This is the latest in a series of articles looking at the NXT wrestlers who have been ‘promoted’ from NXT to either WWE Raw or Smackdown, and whether those moves were actually a positive thing for the individual or team in question.
For the introduction to this series please go to chopskicksandnearfalls.com/from-nxt-to-the-wwe-main-roster-when-is-a-promotion-not-a-promotion
For the most recent article about Elias, The Revival and Ember Moon head to https://chopskicksandnearfalls.com/development-to-destiny-from-nxt-to-the-wwe-main-roster-elias-the-revival-ember-moon
For the about Aleister Black, Emma and Lacey Evans pop over to https://chopskicksandnearfalls.com/from-nxt-to-the-wwe-main-roster-when-is-a-promotion-not-a-promotion-aleister-black-emma-lacey-evans
NXT – The hype when it was announced Shinsuke Nakamura was joining NXT was stratospheric, and with bloody good reason. Nakamura had been one of the few people, in the time before Chris Jericho made it cool, to raise interest in NJPW from the West. Charismatic, stiff as a drum and with a style that simply hadn’t been seen by most people before.
And then on top of that hype he delivered one of the best matches in NXT history with his debut against Sami Zayn at TakeOver Dallas. The entrance alone was absolutely electric, and then somehow the match topped it all. Shinsuke Nakamura was here, and he was already an NXT legend after one match.
There was the slow build through the NXT mid-card (Elias Samson, Tye Dillinger and Alex Riley) before an often forgotten, but actually very good mini feud/friendship with Austin Aries (yes…remember him?)
Shin was 9-0, including a superb TV win over previous NXT hero Finn Balor, going into his first NXT Title match with Samoa Joe, and made good on that record defeating the Samoan Submission Machine in a very good encounter at TakeOver Brooklyn II.
NXT perhaps overplayed the Joe v Nakamura feud in search of the perfect match, as they yo-yo’d the title back and forth in two further matches, but whilst they never quite reached those 5 star levels, each of the three matches had superb moments and again positioned Nakamura as an absolute star.
With WWE perhaps sensing that they needed to get The King of Strong Style onto the main roster as quickly as possible, Nakamura’s time with the belt, and on the brand was soon over. But not before he elevated Bobby Roode in the latter’s ascension to NXT champion at TakeOver San Antonio, and then put on arguably his best NXT match since that Zayn classic, again in a losing effort to Roode at TakeOver Orlando.
Nakamura had only been in NXT a year when he was ‘promoted’ but I don’t think there was anyone who thought he hadn’t milked that time for all it was worth. And boy did we enjoy that milk.
Main Roster – Tag Team Champion. US Champion. Intercontinental Champion. Royal Rumble winner. Nakamura’s accolades on the main roster are certainly not in doubt. However considering the pure superstardom he exuded in NXT, his time on Raw and Smackdown has been marred with a very mid-card feel.
Perhaps we should have seen the writing on the wall when his debut ‘feud’ transitioned from the Miz to Dolph Ziggler, seemingly because WWE forgot the Miz was about to be traded to a different brand. There then followed a very limp feud with Baron Corbin, which Corbin effectively won by leaving Nakamura in a heap with a low blow…a trope that was to become alarmingly regular in Shin’s main roster run.
Despite this low-key introduction, Nakamura was soon in the Smackdown Title picture. Unfortunately that picture included Jinder Mahal, and even more unfortunately WWE saw fit to have the champ make racist remarks at the expense of poor old Shinsuke. The obvious way to end this feud between an unpopular and apparently racist champ and a massive fan favourite? Yes that’s right Jinder went over. Twice.
The wrestling world did rejoice however when Nakamura bounced back to win the 2018 Royal Rumble, eliminating everybody’s favourite Big Dog Roman Reigns on the way to victory. His chosen opponent for WrestleMania? AJ Styles. This cause the Internet Wrestling Community to collectively froth at the loins as we pictured the two bringing their New Japan magic to the world of WWE.
To be fair that was probably our fault for raising expectations above what WWE could be bothered to try and deliver on. What we got instead was a tepid WrestleMania match in which Nakamura turned heel, for no apparent reason, and a 6 month long feud in which Nakamura was consistently defeated and the main thrust of the story was who could kick each other in the dick the most. Considering the talent possessed by both men, it may go down as one of WWE’s worst ever feuds.
From here Nakamura never really regained his mojo, and we have seen the sad decline of a wrestling legend into the WWE doldrums.
Yes there have been titles. Nakamura won the US title from Jeff Hardy, again using his patented penis attack, and did hold on to the belt for 156 days before losing to Rusev, ending a title run that was more meh than wow, and included yet another disappointing ‘dream match’ against then Intercontinental Title holder Seth Rollins at Survivor Series 2018.
