5. Baron Corbin
Baron “Big “Banter” Breakfast” Corbin debuted as a punchline. Too green for TV, even NXT, he was taken at face value: he had 20 second matches because he was only capable of 20 second matches. Two years later he’s one of the most intriguing characters in the company and one of the only homegrowns in NXT who can slide into a main event against incoming superstar talents like Balor, Zayn, Joe and Neville.
4. Corey Graves
It’s tough to say that one of the dullest wrestlers in NXT’s boom period is one of their greatest successes, but Corey Graves will not be known as a wrestler 20 years from now, or even as a former wrestler. Graves will be known decades from now as one of the greatest color commentators in the history of professional wrestling. Graves is quick witted, funny, smart and knows wrestling. His ceiling is being mentioned in the same breath as Bobby Heenan – there’s no higher compliment I can give.
The Bulgarian Brute is a unique instance on this list: he left NXT with half a character. By the time he arrived on the main roster full time, he was a certified threat to whoever he was in the ring with and billed as a true athlete – not the loincloth-wearing, board-breaking mess he was initially. Yes, he’s wasted in the League of Nations at the moment, but Rusev debuted on the main roster as an upper midcard player and, so far, that’s been his floor.
2. Big E
Criminally underrated, even as part of WWE’s most popular faction. Big E should be WWE Champion within three years. His work is smooth, both in the ring and in celebratory gyration, and impactful, both in the ring and in celebratory gyration. More than ring work, at least in WWE, is Big E’s dynamic abilities as a performer. He plays the stoic machine just as well as the goofball big brother. His range as a performer, combined with his ring work and physique, make him one of NXT’s greatest successes.
1. The Shield
Is it cheating to put The Shield on this list? Probably. Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins clearly fall into the group of wrestlers who came to the Performance Center as mostly finished products, performers who needed a WWE sheen on them to be considered ready for the limelight by WWE brass. That leaves Roman Reigns, but can you talk about Reigns’ time in NXT without the context of Ambrose and Rollins? I don’t think so, and the same goes for Ambrose and Rollins. Their time in NXT is impossible to consider without the context of the other two. That’s the whole basis for what will undoubtedly be the top of the card for the next decade-plus in WWE.