Ranking Every New NXT Call-Up's Chances of Success on WWE's Main Roster
WWE's answer to low ratings and a lack of fan interest seems to be trotting out more and more Superstars from NXT to create some buzz, with 10 wrestlers making their main roster debuts over the course of the past two months.
Strangely, the four who were introduced last week already overtook spots that could have gone to their predecessors, which may signal that even this strategy has its limitations and the new talent may not find success as easily as most would hope.
From Lacey Evans to EC3 and everything between, the jury is still out on how each newcomer will fare. They are all talented, but that doesn't always translate to prosperity when the formula depends on a combination of timing, interest, potential and luck.
Given what has happened so far mixed with some educated guesswork, let's assess these recent NXT call-ups and rank them from worst to best in terms of who stands the greatest chances of success on the main roster.
9. Lars Sullivan
From the onset, Lars Sullivan seemed to have the best chance of all the call-ups due to WWE's penchant for pushing larger wrestlers.
So when The Freak was being advertised as coming to the main roster before everyone else, it seemed like he would be a big deal.
However, that promotion started at Survivor Series in November, and he's still to make an appearance on Raw or SmackDown Live. It's been four months of silence.
This gives him zero traction to work with, whereas everyone else on this list has at least done something to start building their main roster careers.
The longer this lack of movement and progress goes on, the more credible the discussion becomes that Sullivan may never make his main roster debut and may have to go back to NXT or leave WWE as a whole.
WWE has wanted to bring Sullivan up, but according to a report by Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer (h/t WrestlingInc), Sullivan suffered an anxiety attack that has prevented him from appearing on Raw. There has been little news on Sullivan since. Triple H brushed off a question about Sullivan in a conference call by saying nothing has changed.
And yet, this can't possibly be what WWE's plans were for Sullivan. The potential angle with John Cena at Royal Rumble never happened, and no alternative feuds have been set up for WrestleMania with time running out.
Since his gimmick was that of a well-read monster, he would have fit perfectly into the role Rowan has alongside Daniel Bryan, but that has now been taken, and Sullivan will need to find a different way to make an impact (or simply not succeed at all).
Compared to everyone else on this list, his current track record shows he's the most likely to go nowhere until something—anything—happens to give him a new opportunity.
8. Heavy Machinery
Right out of the gate, everyone knew Heavy Machinery had an uphill battle ahead of them.
Tucker Knight and Otis Dozovic don't have the same buzz surrounding them as others on this list, and they aren't as marketable when it comes to their appearances in comparison to WWE's standards.
That's not to say there isn't a chance for everyone to find success no matter what their build is, but it's certainly a harder road and isn't a good sign that they've already lost their surnames to become just Tucker and Otis.
They've yet to accomplish anything, as they failed to become No. 1 contenders to both the Raw and SmackDown tag team titles and have been relegated to quick insert segments as goofs.
Unless that changes soon and they are given a boost in credibility, the team will be heading to a split somewhere down the line.
When that happens, Tucker is in danger. Otis has more comedic chops and could stick around as a jobber in the midcard, but his teammate is the more serious of the two and will struggle to find his identity.
These guys do have value and are fun, but what works in NXT doesn't always work on the main roster. They couldn't even win the NXT Tag Team Championship, so it isn't smart to bet too much on their WWE futures.
7. Nikki Cross
Success comes in all shapes and sizes, so when talking about Nikki Cross, she'll find a way to carve out a niche on the main roster for herself, but it won't be as high up as others.
WWE has come a long way with the women's evolution in abandoning old tropes of focusing solely on performers who are presented as models but happen to wrestle, giving a much wider range of looks and styles more chance to shine.
However, there are still lingering preferences that show it's easier for someone who has a character and appearance such as Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, Mandy Rose and Alexa Bliss to go further than someone like Tamina, Sarah Logan or Cross.
It's a double-edged sword. Cross' character separates her from the pack as something unique, but she becomes a gimmick not unlike Bray Wyatt, who doesn't need a championship in order to stay a focal point.
There's less chance Cross headlines a WrestleMania than someone with a more glamorous character like Bianca Belair—whenever she's called up to the main roster—even though an argument can be made that the Scot has the ability to take on that responsibility.
Also working against her right now is that things aren't looking good for Sanity—her stable in NXT, which hasn't been entirely committed to on the main roster. If her husband Killian Dain's lack of a push in the past year has any spillover into Cross' career, it'll only be a negative influence.
She deserves a higher ceiling than what WWE will probably give her, which is a shame.
If your idea of success is sticking around for many years with a stable gig as a regular member of the roster, then Cross has this covered; but if you're striving for something higher, that would be a disappointing outcome.
EC3's strongest trait is his promo skills, so why has he been given such a limited amount of time on the mic since coming up to the main roster? Who in WWE thought this was a good idea?
This character works best as a pompous heel who touts the idea he's in the "top one percent" of everything and not as a generic babyface who feuds with a popular guy like Dean Ambrose for two weeks and then does nothing else.
WWE needs to course-correct the approach to EC3 immediately, or he will be left in the dust by the time WrestleMania comes around on April 7.
These next few weeks are crucial to his future. He needs to turn heel and be in a stable feud with a babyface like Finn Balor who he can fight at WrestleMania, or he'll be viewed as an afterthought not good enough to make it in the big league.
