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Is Stepping Up From NXT to the WWE Main Roster Always a Good Thing? by Mike Sanchez

When I sit down to write a column for this great site, I’ve always tried to be positive or offer constructive criticism when it comes to WWE. Of course there are decisions and bookings that infuriate or bewilder us and that’s part and parcel of being a wrestling fan. It doesn’t always make sense. If it did, and we were forever happy with the product, then there’d be nothing to gripe about. But gripe I must and it’s on a subject that many have brought up before; why have some of the best up and coming talent been either criminally underused or in some cases, not used at all when called to the main roster?

Now, I realise this isn’t going to be solely down to the wrestler, although there may be backstage issues that could contribute to a de-push, as it were. In saying that, one supposes a talent would have to be pushed in the first place to be de-pushed. What my main gripe is, is that stars of NXT; real high flyers in the ‘lower leagues’ have deservedly risen to the top and the natural progression decrees that they need to make the step up to the big leagues. It’s in those said leagues that the problems arise.

While the writing/booking staff will be different to what they’re used to on NXT, surely someone in the office is aware of the talent joining the roster and knows that even if their fan base is small, it’s enough to prove there’s a rough diamond joining the team. So looking back we can see some of the most promising stars in generations tearing it up in NXT only to make the big step up and then….what? Let’s take a few select examples:

Apollo Crews

What happened here? Yes, Crews wasn’t involved in NXT as long as some of the others, but he hit the ground running and made huge waves. The guy is a phenomenal athlete. I don’t think I’ve seen someone so muscular flip to his feet from his back like him. He has to be one of the strongest guys on the roster but what happened with his booking? Touted as a future world champion by many quarters, he’s disappeared into insignificance on Smackdown – which shows how far he’s fallen, since the Blue Team is probably the best Live WWE show on TV right now. One hopes he can be reinvented or even just gain some momentum. It’d be a shame to see such ability squandered.

Alternative scenario – Crews stayed on NXT, developed his character and is currently feuding with Roode, Joe etc. giving the show a heavy amount of main event matches.

Bayley

Unconventional, different, against the grain, terrific, wholesome and supremely talented. Bayley was a slow burn in NXT. Yes she probably wouldn’t have achieved such success there if it wasn’t for Charlotte, Sasha, Becky et al, but WWE has something special in Bayley. Not a generic, model-like Barbie doll we were treated to in past years, she’s one of the most natural babyfaces I’ve ever seen. With a character that reaches out beyond the ring, she is ideal foil for making a killer heel. We all wondered when WWE would see the light and bring her to Raw. Now that she’s here…meh. With no disrespect to the incredible Sasha and Charlotte, Bayley should be on that next tier down, tearing it up with the women, but has she now become a parody of what she was in NXT? Is she seen by the office as a kid-friendly hugger who can’t grind out tough, hard-hitting matches like she did at NXTTakeover, or are they holding her back? I feel bad for Bayley as I really think she’d outgrown NXT, but can’t repeat that success on RAW as the two main players are in their own feud and no amount of Dana Brooke is going to showcase her true talent.

Alternative scenario – Bayley was drafted to Smackdown where she quickly captured the Women’s title. This caused Becky Lynch to turn heel and their feud is similar to that of Sasha & Charlotte.

Sami Zayn

Here’s the tale of two men. Two great friends who grew up in the wrestling business together. Went toe to toe on countless occasions and blew the roof off on almost all of them. Once they’d reached the pinnacle of NXT, it would only be natural for them to step up. When Sami stepped up and faced off against John Cena at the request of Bret Hart (best there is, best there was, best there ever will be), I wanted to see Zayn go against a top guy. Whether you like Cena or not, he can bring out the best in opponents. And then Zayn busted his shoulder before he’d entered the ring.

The other man meanwhile was steadily led to the top of the mountain and sits there with the title on his shoulder. I was among many who expected Owens vs Zayn to be a Raw main event in no time, but poor Sammy has faded on the WWE radar of late and it’s his predicament that I worry about most. No doubting the talent, but is this a case of the office ‘not seeing it’ with him? I hope not.

Alternative scenario – Zayn renewed his feud with Owens when they stepped up to Raw (he didn’t get injured) and they battled for the US Title. As of now, they’re in the main event picture due to their high quality bouts with a deep backstory.

Nia Jax

A surprise Raw draft, I imagined her to be decimating the women’s division not unlike Kahrma did a while back. Unfortunately, she’s faded into the background. Much like Braun Strowman, do WWE know what to do with the larger wrestlers? A bigger concern is that if they can’t do more than squash matches on a three hour show, what are we to expect when they face a more established opponent? Jax is one I think came up too soon. This week on Raw she dominated the popular Bayley, but to what end? It only succeeded in hurting Bayley, while Jax looked unstoppable. If that’s what she does to Bayley, could she not plough through the women’s roster and be champion by Christmas? Will she? I doubt it.

Gripe over, I must admit that for every Bayley, there’s a Sasha Banks and for every Zayn there’s a Kevin Owens. Not all who’ve progressed to the main roster have fared so badly. It just sucks that it’s the ones we really saw something in, something that set them apart from the norm that got us excited. We couldn’t wait to see them in the big leagues and showcase the talent only the niche NXT fans had witnessed. I guess that’s why it’s such a downer to see them underused or in some cases, seemingly forgotten about. To go back to the developmental could be seen as a step down, but for Husky Harris it worked out quite well. Perhaps we’re expecting too much too soon and forgetting that there are established stars on the main roster. Not all the new kids on the block are going to climb to the top of the mountain right away.

What do you think? Should the NXT starts have to wait their turn in the big leagues or should some have stayed where they were? Could or should things have been different and if so, who do you think should be held responsible? As always, thanks for reading.