Ever since NXT began to develop future Superstars for the WWE main roster – long before it was a firmly established third brand – it’s been the holding tank for many of the top indie stars of the past decade as they made their way into the WWE Universe. Ring of Honor stars like Tyler Black, Bryan Danielson, Brodie Lee and Samuray del Sol became Seth Rollins, Daniel Bryan, Luke Harper and Kalisto; international stars like La Sombra, KENTA, Prince Devitt, and Kana became Andrade Almas, Hideo Itami, Finn Balor, and Asuka. They continued to build on polishing more indie darlings, like Samoa Joe, Bobby Roode, Chris Hero (Kassius Ohno), Tommy End (Aleister Black), Ruby Riot (Heidi Lovelace) and Nikki Storm (Nikki Cross). With the recent debuts of Adam Cole, Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish, it’s clear the WWE will continue to pursue the best indie talent available when contracts are up.
But what doesn’t get enough credit is the often scorned idea of “WWE created” wrestlers. For some reason, vast majorities of internet fans seem to downplay the wrestlers that have emerged that were never a part of any indie promotions, who never “paid their dues” in bingo halls, that somehow they’re inferior to those road tested and battered. But WWE has had a long history of successful creations of people they’ve trained – most notably the fabled Class of ’02 from their then developmental at OVW that featured John Cena, Randy Orton, Brock Lesnar, Batista and Shelton Benjamin. But ever since Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW) closed it’s doors in 2012 and was rebranded and restructured as NXT, as well as the creation of the WWE Performance Center a year later, they’ve continued to create some fantastic characters, and in many cases excellent athletes, with perhaps the greatest consistency to date.
Here’s a look at the Top 25 success stories from the training program at the WWE Performance Center and NXT, who were signed straight to the WWE and were molded from the ground up.
Honorable Mentions: The WWE developmental since leaving FCW has actually been churning out some solid talent – more than people realize. So before we rank the 25 best homegrown talent from WWE’s developmental in the NXT/Performance Center Era, a quick nod to a few other workers who are turning out alright as well: Lacey Evans has had a few enhancement matches and took part in the Mae Young Classic, but she hasn’t quite found her groove yet – she just barely misses the cut; Liv Morgan is a star on the NXT Live Events and recent drama with her break-up with Enzo Amore and hook up with Tyler Bate could propel her further; Tino Sabbatelli & Riddick Moss are getting more air time, but they’re not quite regulars yet; the other girls from the Mae Young Classic from the PC – Reina Gonzalez, Vanessa Borne, and Zeda – are all looking like potential regulars, but for now are just enhancement; Mandy Rose is doing well on the Live Events, but hasn’t found a foothold or chance to appear on NXT television yet.
25. LARS SULLIVAN
As we reported yesterday, Lars Sullivan has gone from long term Performance Center prospect, to instant star with his recent dismantling of tag team partners. He’s finally earned a singles push and has started his first feud with mid-card favourite No Way Jose. It’s still early yet, but so far he looks like the real deal.
24. SONYA DEVILLE
Daria Berenato was voted off of the last season of Tough Enough, but WWE liked what they saw and signed the amateur MMA fighter and sent her to work at the Performance Center. After a few appearances here and there on television, she re-emerged as Sonya Deville and has been racking up a solid win streak.
22/23. THE STREET PROFITS (MONTEZ FORD & ANGELO DAWKINS)
Angelo Dawkins has been at the Performance Center so long, people thought he’d retire there, but he’s back in a brand new tag team with Montez Ford, The Street Profits, and after tearing up the Live Events the past year with their infectious energy, they’ve finally made the NXT tapings and are making the most of their new attention.
21. BIANCA BELAIR
Bianca BelAir is a former collegiate track and field star with the University of Tennessee, CrossFit competitor and weightlifter who signed with the Performance Center last year. She took to pro wrestling quickly, impressing her coaches and scouts. She was one of the standouts in the early rounds of the Mae Young Classic and NXT seems to have high hopes for this firecracker. Her hair whip is mesmerizing.
