This is the first 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, including the all important ground rules plus my musings on the deliciousness of cake and the state of the city of Coventry, please go to chopskicksandnearfalls.com/from-nxt-to-the-wwe-main-roster-when-is-a-promotion-not-a-promotion
Now the formalities are out of the way, here are our first three contestants.
NXT – There’s no other way of saying it, Aleister Black was a star on NXT. Debuting with a series of spooky (although crucially not goofy) vignettes, he debuted by beating Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas not long before Almas went on the run that took him to the NXT Title.
This really set the tone for Black’s time on NXT as a great mini-feud with Hideo Itami followed including a banger of a match at NXT Takeover Brooklyn III, and Black’s victory was followed up with further success over Velveteen Dream. This was the feud that put Black over in many people’s eyes with the Dutchman exhibiting some superb character work in dealing with the harassment of Dream, and also continuing to show a unique and exciting in-ring style.
A further impressive win over Adam Cole saw Black move into NXT Title contention, and indeed just over a year after debuting in NXT by beating Almas, Black did it again, but this time to win the black and gold brand’s main belt. By this time Black’s imposing presence was a key fixture of NXT with his excellently scary entrance music and ‘rising from the dead’ entrance giving him something that the previously wrestling focused NXT didn’t have.
Black’s time as NXT Champion was slightly marred by being the side-show in the ongoing Ciampa v Gargano feud, and this led to him losing the belt to Ciampa due to Gargano’s wayward attempts at interference. All of this preceded a slightly odd feud between Black and the new heel Gargano who had wiped Aleister out in the NXT car park (the most dangerous place in the world). Even if the build-up was a bit shonky though, the match was superb, with Black yet again winning impressively.
Black was never to regain the NXT Championship, but his aura remained undiminished. Even when entering a seemingly odd-couple tag team with Ricochet, Black made it work and the team romped to winning the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, before leaving NXT on a defeat, but on a high, following his team’s defeat to the War Raiders at NXT Takeover New York.
In his time on NXT then, and as I said at the beginning, Black was a star both in terms of his menacing and brooding character, and his brutal but at times balletic in-ring work. Without doubt, he looked destined for greater things.
Main Roster – Sadly Aleister Black has not been able, or perhaps more accurately not been allowed, to reach the heights that he did in NXT. His first few months witnessed an aborted singles push and then a continuation of his tag team with Ricochet. Whilst there were certainly some decent matches in this run, including an appearance at Wrestlemania 35, it felt like a holding pattern and like a very limp start for such an exciting wrestler.
Worse was to come however as, having been traded between Raw and Smackdown like a bag of beans, he then started to sit in what looked like storage cupboards in each arena spouting nonsense and asking people to knock on his door and pick a fight with him. It was never really explained why Black couldn’t go out of his secret room and find a fight for himself, but either way, it immediately made a previously imposing figure look fairly daft.
Yes he eventually found Cesaro to fight with and yes it was a very good match, and yes following all of this Black did go on a long winning streak. Sadly even during this series of victories, it was quite hard to take Black seriously, particularly when he wasn’t actually in his room the first time that Buddy Murphy tried to answer his challenge. Admittedly that slightly farcical beginning did lead to a great series of matches with Murphy, but there was still a feeling that Black wasn’t really going anywhere.
This feeling was cemented when Black lost his unbeaten streak to AJ Styles, and then only got a revenge victory through the involvement of a returning Undertaker. Styles moved on to feud with ‘Taker, whilst Black was left with a pointless Wrestlemania 36 match with Bobby Lashley, in which the main story was actually Lashley’s new wife Lana (sigh).
Since that damp squib of a Mania match, Black has found himself being thrown off a roof by Baron Corbin, which he miraculously survived (because not even WWE will actually kill a man for ratings) and has since been a bit-part player in the ridiculous ‘eye for an eye’ feud between Seth Rollins and Rey Mysterio.
Is there a chance that he’s part of this ‘terrifying’ new faction called ‘Retribution’? Maybe. But even if so….is that really a good thing?
