeries, Sheffield returned to the ring late last year with new attire, music and a new name: Ryback. He had used a similar name in years past, but it was definitely a step up from being called Skip Sheffield.

    Five nights removed from WrestleMania 28, Ryback returned to WWE TV on SmackDown for the first time in nearly two years. He's quickly destroyed everyone who has stepped foot in his path since then, developing a winning streak that has yet to be broken.

    Maybe that report wasn't complete crap after all. Yup yup yup, what it do?

7. Justin Gabriel

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    During his time on NXT's first season, Justin Gabriel was probably the most over with the WWE Universe, given his flashy style and high-octane offense. However, his mic skills were well below par, due to his South African accent, which was the grounds for his elimination during the season finale.

    Of all the original members of Nexus, Gabriel seemed to be the most unfitting, since his style screams born-to-be Babyface. That being said, he did an excellent job of looking both sadistic and remorseful of his actions after delivering a 450 Splash to each of his victims.

    Throughout his tenure both in Nexus and Corre, Gabriel was able to hit that stomach-crushing 450 Splash on the likes of John Cena, Randy Orton, Mr. McMahon, Big Show and even The Undertaker. Heck, he even managed to defeat then-World Heavyweight Champion Edge during an episode of SmackDown in early 2011.

    Not only that, he and Heath Slater were also able to capture the WWE Tag Team Championships on three separate occasions. They remained a team for almost a year before going their separate ways last summer, effectively reverting Gabriel back into a fan favorite.

    It's a shame WWE hasn't done much with Gabriel's Face turn up to this point, but at least he was featured on this past week's episode of Raw, so that's a good sign. He could easily be a valuable asset to the mid-card, but it's up to WWE to push him accordingly.

6. Heath Slater

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    Ranking in at no. 6, Justin Gabriel's former friend Heath Slater has also made quite the impact since arriving in WWE in early 2010. He came off as a cocky tool while competing in NXT's inaugural season, so it felt asinine to me as to why this guy was supposedly a fan favorite.

    He wasn't all that threatening during his time with Nexus later in the year, but he was at least able to defeat the likes of Edge and Sheamus, surprisingly enough. His time with Corre the following year wasn't memorable in the slightest, as he was mostly the punching bag of the group.

    Once the stable disbanded in mid-2011, Slater was finally able to break off on his own as a singles competitor. Now referring to himself as the One Man Southern Rock Band, it's safe to say that Slater is one of the most hated Superstars on the roster today, due to his annoying antics.

    However, take nothing away from his in-ring ability, as his three-year reign as WWE Tag Team Champion speaks for itself. Slater is a damn good wrestler when given the right opponent, but it's also the dancing that he does during his matches that makes him equally entertaining.

    His most recent run with the Legends over the summer was good fun and gave him plenty of rub, so hopefully WWE does something with that by maintaining his regular role on WWE TV. 

5. Alex Riley

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    From the start of NXT's second season, Alex Riley had a major advantage over the other rookies, as his Pro, The Miz, had already mentored the previous season of the show, so he knew what to expect. Riley had some of the best mic skills of the young group of future stars, but his in-ring work could've used a little work.

    Despite coming in third in the competition, Riley continued to appear alongside The Miz on Raw during most of his matches. Riley was eventually granted an official Raw contract and battled against the likes of Randy Orton and John Cena on numerous occasions.

    He also had the opportunity to compete in the 2011 Royal Rumble match but was ultimately eliminated by Cena. He aided The Miz in his feud against Cena on the road to WrestleMania 27, even interfering in the show's main event by attacking the Cenation leader with a silver briefcase.

    Following the event, The Miz blamed Riley for his title loss, which eventually saw Riley exploding on his former mentor during an episode of Raw last May. From that point forward, Riley was officially a breakout Babyface in the WWE and had a very bright future ahead of him.

    Despite defeating The Miz at Capitol Punishment, Riley's role on Raw was diminished substantially for a variety of reasons. He came up short of winning the United States Championship a year ago at Night of Champions and hasn't been utilized correctly on television since.