19/20. HEAVY MACHINERY (OTIS & TUCKER)
Otis Dozovic and Tucker Knight were scrambling to find spots on the NXT roster, but once paired together they became fan favourites – they’re a lovable version of the Natural Disasters (Earthquake & Typhoon). They just had a feud with former NXT Tag Team Champions, Authors of Pain.
18. MOJO RAWLEY
Scouting pro footballers doesn’t always work out, but when they do, the do. Dean Muhtadi left the NFL after a couple short tryouts with the Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals and headed to the Performance Center where he became Mojo Rawley, whose high octane persona became a fan favourite. He hasn’t quite caught on on the main roster like he did in Full Sail, but he was the 2017 winner of the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royale at WrestleMania 33, so he’s not doing half bad either.
17. DANA BROOKE
A former fitness model and weightlifter – she placed 12th at the European Arnold Classic in 2013 and thirteenth at the 2015 Arnold Sports Festival in Ohio, Dana Brooke headed to the Performance Center and debuted on NXT television in 2015. She’s still got some ways to go, but her passion to succeed and her chemistry with Emma got her to the main roster, where she became the sidekick to Charlotte Flair during several championship reigns. Earlier this year, WWE allowed her time off to compete at the Arnold Sports Festival once more, this time reaching her best standing yet, 5th place.
16. BO DALLAS
Bo Dallas had four years in WWE’s developmental in FCW before heading to NXT in 2012, where he was groomed to become one of their earliest stars. He would have a solid two year run in NXT, where he would win the NXT Championship, before heading to the main roster in 2014. He’s been a constant presence on television, currently part of The Miz’s Miztourage with Curtis Axel, but those who remember his NXT days wish for more. Bo joined the WWE straight out of high school at 18.
The Queen of Staten Island may have come from a wrestling family (her dad was WWF 80’s jobber Paul Van Dale) but she was a former cheerleader for the New England Patriots as well as a brief stint as a Lakers Girl in the NBA before joining the Performance Center in 2013. In NXT she was the valet for Enzo & Big Cass, but on the main roster she’s turned into a solid mid-card heel.
13/14. AMERICAN ALPHA (JASON JORDAN & CHAD GABLE)
WWE loves its amateur wrestlers (usually scouted by scout Gerald Brisco) and these two both turned out to be solid recruits. Jason Jordan was a Big Ten collegiate wrestler for the University of Indiana (a 3x national qualifier for the NCAA in Division I) and Chad Gable was a Minnesota state champion in high school, outstanding grappler with Northern Michigan University, ending with becoming a US Olympian at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, England. Both took some work at the PC, but once they were paired together their chemistry was undeniable and American Alpha became Full Sail’s hottest tag teams. Unfortunately, without their NXT backstory as known, their popularity hasn’t caught on as well on the main roster. They’ve since split, with Jordan now Kurt Angle’s “son” and Gable now teamed up with Shelton Benjamin.
12. BARON CORBIN
Another former pro footballer, Baron Corbin came into existence after Thomas Pestock’s football career after stints with the Indianapolis Colts and Arizona Cardinals came to an end (he’s reportedly a part of the concussion lawsuit against the NFL). Although he started off a bit lumbering, he’s turned into a solid mid-card heel with main event potential, after getting called up last year and capturing the 2016 Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royale trophy at WrestleMania 32. He’s currently feuding with AJ Styles over the US Championship.
11. NIA JAX
While she’d watched her cousin The Rock wrestle for years, Nia Jax only got into the sport in 2014 after playing college basketball at Palomar College. She was previously pursuing a career in modelling. She rose through the ranks of NXT as the women’s divisions resident monster, finally making the main roster this year. She’s been a perennial contender for the Raw Women’s Championship, a title she currently is feuding over with former friend Alexa Bliss.
