One of the smartest things WWE has done in the last decade was to open the WWE Performance Center to cultivate the stars of the future at NXT (formerly known as Florida Championship Wrestling). Dean Ambrose and current WWE World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins both came from NXT…although one could argue that they would have made it to WWE without NXT.
Dean Ambrose was a star in the indies at places like Combat Zone Wrestling as ‘Jon Moxley’ and Seth Rollins (formerly known as Tyler Black) did fantastic things in Ring of Honor prior to signing with WWE. Both could have made the jump the old school way with an immediate spot on WWE’s main roster.
If you look at the top stars at NXT, most made their name prior to signing with WWE.
– Kevin Owens (formerly known as Kevin Steen) – Owens was a star in Ring of Honor and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla for nearly the last decade. He was ready to be in the WWE for many years and has only been under contract in the WWE for less than a year.
– Sami Zayn (formerly known as El Generico) – Zayn and Steen had a similar paths to the WWE. Zayn was a masked wrestler and made his name at PWG, ROH and Chikara. Zayn has been ready for awhile. His move-set is one of the most creative in the WWE.
– Finn Balor (formerly known as Prince Devitt) – Balor was a big star over in Japan at New Japan Pro Wrestling. I honestly believe that promotion has some of the best wrestlers in the world. I wouldn’t be surprised if WWE didn’t poach a few more NJPW guys soon.
– Hideo Itami (formerly known as KENTA) – Itami has been wrestling for the longest time out of this group. He made a name for himself in Japan wrestling for Pro Wrestling NOAH. He even made a few runs in the U.S. at Ring of Honor. He was actually the guy who came up with CM Punk’s finisher ‘The Go To Sleep’ before Punk started using it.
– Neville (formerly known as PAC) – He’s already called up to the main roster, but I feel like he should be included in this section. He was a big star for Dragon Gate USA and wrestled all over the globe before signing with the WWE.
– Uhaa Nation – Uhaa doesn’t have a name yet in WWE, but he has been shown in promos showing that he will debut soon. He was a star for Dragon Gate USA and moves great in the ring for having such a stacked physique.
No matter what Triple H wants you believe, the WWE still needs the indies…even if NXT keeps growing as a promotion/territory. WWE can sign guys like Owens and Zayn to be instant stars, but NXT didn’t ‘make’ them like Triple H would want you to believe.
The true test of NXT is to make huge stars out of legit homegrown talent. They have already pushed women’s wrestling to the next level with ladies like Charlotte, Sasha Banks and Bayley, but can they consistently do that with the guys?
They have plenty of guys they signed with little to no prior wrestling experience. Those guys are the true measuring stick on how well NXT is at cultivating the future of the business. If Tyler Breeze, Baron Corbin, Mojo Rawley and tag teams like Enzo Amore/Colin Cassady and Wesley Blake/Buddy Murphy can make noise at the next level, NXT was definitely worth the investment.
Bobby Roberts (otherwise known as Sweetbob) is the creator of ‘America’s White Boy’ and contributor at Project Shanks. His writing has been featured on ESPN’s ‘SportsNation’, Sports Illustrated’s Hot Clicks, Guyspeed, and various other sites. You can follow him on Twitter at @Sweetbob.