For a company that has been famously bad at developing new talent in the last decade, WWE had a masterstroke with NXT season one.
The show itself wasn’t perfect; it was plagued by many silly segments and it dragged on a bit, but its success is undeniable.
Look at the card of any pay-per-view from the last year and there’s a good chance that there are multiple members of the original NXT eight all over the place.
In the first crop of superstars-to-be, there are current WWE main-eventers, midcarders and jobbers. Not all can be winners but they mostly amounted to something.
The first episode of NXT aired on Feb. 23, 2010. Here is a look at how far each of the original NXT eight members have moved up the card in that time.
It’s a little strange that Michael Tarver would draw the shortest straw when it came to a post-NXT career because he had potential.
He had an interesting look, could talk and could bring his charisma into the ring with him, though his actual wrestling skills needed a lot of polishing.
In October of 2010, Tarver was dismantled by John Cena as a way to write him off of television, as he needed time off due to groin surgery.
Unfortunately, apart from a few backstage appearances, he never made it back onto television.
He was released from his WWE contract in June of 2011, and has since found moderate success in Florida’s independent scene.
It’s possible we’ll see him back in the WWE, but for now, Michael Tarver is NXT season one's biggest underachiever.
For a while, it seemed like Darren Young would be the NXT season one rookie that would achieve the least, but he’s been spared that dubious honor due to his being one half of the Prime Time Players.
Young was exiled from the Nexus the night after SummerSlam 2010, after he lost to John Cena, and wasn’t seen for months until he randomly showed up one night to cost Wade Barrett a match.
He disappeared again after that, though, and was relegated back to NXT for its fifth season; NXT Redemption.
The future wasn’t looking bright for young Young until he was paired up with Titus O’Neil and the two formed the Prime Time Players, making their debut on Smackdown in April of 2012.
The two show great potential as a tag team, though it looks like they won’t realize that potential as rumors are circulating that the two will get split up to set up a singles push for O’Neil.
David Otunga was certainly the most overused rookie on the first season.
It seemed like someone in the back really thought he was the next big star; Michael Cole would go on and on about how charismatic and talented he was, when he, in fact, was bland both in and out of the ring.
He was billed as David “A-List” Otunga due to the fact that he was engaged to Jennifer Hudson, but the gimmick fell flat because no one bought that there was anything “Hollywood” about him.
Luckily, someone in the back noticed this and his push eventually died.
Still, Otunga has managed to stick around, and though his ring presence has been marginalized his character got a lot of screen time in backstage segments last year, mostly due to him being John Laurinaitis’ on-screen right hand man.
Otunga looks like the type of guy Vince would love to push, but right now he’s where he belongs—out of the spotlight.
With the exception of Daniel Bryan, Justin Gabriel is the most talented in-ring performer of any of the original eight NXT rookies, but his deficiencies as a talker have held him back.
He placed third in the NXT competition, and some were hopeful that this meant that WWE acknowledged his potential and planned to invest in it, but that unfortunately hasn’t been the case.
Gabriel was one of the members of the Nexus who later formed the Corre, though he didn’t achieve much prominence in either faction.
Gabriel is a three-time tag team champion, but those reigns came at a time where the tag team titles meant literally nothing.
Since then, he’s received a few singles pushes that have been killed before he could build any real momentum, which is a shame because he could be a strong midcard star based off his wrestling ability alone.
It seemed that the WWE were high on Slater during the first season of NXT as, at one point, he had the best win/loss ratio of any rookie and had a decent undefeated streak.
However, once the Nexus formed, he become a fairly nondescript member of the faction.
After the Nexus dissolved into the New Nexus, Slater formed the Corre with Barrett, Gabriel and Ezekiel Jackson, and became a three-time tag team champion.
The main reason he places higher on the list than Gabriel and Otunga is because now he leads his own faction, The Three Man Band (baybay!).
Even if it is a job squad, it’s something right?
Wade Barrett was the winner of NXT season one, and it seemed that he truly was poised to be the WWE’s next breakout star when he dominated the WWE title picture in late 2010.
WWE never quite pulled the trigger and the championship eluded him on his lengthy quest to get it. After John Cena defeated him at TLC 2010, he was replaced as leader of the Nexus by CM Punk and formed a new faction on Smackdown, the Corre.
The Corre had only a fraction of the impact as the Nexus did, and his only real achievement during his time as its leader was that he won the intercontinental championship.
In early 2012 he was again in line for a big push, with word circulating that he was to be 2012’s Mr. Money in the Bank. However, he was injured weeks before WrestleMania XXVIII and out of action for most of the year.
Since his return, he’s had about 600 matches with Randy Orton and won the intercontinental championship.
He’s doing well, and will surely get to the top eventually, but it’s taking longer than many envisioned it would.
During NXT season one, Ryback wasn’t Ryback. He was Skip Sheffield, “the cord-fed meat head,” but he didn’t look very promising and disappeared from television after he broke his foot as a house show.
Many fans scratched their heads in disappointed confusion when reports surfaced stating that Vince saw Sheffield as being the No. 2 babyface in the company upon his return.
His vision became a whole hell of a lot clearer when the Skip Sheffield character was forgotten and Ryback debuted. He’s definitely a beast, even if he’s one built 100 percent by the WWE machine.
Ryback’s career zenith is currently his match with CM Punk at Hell in a Cell, as that was the first and only time he’s main-evented a PPV in a singles match.
Other than that, Ryback hasn’t actually achieved a whole lot, as he’s lost all of his high-profile matches in the last few months.
Fun exercise: Bookmark this page and come back to it in a year. No doubt about it, Ryback will be a huge star by the end of 2013.
WWE’s treatment of Daniel Bryan during NXT season one is truly odd.
They had Michael Cole constantly tell the audience that he wasn’t charismatic and that he was a nerd. He lost all of his matches. His NXT Pro was The Miz. He was kicked off the show on the first elimination episode.
Even in retrospect, it’s hard to tell whether he got over in spite of all that or because of it.
Bryan was fired from the company after the initial Nexus invasion and resurfaced months later at SummerSlam as a surprise member of Team WWE.
Despite being on the sidelines for two months, he was still the first member of NXT season one to win a championship when he beat The Miz for the US title at Night of Champions 2010.
About a year and a half later, he became the first member of NXT season one to win a world championship when he cashed in his Money in the Bank contract on The Big Show at TLC 2011.
Then, in 2012, he was the hottest thing in the WWE for months and would go on to revitalize the tag team division with Kane as Team Hell No.
And still, even outside of NXT, it’s hard to tell if he’s gotten over in spite of WWE’s strange booking decisions or because of them.
Either way, Daniel Bryan is NXT season one’s highest achiever.