    However, there's no denying the impact the Varsity Villain made for almost a year, following the conclusion of NXT Season Two. Not only that, he still manages to garner an impressive ovation whenever he's featured on one of the main shows, despite being mainly relegated to WWE Superstars and NXT

4. David Otunga

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    Whether you like him or not, there's absolutely no questioning the fact that David Otunga has been one of the more successful rookies to come out of NXT.

    His biggest advantage during the inaugural season of NXT was the fact that he was engaged to Jennifer Hudson, so that connection gave him some mainstream rub. He was pretty effective on the mic in making the crowd hate him, but some are, of course, better talkers than fighters.

    His in-ring work was so bad that it was a common joke used against him throughout the season. Nonetheless, he was given the opportunity to guest host Raw in April 2010, where he screwed John Cena out of winning the WWE Tag Team Championships.

    Talk about making an impact.

    However, that didn't help Otunga win NXT, as he was instead named the runner-up of the competition. Despite the loss, he'd become a mainstay in Nexus from the beginning to end and would be the only member to have the most matches against Cena.

    During his tenure with Nexus, he was able to win the WWE Tag Team Championship on two separate occasions, with John Cena and Michael McGillicutty, respectively. Once the stable disbanded last year, Otunga adopted a lawyer gimmick, which is somewhat realistic to what his actual occupation is.

    Since then, he's worked alongside John Laurinaitis, Alberto Del Rio and many others in an attempt to obtain justice in the world of wrestling. Sure, he has absolutely no heat, but that can be fixed in due time.

    Want proof that Otunga is a memorable character? Look at a coffee mug and tell me you don't think of him when you do. 

3. AJ Lee

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    While the third season of NXT was truly terrible, one of the saving graces of the show was, in fact, AJ. The matches were mostly mediocre, but AJ managed to create magic with whoever she was in the ring with, more specifically, Naomi towards the end of the season.

    Her energetic attitude got her noticed by the WWE Universe quickly, but she ultimately ranked third in the competition. She disappeared from WWE TV for quite a while before reappearing on SmackDown the following month, being made to look like the ultimate underdog that she was born to be.

    While mostly jobbing to other Divas on the blue brand, she played a prominent part in NXT: Redemption during her brief relationship with Hornswoggle. Once that (thankfully) came to an end, she set her sights on Daniel Bryan, who also started to show signs of interest in AJ.

    AJ didn't approve of Bryan's actions once he gradually turned Heel earlier this year but stuck by his side, regardless. She inadvertently cost him the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 28, which caused him to dump her shortly thereafter.

    In subsequent weeks, AJ showed tendencies of insanity, which led to her burning brides with many of her close friends. She also started to show interest in Punk and Kane, in an attempt to enrage Bryan and force him to feel envious of her.

    Her tenuous relationship with the American Dragon didn't stop there, though, as she was eventually named the general manager of Raw. To this day, she continues to make his life as difficult as possible by placing him in anger management classes with Kane.

    Sure, past NXT rookies have won championships, but AJ would be the first to assume the role of an official authority figure. You can't honestly tell me you saw the same AJ who admitted she still loved Pokemon back on NXT becoming GM one day.

2. Wade Barrett

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    From the initial episode of NXT, Wade Barrett was immediately seen as the future of the company, and rightfully so. He solely dominated the entire season, leaving a wake of destruction in his path.

    Unsurprisingly, he won the inaugural season of NXT, thus earning himself a shot at any championship of his choosing and a guaranteed spot on either of the main shows. Six days removed from his victory, Barrett constructed a stable of rookies so vicious, so violent, that they created one of the most controversial conclusions to an episode of Raw in WWE history.

    This stable, of course, would later be known as Nexus.

    The rookies ran rampant amongst the WWE, destroying anything or anyone who dared to challenge their authority. Despite the monstrous momentum they received, their biggest setback came at SummerSlam, where they came up short of defeating Team WWE, led by John Cena.

    Months later, they reestablished their dominance by forcing Cena to join their clan. That didn't do much, as all Cena did was cost Barrett the WWE Championship on multiple occasions.

    The feud came to a head at WWE TLC, where Cena soundly defeated Barrett in a Chairs match. Barrett returned to television a few weeks later, making his claim that he was still the rightful leader of Nexus, but he was kicked off the show after being manipulated by CM Punk.