Conclusion – There is still a lot of time for Aleister Black to become a success on the WWE Main Roster. However his character from NXT which was so successful has been watered-down considerably on Raw and Smackdown, and rumours abound that Vince is not sold at all. I personally believe Black is one of the strongest performers to come out of NXT in its history, and I think plenty of people felt sure his shtick would work when he made the ‘step-up’. But as it stands Black is mired in the mid-card and it is increasingly feeling like his ‘stuck in a room’ gimmick is an excellent metaphor for his main roster run so far.
NXT – Before addressing Emma’s time in the ‘Takeover Era’ of NXT it is worth briefly looking at her first run in the developmental brand and her first attempt at a ‘promotion’.
With her oddly hypnotic brand of dancing, love of bubbles and general kookiness, Emma was beloved by the NXT faithful in her first run and this was backed up with some excellent in-ring work. Unfortunately for Emma she was sent to the main roster just a few months before the first Takeover, meaning that she missed the platform to show her skills that the women that followed her were given.
Perhaps predictably, her first Main Roster run was mainly played for laughs as she danced alongside Santino Marella and went 50/50 with everyone from Nikki Bella to Summer Rae. Rather than a loveable good, Emma was presented as just a goof, and so she was seemingly ‘demoted’ back to NXT.
Sadly Emma’s return to NXT didn’t result in a return to her former popularity, with the seemingly bizarre decision made to turn her heel when she attacked Bayley. From here we got a lengthy feud with the Hugger and a relatively uninspiring, if at times comical alliance with Dana Brooke. Having said this, Emma’s work as a heel was good as she changed up her offence to become considerably more vicious.
The highlight of Emma’s second run in NXT was undoubtedly her work with the debuting Asuka. Attempting to bully the newcomer with her pal Dana, Emma was forced to look on as the Empress of Tomorrow destroyed her chum at NXT TakeOver Respect leading to a match between Emma and Asuka at NXT TakeOver London. This match remains a highlight from the early days of the women’s division at TakeOver events, and is definitely Emma’s best match on any roster. It was also to be one of her last matches, as soon after this, Emma was yet again given the call to join the ‘big time’.
Main Roster – Whilst NXT had laid the groundwork for the ‘Women’s Revolution’, as Emma arrived for her second stint on the main roster it was clear this message hadn’t yet made the step-up to Raw or Smackdown. This was highlighted by Emma being included on the pre-show for Wrestlemania 32 as part of a 10 Diva (yes they were still called Divas in 2016) tag match between ‘Total Divas’ and ‘Team B.A.D and Blonde’. Predictably, the whole thing was utter tripe.
A promising feud with Becky Lynch followed, but unfortunately Emma then suffered a back injury, which eventually led to one of the more bizarre ‘re-packagings’ in WWE history. From October 2016 until February 2017 viewers were subjected to weekly vignettes about Emma’s ‘makeover’ to become Emmalina. From these videos it appeared that this makeover mainly involved wearing fewer clothes and being at the beach a lot, but surely there was going to be something more to it? Surely?
Well….no. Unfortunately for Emma/Emmalina, this was classic WWE starting something for which they had no end in sight, and so the end result of all of these vignettes was….Emmalina coming out to say that she was now starting the makeover from Emmalina to Emma. The whole thing was a preposterous waste of time and talent, and unsurprisingly Emma never recovered from this exceptionally terrible booking.
There followed months of largely irrelevant matches with Emma now back in her heel character but not really ever getting the time to show it. She was given one title opportunity at No Mercy 2017, but was predictably unsuccessful as Alexa Bliss won an insipid multi-woman match.
Emma’s final involvement in WWE came with another feud with the now Main Roster debuting Asuka. This shorter, and considerably weaker iteration of their NXT London match didn’t really do anything for either competitor, and Emma was released in October 2017.
