Why are NXT stars failing in WWE?

By all accounts NXT is a glorious success, but once wrestlers graduate to Raw & SmackDown Live, things go wrong

Toby Durant by Toby Durant

NXT holds a special place in the hearts of many wrestling fans. It is where many WWE fans were first introduced to the likes of Sami Zayn, Neville, Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, and Shinsuke Nakamura. It’s position as a bridge between WWE and the rest of the wrestling world has let to a wonderful blend of high production values, great wrestling, and good storytelling.

There have been crowd favorites like Tyler Breeze and Tye Dillinger who never quite got their hands on the belt, to All-World stars like Finn Balor and Samoa Joe who warred like bloody murder over it. From tag teams, to the women’s division, to the mid card and main event scene, there has rarely been a missed step in NXT, especially when it comes to “Takeover”, which consistently steals the show from the main roster pay-per-view the next night.

And yet there is very little to show for it on the main roster. The only NXT tag team champions to hold gold on the main roster are American Alpha, who were quickly de-emphasized and then split up. The only former NXT champions to hold the WWE/Universal Championship are Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, and Kevin Owens, and none of them are close to being able to hold the gold again right now. So where is it all going wrong?

The journey

It is often the case that the journey is more enjoyable than the destination. That is especially true with wrestling and WWE. Watching Daniel Bryan fight against The Authority and beat them was far more enjoyable than his short-lived reign, and the same has been true for others in recent years.

One of the reasons that American Alpha were so beloved in NXT is because fans saw their initial interactions and odd chemistry grow into something great. The same goes for Tye Dillinger’s act and Sami Zayn’s “loveable underdog” routine.

Once they arrive on the main roster as a “finished article” the WWE-only fans struggle to get into them. “Why am I supposed to like this guy?” Is the main refrain you hear. Why is Tye Dillinger a “Perfect 10” when all he does is lose? Why should I love Sami Zayn when he is presented as an annoying geek in interviews?

Main roster fans have missed the journey, and all they get are people that some sections of the fan base cheer for because of matches and stories they didn’t see.

The booking

It was only going to take so long before we got to the booking, and more specifically the booker. It is important to remember that you can’t always win all the time in wrestling, and that for the most part who does and doesn’t win isn’t even all that important. But when introducing a new person to a fan base you have to make them matter, because otherwise why should they even bother being interested in them?

When Finn Balor made his main roster debut he won a fatal four way and then beat Roman Reigns clean in the middle of the ring. That immediately showed people that this guy was important. He then put on a great match with Seth Rollins despite a bad crowd and a completely ruined shoulder. Since returning from that injury though, Finn has not been protected by the booking. He lost to Bray Wyatt to kick off a feud that never ended, he has been getting squashed by Kane, and most recently he lost to Samoa Joe. Why now should fans think Finn is important when he comes out?

WWE can’t push everyone, and they have guys like John Cena, Randy Orton, and Roman Reigns who are, whether fans like it or not, established as reliable and safe guys to book strong. WWE has been giving a monster push to Braun Strowman and doing a reasonable job of looking after Samoa Joe, so it is hard to then create space for Finn Balor. But when your booking someone poorly and they get less popular you shouldn’t then be surprised. Everyone loves a winner, especially kids, and if you aren’t winning then people won’t pay attention. Just look at how much coverage there is of the New England Patriots or Golden State Warriors compared to the Cleveland Browns and Brooklyn Nets.

WWE has done a terrible job in protecting some of it’s NXT graduates, especially those that are faces. Heels like Joe and Owens have been well looked after, but faces have been severely mismanaged. It was almost unthinkable when he left NXT that Sami Zayn could ever turn heel, but here we are. Neville too had to go heel to make a mark, and the same seems to be inline for Shinsuke Nakamura and Bobby Roode.

It’s not that much of a surprise, since Vince McMahon is struggling to book his top babyface to actually get over. Even the women aren’t immune. While nearly 100% of the roster is now NXT graduates, the like of Sasha Banks and Bayley are floundering after being can’t-miss babyfaces on debut while heels like Alexa Bliss and Carmella are soaring.

What is the solution?

There doesn’t seem to be an immediate solution for the transition problems NXT stars have had. While John Cena is seemingly phasing himself out of WWE, Randy Orton is still hanging around the top of the card, and with Survivor Series came Triple H and the instance on giving him screen time and top-of-the-card stories.

While the old guard are still lingering and eating up space it is very difficult to make new stars look important. Many fans look to a time when Triple H is running the show, since he books NXT so well. However, that wouldn’t necessarily undo the issues of not giving WWE-only fans the journey of people that have already completed it. It wouldn’t necessarily open up space at the top of WrestleMania for someone not named Roman Reigns, Triple H, or Brock Lesnar.

There is a section of the crowd that want to see Finn Balor on top, that wanted to see Sami Zayn vs Kevin Owens for the title, but there is seemingly a glass ceiling on NXT grads, and with the news of Finn Balor seemingly losing the Royal Rumble main even due to not being over it doesn’t look like breaking any time soon.

What do you think will help NXT stars transition to the main roster? Let us know in the comments below!

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Toby Durant

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