At the start of this decade, there were three young men who honed their craft in WWE’s developmental system on individual paths. These men made their official main roster debut as a unit with an impact so profound that it is still talked about to this day. Each of the Superstars has had almost unprecedented success, whether it be through accolades and achievements, or through intense popularity with the fans.
Those three men are Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns, and Seth Rollins. They were initially a stable, but many now clamber to see them face off against each other at a future Wrestlemania main event. They epitomise the success that WWE’s developmental system can be.
Since their introduction in 2012, other call-ups from NXT have had widely varying levels of success when compared to The Shield. Some have climbed to the very top of the ladder and won the grandest prize of them all, whether it be in the singles or tag team divisions. Others, disappointingly, struggle to get their foot in the door anymore. Or worse, have been shown that same door.
This has become more of a problem in the last year or so, with some questionable creative and lack of any real opportunity pushing these unfortunate wrestlers to the bottom of the pile.
It’s inevitable that this will happen. Not everyone has their hands on the proverbial brass ring. Some might not even have the room to make a grab for it. But is there a way to make the process work for all call-ups, even it means being a successful mid-card act, and not an overall failure?
With the first major show of 2018 fast approaching, it got me thinking that barring the odd exception, the “Big Four” are usually followed up with call-ups from NXT. The main bulk of promotions in recent years have happened at Wrestlemania, but this annual occurrence has started to bleed over into the Raws or Smackdowns immediately after Royal Rumble, Summerslam, and Survivor Series. I wonder if HHH, Vince, and all others involved in the decision-making process behind the call-ups have to stick to such a rigid schedule. And if they don’t, wouldn’t it be better to promote these wrestlers with an actual purpose in mind?
The problems management face when transferring a wrestler from NXT to the main roster purely because it’s a specific time of the year are that said wrestler isn’t actually ready for the big time, and/or there simply isn’t anything of note for them to sink their teeth into. The last two years have been a prime example of that being the case.
Apollo Crews will have been on the main roster for almost two years at the time of writing, and it’s only now that he has any sign of a purpose, with early indications that a proper competing tag team with Titus O’Neil is in the works. Two years is a long time in professional wrestling and it’s a wonder that management eventually found something for him.
Bayley came up after Summerslam 2016 to a warm welcome. Apart from a brief run in the main event scene, she has suffered some irreparable creative damage which could mean she may never be considered a credible threat again. A far cry from the days when she had grown men eating out of the palm of her hands and was thought of as the female equivalent to John Cena.
Tye Dillinger came to Smackdown after last year’s Wrestlemania. It was no secret that Dillinger’s “Perfect 10” gimmick would be firmly lodged in the mid-card scene, but he is currently nowhere to be found. Frankly, this was a waste of a call-up, and I have to wonder if he was actually ready for the added responsibility in the first place.
Shinsuke Nakamura arrived on Smackdown at the same time as Dillinger. This man was untouchable in NXT. He could do no wrong and was destined for big things once his time in NXT came to an end. Well, unfortunately, Nakamura was one of the unlucky ones to be paired with Dolph Ziggler (like many others) for their first main roster program. Again, like many others, it is taking a long time to rehabilitate from what recent history has shown is an unsuccessful formula. All allure has vanished from someone previously bursting with charisma. Maybe a Wrestlemania match with AJ Styles as rumored will help revitalize him, but so far so disappointing.
The above selection is but a few examples of badly booked wrestlers. I could go on, as the list is extensive, but the law of averages suggests that a regimented process of promoting NXT Superstars to the main roster at set times of the year isn’t as successful as we would have hoped.
On the other hand, do wrestlers called up with a creative purpose in mind tell a different story?
Kevin Owens made his way to Raw in the Spring of 2015. Not only was this call-up a relatively rare occurrence as he spent a mere half year on NXT TV, but he was still the black and yellow brand’s champion. This was a perfect marriage of Owens being more than ready for the main roster, and also having a purpose by adding intrigue and gravity to John Cena’s U.S Title Open Challenge. Apart from perhaps The Shield, I struggle to remember a more impactful debut. Owens has admittedly had some quieter months on Raw and now Smackdown, but for the majority of the time, he’s either been at the top of the mid-card title scene, or in the main event scene itself, boasting a lengthy Universal Title reign in the process. Owens has his detractors and I understand why, but you can’t deny he has been an overall success.
I’ve decided to add Bray Wyatt to this section. You could argue that Bray has been the victim of terrible creative, but I feel that he and his followers in Luke Harper and Eric Rowan were fully within the WWE bubble when story and character began to regress in quality and relevance, and not within that NXT to WWE transitional period that is the focus here. Their initial impact on the main roster in July of 2013 was a memorable one. In fact, little time was wasted in The Wyatts becoming an important feature in Vince McMahon’s overall vision, what with a crowd elating six-man tag team match against The Shield, promptly followed by a lengthy program with the face of WWE, John Cena. This is where things began to sour for Bray in particular, but I reiterate that this was well away from the debut stage.
Charlotte Flair, along with Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks, were brought in to kick-start the Women’s Revolution a few weeks before Summerslam 2015. In retrospect, this angle involving all the different female factions was a mistake and a bit of a mess. It remained that way for some weeks, but like a phoenix, Flair would rise from the ashes and become, for me, the complete package. Her work with Sasha Banks in late 2016 is a personal highlight and did Charlotte especially the world of good. She is once again at the top of the mountain and, if allowed, could be considered as one of the best performers in WWE altogether.
Again, I should say that I have picked only some of those lucky few whose addition to the main roster was well received. These are the ones who immediately came to mind. I’m sure there is a significant number who have been called up on a random Smackdown, for instance, and have done little of note since then. You may even disagree with my selections and reasoning.
Nevertheless, I would still lean on the side of having call-ups interspersed throughout the whole year, for the sake of keeping the main product on its toes, if anything.
With main roster success, not a certainty anymore, as an NXT fan, I have to worry whenever call-up season approaches. Those men and women who I’ve followed for months and years to the point where they are the top draw on the show could very well be an afterthought if they aren’t handled correctly in WWE proper. As this piece’s title states, great care should be taken in the future. The decision making criteria should not only include if they’re ready for the main roster, but also whether the timing is right, instead of running the risk of turning a microcosm superstar into a universal failure.
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