Aleister Black, Ricochet and the Greatest NXT Call-Ups in WWE History
With NXT having been as hot of a commodity as it has been since its relaunch in 2012, it's easy to assume that anyone who has the honor of moving up from WWE's developmental system to the main stages of SmackDown Live and Raw will be successful.
Sadly, that has been far from the case. The company's track record of booking NXT upstarts properly isn't as stellar as one would think, and more often than not, officials don't see what made them so special in the first place and eventually lose interest in pushing them.
For every number of guys and girls who are promoted from NXT to the main roster, only an elite few actually fulfill their potential.
Former NXT title holders such as The Ascension, Neville and Ember Moon largely amounted to nothing on the main roster for a variety of reasons, and most of the blame can be put on WWE themselves.
That said, there are those who are able to break through WWE's glass ceiling and withstand the highly questionable creative decisions the company tends to make more often than not. WWE's first batch of NXT call-ups in 2019 have hardly scratched the surface of what they're capable of, but at least Aleister Black and Ricochet have managed to exceed all expectations with their recent performances on Raw and SmackDown.
These NXT alumni have proved that it's possible to debut on the main roster with a bang and maintain momentum long enough to achieve superstardom.
Drew McIntyre: McIntyre spent several years in WWE before being released in 2014, but there was a reason he was brought back to NXT in 2017 and not the main roster.
It was because the black-and-gold brand was the perfect place for him to re-establish himself as a main-event caliber competitor, so when he finally did return to Raw in April 2018, the WWE Universe was already aware of his potential.
He's been back on Raw for just short of a year and has quickly been positioned as one of the show's top heels.
Becky Lynch: Despite having a remarkable past six months or so, Lynch was just another woman on the roster for the first few years of her WWE tenure.
She became the first-ever SmackDown Women's champion in 2016 and faded off into obscurity soon after before catching fire again just recently. Now, she's on the cusp of headlining WrestleMania 35 for the Raw Women's Championship.
Samoa Joe: The Samoan Submission Machine spent far more time in NXT than he probably should have, but while there, he annihilated the entire roster and held the NXT Championship on two separate occasions.
In addition to having a handful of memorable feuds so far in WWE with the likes of Brock Lesnar, Roman Reigns and AJ Styles, Joe is also the current reigning United States champion and is set defend the gold against Rey Mysterio at WrestleMania.
Bayley: Similar to Finn Balor, Bayley should feel like a much bigger deal than she does these days, if only because of how popular she was during her NXT stint.
To her credit, she has persevered through the bad booking and become a Raw Women's champion as well as one-half of the history-making WWE Women's Tag Team champions with Sasha Banks.
Rusev: He may not be much more than a glorified tag team wrestler these days alongside Shinsuke Nakamura, but there is no denying that Rusev has had a fairly successful main roster run, all things considered.
From winning the United States Championship three times to becoming one of the most beloved babyfaces in all of WWE for a time in 2018, he's certainly done better for himself than many expected when he first started out.
10. Aleister Black and Ricochet
To be fair, it's still too soon to refer to Ricochet and Aleister Black as NXT "success stories" on WWE's main roster, but they have stayed the course over the last month better than any other call-up in recent memory.
Black and Ricochet began appearing regularly on Raw and SmackDown Live in mid-February. It was Triple H who announced that they would be wrestling on all three of WWE's biggest brands to further familiarize fans with their work, and sure enough, they did not disappoint in delivering the goods from the get-go.
Although they were originally showcased in singles competition, it wasn't long before they were paired off together and placed in the tag team division. It actually made sense with the two already having formed an alliance in NXT and entering the 2019 Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic.
The more matches they wrestled on Raw and SmackDown, the better their chances were of coming out on top in the tag team tourney (which is set to culminate on next week's episode of NXT).
They own several victories over the current Raw Tag Team champions The Revival and had a spectacular showing in Triple Threat tag team action at Fastlane.
