While this past two weeks and the Superstar Shakeup on Monday and Tuesday have dramatically altered the rosters for both Raw and Smackdown Live, the other story is what it’s done to NXT’s. In two weeks, NXT lost main eventers Andrade “Cien” Almas (with his manager, Zelina Vega), Ember Moon and Drew McIntyre, faction SaNitY (Eric Young, Killian Dain & Alexander Wolfe), Authors of Pain (Akam & Rezar), The Iconic Duo (Billie Kay & Peyton Royce) and No Way Jose. But thankfully, due to strong booking the past few months from Triple H & Co., plus the advanced scouting of William Regal‘s team, NXT has the next era sizzling and ready to take over the next phase of NXT’s evolution.
Main Event: Aleister Black, Adam Cole, EC3, Johnny Gargano, Lars Sullivan, “Bruiserweight” Pete Dunne, Ricochet, Velveteen Dream
Aleister Black‘s build over the past year has been one of the strongest slow burns in wrestling. His cold and calculated domination was very much like the rise of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, the clear heel who won over the audience with his badassery. But while Austin was the king of the loudmouth trash talkers, Black relies on a sinister silence. Now that he’s on top, he’s got one of the strongest list of main event contenders on any brand in wrestling period. Former ROH and PWG World Champion Adam Cole is now the new NXT North American Champion, but his sites are clearly on the NXT title itself. EC3 and Ricochet both had their main event debut at NXT Takeover: New Orleans and gain a 5-star from Uncle Dave in the process. Lars Sullivan and Velveteen Dream continue their rocket from low card to main event, while the increasing appearances of “Bruiserweight” Pete Dunne has catapulted him to one of NXT’s most popular performers. Any combination of these eight main eventers for NXT could be a MOTY.
MidCard: Kassius Ohno, Lio Rush, Mark Andrews, Raul Mendoza, Roderick Strong, Tomasso Ciampa, Wolfgang
With so many main eventers vying for top contendership, NXT’s midcard has become a small chain of gatekeepers, giving the main event guys solid matches while the rotate into battle for the main title. Tommaso Ciampa will rule the midcard and even make occasional appearances in the main event. He is arguably the most well developed character in NXT right now. Lio Rush is probably close to the top of the midcard, getting a push push over WrestleMania weekend at Axxess. Ohno is becoming the NXT ambassador to the indies, heading to PROGRESS’ Super Strong Style 16 next month, while being the Heimdall of the NXT main event. Mark Andrews has been solid floating between NXT and 205 Live and Wolfgang just re-signed and will be making a bigger presence in the next year. Raul Mendoza is working his way up slowly as well. Roderick Strong will be the one who works alongside the main event guys the most, as well as filling in for Undisputed Era‘s tag team champion duo while Bobby Fish is on the mend.
Women’s Division: Aliyah, Bianca BelAir, Candice LeRae, Dakota Kai, Kairi Sane, Lacey Evans, Nikki Cross, Shayna Baszler, Taynara Conti, Vanessa Borne
While most were stunned to see Nikki Cross remain behind in NXT, the truth is that NXT doesn’t have a more organic face right now in the company than Cross. Her savagery won over the NXT Universe and until Candice LeRae, Kairi Sane, Bianca BelAir and Dakota Kai get backed 100%, Cross is the natural to battle champion Baszler for another few months (and perhaps then join her three SaNiTy mates on Smackdown Live). Aliyah is another in consideration to get more time now with the room, while Mae Young Classic Performance Center grads Vanessa Borne and Taynara Conti will get more frequent looks. Lacey Evans is on the verge of a character shift and looks to become the number two heel of the women’s division.
Tag Team Division: Danny Burch & Oney Lorcan, Heavy Machinery (Otis Dozovic & Tucker Knight), Moustache Mountain (Trent Seven & Tyler Bate), Street Profits (Montez Ford & Angelo Dawkins), Tino Sabatelli & Riddick Moss,TM61 (Nick Miller & Shane Thorne), Undisputed Era (Kyle O’Reilly & Bobby Fish), War Raiders (Hanson & Rowe)
War Raiders (formerly War Machine) inherit the new big guy wrecking crew spot that Authors of Pain just left and they’ll be facing some familiar foes in the Undisputed Era. TM61 look to finally be getting a push, and could be one of the top face teams. Moustache Mountain look to be getting more looks in NXT of late (with both offering singles spots for midcard and main event as necessary). Heavy Machinery and Street Profits are growing fanbases monthly and Danny Burch & Oney Lorcan are becoming the fun hooligans akin to the first run of the Holly Cousins, Crash & Hardcore. Sabbatelli & Moss were on a decent rise, but recent actions seem to indicate they could be heading for a split.
Newbies: Babatunde, Cezar Bononi & Adrian Jaoude, Christopher Dijak, Fabian Aichner & Marcel Barthel, The Fallen (Gabriel & Uriel Ealy), Forgotten Sons (Wesley Blake & Steve Cutler), Jessie Elban, Kavita Devi, Nixon Newell, Reina Gonzalez, Rhia Ripley, Xia Li
Still overwhelmed by this weekend! After almost 10 months of intense rehab & hard work, I was finally able to step foot in a @WWENXT ring! The reception you guys gave me both in the crowd and online has made my heart so happy & I cannot thank you guys enough! #TheWizardIsBack pic.twitter.com/QjWU5iXTKu
— Nixon Newell??????? (@NixonNewell) April 15, 2018
Lots of new faces ready to make the start towards getting into regular rotation on NXT television, even if it means starting at the bottom. Highly touted UK star Nixon Newell has returned from a year long injury to join the women’s division, while other Mae Young standouts like Rhia Ripley, Reina Gonzalez, Xia Li and Kavita Devi (who appeared in the WrestleMania Women’s Battle Royal) are also on the verge. The tag team looks to get the most new faces (which could lead to some other breakups) as former NXT Tag Team Champion Wesley Blake‘s new team with Steve Cutler (called Forgotten Sons) looks to appear more, as well as the Brazilian duo of Cezar Bononi & Adrian Jaoude (managed by Taynara Conti) are getting long looks at the Live Events. Enhancement tag team the Ealy Twins have been repackaged as The Fallen, and midcard newcomer Fabian Aichner has been working alongside former wXw star Marcel Barthel (aka Axel Dieter Jr.) in a Ringkampf-esque combo. Former ROH, PWG and EVOLVE star Donovan Dijak had a solid push at Axxess as well (under his real name Christopher Dijak) and another signee (from the tryout that featured Ruby Riott, Kimber Lee and Zeda), Jessie Elaban is also impressing on the Live Event circuit. The giant Babatunde has also been making his presence felt on the Live Events, acting as bodyguard to Lio Rush.
No matter what happens we have each other's backs. And I like those odds!! #YEAAA #iSaidYEAAA #2VsAll #LycanTwins #TheFallen #Fallen #Ealys #Brothers #Twins #EalyBrothers #AllWeKnowIsTheGrind #NeverScared #NXT #nxtcocoa #wwe pic.twitter.com/6L77MpAvlW
— Gabriel/Uriel Ealy (@TheFallenOnes_1) March 30, 2018
Every time it seems like NXT is about to collapse under its own weight and shudder from the loss of talent, a new breed creeps up and does its damndest to show up the one before. This NXT Class of 2018 is no exception. It features some of the true leaders of the indie revolution of the past five years, and more than one innovator, and really looks to be one of the most exciting rosters they’ve had. The tag team division is still jockeying for position, but the men’s and women’s divisions are deep. There’s no shortage of solid matchups on either side.