Conclusion – It is arguable that neither NXT or the Main Roster managed to get the best out of the now Tenille Dashwood. On NXT they seemed to waste apparent gold by not pulling the trigger whilst she was insanely popular, and then that was compounded by WWE who treated her as a dancing sideshow. Whilst her second run in NXT did bring us the excellent feud with Asuka, the run never really caught fire, and it was perhaps strange that she was then ‘promoted’ back to Raw/Smackdown. Any hopes of Emma being taken seriously on the main roster were dashed by the ludicrous Emmalina gimmick and I don’t think anyone can deny that Dashwood’s work in both Ring of Honor and Impact has shown that WWE and NXT missed a trick with their poor treatment of an excellent wrestler.
NXT – Despite debuting on NXT TV at the start of 2017, it was over a year before Lacey Evans really became an established part of the roster, spending the majority of that first year learning the ropes and….well, losing.
In 2018 however we saw the emergence of the ‘Liberty Belle’ esque character (watch Glow…it’s good fun) which we know and sometimes love today. Describing other members of the women’s division as ‘societal trash’, Evans entered into her first significant feud with Kairi Sane. Whilst there was a clear gulf in skill between the two (not surprising considering the quality of Kairi and the inexperience of Lacey) it was clear there was something about Evans.
The rest of the year saw her picking up wins against the likes of Dakota Kai and Candice LeRae whilst successfully getting over her ‘Women’s Right’ finisher. In my opinion at least Evans looked to be improving and just needed a bit more seasoning to get her to the next level.
WWE – That time was not to be afforded to Lacey however as she was included in the group of six NXT ‘call-ups’ in early 2019 which seemed like a panic move by Vince and his cronies in the face of falling ratings.
Evans seemed to get off to a good start with a number 1 spot in that year’s Royal Rumble and a lengthy (if at times ropey) stint in the match before being eliminated by Charlotte. However this preceded a peculiar few weeks in which Evans’ music would hit and the ‘Sassy Southern Belle’ would come out and do….nothing. Presumably the bookers had seen the success of the Emmalina gimmick and thought it could work again.
Fortunately for Lacey she was soon placed in a feud with Becky Lynch, although unfortunately almost everyone was of the opinion that she was not ready to go toe-to-toe with the woman who had just headlined Wrestlemania 35. Even more unfortunately from a popularity perspective, Evans was drawn into the sphere of Baron Corbin and became part of the seemingly interminable feud between herself and Corbin and Becky and Seth Rollins.
To be fair Evans played her part well in this four-month long extravaganza, but it was not popular at all and certainly didn’t serve to elevate Lacey to the top of the division, particularly as she and Corbin lost every single match with their more illustrious foes.
Whilst the next few months saw Lacey drifting without a story, she was part of a historic, if not controversial first as she and Natalya became the first females to wrestle in Saudi Arabia. Whatever your feelings on WWE’s blood money Saudi shows (and that may show what mine are), nobody can deny that this was a huge moment for Lacey Evans.
Since then Lacey has been on the Big Show train of face/heel turns. She unsuccessfully challenged the now heel Bayley for her Smackdown title, turning face in the process and taking on a wholesome American gimmick that seemed to largely revolve around her having a daughter. Snarkiness aside, Lacey made the transition to babyface well and it took her into a 5 way match for the Smackdown title at Wrestlemania 36.
If time stopped at WM36, then I think we could unconditionally say Lacey was on the rise, however recent weeks have seen her lose in a karaoke contest to Naomi, and yet again turn heel. It’s not the sort of booking that suggests she’ll be returning to the title scene any time soon.
Conclusion – With such a short run of significance in NXT, it is tricky to say whether the ‘promotion’ to the main roster has been successful for Lacey Evans. In terms of exposure it absolutely has, and whether people enjoyed it or not she was a big part in one of the major storylines after Wrestlemania 35. However the recent trend doesn’t look great and it’s always concerning to see characters switching from heel to face and back again in such quick succession. Despite this, and also considering that Lacey would probably have benefited from a bit more time in NXT, it does feel as if Evans is made for the Main Roster, and if WWE can just have some patience (I know….I know) and stick to a character, I think she can be one of the NXT to Main Roster success stories.