10 Most Surprisingly Successful NXT Graduates

Alexa Bliss NXT

Since NXT evolved into WWE’s dedicated development brand for producing talent, it has seen some great successes as an individual show as well as for its main purpose of readying talent for the main rosters of Raw and Smackdown Live. Fresh faces as well as established outside talents appear weekly with the goal of graduating to the main roster and performing in front of the wider audience that only WWE provides.

Among the many faces introduced to WWE’s audience were male and female superstars who were earmarked early on for big things, but another great thing to come out of NXT has been the surprise emergence of less obvious talents. Whether superstars only spend a short time in NXT or establish themselves for several years, sometimes they go on to achieve completely unexpected levels of success when they find themselves under the most pressure and the brightest lights.

This list looks at the collection of superstars who spent time in NXT and whatever impact they might have had, whether large or small or for a short or lengthy period, their subsequent main roster success has come as a surprise.


10. Tyler Breeze

Tyler Breeze NXT

The unfortunate truth for Tyler Breeze was that his underrated run in NXT as Prince Pretty was seemingly doomed the second it graduated to the main roster. His size undercut his heel potential amid the larger main roster athletes often preferred in that role. His vicious streak that made it work among the NXT hierarchy was hardly present at all after his Smackdown debut. Despite being a perennial contender to the NXT title during the latter part of his NXT tenure, Breeze was far from a sure thing for main roster success and for a while that pessimistic view seemed to stick. Breeze’s promotion went as expectedly sour as many hoped it wouldn’t, an initial feud with Dolph Ziggler leading to nothing significant and an immediate drop in exposure until he was only on TV if he was losing.

The silver lining to all this was that after being run into the ground and forgotten, he was put together with Fandango and they’ve captured some silly, comedy gold and are now finally getting to showcase their potential. They are reaping the benefit of the fans jumping on board with what the Fashion Police/Breezango are putting out there. It’s not often a segment routinely receives a universal ovation every time it appears on television but the duo are carving out a niche that their talents in and out of the ring justify. Tyler’s role as the disguise wearing chameleon of the pair is central to that success.

Tyler Breeze may not yet be being taken too seriously, but he is gaining exposure and notoriety in his current role that could lead to him getting bigger chances down the line, perhaps capturing some championship gold, which is the definition of success in WWE.


9. Big E

Kofi Kingston, Xavier Woods and Big E - The New Day
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Big E may have been a former NXT Champion but his ‘I don’t want 3, I need 5’ gimmick wasn’t ever a sure thing for main roster success, and even that didn’t translate with him when he graduated from NXT. That left him as not much more than a muscle-bound lackey, leaving his prospects for success mild at best.

Fortunately, Big E has reinvented himself, is clearly having mountains of fun and selling tonnes of merchandise. Even he himself has to be somewhat surprised by his achievements considering the lukewarm manner in which he came to the main roster.

Big E was known as a singles competitor through and through in NXT, so another surprising factor to his main roster success has been his association with teams. His early work with Dolph Ziggler and AJ Lee, while not anything special, did result in a Tag Team Championship match at Wrestlemania against Team Hell No. After that team’s dissolution, a nearly forgotten Intercontinental title run similarly didn’t do much of anything for his popularity. What it did do, however, was subsequently lead to his association with Kofi Kingston ,which eventually coaxed Xavier Woods into the mix and the establishment of one of WWE’s top acts today, The New Day.

Once The New Day ironed out the kinks from their misguided beginning as overly positive, cliche spouting faces and found their entertaining side, Big E and The New Day have become a staple of whichever WWE brand they appear on. Now they are capturing numerous Tag Team Championships and setting records as well as hosting Wrestlemanias, an accolade usually reserved for the likes of superstars such as Hulk Hogan and The Rock. That massive level of success would be surprising no matter what, but to do it as a faction is doubly impressive and Big E is thriving in his role.

Now firmly entrenched at the top of whichever tag team division he encounters, Big E is seen as a legitimate chance to break through to even higher echelons and perhaps could capture some top tier gold if circumstances align in his favour.


8. Corey Graves

Corey Graves
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Daily DDT

This one is also probably a surprise to Corey himself, at least the manner in which he has gained his success.

The former ‘Saviour of Misbehaviour’, he could not have predicted that a series of concussions could lead him to not only being featured prominently on several WWE commentary desks as the lead colour man, but arguably their premier commentator on the entire main roster, helming both flagship shows weekly.