    Barrett's creation of Corre over on SmackDown was an utter failure, but he still managed to win his first singles title in WWE in the form of the Intercontinental Championship last March. His reign was nothing special, and he later lost the strap to Ezekiel Jackson at Capitol Punishment.

    Since then, the Evil Englishman has looked to regain his composure by implementing the "Barrett Barrage," which, he claims, will once again lead him to the top. An injury suffered earlier this year put a halt to that for the time being, but he returned a few short weeks ago.

    Now that Wade Barrett is more determined, focused and hungry than ever before, there's no doubt in my mind that he will someday soon get his due as the first-ever English World Heavyweight Champion.  

1. Daniel Bryan

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    While some may argue that Wade Barrett is the greatest thing to come out of NXT, I beg to differ. Sure, that may have been the case a year ago, but not anymore, after the events that have transpired over the course of 2012.

    Before being named one of the eight rookies to compete on WWE NXT, Daniel Bryan (formerly known as Bryan Danielson) was an indie star who made himself famous through his fantastic work in Ring of Honor. However, as most of you already know, anything done outside of WWE is deemed irrelevant once you step through the doors of the company.

    Being the IWC favorite that he is, some would say that Bryan was royally screwed during his time on NXT, given how many beatings he received from all the other rookies as well as his own Pro, The Miz. The verbal bashing he received from Michael Cole also just goes to show how aggressively WWE wished to bury Bryan before his tenure could even begin.

    He'd be the first one eliminated from the competition, but that wouldn't stop him from appearing on the show in subsequent weeks to add fuel to the fire that was his feud with Cole. Bryan was also one of the eight angry rookies during the initial Nexus ambush that June, but due to actions that WWE deemed "inappropriate" for their PG rating, he was abruptly fired from the organization.

    However, he made his shocking WWE return at SummerSlam, where he helped lead his team to victory. A short while later, he'd also be the first NXT rookie to capture gold in the form of the United States Championship, which was yet another impressive feat.

    Upon his move to SmackDown last April, Bryan was continuously cast as a wrestling machine who had little to no personality. As monumental as his Money in the Bank win was, it meant nothing a month or two later, once he started to lose each week.

    He received his first taste of the spotlight by the end of the year with then-World Heavyweight Champion Mark Henry and Big Show. After Big Show won the strap at WWE TLC, Bryan cashed in his opportunistic briefcase to capture the golden prize.

    In the premiere edition of SmackDown in 2012, Bryan began to show Heel tendencies, which garnered him major heat from the audience. Following his loss of the World title at WrestleMania 28, he developed a more aggressive side to his character that made him come off ten times more ruthless during his matches.

    Over the next few months, his angry attitude became the most entertaining act in the WWE today. Not many Superstars garner a reaction much like Daniel Bryan in this day and age, which is funny, since he had an extremely difficult time getting over a year ago while he was still a bland face.

    Just last Sunday, he captured the WWE Tag Team Championships alongside Kane and now looks to resurrect the dying division. Needless to say, Bryan is an absolute riot, and the best part about it is that it's only the beginning.

    Quite honestly, I never saw Bryan becoming as big of a star as he's become over the last year, as the evolution he's undergone since his NXT debut has been simply amazing. Every other rookie who was once a part of NXT should aspire to achieve the same success that Bryan has had up to this point.

    Daniel Bryan is a prime example of why NXT is, in fact, a brilliant concept. Regardless of how horrendous it's been at times, there's no denying that it's created many stars that still shine bright today.

    Of course, this list is based solely on my opinion and who I believe has made a bigger impact in WWE through the years, so there's no crime in disagreeing. If you feel changes should be made to the list, drop a comment below with your thoughts.

    Once again, I thank you all for helping me make it this far to a milestone of 300 articles here on Bleacher Report, as my journey to this point would have meant nothing without your consistent support and encouragement.

    GSM out.

     

    Visit my website at Next Era Wrestling, and listen to my SAVE US GSM radio show every Wednesday night at 10/9c for more of my thoughts and writings, along with WWE/TNA news, reviews, recaps and more.

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