9/10. AUTHORS OF PAIN (REZAR & AKIM)
While Paul Ellering is no stranger to the industry, the two members of Authors of Pain learned it all at the Performance Center. Rezar is a former pro MMA fighter from Albania and Akam is a former Canadian Olympic wrestling team member who left prior to the 2016 Rio Olympics to pursue an offer with the WWE. They just finished a long reign as the NXT Tag Team Champions.
8. ENZO AMORE
Enzo Amore joined NXT in 2012 with no previous wrestling experience or training, simply on the basis of a compilation of promos. He’s had his heat over the years (which only seems to have magnified on the main roster), but he’s proven to be a cash machine – his merchandise is some of the highest selling on WWE’s website and his tag team with Big Cass was one of the most popular teams ever in NXT (and on the main roster). He’s since gone solo to 205 Live, with his inclusion now boosting viewership on the struggling program.
Noami was another FCW graduate who migrated to NXT and it’s early days. She was pushed hard in FCW as a wrestler – she was the first FCW Women’s Champion – then debuted in the 2nd season of NXT where her Naomi character fully emerged. She joined the main roster as a cheerleader for Brodus Clay, but the past year she’s emerged as a true Superstar, capturing the Smackdown Women’s Championship twice.
6. BIG E
A former college football player at the University of Iowa, followed by a career as a powerlifter afterwards – he broke the raw American and national records in the deadlift (799 lbs) and total (2,039 lbs) at a competition in 2011 – Big E joined FCW in 2009. When it became NXT, Big E became a monster and Full Sail favourite, even beating Seth Rollins to become the second NXT Champion. His main roster career started sluggish, but he’s now one of the company’s most popular performers as a member of the 4x WWE Tag Team Champions, New Day.
5. ALEXA BLISS
While many NXT Superstars have risen to the main roster only to become less popular on the grander stage, Alexa Bliss has done the exact opposite. Originally a competitive bodybuilder (she competed in an Arnold Classic), her stint in NXT was mostly underwhelming. Her best work came when she managed the NXT Tag Team Champions Blake & Murphy, which gave her an opportunity to work on her mic skills. By the time she was called up to the roster last summer, she was now the perfect package, becoming arguably one of the top two women on the main roster and 4x Women’s Champion (2x Raw, 2x Smackdown) in just over a year.
4. BRAY WYATT
A college football player at Troy University, Windham Rotunda left school before graduating to become a pro wrestler in the footsteps of his father Michael “IRS” Rotundo and his baby brother, Bo Dallas. He joined FCW in 2009 and in 2010, as Husky Harris, joined the Nexus on the main roster. He was a flop. He returned to FCW as it changed to NXT and Bray Wyatt was born. He’s become one of the WWE’s most popular characters of the past decade, a twisted, rambling cult prophet of doom, who, despite winning the WWE Championship earlier this year, is still criminally underutilized by the WWE.
3. BRAUN STROWMAN
He was a dominant competitor on the world’s Strongman circuit from 2010 through 2012, before heading to the Performance Center in 2013. He started as a Rosebud to Adam Rose before skipping NXT and joining Bray Wyatt in the Wyatt Family in 2015. But it’s only been in the past year when he was separated and became “The Monster Among Men” that we saw Braun’s full potential. He hasn’t won any gold like many behind him in this list, but this summer has shown that he can hang with anyone – from Big Show to Roman Reigns to John Cena – and be a believable wrecking machine.
2. CHARLOTTE FLAIR
With all the indie wrestlers WWE brought into NXT to kickstart it’s women’s division – Ireland’s Rebecca Knox (Becky Lynch), Americans Mercedes KV (Sasha Banks) and Davina Rose (Bayley), Australia’s Tenille Tayla (Emma) and England’s Britani Knight (Paige) – it’s been the former college volleyball player and personal trainer that outshone them all. Although to be fair, she does have Ric Flair’s blood flowing in her veins. But in all seriousness, her athletic background and regimen has propelled her into one of the greatest women performers of all time, with an incredible confidence in the ring, both in poise, charisma, and ring work.