Corey Graves was steadily rising within NXT with an outer shell resembling CM Punk-lite and an anti-establishment gimmick that led him to an NXT tag team championship with the future King of the Cruiserweights, Neville. Soon after however, injuries led to him being sidelined and eventually informed that his in-ring career in WWE was effectively over.

Where others might have fallen to the wayside, Corey adjusted his goals and quickly reinvented himself as a valuable presence on the NXT commentary desk. He became the voice of several Takeover specials and legitimately added an exciting presence to NXT’s overall presentation. Corey’s calls were some of the best parts of NXT, his enthusiastic verbiage and insightful additions leading to him rising to be Raw’s residing colour commentator in a shorter transition period than most could have predicted when he began his new journey.

Now he is even getting the chance to dabble in main roster storylines, as evidenced by his recent interactions with Raw GM Kurt Angle, indicating that his presence could extend even beyond the commentary table and encompass several aspects of WWE’s overall entertainment. Perhaps Corey may get the chance to do most everything he dreamed he would in WWE, albeit from his new vantage point as a critical component at the commentary table making the action we get to see each week that little bit better.


7. Rusev

Rusev WWE

Here’s hoping that the recent whisperings of Rusev being on his way out of WWE don’t materialise, because the Bulgarian Brute has shown that despite his average bruiser beginnings in NXT he has an untapped upside that has only been hinted at.

Rusev’s introduction alongside Lana propelled him to a near year-long undefeated streak which included run-ins with The Rock and dedicated after-Raw specials on the WWE Network where he dethroned Sheamus for his first United States Championship. While this progression isn’t that rare for monster heels early on, Rusev was excelling in the role and quickly showing that he had some distinctively greater qualities than previous incarnations of the type. His feud with Jack Swagger, while repeated a little too often, showed Rusev had excellent wrestling psychology to boot and an ability to portray himself as a wounded animal still capable of winning hard fights. That separated him in a unique way that WWE may not have intended but created a sympathetic ingredient that fans could latch onto if allowed, further illustrating Rusev’s value.

A stumbling feud with Cena halted his upward momentum, more than once it turns out, but when Rusev is given the opportunity to shine he has shown that WWE has a rare talent on their hands. He can not only come across as dangerous and intimidating, he also has some legitimately funny comedic timing that has made segments involving him far better than they would have otherwise been. It may be high praise, but comparisons to Kurt Angle aren’t too far off the mark for his mix of capable violence and comedic hijinx, and Rusev still has an untapped babyface potential to exploit.

Still far from his potential ceiling, Rusev stands out as a surprisingly successful NXT graduate who may yet surprise further.


6. Becky Lynch

Becky Lynch
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The Lass Kicker wasn’t always the centerpiece of Smackdown Live’s Women’s division. In fact, she was not much of a feature before being called up, hence her ultimately successful rise being surprising enough to land in the middle of this list.

You could be forgiven for dismissing Becky Lynch after seeing her dancing NXT debut, but from there she went on to be a solid fixture among the NXT women’s division, rising to be a title contender and occasional off-sider to Sasha Banks. She was far and away the least decorated of the Four Horsewomen of NXT though, and her rise to the main roster was within a group where she was again not the focus.

Becky came up with the mass promotion of women that coincided with the “Divas Revolution” (some say it was Becky Lynch who started it) and again she was the low woman on the totem pole, below Sasha and Charlotte along with Paige and the Bella Twins. From there, Becky did what wasn’t strictly expected and began to shine in her lower role in the storyline, using her increased exposure when she could to endear herself to the WWE Universe. She was exceeding expectations, but it was her next feud that catapulted her to new heights.

Once Lynch was positioned against reigning champion Charlotte, she showed that she was far from an afterthought. Becky had fiery heart and determination, even in an ultimately losing effort to gain the Divas Championship over several months, getting the fans to buy into her and follow her with enthusiastic cheers every night. Come Wrestlemania season, she had had the most engaging women’s storyline since AJ Lee in her chase of the title. No one would have thought it odd if she had gained the re-titled Women’s Championship in the triple threat match on the grandest stage of them all.

A few months later come the WWE Draft and Becky was not only Smackdown’s top female draftee but their inaugural champion and a consistently over presence and lynchpin (How does she not have a roll-up move with this name?) of the division to this day. It feels like only a matter of time before she again holds the gold on the blue brand.


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