NXT is in a period of transition, that much is clear. With a number of names already gone to or soon to go to Raw and Smackdown, the roster is in need of some fresh blood at the top.
In times gone by, there has always been a standout worker or two ready to sign from outside WWE who’s name value and accomplishments outside the McMahon empire have made them credible main eventers from day one in NXT. These include Shinsuke Nakamura, Samoa Joe, Kevin Owens, Finn Balor and more.
Nowadays, that pipeline has been blocked by the emergence of AEW. No longer can WWE pick up the cream of the indie scene and drop them in Orlando.
No, those elite independent workers are already snapped up by Tony Khan’s group who are currently benefiting from being the cool new guys on the block.
So what must NXT do? It seems they are electing to fast track their own stars and doing a rather good job of it. Rather than start guys from the bottom and move them up slowly as they build their name, they are putting the rocket on certain backs and booking them smartly to come in straight at the top of the card despite not having that elite perception previously.
We’ve put together a list of five names we expect to see as regulars in and around NXT Takeover main events in the future. Acts that have come in within the last year, haven’t yet main evented a Takeover but are already perceived as stars.
Let us know what you think to our list by dropping us a line on Twitter at @HO_Wrestling.
The most obvious example and to be honest, the main inspiration for this list. Kross was signed from Impact Wrestling where he achieved some success under his Killer Kross moniker without ever garnering any ‘next big thing’ buzz.
He allowed his contract to run down and became a free agent at the end of 2019, roughly the same time as his real life girlfriend, Scarlett Bordeaux secured her release from the same promotion.
It wasn’t long before they were announced as the newest WWE Performance Center recruits but their arrival wasn’t met with any particular buzz. If anything, Bordeaux’s signing created more waves than that of her partner.
Then they debuted.
NXT has always been exceptional at nailing the presentation for debuting acts and this was no different. Coming in as a pair, they screamed Gothic psychos. Well, Scarlett just screamed, full stop.
The package was superb. Like an intense, athletic Evanescence cover band, they came to the ring with Scarlett fixing her piercing eyes on the camera and screeching out their theme music as Kross lurked menacingly behind, ready to deal out some severe punishment.
It worked from the first moment with a few proclaiming it as their favourite WWE entrance ever.
Last night at In Your House, the pair made their Takeover debut as Kross dismantled the standard bearer of NXT, Tommaso Ciampa in six minutes. Make no mistake, this was no punishment for Ciampa. No, it was using the equity he has built as a top line talent to transfer that credibility instantly to Karrion Kross.
He could have squashed Killian Dain and it would have been quite impressive. But in wiping out Ciampa he instantly brings in ring credibility to match his first class presentation.
Let’s put it this way, if he was announced to be facing Adam Cole for the NXT Championship at the next Takeover, would you raise an eyebrow? Too soon? Not a chance.
Thatcher always felt an odd fit in WWE. A purist’s wrestler, his signing was met with slight surprise in that he has never really shown any inclination to be a sports entertainer. He is a grappler in the most old school of ways. It never felt like it was going to work out for Timothy Thatcher in NXT>
It’s going to work out for Timothy Thatcher in NXT.
By bringing him in as partner of, and then instantly having him turn on Matt Riddle, NXT top brass immediately told you where he was on the card. From the moment he stepped foot on camera you could tell who he was: a quiet badass who wanted to hurt people and win wrestling matches. He doesn’t go in for the theatrics and silliness of a Matt Riddle. So he let him no that in short order.
The vicious streak displayed when he turned on Riddle is what gives him that skip the queue pass to the main event and NXT have let that shine out. The booking of the Fight Pit match two weeks ago was inspired as it really let Thatcher show off his sadistic side. That he beat the highly touted Riddle in firm fashion with a referee stoppage told you that he is a man who is the equal of any in NXT.
Where to next? He could step into the main event now, no problem. But right now, this persona needs a good babyface in a strong card position to bounce off. That man is Keith Lee. Why not let Thatcher be the unofficial goodbye committee to another NXT stalwart moving up to Raw or SmackDown?
For those that watched TNA back around 7-8 years ago, Lumis got his break in that company as Sam Shaw on their half-baked Tough Enough rip-off, Gut Check. Needless to say, he made few waves.
Things started to look up for Shaw as he adopted a Patrick Bateman-style psychotic persona, changed Sam to Samuel and developed an infatuation for Christy Hemme.
It got Shaw noticed but really, it was closer to ripples on a pond rather than a tsunami.
He left the promotion in 2019 to zero fanfare and signed as a PC roster member with WWE to even less acclaim.
It was a surprise when he brought the psycho character to NXT and even more of a surprise when it appeared he was playing it as a face by aiding Velveteen Dream in his ongoing war with Undisputed Era.
And you know what? It’s working.
Like a heroic Michael Myers, his cold hearted stalking of his heel prey is actually getting over to a large degree. Shaw’s natural size and physical ability give him credibility against any opponent and it does look like the fans have fallen for this loveable nutcase.
Can it take him to the top of NXT? It might need some tweaking and it’s not as instantly successful as our first two entries but it just might work.
Zack Gibson and James Drake
The Grizzled Young Veterans were, along with Moustache Mountain, the cream of the crop in the NXT UK tag team division. In fact, the two teams faced each other in the opening match of the very first UK Takeover.
But their sights should be, and will be, higher. Brought to the US, they entered the 2020 Dusty Classic tournament and made it all the way to the finals, falling only to Pete Dunne and Matt Riddle.
Shortly after, the two Brits were brought into NXT for a repeated role and they seemed poised to break out, most likely as the top team in a tag team division in desperate need of new blood. The opportunity was there and these guys were ready to take him.
In fact, it is conceivable that they would be holding NXT gold right now if not for the pandemic induced travel ban. A rematch with The Broserweights with a different outcome would surely have been expected.
DIY, The Revival, American Alpha, Undisputed Era. The stellar names that have sat atop the NXT tag roster in the recent past inspire nothing short of awe. We fully expect Drake & Gibson to be the next names on that list.
If you make your entrance to the ring in a miniature tank then I’m putting you on my ‘bright future’ list. Simple as that.
In all seriousness, if there is a flaw in the NXT women’s division is that below the spotlighted performers, it has always been a bit of gimmick soup for the rest of the performers. They’ve not often been given much to let them stand out from the pack, with a few exceptions.
This is changing nowadays but still, can you tell me the difference between Candice LeRae’s character and that of Dakota Kai?
Blackheart stands all the way out. She rides a tank and has a definite Tank Girl vibe. You’re not forgetting her anytime soon and she seems pitch perfect to attract that counter-culture support that is so prevalent in the NXT fanbase.
She can work as well. Can she work!
Blackheart is being singled out for a reason. And that’s because WWE want us to keep an eye on her. Our guess, she will be the one to dethrone the NEXT women’s champion, Candice LeRae.