Ranking The First 10 NXT Call-Ups From Least To Most Successful
Before NXT’s rabid cult following resulted in it becoming the “third brand” of WWE, the promotion was strictly WWE’s developmental territory, with the goal of preparing up-and-coming wrestlers to be on Raw and SmackDown. Because NXT was originally an under-the-radar endeavor barely acknowledged on the main roster, most of the early call-ups appeared with little fanfare or prior reputations among WWE fans.
And, of course, not all of them found success. So let’s take a look at the first 10 wrestlers to make it to the main roster, starting out with the least successful.
10Summer Rae (Debuted 4/22/13)
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NXT’s first female call-up, Summer Rae was a pretty good heel, especially when she teamed up with Sasha Banks and Charlotte Flair as the BFFS. On the main roster, she was introduced as Fandango’s dancer and spun off into a singles career when she wasn’t taking part in Rusev and Lana’s relationship woes down the line.
While she wasn’t the best wrestler NXT ever produced, she was actually pretty solid in the ring, but failed to find a place on the main roster before her release in 2017.
9Curtis Axel (Debuted 5/20/13)
Introduced on Season 2 of the maligned game show version of NXT, Michael McGillicutty would languish on the main roster, get relegated to NXT Redemption but would carry over to the Full Sail reboot of NXT. He’d return to the main roster as Paul Heyman’s latest acquisition, Curtis Axel and get immediately buried by Triple H for some reason.
Aside from a brief Intercontinental Title reign and a tag team run with Ryback, Axel was mostly a comedy jobber and got released in 2020.
8Fandango (Debuted 3/01/13)
Another game show NXT participant, Johnny Curtis won NXT Season 4 but eventually found himself on the same career trajectory as Michael McGillicutty — Redemption followed by Full Sail. He fared better upon his return to the main roster, getting repackaged ballroom dancer named Fandango who unexpectedly became a meme, albeit one that WWE had no idea what to do with.
Fandango found additional grassroots success alongside Tyler Breeze as Breezango, but once again WWE didn’t try to capitalize on their growing popularity, and both guys returned to NXT, where they were far more appreciated.
7Erick Rowan (Debuted 7/08/13)
Considered by some fans to be the weaker member of the Wyatt Family, Erick Rowan functioned well in a tag team but never quite took off as a singles guy. He was repeatedly reunited with Luke Harper, including a run as “The Bludgeon Brothers,” and had a goofy storyline where he carried a mysteriously covered cage that didn’t really amount to anything.
His best non-Wyatt run would have to be as Daniel Bryan’s sidekick, as the two captured the SmackDown Tag Team Titles for a couple of months.
6Luke Harper (Debuted 7/08/13)
Luke Harper, on the other hand, was considered the best in-ring performer of the Wyatt Family, and seemed like WWE had a bit more faith in him as a singles guy, putting the Intercontinental Title on him at one point.
Unfortunately, Vince reportedly soured on Harper due to his inability to affect a Southern accent, so he was frequently reunited with his Wyatt Family compatriots in various incarnations before he left the company for All Elite Wrestling in 2020.
5Big E (Debuted 12/17/12)
A former NXT Champion — the second ever — Big E (Langston) was the first NXT call up after The Shield, introduced on the main roster as the enforcer to the power couple of AJ Lee and Dolph Ziggler. Eventually, Big E would turn face and become IC Champion, but failed to gain much traction beyond that.
That is, until he formed The New Day with Kofi Kingston and Xavier Wood, becoming one of WWE’s hottest acts in the process. In 2020, Big E started getting a singles push, winning the Intercontinental Champion again, and seems set up for continued success.
4Dean Ambrose (Debuted 11/18/2012)
When it comes to ranking the former Shield guys, Dean Ambrose is a tough one to rank. When the trio broke up, he was the most popular of the three, but WWE was betting the farm on Roman Reigns while Seth Rollins was the top heel.
As a result, Ambrose often got short shrift, often presented as a goofball character, much to the performer’s chagrin. He’s a highly decorated champion despite that, with the WWE title a major notch on his resume, but Ambrose found greater success as a star after leaving WWE.
3Bray Wyatt (Debuted 7/08/13)
NXT Season 2 contestant Husky Harris found himself back in developmental in 2011, where he was reinvented as a much more compelling character: Bray Wyatt, a charismatic swamp-dwelling cult leader with supernatural powers. Once he arrived on the main roster in his new form, he was immediately pushed as a scary heel, albeit one who was seemingly unable to win a big match against anybody important.
Despite that, Wyatt was able to tweak his gimmick to stay relevant, most notably as The Fiend, a demonic children’s TV host, which quickly became one of the most exciting gimmicks in wrestling.
2Seth Rollins (Debuted 11/18/2012)
The first NXT Champion ever, Seth Rollins debuted alongside The Shield in late 2012, but immediately became the most successful member of the group post-breakup thanks to his alignment with The Authority, which made him a top heel in WWE.
From there, he had huge matches with John Cena, Sting, Triple H, and Brock Lesnar, eventually becoming one of the top babyfaces in WWE — so much that fans ended up turning on him. His heel turn as the “Monday Night Messiah” proved to be a compelling, successful reinvention that kept Rollins fresh.
1Roman Reigns (Debuted 11/18/2012)
As part of The Shield, Roman Reigns seemed like the group’s secret weapon thanks to his status as a hard-hitting powerhouse next to the more idiosyncratic indie guys. After the breakup, it became increasingly clear that Reigns was being not only set up to be a top babyface, but possibly THE top babyface, which repeatedly backfired due to poor crowd reactions. Regardless, WWE never gave up on Roman, and pushed him to the moon with four consecutive WrestleMania main events. A heel turn in 2020 made him a must-watch character, especially as the dominant Universal Champion.