It’s just about every wrestler’s dream to become World Champion of a major promotion. For many, that means that becoming WWE Champion is the end goal. Typically, the way to do that is by starting as a midcarder, tag-team wrestler, or somewhere out of the main event scene, and then gradually moving up to the top of the card. Wrestlers like Triple H, John Cena, and Bret Hart all came up this way.
However, with the advent of NXT, and wrestlers’ positions on the cards during developmental being more exposed, wrestlers are expected to maintain their level on the card when transitioning to the main roster. For example, Finn Balor was the longest reigning NXT Champion, at the time, and on his first night on Raw, he was thrust into a feud at the top of the card with Seth Rollins over the Universal Championship. Balor won the World Championship of the flagship show of WWE during his third match on the main roster.
Granted, he wasn’t always at the top of the card and came into WWE with prestige and credibility as a wrestler. And that is the case for many wrestlers who work their way up in the indies or other promotions and then transfer over to NXT. With all of this in mind, the question is posed, do NXT main eventers limit the success of midcarders ascending the ranks on the main roster?
In WWE, it is very rare for a lifelong midcarder or lower-carder to ascend to the main event level. It has happened, with wrestlers like Jeff Hardy, Jinder Mahal in more extreme cases, or Kofi Kingston in more recent times. Guys like Drew Gulak and Murphy, while incredibly talented, seem to be relegated to the middle of the card and, therefore, the middle of the show, for the foreseeable future. When former NXT Champions like Keith Lee are on the show, and wrestlers like Adam Cole and Johnny Gargano are eventually/hopefully on their way to Raw or Smackdown; fans, and presumably management as well, will want them to be at the top of the card at some point.
NXT being put on the USA Network and being spread out to two hours probably didn’t help, as wrestlers in so-called developmental are exposed to a larger audience than ever before. NXT is no longer a developmental territory, and is the third column of WWE programming, meant for as wide of an audience as possible. The demographics and ratings information released every week speak for themselves. As a result, the main event talent on the shows has to be even better and more thought out than previously. People go to NXT expecting the best wrestling of all three programs, and the best overall product, especially when watching NXT Takeovers. Hardcore fans especially love NXT, and they’ll be the most passionate about wanting wrestlers who were main eventers in NXT to be main eventers on Raw and SmackDown.
It seems like NXT in its current iteration pre-selects the main event talent we will be seeing in the future. But this doesn’t seem to always be the case. Aleister Black and Andrade are two glaring examples of NXT Champions/main eventers who, during their main roster run, did not achieve the same success they reached during their time in NXT. Andrade reached the US Title scene at his peak, including a few wins over Rey Mysterio. Aleister Black did have several feuds and a strong winning percentage on the main roster, but never reached the main event scene as he did during his time on NXT.
If we look at the female roster, it appears to be even worse, as there’s basically no midcard for women on the main roster. Only women who challenged for or actually won the NXT Woman’s Championship even have a chance at winning a main roster singles title. The only women to get a singles title in the last two years in the women’s division are The Four Horsewomen, Asuka, and Ronda Rousey. Four out of six of them held the NXT Women’s Championship, one challenged for it numerous times, and one never spent time in NXT. There are higher chances of winning if you go after the tag team championship, but those are also defended in NXT.
NXT hasn’t killed the main roster midcard, but I believe it’s killed the traditional idea of the midcard, where the midcard is for wrestlers on their way up the card, potentially to the main event. NXT, at this point in time, doesn’t seem to be a 100% accurate indicator of who will be main eventing main roster pay-per-views. However, being in the mid or lower-card in NXT and then being called up, won’t result in main event level relevancy. If you were in the main event in NXT, people will want you challenging for the World Title on Raw and SmackDown, and you most likely will at some point.
If you weren’t in the main event in NXT, and are a midcarder on the main roster, it is most likely that you will be a midcarder for life. But, as was often said, anything can happen in the World Wrestling Federation.