1. ROMAN REIGNS
Love him or hate him, “The Big Dog” is the best performer that the NXT/Performance Center era has created. You can blame the booking or the kids or whatever you like, but the numbers don’t lie. This man moves merchandise. He’s the most viewed WWE Superstar on WWE’s Social Media platforms (YouTube, Twitter, etc.) and he polarizes the WWE Universe in a way that no one has seen since the Guy You Can’t See. He may not be the best wrestler, or the best promo, but he’s definitely the Guy when it comes to being WWE’s most successful character created within the WWE machine itself. Believe that.
Don’t see someone? Chances are they were previously trained in the indies before signing with the WWE. Here’s a quick list of the rest of the roster and where they came from (does not include WWE veterans trained in WWE developmental prior to NXT/Performance Center starting).
- Abbey Laith (Princess Kimber Lee), CHIKARA, CZW, SHIMMER, SHINE
- Adam Cole, ROH, PWG
- Aleister Black (Tommy End), PWG, wXw, ICW, Rev Pro, OTT
- Alexander Wolfe (Axel Tischer), wXw
- Aliyah (Jasmin), AIW, NECW, Smash Wrestling
- Andrade Almas (La Sombra), CMLL, NJPW
- Billie Kay (Jessie McKay), SHIMMER, PWWA
- Bobby Fish, ROH, NJPW, Pro Wrestling NOAH
- Buddy Murphy (Matt Silva), Melbourne City Wrestling (MCW)
- Dakota Kai (Evie), SHIMMER, PWWA, Stardom
- Donovan Dijak, ROH, Chaotic Wrestling
- Drew McIntyre (Drew Galloway), ICW, EVOLVE, TNA
- Ember Moon (Athena), SHIMMER, WSU
- Eric Young, TNA, BCW
- Hideo Itami (KENTA), Pro Wrestling NOAH, ROH
- Johnny Gargano, EVOLVE, PWG, CHIKARA, AIW, Dragon Gate USA, Smash
- Kairi Sane (Kairi Hojo), Stardom
- Kassius Ohno (Chris Hero), ROH, PWG, CZW, CHIKARA, EVOLVE
- Killian Dain (Big Damo), ICW, Rev Pro, WCPW
- Kyle O’Reilly, ROH, NJPW, PWG, ECCW
- Lio Rush, ROH, CZW, Maryland Championship Wrestling (MCW)
- Nikki Cross (Nikki Storm), ICW, SHIMMER, SHINE, Pro Wrestling EVE, Stardom
- Nixon Newell, PROGRESS, SHIMMER, Stardom, WCPW
- No Way Jose (Manny Garcia), CWF Mid-Atlantic
- Oney Lorcan (Bif Busick), CZW, EVOLVE
- Peyton Royce (KC Cassidy), SHIMMER, SHINE, PWWA, Melbourne City Wrestling, Riot City Wrestling (RCW)
- Rhea Ripley (Demi Bennett), Riot City Wrestling (RCW)
- Roderick Strong, ROH, PWG
- Ruby Riot (Heidi Lovelace), CHIKARA, CZW, AIW, AAW
- Sage Beckett (Andrea), SHINE, TNA
- Sarah Logan (Crazy Mary Dobson), ROH, SHIMMER, JCW
- TM61 (The Mighty Don’t Kneel), Pro Wrestling NOAH
- Tommaso Ciampa, ROH, PWG
- Velveteen Dream (Patrick Clark), Maryland Championship Wrestling (MCW)
- Zelina Vega (Thea Trinidad), SHINE, WSU, TNA
- Apollo Crews (Uhaa Nation), EVOLVE, Full Impact Pro, Dragon Gate USA
- Asuka (Kana), SHIMMER, DDT, Pro Wrestling WAVE, JWP