Essentially, if EC3 isn't treated like a big deal, he will fall victim to the same treatment someone like No Way Jose or Tyler Breeze did and become just another guy lost in the shuffle.
The jury is still out on EC3, but this has already been much more of a struggle than it should have been, and time is running out.
5. Aleister Black
Judging by his two appearances last week, Aleister Black has already surpassed anything EC3 has done in the past two months, which puts him higher on this list by default.
The tricky thing with The Dutch Destroyer will be balancing the darker elements of his character with his status as a babyface, as nuance isn't something the main roster is known for.
Raw and SmackDown often present basic storylines with a clear-cut babyface and heel, almost as if it's dumbed down for the average consumer. However, NXT is more experimental and has an environment where someone like Black can be allowed to flourish and find his footing.
There's a good chance he will be forced to turn heel because the powers-that-be think his brooding nature dictates he has to be a villain and he devolves into just another Kevin Thorn type.
All of his success depends on whether he can overcome having his aesthetic box him into a corner as an "interesting attraction" rather than a legitimate Superstar on par with everyone else.
4. Tommaso Ciampa
Tommaso Ciampa is so good that, in a perfect world, it should be hard for someone of his caliber not to be wildly successful, but there's still a chance he will run into some snags with WWE.
For some reason, there seems to be almost a stigma against people who did well in NXT that Ciampa may suffer from.
Shinsuke Nakamura, Samoa Joe and Bobby Roode are just three examples of NXT champions who came to the main roster only to have the rug pulled from under them, rather than work their way toward world titles.
It's as if Vince McMahon wants to make his own stars out of NXT people who weren't as successful, possibly out of resentment over the NXT brand's success, which is why it was easier for Alexa Bliss, Carmella and even Elias to break out despite not being at the top of the food chain in the developmental brand.
Ciampa may fall into the trap of having so much hype surrounding his great work as the top dog in NXT that the WWE chairman and others hold him to a higher standard and convince themselves they don't see what Triple H's hype has been about.
Rest assured, Ciampa has the passion and dedication to fight his hardest to make it to the upper echelon, so if things don't work out, it will be others holding him down and he won't be to blame.
Let's hope that isn't the case as Raw and SmackDown Live could use someone with the in-ring, promo and character talent he brings to the table.
Ricochet has an easier path to success than most because his style of wrestling dictates wowing everybody and getting a big reaction every time he steps foot in the ring.
His athleticism is off the charts and he may be the most agile person in WWE, so fans will quickly learn the flips alone will be worth the watch when he is scheduled for a match.
At some point, that will resonate enough with WWE that he will be given at least a midcard title, but even the sky isn't the limit for him.
He's handsome, grounded, young enough to have many years ahead of him and is also tall enough that he won't suffer from the same discrimination someone such as Kalisto underwent where he capped out at the midcard and cruiserweight level.
Ricochet's relationship with Kacy Catanzaro is also a positive that may come into play down the line, as she's also poised for big things, both as a performer and as a potential media darling.
Above everyone on this list, Ricochet is the easiest person to send out in front of a crowd and win them over, which will make for a smoother transition to the main roster than more intricate characters like Black, Ciampa and EC3.
2. Lacey Evans
WWE supposedly sees Lacey Evans in the same light Roman Reigns is viewed: She'll be expected to be one of the top stars the company builds around in the future.
It's not hard to understand why, as she has a look that balances beauty and brawn, her military experience ingratiates her with multiple crowds in a respectable light, and her status as a mother earns her even more bonus points.
Evans isn't the most skilled woman in the ring, but she's certainly not awful—not that that has ever stopped others from being pushed to the moon.
Once WWE actually starts doing something with her beyond scheduling her to walk halfway down the ramp and turn around, she'll be able to get under the skin of the fans with her arrogant character.
Eventually, she'll turn babyface and hit the more positive aspects of her backstory and become someone the WWE Universe can firmly get behind.
She has all the ingredients to succeed. All WWE has to do is put together the right recipe for success.
1. Johnny Gargano
Before there was "The New Daniel Bryan" on SmackDown Live as a heel, there was a pseudo new Daniel Bryan on NXT in Johnny Gargano.
Under the moniker of Johnny Wrestling, he rose up the ranks from being a guy without a contract who only made sporadic appearances to a tag team champion to eventually capturing the hearts of everyone and becoming the top babyface on the brand.
He had multiple Match of the Year fights two years in a row and became known as one of the best in-ring performers in WWE—not just because he was the smaller guy to root for as an underdog, but also because he has undeniable talent.
Despite playing a heel role the past few months, Gargano will eventually revert back and become the guy people are clamoring to see succeed on the main roster.
The only thing holding him back will be his size, but as Bryan, Rey Mysterio and others have shown, when you're good enough and the crowd responds to you in the way they do to Gargano, WWE will have no choice but to make you a top star.
Once the Gargano train starts rolling, he'll be heading on a path straight to a WrestleMania main event some day.
Anthony Mango is the owner of the wrestling website Smark Out Moment and the host of the podcast show Smack Talk on YouTube, iTunes and Stitcher. You can follow him on Facebook and elsewhere for more.