Elias Samson and the Stars Who Have Been Better on WWE's Main Roster Than in NXT
It's fairly common for wrestlers from NXT to arrive on the WWE main roster and not only feel less special but also fail to meet the lofty expectations of fans following their remarkable run down in a developmental. A number of factors can contribute to that.
First of all, NXT caters to a much smaller audience, and in an intimate atmosphere like Full Sail University, virtually anyone can get over. Additionally, NXT's weekly television show is one hour long, so it's almost impossible for up-and-coming athletes to be overexposed.
Stars such as Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens and Charlotte Flair have been able to achieve and maintain success on Raw and SmackDown Live, but by and large, the track record for NXT alumni reaching their full potential upon being promoted to the grand stage is not great, to say the least.
Not everyone who graduated from NXT had a championship run on the black-and-yellow brand. In fact, there have been those who fans didn't have high hopes for when they left NXT yet ultimately amounted to more than anyone thought they could.
Look no further than Elias Samson as a prime example of someone who wasn't a top prospect in NXT and has so far been a notable player on Raw thanks to smart booking and consistent character work. He, along with these six other individuals, flew under the NXT radar before breaking the glass ceiling once they arrived on the main roster.
After spending the first year of his time down in developmental as an enhancement talent, Elias Samson was repackaged as a drifter guitar player in the summer of 2015. The character didn't appear to have much depth to it, and there wasn't anything overly exciting about his short squash matches.
Once officials realized Elias wasn't going anywhere fast, they quickly turned him into NXT's No. 1 jobber by having him randomly lose to Johnny Gargano in early 2016. He then went on to eat defeat at the hands of Apollo Crews, Shinsuke Nakamura and Finn Balor before suffering an injury in May.
Even upon his return to the ring in November, the powers that be in NXT made no effort to focus on him or allow him to build momentum. That was why it was surprising when he was ultimately called up to Raw eight days removed from WrestleMania 33.
At the beginning, Elias stayed true to his drifter persona by "floating" around Raw, never saying a single word and simply playing his guitar. Eventually, he started wrestling and picked up key victories versus Dean Ambrose and Finn Balor.
He has yet to enter a full-fledged feud or capture championship gold, but already Elias is a bigger star than he ever was in NXT. Considering he's lost only once to Balor in his five months as a member of Raw, his future on the main roster is undoubtedly bright.
There was no telling whether Xavier Woods would sink or swim when he signed a developmental deal with WWE in the summer of 2010. He was fresh off a fun run in TNA as Consequences Creed, and at that point, ex-TNA wrestlers had a tendency to fade fast upon arriving in WWE.
Woods' talent shone through and allowed him to remain employed by the company, but he didn't amount to much success in NXT. He experimented with a few different characters, including an Eddie Murphy-Price knockoff, but nothing seemed to stick.
In November 2013, Woods showed up on an episode of Raw unexpectedly as R-Truth's tag team partner, making it obvious from the get-go that officials had no plans to push him. He floundered as an undercard act for over a year before finally settling into his current character as one-third of The New Day.
Kofi Kingston, Big E and Woods were destined to fail as a group based off how they were booked in the beginning, but once they were allowed to be themselves and have fun, that was when they got over with the audience.
In the three years they have been a unit, the group has become three-time tag team champions and even broke Demolition's record as the longest reigning tag team title holders in WWE history. Moreover, Woods has incredible potential to be a breakout star on his own eventually and has played a significant role in New Day's success.
Alexa Bliss had her sights set on the NXT Women's Championship during her rookie year in NXT, often mixing it up with the likes of Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks, but it wasn't until she joined the nefarious duo of Blake and Murphy in May 2015 that fans really started to take notice of her.
As a babyface, Bliss was beyond bland, yet her heel work was fantastic as she added an extra layer to the underdeveloped act of Blake and Murphy. She briefly re-entered the NXT Women's title picture in late 2015 and feuded with Bayley while continuing to manage the former tag team champs, but she was unsuccessful in her efforts to take the title.
It would have been an even tougher task for her to dethrone Asuka as champion, so her main roster call-up in the summer of 2016 couldn't have come at a better time. On SmackDown Live, she was given the opportunity to break out and wasted no time in rising to the occasion.
Five months into her SmackDown stint, she became the second-ever SmackDown Women's champion by beating Becky Lynch at TLC. Although she later lost the strap to Naomi at Elimination Chamber, she regained the gold a mere nine days later and walked into WrestleMania 33 with the belt around her waist.
Now on Raw, Bliss has already held the Raw Women's Championship twice and is the current champ as of this writing. She's carving quite the legacy for herself at the young age of 26, which is almost unprecedented for someone who had never held gold prior to stepping foot in a WWE ring.
