The WWE NXT Stars Who Made the Biggest Leap in 2022
NXT may be WWE's developmental brand, and its reliance on over-the-top characters at times may not be for everyone, but there is no denying the stars of tomorrow are forged in the rings of the black-and-gold brand.
In 2022, several competitors made major jumps that not only have some thinking about the future but also the now.
Breakout performances by the likes of Roxanne Perez and Grayson Waller have elevated the significance of NXT this year, while the career best of a veteran performer established it as a place main roster stars can go to rehabilitate.
As the year comes to an end, enjoy this look at six stars who upped their game and used NXT as their stage to do so.
6. Cora Jade
Cora Jade arrived on NXT as a timid babyface but never really appeared to be comfortable in that role. But a heel turn over the summer and a feud with Roxanne Perez have helped her become a star in the making.
The 21-year-old may have lost both of her major matches against her former friend, but she remains poised to become the top threat to Perez's new title reign.
Jade is one of the better young wrestlers between the ropes, has a great look and is finding herself as a character.
Perez may be the central focus of the creative team, but a babyface is only as good as the heel they are working with and the new NXT women's champion has a solid one in Jade, not to mention the backstory that already exists.
It will be interesting to see if she has a chance to thrive on Tuesday nights before she is called up to the main roster, because that jump will happen at some point in the next 12-18 months.
5. Wes Lee
Wes Lee was in an unenviable position in April with the release of former tag team partner Nash Carter.
Instead of wallowing, though, he focused on bettering himself as a competitor, cut some phenomenal promos and positioned himself as one of the breakout stars of NXT in 2022.
Lee captured the NXT North American Championship, paying off a story arc that began last summer and culminated in him beating Carmelo Hayes, Oro Mensah, Von Wagner and Nathan Frazier in a ladder match at Halloween Havoc in October.
The 28-year-old is a consummate babyface, a guy who can generate emotion on the mic and dazzle with his work between the ropes. He sells a ton for his opponents before making that electric comeback and wowing fans with his athleticism.
His ring work is that of a timeless performer, someone who will always be over with the crowd because of his ability to connect with them.
4. Carmelo Hayes
Carmelo Hayes may be the best worker in all of NXT right now. A dynamic, charismatic and entertaining competitor who knows he is good and does not hesitate to show it, he is the future of WWE.
The 28-year-old has racked up more losses than he should have in 2022, but he has remained at the forefront of NXT programming, thanks to show-stealing matches and great promos.
On the heels of Saturday's NXT Deadline, he appears poised for a program with Axiom. If the skills of those two are any indication, fans are in store for some seriously fun and explosive matches.
That would be nothing new for Hayes, who has established himself as one of the most influential young workers in the business. Hopefully, 2023 brings a world title program with Breakker, Waller or anyone else who may be holding the gold.
Shawn Michaels and Triple H should devise a plan to get him on the main roster shows as soon as possible because he and Trick Williams are ready for that prime-time spotlight.
3. Mandy Rose
It may seem strange for a woman who held the NXT Women's Championship for the entire last year to be on a list of Superstars who made the biggest leap but it's impossible to deny the jump in the quality of Mandy Rose's in-ring performances with the brand.
Some will argue that with stronger opponents comes better matches, but Rose worked alongside Paige, Bayley, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair and others on the main roster. So, she was likely unfazed working with someone like Meiko Satomura, even if the Japanese competitor is a legendary wrestler.
It is the growth of the 32-year-old as a performer that helped fuel those matches to the quality they achieved.
Sure, she has been positioned in a favorable spot as the leader of Toxic Attraction, but she took it seriously and put in the work to better herself and reflect the trust management put in her.
So much of her on-screen persona was related to her status as champion that it will be interesting to see where Rose goes from here. Is she heading for a rematch with Perez, or will she, Gigi Dolin and Jacy Jayne make the jump to the main roster?
There has been no indication either way but one thing is for certain: The Mandy Rose we saw in 2022 is her best version yet and she is only just getting started.
Editor's Note: Rose was released by WWE on Wednesday, according to Sean Ross Sapp of Fightful.
2. Grayson Waller
Grayson Waller emerged from a pack of young stars to become a genuine main event competitor in 2022, a testament to his natural charisma and in-ring work.
The 32-year-old has connected with audiences as the egotistical jerk who sees bright lights, fame and fortune for himself by way of the NXT Championship. He will have a chance to win that, and more social media followers, when he challenges Bron Breakker at New Year's Evil next month.
It seems too early to put the title on Waller but given how quickly NXT moved with Perez, and the lack of other genuine challengers waiting in the wings to dethrone Breakker, he might be the guy to usher in a new era for the black-and-gold brand.
That is no bad thing as a centerpiece heel who is chased by babyfaces has always been an effective formula in the world of professional wrestling, and the Australian is the type of bad guy who can get under the audience's skin and make them want to see him beaten.
1. Roxanne Perez
Roxanne Perez signed with WWE in March 2022 as part of its Performance Center recruitment class. As of now, she is the new NXT women's champion after ending Mandy Rose's 413-day reign on Tuesday night.
It has been a whirlwind year for the 21-year-old, who exploded onto the scene via a feud with Cora Jade and is now the top competitor in a highly competitive women's division.
What's more, her stock is on the incline and has more room for growth and advancement.
Given how quickly Perez rose up the ranks to become one of the top babyfaces in NXT, it would not be surprising to see her on the main roster in the very near future.
A former Ring of Honor women's champion as well, she has accomplished what many women can only dream of at any age, let alone her 21 years. The sky is the limit for the Booker T-trained competitor.
Expect to see more, and better, from The Prodigy well into the future.