Keith Lee and 8 Former WWE NXT Stars Who Had Weak Main Roster Debuts

Graham GSM Matthews@@WrestleRantFeatured ColumnistAugust 28, 2020

Keith Lee and 8 Former WWE NXT Stars Who Had Weak Main Roster Debuts

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    Keith Lee's WWE Raw arrival was met with criticism from fans for how he was handled.
    Keith Lee's WWE Raw arrival was met with criticism from fans for how he was handled.Credit:

    Keith Lee officially became a member of the WWE Raw roster Monday night, but his arrival was met with mixed reviews from fans.

    The Limitless One going face-to-face with Randy Orton was a spectacular sight, but the circumstances surrounding the segment and their subsequent match weren't ideal.

    The former NXT champion's altered entrance theme, questionable attire and underwhelming match against The Viper were all factors in his debut falling flat.

    The former dual titleholder is far from the only upstart from the gold-and-black brand to have had a less-than-stellar start on the main roster, though.

    It's been a recurring trend for years, where WWE will put its own spin on NXT talent for no real reason. It results in their debut failing to live up to the lofty hype and sometimes setting the tone for the remainder of their run on Raw or SmackDown.

    That hasn't happened to every promising prospect: Finn Balor and Shinsuke Nakamura are two examples of ex-NXT champions who had hot arrivals and went on to become notable names on the grand stage of WWE, but their success stories aren't the norm.

    A lackluster debut isn't the end of the world for certain stars, and it likely won't do much damage to Lee in the long run, but after what happened with him on Monday night, he joins the following group of Superstars whose weak debuts weren't what they should have been.

Keith Lee

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    Once Keith Lee dropped the NXT Championship to Karrion Kross at Saturday's TakeOver XXX event (albeit in abrupt fashion), it was more a matter of when than if he was main roster-bound.

    As it turned out, WWE wasn't willing to wait long at all to call him up to the big time, announcing his arrival on Raw during SummerSlam.

    Lee's long-awaited Raw debut was heavily touted throughout Sunday's pay-per-view, and interrupting Randy Orton, who was fresh off ambushing WWE champion Drew McIntyre, was the perfect way for him to be introduced. It was most definitely the right time for him to move, but the way it went down could have been better executed.

    For starters, his new generic entrance music was a letdown for fans hoping to hear his epic intro song from NXT. Regardless of whether he's eventually given an updated theme, the frustration fans felt in that moment will likely be what they remember most from his debut, rather than his verbal exchange with Orton.

    It didn't help that his altered attire was an obvious downgrade from what he was wearing previously in NXT and as recently as Saturday night. On top of all that, his match against The Viper was nothing out of the ordinary and ended with a disqualification loss for the debutant following interference from McIntyre.

    With Lee vs. Orton already scheduled for Payback this Sunday, it would have been smarter for him to only interrupt The Viper so their first-ever one-on-one encounter could be saved for then.

    Unfortunately, The Limitless One came across like an afterthought on Raw, with WWE failing to send the message from the get-go that he has world championship potential.


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    The first batch of NXT call-ups to the main roster included The Shield, Big E and The Wyatt Family, and all of them were treated like stars from the start.

    Emma soon followed, and in fact, fans had even higher hopes for her on the main roster with NXT becoming more well-known by 2014 than it was when the aforementioned athletes were there.

    She was featured fairly prominently on the black-and-gold brand throughout 2013 and faced Paige that summer in a match to determine the inaugural NXT women's champion. Although she fell short of victory, she gained plenty in defeat with the performance she put in that night.

    Emma earned another opportunity to vie for the title against the Anti-Diva at NXT Arrival, the brand's premiere live special on WWE Network. To promote the brand's move to the new streaming service, WWE had her appear on Raw in the weeks preceding the event in a series of random segments.

    This included her showing up in the crowd holding signs saying "Emmalution" and participating in a dance competition alongside Santino Marella on the Feb. 3 edition of Raw. To say she was dead on arrival would be an understatement.

    Despite her exceptional outing with Paige at Arrival, WWE did nothing to present her as a star on its flagship show, and she unsurprisingly floundered from that point forward.

Robert Roode

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    Robert "Bobby" Roode positioned himself as a star with his work in Impact Wrestling, but it wasn't until he arrived in NXT with his "Glorious" entrance theme in August 2016 that he was made into a superstar.

    NXT mastered Roode's organic build to the top of the card, culminating at TakeOver: San Antonio where he won the NXT Championship from Shinsuke Nakamura. It was mere days after losing the title to Drew McIntyre in August 2017 that he was brought up to SmackDown as a surprise opponent for Aiden English.

    The Barclays Center in Brooklyn came unglued for Roode, and he felt like a big deal right off the bat, but he inexplicably debuted as a babyface. This was despite the year-long reign of terror he had embarked on in NXT and the tremendous work he had done there as a heel.

    The villain role always came naturally to Roode, so the sudden transition was awkward even then. He beat English in short order and that was it, meaning the man known for his above-average mic skills never had a chance to properly introduce himself to the fans and establish what he was all about.

    With the audience responding to him as favorably as they did that night, this arrival wasn't butchered nearly as badly as the other ones on this list, but it was because of this babyface turn that he got lost in the shuffle on SmackDown for as long as he did. In retrospect, it was the wrong move to make.

    Having him target a top face on the blue brand upon his arrival would have been much more effective.