A former football player, Mojo Rawley came into WWE with zero prior wrestling experience. Thus, considering the company had to start from scratch with him, he fared fairly well for himself when he made his televised debut for NXT in 2013.
Rawley's high-energy character helped him stand out from the rest of the roster initially, but since his in-ring skills were still developing, he floundered for the better part of 2014 and took time off due to injury for the first half of the following year.
Upon his return to the ring, Rawley's fledgling career was salvaged when he formed an alliance with Zack Ryder, and the two jelled right away. Collectively known as The Hype Bros, they injected new life into NXT's depleted tag team division, though they never once vied for the NXT Tag Team Championship.
When the Brand Split was reinstated in July 2016, Rawley was called up from NXT to SmackDown Live to reunite with Ryder. They've been a staple of SmackDown's tag team scene for the past year, though Rawley's biggest achievement occurred in Ryder's absence when he won the 2017 Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania 33.
Unfortunately, the company failed to capitalize on that milestone victory for Rawley, and he has since rejoined the tag team ranks with Ryder, but that small taste of success could be an indicator of what's to come for him down the road in WWE.
Despite suffering several injuries shortly after signing with WWE in 2010, Rusev remained under contract to the company and ultimately resurfaced in NXT in 2013. His official return match came against former world champion Dolph Ziggler, and with an impressive outing on that night, he instantly made a name for himself in NXT.
Instead of running rampant on the roster, Rusev was paired off with Scott Dawson for a time, with Sylvester Lefort serving as their manager. The duo didn't click in the slightest, and thankfully, it wasn't long before Rusev parted ways with them and embarked on his own path toward super stardom.
Before he could contend for the NXT Championship picture or make any real impact on the brand, he arrived on the main roster in the Royal Rumble match and immediately embarked on an undefeated streak in singles competition. He was booked brilliantly over the year that followed, which included a dominant run as United States Championship.
Although he struggled to maintain momentum post-WrestleMania 31, Rusev regained the star-spangled prize and had another solid four-month run with the strap in 2016. He's contested great matches with the likes of John Cena, Roman Reigns and Big Show and has been positioned as a prominent player in WWE on countless occasions.
Currently, the Bulgarian brute doesn't find himself in the midst of a meaningful program, but if the last three years have been any indication, he will rebound and wreak havoc once again soon enough.
Carmella was perfectly positioned in the role of Enzo Amore and Big Cass' manager when she came into NXT in late 2014 because she was far from ready for in-ring competition. She grew to be more comfortable as a character through her association with The Realest Guys in the Room and adopted their excellent mic skills as well.
She largely stayed away from the NXT Women's Championship, but after coming close to capturing the title in a match against Bayley in January 2016, she began to establish her own identity. Once Enzo and Cass left for the main roster in April 2016, she appeared to be primed for a singles run on NXT and to fill the void left behind by Bayley as the lead babyface on the brand.
However, she too was sent packing to the main roster in July 2016, being recruited by SmackDown Live as the final pick in the WWE Draft. Despite her best efforts to endear herself to the audience, she originally failed to get over as a heel yet found her footing upon turning heel after SummerSlam.
Carmella's feud with Nikki Bella led to her pinning the former two-time Divas champion on multiple occasions and contesting a solid series of matches in the final few months of the year. While she didn't win the rivalry, she did eventually align herself with James Ellsworth, who helped her become the first-ever Ms. Money in the Bank this past June.
It remains to be seen whether Carmella will cash in her contract successfully or not, but with what history has taught us, it's likely she will earn herself that title run she never received while in NXT.
Unlike the aforementioned athletes, Braun Strowman didn't have an extended stay in NXT, but he was briefly a part of the black-and-yellow brand, nevertheless. Who could forget his days as a "rosebud" for Adam Rose?
Once that gimmick ran its course, Strowman disappeared from NXT TV, meaning it was only inevitable before he was brought back with a new gimmick. He worked several live events as well as a dark match before a television taping, but oddly enough, he was never seen again on the Wednesday night program.
Strowman instead got the green light to report immediately to the main roster, which was almost unheard of for someone as inexperienced as him. However, as a member of The Wyatt Family, he wasn't required to work many matches but rather served as a heavy for the rest of the stable.
The Wyatt Family had been fairly damaged by the time he broke off from them in the summer of 2016, slowly being built up as the "Monster Among Men" and defeating everyone he went up against. He scored several victories versus Sami Zayn, and by the time his rivalry with Roman Reigns came about, he had come into his own as a phenomenal performer.
He and Reigns have produced a handful of match-of-the-year candidates, and along with his sensational showing at SummerSlam in the Universal Championship Fatal 4-Way main event, it's safe to say he has been one of the biggest success stories from NXT that no one expected to see.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, is an Endicott College alumnus and aspiring journalist. Visit his website, Next Era Wrestling, and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.