Following a brief, and baffling run as a tag team with Rusev, Nakamura was to add the Intercontinental Title to his list of accomplishments beating Finn Balor for the belt. Unbelievably, this match was only on the pre-show of this B-Level PPV and it lived up to that poor billing in its insipid delivery.
As with the US Title run, Nakamura’s Intercontinental Title journey was a fairly tedious one, and it ended in fittingly damp fashion as he lost the belt to Braun Strowman on a random Smackdown, before effectively becoming Sami Zayn’s lackey as part of the Artists Collective.
This stable has at least given Shinsuke some direction in recent months, and with Cesaro, at time of writing, holds the Smackdown Tag Team Titles, although I did have to look that up because WWE continue to generally treat their tag-titles with as much care as a randy bull in a shop full of china cows.
Conclusion – Nakamura was only the main reasons I got into Japanese wrestling, as watching his style and panache on NXT left me desperately wanting more. In his time on the main roster however he more looks like someone who wants to be put out of his wrestling misery, and whilst he has continued to rack up titles, not one of them has felt important or meaningful. In short, watching Shinsuke on the main roster is actually quite sad, and I suspect that we will never again see the King of Strong Style that so captivated hearts when he was on the NXT books.
NXT – Carmella was on NXT for almost two years before leaving for the main roster, and I think it’s fair to say few people remember her time in ‘developmental’ particularly fondly.
Spending most of her time as manager/cheerleader for the intensely irritating, and yet strangely popular, Enzo and Cass, it took Carmella over 16 months to have a match on NXT television that actually went over 10 minutes. And in that time, her main job seemed to be to have sub-3 minute matches with the likes of Blue Pants, Eva Marie and a then very green Alexa Bliss.
That first significant match came when Carmella won a battle royal to challenge for Bayley’s NXT Women’s Championship. Unfortunately that match highlighted that Carmella maybe wasn’t ready for the big time as a singles act, and indeed following this brief flirtation with the title, the closest Carmella was to getting back to those heights was in losing a number 1 contenders match to Nia Jax.
Shortly after this Carmella’s time on NXT came to an end, and I doubt there were many who were expecting great things from her promotion to Raw and Smackdown.
Main Roster – Carmella did have a relatively slow start on the main roster, largely taking part in multi-man matches and not getting a lot of time on screen. But a well-executed heel turn and a feud with Nikki Bella towards the end of 2016 showed that, whilst Carmella wasn’t pulling up any trees in the ring, WWE did see her as someone they thought deserved a push in the women’s division.
Bizarrely, Carmella’s moment in the sun came following an unlikely link-up with everybody’s favourite ‘strange-looking’ wrestler, James Ellsworth. Her story with Ellsworth showed that Carmella definitely had the character chops for WWE and as part of the terribly named ‘Welcoming Committee’ with Natalya and Tamina, she also got a big win over the more established Becky Lynch, Charlotte and Naomi.
Better was (eventually) to come for the Staten Island Princess when she twice managed to win the first ever women’s Money in the Bank briefcase. The first victory was unfortunately tainted by overtly misogynist booking from WWE, as Ellsworth was apparently required to fetch the briefcase for his ladyfolk, but WWE did correct this a week later when Carmella won the briefcase all on her own (yes…this was in 2017!)
Having won the coveted bit of luggage, it appeared that WWE’s aim was to make everyone forget that Carmella even existed. It took her 287 days to cash-in the briefcase, and in those 9 months Carmella did almost nothing of note other than ditching the increasingly irritating Ellsworth.
But finally her chance came as the debuting Iiconics destroyed Charlotte Flair leaving the path open for Carmella to cash-in and become Smackdown Women’s Champion, a role which many said was above her station, but which this writer thinks she accomplished excellently as a cocky and entitled heel.
In a variety of bizarre ways, including the return of James Ellsworth dressed as Asuka, Carmella repeatedly bested the Empress of Tomorrow in her first major title feud, which whilst doing nothing for the previously dominant Asuka, certainly put Carmella over as a big deal. Sadly the reign wasn’t to last for too long, with Mella losing the belt to Charlotte Flair in a triple threat that also included Becky Lynch.
Whilst Carmella’s time in the title picture was quite short, it didn’t take long for her to find her next big role in NXT as she teamed up with R-Truth in the Mixed Match Challenge for both competitive and creative success. The pair showed a natural chemistry that was to serve both of them incredibly well during Truth’s career defining role as the face of the 24/7 title. Mella’s interjections in Truth’s various comedy defences and title wins were beautifully executed, and she even found time to win the title herself before a particularly weird moment where she lost the belt to Marshmello (no I’ve still no idea who or what he is).
