Should NXT Stars Remain in NXT?

Bianca Belair and Rhea Ripley Women's Wrestling WWE

Free agent Tommy End, known to the World Wrestling Entertainment audience as Aleister Black, has found a new life as a Twitch streamer after being released by WWE for the second time. Since the day of his release, he has been speaking openly to his streaming audience about his experiences with, and views about, the company. Recently, End stated that NXT stars should remain on the NXT roster, because there was little for them to do on the main roster, that no one was being built except rising star Bianca Belair.

Does he have a fair point?

Flagship names on the Monday Night Raw and Friday Night SmackDown rosters such as Roman Reigns, Charlotte Flair, Bayley, and Sasha Banks were products of NXT. However, more recent call-ups have been handled unevenly, minimizing their success and muting their potential. For every Drew McIntyre success story, there is a Murphy. Recent reports have surfaced that NXT talents like Karrion Kross, Scarlett, Bronson Reed, Shotzi Blackheart, and Toni Storm have worked dark matches for WWE officials before tapings of SmackDown, and Vince McMahon has been seen peeping around the WWE performance center. It seems another round of callups are coming soon, to fill out the scanty Raw and SmackDown rosters left bare after budget trimming releases this spring and summer.

Here’s a  look at how recent NXT talents who’ve moved up to the main roster have fared

Damien Priest:

On the NXT roster, Damien Priest’s image was that of a suave party boy, playing off his real life past as a club bouncer in New York City. The Archer of Infamy had an Eric Draven-esque Gothic allure and rock star confidence, the unflappable foil to his frequent rival for the North American Championship, the lovably histrionic Johnny Gargano. Priest had a strong look and gimmick, and a martial arts based moveset in the ring. Since moving up to Raw, he’s been lost in the shuffle. Bobby Lashley is the resident party boy, and Alexa Bliss the resident Goth, leaving Priest little chance to duplicate his NXT image on Raw. It seems there was no Plan B. Priest was tapped to be the tag team partner and mouthpiece for rapper Bad Bunny, and they had good chemistry with each other, and with their adversaries Miz and John Morrison.

While Priest was carrying the feud on his own admirably after Bad Bunny’s departure, the storyline was hampered in more ways than one by WrestleMania: Backlash’s zombie lumberjack match. Despite the comic nature of their storyline, and Miz’s and Morrison’s characters, the zombies stretched credibility a bridge too far; Priest and Miz also suffered injuries during the skit, which slowed the storyline’s momentum. Priest recently returned to action, staffing the Money in the Bank qualifying battle royal , and sharing some scenes with Riddle on June 28’s Raw. Now that he’s recovered, hopefully he will be able to recapture some momentum, but the charisma of his NXT days hasn’t yet translated through his material so far on Raw.

Riddle:

Riddle transferred to SmackDown at the dawn of the Pandemic Era, and quickly made a big splash with his freewheeling irreverence. Baron, then King, Corbin was the first to express his outrage at the “Bro”, and promised a monetary reward, a “king’s ransom”, to anyone who could challenge and decimate the newbie. Riddle took on Sheamus and A.J. Styles, as well, annoying them with his burnout blathering but putting them to their paces in the ring with his mma informed moveset. He also found allies in veterans like Jeff Hardy and Randy Orton upon being drafted to Raw. Riddle has achieved one major championship so far, the United States championship, won from Lashley. All in all, Riddle seems to be a favored son being set up for a promising future in the WWE.

Rhea Ripley:

Ripley is a genuine wunderkind, having made a strong impression on both the NXT UK  and NXT rosters at only 24. The momentum for the Nightmare to move to Raw was gathering speed in late 2019 and early 2020, and she made her WrestleMania debut under challenging and less than favorable circumstances. WrestleMania 36 was held crowdlessly due to the pandemic. Ripley lost out on the NXT women’s championship to Charlotte Flair, and was injured in the process, as well. She spoke throughout 2020 about how the crowdless atmosphere dispirited her, and negatively impacted her performance in the match, rattling her confidence. However, she continued to be the undisputed alpha of the NXT women’s roster, having stunning matches with contenders like Io Shirai, Raquel Gonzalez, and NXT UK nemesis Toni Storm.

Since debuting on Raw, despite capturing the Raw women’s championship, which is so symbolic of groundbreaking performers of the women’s Evolution era,  like Ronda Rousey and Becky Lynch, Ripley’s material hasn’t lived up to those athletes’ blueprint or the trail that she, herself, has blazed under the NXT banner.

There, she was known for her physical brutality, but she hasn’t had much of a chance to hit her punishing moveset in the gimmicky matches that have defined her interactions with Flair, Asuka, and Nikki Ash. Duplicity and cheating are often a facet in their matches, trying to capitalize on Flair’s father Ric Flair’s storied reputation as ‘the dirtiest player in the game’ and parallel this with the Queen. However, Flair gained that reputation in another era, before the moral ambiguity and antiheroes of the Attitude Era, when opponents still sometimes shook hands after matches, the line between heels and faces was drawn with a heavy hand, kayfabe was king, and playing dirty pool was more shocking stuff. The accusations the two women trade back and forth over their respective cheating do very little to move the plot anywhere intriguing.

When a performer, like Ripley’s, reputation and image is based on their workrate, they need matches that showcase that to build a rapport with the audience-such as with A.J. Styles and Finn Balor. Both came to WWE already with name recognition from their time in NJPW, and were given matches worthy of their athletic ability. Ripley, largely, has been hampered with gimmicks.

Out of the three, only Riddle seems to be singled out for success. Perhaps staying on NXT, which has more of a focus on ring work over storyline, would benefit performers who have made their mark there.

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