Tyler Breeze

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    Mike Dalton was on the verge of getting cut from WWE's developmental system on several occasions, but he struck gold upon transforming into Tyler Breeze in the summer of 2013 on NXT.

    It wasn't long before he had won over with the audience with his Zoolander-inspired character and impressive in-ring arsenal. Had there been a secondary title to fight for back then, Breeze would have held it.

    By late 2015, it was evident he had done all he could do on the black-and-gold brand short of capturing the NXT Championship. Thus, a move to the main roster was imperative, though there was always the fear among fans that the booking wouldn't be as kind to him on Raw or SmackDown as it was on NXT.

    Sure enough, that was exactly what happened.

    Anyone debuting on SmackDown before the brand split was brought back was never a good sign, and seeing as how that was what happened to Breeze, the writing was on the wall from the start. He was immediately inserted into a program with Dolph Ziggler that had promise, but his pairing with Summer Rae was never going to do him any favors.

    Breeze would have benefited from getting the video-package treatment considering the fans at SmackDown that night sat on their hands for his arrival. WWE never gave them a reason to care about Prince Pretty, especially once Ziggler beat him clean on Raw, and he was never to be taken seriously again.

Bianca Belair

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    Few women in WWE have as high of a ceiling for success as Bianca Belair, which is why her main roster debut at WrestleMania 36 was so disappointing.

    The EST of NXT started off 2020 strong by having a spectacular showing in the women's Royal Rumble match and taking Rhea Ripley to the limit for the NXT Women's Championship at TakeOver: Portland. She was presented as a star during that period, and there was no reason for that to change once she hit Raw.

    She officially joined the red brand at WrestleMania when she made the save for husband Montez Ford and Angelo Dawkins following their successful Raw Tag Team Championship defense. Although it was a logical development with The Street Profits needing a female to combat Zelina Vega, Belair deserved to have the spotlight all to herself.

    Even when the Profits were in NXT with Belair, they remained separate acts because it was pointless to intermingle them. Belair was too focused on chasing the NXT women's title to become their valet by default.

    Worse yet, she helped The Street Profits thwart the heels' pursuit of their tag titles before disappearing from Raw all together. To her credit, she's remained undefeated in singles competition on Main Event in recent months, but she doesn't feel anywhere near as special as she should at the moment.


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    Elias' original gimmick in NXT was that of a "drifter," so it should have come as no surprise to fans that his debut consisted of him literally drifting on to Raw one day in April 2017.

    Although his actions were totally in line with what his character would do, they made for one of the weakest main roster arrivals in years.

    Elias popped up at random on the red brand week after week until the commentators finally started to acknowledge him. He eventually started to wrestle more often and racked up wins over the likes of Finn Balor and Dean Ambrose, which were crucial in establishing him as credible.

    Before that, though, fans were given zero incentive to care about The Drifter, especially coming off his uneventful NXT run. He stuck out like a sore thumb there and has proved to be a much better fit on the grand stage of WWE.

    The way WWE booked Elias for those first few weeks of his Raw run was unique, but it wasn't the most exciting introduction for a new star. His impromptu concerts became a recurring highlight on the flagship show within a matter of months, but fans may not remember he didn't get off to the strongest start.

Dana Brooke

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    Dana Brooke debuted on NXT TV in April 2015 and didn't have much time to improve before suffering an injury in a match against Asuka six months later. Although she continued to appear on the show through the end of the year alongside Emma, she was kept out of the ring and never got physical.

    That time away hurt her progress considerably, which is why WWE's decision to move her up to the main roster the subsequent spring was so mind-boggling. She was nowhere near ready for such a spot and should have stuck around in NXT to work on her craft.

    Unfortunately, WWE felt the need to prematurely call up Brooke so she could be aligned with Emma amid her rivalry with Becky Lynch. To make matters worse, she was introduced during a backstage segment on the May 9, 2016, edition of Raw.

    The least WWE could have done was have Brooke run out after a match between Emma and Lynch and ambush The Irish Lass Kicker so she could garner a reaction from the crowd and get them familiar with her. Making a debut in a backstage setting is about as dull as it gets.

    It must have been a bad omen seeing as how their alliance was short-lived after Emma got hurt a week later. That left Brooke alone until she joined forces with Charlotte Flair at Extreme Rules later that month.

    Despite that, there was no excuse for WWE taking Brooke out of NXT so soon only to debut her in a forgettable backstage segment that ended up meaning nothing.


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    You'd be hard-pressed to find another Superstar in recent years with as much promise and potential who WWE had no idea what to do with creatively quite like EC3.

    He was randomly brought up to the main roster with a bunch of other NXT stars at the onset of 2018 but had the weakest debut of them all. He was typically spotted standing in front of a mirror for no apparent reason and was never made to look like anything extraordinary.

    Despite coming close on a few occasions, EC3 was relegated to the backstage area and was kept silent until the time came for him stand out on an episode of "A Moment of Bliss." The only issue was that the dialogue he was given to work was abysmal, so it was clear the company never expected him to shine.

    That included his abrupt match with Dean Ambrose on Raw that looked like it would benefit EC3 but ultimately backfired on him and had the opposite effect. He scored the weak-looking victory that night, but he never recovered and was labeled a loser for the remainder of his run with WWE.

    As far as debuts were concerned, it didn't get much worse than EC3's. The way he was booked that evening was damaging enough for his career in the company to be considered to be over right then and there with no room for redemption.


    Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, has specialized in sports and entertainment writing since 2010. Visit his website, WrestleRant, and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.