It remains to be seen what WWE has in store for the duo at WrestleMania 35, but it's fairly likely they'll wind up competing for either the Raw or SmackDown Tag Team Championship. That's in addition to possibly contending for the NXT Tag Team Championship two nights prior at TakeOver: New York, so it will be a busy few days for Black and Ricochet, to say the least.
9. Braun Strowman
The Wyatt Family was already an established act by the summer of 2015, but it didn't hurt for them to add another member to their ranks in the form of Braun Strowman.
Unlike everyone else featured on this list, Strowman had no previous exposure or experience on NXT TV, despite being assigned to WWE's developmental branch for two years before being called up. Sure, he appeared as one of Adam Rose's "rosebuds" a few times, but aside from that, fans had no idea who he was.
That was partially what helped make his main roster debut in August 2015 so memorable. Normally, the audience lose their minds whenever they see someone they're familiar with from NXT, but with Strowman, the crowd that night in Brooklyn instead looked on in awe and amazement as he demolished Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose with ease.
He wasn't the most polished in-ring competitor at the beginning, but WWE wisely protected him during his time with The Wyatt Family and allowed him to improve at his own pace. When he finally branched off into singles competition in the summer of 2017, he continued his winning ways and was made out to be an unstoppable heel monster.
There was a period where Strowman was receiving louder ovations than anyone else in the company, but WWE's mishandling of The Monster Among Men hindered his momentum considerably last year. He now finds himself taking part in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania 35, but he hasn't entered "damaged goods" territory just yet.
Among his accomplishments are winning the Greatest Royal Rumble match, becoming Mr. Money in the Bank and winning the Raw Tag Team Championship with an adolescent boy at WrestleMania 34. Try topping that.
8. Big E and Xavier Woods
Technically, Big E and Xavier Woods could be counted as separate selections seeing as how they debuted on the main roster almost one year apart, but they have been so closely associated with each other over the last five years that it seems only appropriate for them to be bunched together.
With five tag team title reigns to their credit, The New Day have certainly earned the right to call themselves one of the greatest tag teams in WWE history. The Usos are perhaps the only other tandem in the last decade to match their ability to constantly reinvent themselves and remain relevant no matter the circumstances.
Fans have been speculating about their split and when it will happen for years, but they have shown no signs of slowing down any time soon. Look no further than their recent storyline on SmackDown Live, which has seen Kofi Kingston featured at the forefront of the brand in the WWE Championship picture.
What makes Big E and Woods extra special NXT alumni is that when New Day inevitably go their separate ways, they are virtually guaranteed to be successful on their own. Granted, Woods has been a bit of a background player in the group compared to Big E and Kingston, but his talent on the microphone as well as in the ring are more than enough to ensure him a spot in the midcard down the road.
As for Big E, he could have a world championship run in his future if WWE plays their cards right with him. He's already captured the Intercontinental Championship and has proved he can thrive on his own, so expect big things from him once New Day runs its course.
7. The Wyatt Family
The Wyatt Family had a high ceiling for success when they originally arrived on the WWE scene in the summer of 2013, if only because of how different they were from everyone else on the roster at the time.
The brooding trio of Bray Wyatt, Luke Harper and Erick Rowan weren't in NXT for much more than a year, but while there, they took the brand by storm by beating down everyone who opposed them and holding the NXT Tag Team Championship hostage for a time.
WWE spent weeks hyping up their debut with creepy vignettes that touched on their desire to brainwash the masses. They weren't your typical heel stable, which is what made them so menacing and exciting to watch.
The Wyatt Family were unstoppable for nearly a year before running into the roadblock that was John Cena at WrestleMania 30. Unfortunately, it was all downhill for the group from there, leading to their abrupt demise in the fall of 2014.
They likely would have gone down as one of the biggest missed opportunities of all-time in WWE (and been left off this list) had it not been for their several reunions in the years that followed. They fought alongside each other off and on from 2015 to 2017, and last year, Harper and Rowan rekindled their partnership before winning the SmackDown Tag Team Championship.