- Bayley (Devina Rose), SHIMMER
- Big Cass (Big Bill Young), World of Unpredictable Wrestling (WUW)
- Cesaro (Claudio Castagnoli), Ring of Honor, CHIKARA
- Curt Hawkins (Brian Myers), New York Wrestling Connection (NYWC)
- Curtis Axel (Joe Hennig), World League Wrestling (WLW)
- Darren Young (Fred Rossen), Chaotic Wrestling, ECWA
- Dash Wilder (Steven Walters), NWA Anarchy
- Dean Ambrose (Jon Moxley), CZW, Heartland Wrestling Association (HWA), Dragon Gate USA
- Elias (Logan Shulo), International Wrestling Cartel (IWC)
- Emma (Tenille Tayla), SHIMMER, ECCW, Melbourne City Wrestling (MCW), PWWA
- Finn Balor (Prince Devitt), NJPW, ICW
- Heath Slater (Heath Miller), World Wrestling Alliance (WWA4)
- Kalisto (Samuray del Sol), AAA, PWG, WWL, CZW
- Karl Anderson, NJPW
- Paige (Britani Knight), SHIMMER, WAW, Pro Wrestling EVE
- Samoa Joe, TNA, ROH
- Sasha Banks (Mercedes KV), Chaotic Wrestling, NECW
- Scott Dawson (KC McKnight), CWF Mid-Atlantic, NWA Anarchy
- Seth Rollins (Tyler Black), ROH, IWA Mid-South
- Sheamus (Sheamus O’Shaunnessy), Irish Whip Wrestling (IWW)
- Akira Tozawa, Dragon Gate, PWG, ROH, CHIKARA
- Ariya Daivari, F1RST, ROH
- Cedric Alexander, ROH, EVOLVE
- Drew Gulak, EVOLVE, CHIKARA, CZW
- Gran Metalik (Mascara Dorada), CMLL, NJPW
- Jack Gallagher, PROGRESS, Future Shock
- Lince Dorado, CHIKARA, Dragon Gate USA
- Mustafa Ali, AAW, IWA Mid-South
- Neville (PAC), PWG, ROH, CHIKARA, wXw
- Noam Dar, ICW, PROGRESS
- Rich Swann, PWG, CZW, EVOLVE
- TJ Perkins, EVOLVE, TNA, NJPW, PWG, ROH, CMLL
- Tony Nese, NYWC, EVOLVE, TNA
- Aiden English (Matt Marquee), Chicago Style Wrestling (CSW)
- AJ Styles, TNA, ROH, NJPW
- Becky Lynch (Rebecca Knox), SHIMMER, ECCW, NWA Hammerlock
- Bobby Roode, TNA
- Erick Rowan (Thoruf Marias), Pro Wrestling NOAH
- Fandango (Johnny Curtis), Chaotic Wrestling
- James Ellsworth (Pretty Jimmy Dream), CZW
- Jinder Mahal (Tiger Raj Singh), Prairie Wrestling Alliance (PWA)
- Kevin Owens (Kevin Steen), ROH, PWG, CZW
- Kofi Kingston (Kofi Sarkodie-Mensah), Chaotic Wrestling, NECW
- Konnor (Ryan O’Reilly), Four Star Championship Wrestling (FSCW)
- Luke Harper (Brodie Lee), ROH, CHIKARA, EVOLVE, Dragon Gate USA
- Mike Kanellis (Michael Bennett), ROH, TNA
- Natalya (Nattie Neidhart), Stampede Wrestling, ECCW
- Rusev (Miroslav Makarov), Vendetta Pro Wrestling (VPW)
- Sami Zayn (El Generico), ROH, PWG, CZW
- The Singh Brothers (The Bollywood Boyz), ECCW
- Shinsuke Nakamura, NJPW
- Sin Cara (Mistico), AAA, CHIKARA
- Tye Dillinger (Gavin Spears), ROH, Border City Wrestling (BCW)
- Tyler Breeze (Mattias Wild), ECCW
- Viktor (Erik Doom), Stampede Wrestling
- Xavier Woods (Austin ‘Consequences’ Creed), Chaotic Wrestling, TNA
- Zack Ryder (Brett Matthews), NYWC