Sadly 2019 saw Truth and Carmella split up in the draft and we haven’t seen a huge amount from Carmella since that badly timed separation. At time of writing, Mella hasn’t been seen much at all on screen, and it will be very interesting to see how, or if Carmella is used going forwards.
Conclusion – The women’s division on the main roster is hugely dominated by the Four Horsewomen, and many competitors have found to their cost that it is hard to break that monopoly. However, under the shadow of that unit, Carmella has not only managed to work as an excellently vile heel champion, but also carved out a unique niche as a comedy face with her work with R-Truth. With both of these strings to her bow, and in-ring work that seems to constantly improve, Carmella has certainly done as well as any others in the division in trying to get her talents recognised in a very packed roster. There is definitely a concern as to what the future holds for the former manager of Enzo and Cass, but she has more than shown that she is capable of much more than she was permitted to exhibit whilst hanging with those two irritants on NXT.
NXT – Very literally an NXT Original, Breeze was part of the team when the transition was made from FCW and was involved, in jobber-form, in the very first NXT show. Whilst it did take him a while to develop the ‘Prince Pretty’ gimmick which we all associate with him now, he timed his run brilliantly to be a key-player in the development of the TakeOver Era of NXT.
Performing in the first match of any real quality on the original NXT TakeOver, Breeze put on a very good match with Sami Zayn, and perhaps surprisingly came away with the victory in the number 1 contender contest. This propelled him into a title match with Adrian Neville, and whilst he lost that match, it was his next title opportunity that would see Breeze (and all in the match) win plaudits for his performance.
The four-way match between Breeze, Zayn, Neville and Tyson Kidd at NXT Fatal 4-Way was the first great match of the TakeOver era, and Breeze’s performance was superb. Sadly, whilst Breeze did get the nearest of near falls during the melee, it was another failed title attempt for Prince Pretty, in what would become a run of big defeats that underlined his time in NXT.
Tyler was repeatedly beaten by the debuting Hideo Itami and also lost a number one contender’s match to Finn Balor. Perhaps most memorably, Breeze was picked as the man to fight Jushin Thunder Liger at TakeOver Brooklyn and, unsurprisingly by this stage, lost to the Japanese hero.
He and Bull Dempsey were knocked out of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Championship in the first round, and Breeze was then fed to the new boy Apollo Crews in his final TakeOver effort at TakeOver Respect to end any hopes that Prince Pretty would ever become king of NXT.
Main Roster – Even the most ardent of Tyler Breeze fans would have to admit that their hero’s time on the WWE main roster has been…bad.
Debuting with a feud with Dolph Ziggler, which he would go on to ultimately lose, Breeze seemed to have been brought to the main roster to be a punching bag. And a punching bag for the mid-card. At the beginning of 2016, Breeze went on a run of 22 straight defeats, with many of those coming on either Main Event or Superstars, highlighting exactly how little time WWE had for Tyler and calling into question why they had ‘called him up’ in the first place.
Shortly after finally ending that barren run, Breeze began to team with another perennial main roster loser in Fandango. Whilst this team didn’t do much for Tyler in terms of victories (they were few and far between) it did create a relatively entertaining pairing as Breezango developed into the Fashion Police and eventually turned face.
There were brief flirtations with the Smackdown Tag Titles but, as seemed always to be the case for Tyler, they never really looked like winning those matches and towards the end of 2017, the two disappeared from our screens entirely. 2018 saw a move from Smackdown to Raw for Breezango, but in terms of results delivered the same mix of meaningless victories and mostly defeats before Fandango suffered a shoulder injury that would keep him out for months.
Time for Breeze’s singles push? Ummmm….no. Instead he was repeatedly beaten on Raw and spent most of his time where nobody wants to be on Main Event. A brief return to NXT to challenge Ricochet for the North American Title was a welcome distraction, but in truth everyone now knew that Breeze was not going to make it on the main roster.
When Breeze eventually went back to NXT full time, it was a welcome return for all.
Conclusion – Whilst Breeze’s record in both NXT and main roster WWE paints the picture of someone who doesn’t know how to win, in NXT Breeze did know how to put on good matches and was given time to get his character over. As so often happens however, he was not afforded anywhere near the same amount of attention on the main roster, and subsequently he disappeared down the card quicker than Vince McMahon signing a Saudi TV deal. Fortunately for Breeze the goodwill from his first run in NXT means that he is continuing to get support now that he is back, but his return to the black and yellow brand in itself highlights what a disaster his main roster run was.