Wyatt, on the other hand, has had a bit of a tumultuous last two years. He has yet to win at WrestleMania, mind you, but he has faced the illustrious likes of Cena, The Undertaker and Randy Orton at the event, and even walked into the 2017 installment as WWE champion.
Hopefully when Wyatt returns, he'll have his family back by his side.
6. Finn Balor
Including Balor in the top 10 wasn't too tough of an executive decision to make, but it was more a matter of what number he deserved to be slotted at when considering the roller coaster of a run he's had in WWE since 2016.
Balor debuted in NXT with a ton of fanfare in 2014, and rightfully so. His highly decorated stint in New Japan Pro Wrestling and all over the world prepared him to do well within the confines of WWE.
The timing of Balor's main roster call-up couldn't have been more perfect, as it coincided with the 2016 WWE draft and the return of the Brand Extension. The company immediately established him as a star on the rise by drafting him to Raw early on and having him defeat Roman Reigns on his first night as a member of the Raw roster.
At SummerSlam, Balor beat Seth Rollins to become the inaugural Universal champion, before having to vacate the title one night later due to injury. It's unknown how long his reign would have been and if he would be any bigger of a star than he is now, but he has fared pretty well for himself in the past two years and continues to elicit strong reactions every time he appears.
The former NXT champion would undoubtedly be higher up on this list had he not been booked so poorly in 2017 and 2018. On the bright side, based off his stellar showing against Brock Lesnar at the Royal Rumble and his recent reign as Intercontinental champion, he appears to be primed to bounce back in a major way in 2019.
5. Alexa Bliss
For someone who never once held gold in NXT, it's surreal to think how much Alexa Bliss has accomplished in such a short span of time in WWE.
Bliss spent her entire NXT tenure not doing much of note outside of managing Buddy Murphy and Wesley Blake. In the summer of 2016, she was called up to SmackDown Live in the supplemental draft with fans not knowing what to expect out of her.
Had she been in NXT for longer than she was or been drafted to Raw instead, it's possible she wouldn't have received the same opportunities that she did on SmackDown. Within a matter of months, she knocked off Becky Lynch for the SmackDown Women's Championship and became the focal point of the division for the remainder of her run there.
That success translated over to Raw when she switched shows in April 2017. She proved she wasn't just a big fish in a small pond during her time on Tuesday nights by beating Bayley for the Raw Women's Championship mere weeks removed from her Raw debut.
For the next two years, Little Miss Bliss was a staple in the title picture and became the second woman ever to win the Money in the Bank briefcase last June.
She has mostly sat on the sidelines with injuries since losing the belt to Ronda Rousey at SummerSlam 2018, but she'll be back in the spotlight at WrestleMania 35 when she serves as the host for the event.
4. Sasha Banks
There wasn't anything remotely special about Sasha Banks when she started out in NXT back in 2013, but once she developed the "Boss" persona, she found her footing as a character and became an instant player in the NXT Women's Championship scene.
After capturing the title early on in early 2015, she was called up to the main roster that summer alongside Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch while still champion.
Banks joined Team B.A.D. with Naomi and Tamina, but her best work at the time happened in NXT when she faced Bayley in an instant classic at TakeOver: Brooklyn.
It took several months for officials to realize what they had (and what they were wasting) in Banks, but by the beginning of 2016, she was off and running as a threat to the Raw Women's Championship. She took part in that terrific Triple Threat with Flair and Lynch at WrestleMania 32 and eventually captured the gold in July.
The rest of that year saw Flair and Banks break barriers and make history for women's wrestling when they competed in every type of match imaginable. From Falls Count Anywhere to Hell in a Cell to Iron Man, they did it all and set the bar for themselves higher and higher each time.
