Craig Wilson, John Carbery and Brian Damage
This Saturday is NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn II and in homage to that upcoming show, this Top Five takes a look at the best performers to have graduated from NXT to the main WWE roster. From Finn Balor through to current WWE Champion Dean Ambrose, via Sasha Banks and Xavier Woods, we examine which have had the most success on Raw and Smackdown.
5. Finn Balor: This Top Five maybe just comes to quickly for Finn Balor to find himself further up the list. We’ve discussed his prospects as a main eventer recently and the way he has hit the ground running suggests he’s going to do very well on the main roster. Time will tell if he can capture the Universal Championship at SummerSlam, it will certainly show just how much faith the company have in the Irish born grappler. He looks to have a rocket strapped to his back and while doubts linger over his mic skills, I wonder if that’s the only thing he lacks, I’m not sure it will really prevent him from becoming the star that many of us expect he will become.
4. Kevin Owens: I love Kevin Owens. I’m a huge fan of him and think he brings something truly unique. His offence is hard-hitting and very realistic and has to be one of the most charismatic performers on the roster at the moment. His work with Sami Zayn has been excellent, he held his own in his programme with John Cena and working alongside Chris Jericho will certainly benefit him in the long run. I don’t think the pairing – JeriKO – will be too long-term and I expect him to return to singles action soon. Should the babyface Balor win the title at SummerSlam, I’d like to see a programme between him and Owens. One thing that Owens has shown is that he can work a solid programme with whoever he is paired with, that certainly bodes well for him.
3. Xavier Woods: Soon after his debut on the main roster, I started to believe that it wasn’t going to pan out that well for Woods… But boy has he managed to turn it around as one third of the excellent The New Day. Although his in-ring time is somewhat limited, he is still perhaps the best part of the trio. From Francesca, one and two, through to his excellent calling of matches at ringside, his part in getting the team over cannot be underestimated. The long-running tag champions have a lot of gas left in the tank before dropping the gold and, invariably, splitting up. Whether or not Xavier can replicate his New Day success as a singles competitor is a debate for another time but as long as the trio stick together, Woods will remain one of the most popular acts currently on the WWE roster.
2. Dean Ambrose: The current WWE champion just misses out on the top spot in my list. When part of The Shield, I thought Ambrose was the most interesting and thought he would be the first to ascend to the top of the card. Instead, he was beaten to that position by both of his former stablemates. For a while it even looked like he was lost in the shuffle. Really until he won Money in the Bank and we know what happened next. Sadly, Ambrose’s reign still almost feels like a transitional one. I hope I’m wrong but don’t believe he will end this calendar year as the champion.
1. Seth Rollins: It might be Dean Ambrose that currently carries the WWE strap, but for me Seth Rollins just pips his former Shield team-mate to top spot in this top five. For me, Rollins exudes all the qualities that make for a main eventer in the WWE. He looked perfectly at place carrying the WWE gold and as part of the Authority. It was a tragedy that injury robbed him off his run at the top but there is little doubt it’s somewhere he belongs and will spend a lot of time there. I half expected him to return as a babyface and part of me wonders if the WWE dropped the ball a bit by not having him return as a face, especially after the WWE Network documentary on his recuperation. That said, there’s still time but there’s little doubt he’s not looked back since making the jump up from NXT to the main roster.
5. Finn Balor: While I’m willing to admit its still VERY early days for Finn, he’s been handed a main event spot right out of the gate since making the jump from NXT and he’s taking it in his stride. Finn used his time in developmental to adapt his already world class skills into a WWE friendly style. He’ll no doubt deliver in his Summerslam title match with Seth Rollins and has looked like a star ever since his debut on Raw a few weeks back. Many other NXT call ups, even those who’ve gone on to great things, would struggle to replicate Balor’s debut period.
4. Sasha Banks: Its hard to reconcile that Sasha Banks is only 24 years of age. She’s come a long way in a short time as a pro wrestler. In NXT The Boss was untouchable as a heel champion, every single one of her championship matches delivered in the ring and both of her matches with Bayley were classics. Its taken her a while to find her footing on the main roster but she’s finally starting to regain some of that magic she had in NXT. Her championship victory over Charlotte was a definite return to form, here’s hoping she can keep it up going forward.
3. Sami Zayn: Sami has managed to retain every aspect of what made his character click in NXT and suffered no real creative damage during his transition to the main roster. That alone is very impressive. The Ascension, Tyler Breeze, Emma, Adam Rose and others have all wilted under the bright lights on Monday nights. Sami hasn’t lost a step. Some of the creative he’s been given hasn’t been the best but that’s not his fault. Bell to bell Sami has delivered every time he’s been given a chance and I hope big things are in his future.
2. Dean Ambrose: Ambrose has to be given credit for persevering through a lot of high profile losses. Up until his recent WWE World Championship win he was essentially a main event jobber, but he’s come through the other side. He was always the most intriguing member of the Shield and has been a solid main event babyface since that faction met its demise. He’ll reach his full potential though when he’s allowed to have a top run as a heel. Anybody who saw his work as a bad guy on the indies or NXT can tell you that.
1. Seth Rollins: The first NXT Champion has morphed over time into the WWE’s best all-round main event talent. I was skeptical of Rollins at first, he was outshone on the mic by Ambrose in the Shield and my main memories of him as Tyler Black on the independents were that of an athletic guy and a great worker with no real personality to speak of. Rollins has worked hard to become a great showman over the years, his time in NXT giving him the time to grow beyond the Ring of Honor Strong Style Jr shtick and into a fully fledged superstar. Rollins is WWE’s Ace player right now, I just hope they’re aware of it.
4. Kalisto: In my view, Kalisto is just as good as Rey Mysterio was in his younger days. He can do so much in the ring. Already a two time United States champion…I see much more in his future.
3. Charlotte: Charlotte Flair really changed the way we viewed women or divas as they were previously labeled by winning the Divas title and then later becoming WWE women’s champion. She has great ability in ring and has natural charisma just like her old man.
2. Seth Rollins: Some may be surprised that I put the former tag team, US and 2 time world champion at #2. While Seth has quickly risen through the ranks as a perennial main evente with both the Shield and as a solo act….I have him edged out by just a touch by another NXT graduate.
1. Kevin Owens: While KO doesn’t yet have the (excuse the pun) pedigree or resume that Seth Rollins has…there is no doubt in my mind that Kevin is a beast who will succeed and perhaps one day eclipse everything done by Rollins. He is a tremendous in ring worker and has such a natural heel charisma that makes you truly care about him one way or the other.
You can read all previous Top Five pieces here.