Save for an eight-day reign as Raw Women's champion in 2017, The Boss wasn't nearly as prosperous in the two years that followed (but was still beloved by fans, regardless). She recently got back on track by becoming one-half of the first-ever WWE Women's Tag Team champions with Bayley, and it's safe to say there's plenty more WWE could be doing with her beyond that as well.
3. Kevin Owens
Kevin Owens wasted no time in rocketing himself to the top of NXT upon his arrival on the brand in December 2014 by spoiling Sami Zayn's NXT Championship celebration, and two months later to the day, he took that title from his former friend.
The Prizefighter applied that same mindset of seizing what he believed belonged to him to his WWE debut in May 2015. Days ahead of his title defense against Zayn at TakeOver: Unstoppable, Owens appeared on Raw to answer John Cena's U.S. Open Challenge, but instead of challenging for the championship, he emphatically laid him out with a pop-up powerbomb.
In his first official WWE matchup at Elimination Chamber, Owens pulled off what many assumed was impossible when he beat Cena in clean fashion. Although he lost their next two matches on pay-per-view, each bout was a Match of the Year contender, and thus he had cemented his spot as a top talent on the main roster.
Owens has always had a knack for gold, so it should come as no surprise that he has stacked up title after title in the last four years. He has reigned as Intercontinental champion, United States champion and Universal champion on various occasions and has never been without direction.
Lately, Owens has been trying his hand at being a babyface, and whether he'll do well in the role remains to be seen. Either way, his long list of accomplishments in WWE speaks for itself, so he's bound to be a mainstay in the company for years to come.
2. Charlotte Flair
WWE likely knew from the moment Charlotte Flair debuted in NXT that they had a future star on their hands if her father's legacy was anything to go by.
She made strides on the black-and-gold brand in record time and held the NXT Women's Championship for a whopping nine months.
Her move to the main roster in July 2015 was long overdue, but she didn't get the chance to really shine on her own until she turned heel after Team PCB dissipated later that year.
Her lengthy reign as Divas champion saw her set back challenges from Nikki Bella, Becky Lynch and Natalya, all while honing her craft in the ring and on the microphone.
Charlotte's monumental victory at WrestleMania 32 put her at the forefront of WWE's "women's evolution," and from there, there was zero dispute that she was the top dog in the division.
Her aforementioned series of matches with Sasha Banks put her in the history books and further established her as one of the greatest female athletes to ever come through the company (even one year removed from her WWE debut).
She has been a fixture in the title picture on both Raw and SmackDown Live since then, holding both belts many times over and handing Asuka her first-ever defeat at WrestleMania 34.
She's currently gearing up to face Lynch and Ronda Rousey for the Raw Women's title at WrestleMania 35, which is rumored to be the main event.
There's no telling what more she'll achieve in her remaining years with the company, especially considering she's still in the prime of her career.
1. The Shield
Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose were the first NXT "rookies" to be called up, and in one night, they ensured that their names would never be forgotten by fans.
Their shocking Survivor Series debut in 2012 placed them at the top of the totem pole in WWE right out of the gate, but it was all about the aftermath. If WWE failed to follow up on their amazing arrival correctly, the chances they would be as revered as they are today are slim to none.
However, the company did the right thing by putting them over Ryback and Team Hell No in their outstanding debut match at the TLC pay-per-view. From there, they ran rampant over the entire roster, became champions collectively and individually, and went undefeated in six-man tag team action for seven months.
The Shield came to a screeching halt in June 2014 when Rollins betrayed his brethren. As heartbreaking as it was to see the group go their separate ways so soon, it allowed all of them to make their mark as singles stars and achieve unbelievable levels of success.
From Royal Rumble victories to multiple world title reigns to headlining WrestleMania on several occasions, every member of The Shield has been a major star for WWE. Plus, no matter how much bad blood they have with each other at times, they'll always come together for a common cause and rid WWE of its injustices.
The Shield is a blueprint for how all NXT up-and-comers should be booked once they arrive on the main roster, for they are easily the three biggest names WWE has produced in the past decade and a half.
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.