wrestling / Columns

Top 7 Botched WWE NXT Call-Ups

November 6, 2021 | Posted by Steve Cook
Karrion Kross WWE Raw

Here’s a topic that’s been on the backburner for a minute. We spend a lot of time here on the pro wrestling fandom section of the World Wide Web talking about how WWE Superstars transition from NXT to the main roster. Usually, we’re pretty negative about it. Sometimes, things play out and they end up going better than we expected. Other times, things play out and we were right to be negative about the whole thing in the first place.

WWE releases within the past few days have made this a very topical subject matter. Some people that did so well in NXT were cut loose after main roster runs that didn’t live up to expectations. Today, we look at the Top 7 Botched NXT Call-Ups.

7. Enzo & Cass

Enzo Amore and Big Cass 4.25.16, nZo CaZXL, Triple H

Maybe Enzo Amore & Big Cass weren’t the most technically gifted in-ring performers of their NXT class, but there was something about them that actually worked. Namely, Enzo’s charisma. Matched with Cass’s size, it made for a top-shelf NXT act that was over wherever they went. This includes the main roster, where fans immediately took to Enzo’s sing-along promos. People like sing-along promos, we learned this during the Attitude Era and it still applies today. WWE never quite pushed them to the top though, and eventually split them up because that’s what they do with tag teams. Cass’s singles heel push didn’t last long after they realized the charisma of the team was with Enzo. Enzo got some run on 205 Live, doing well for himself as the annoying heel champion that couldn’t really beat anybody yet kept winning somehow. He would be released after a sexual assault allegation.

Both men’s careers have been hampered due to outside the ring matters. Cass still has the physical presence to make an impact, and as far as I know, Enzo can still talk. These guys had a better WWE main roster run than anybody else on this list, I’m just saying that they could have done much more and been even bigger merchandise draws than they were.

6. The Ascension

Konnor & Viktor had a pretty good thing going in NXT. They held the Tag Team Championship for nearly a year, laying waste to anything in their way. I’d be lying if I said I had great expectations for their main roster run, largely due to WWE’s treatment of tag teams over the years. Even I was shocked as to just how poorly it went. For whatever reason, it was decided that Konnor & Viktor needed to wear face paint & shoulder pads upon their arrival on the main roster. It was bad enough that they dressed the Ascension up like the Legion of Doom, then JBL buried them on commentary for not being the Legion of Doom. One of those things that made zero sense at the time and even less in hindsight. Shockingly, the Ascension didn’t get over with their push of being “not as good as the great tag teams they’re imitating”.

Konnor & Viktor would go on to form an alliance with Stardust, then with Breezango. Neither grouping got them anywhere. By the time they were released, most of us forgot they were still there. A shame for a team that had shown so much potential.

5. Ember Moon

Ember Moon WWE NXT Takeover 31, WWE

You could see the problems coming for Ember Moon on the main roster. Good in-ring worker, but a gimmick that required some explanation. I think she was supposed to be a happy go lucky werewolf. She had a pretty cool entrance, which is mostly what we’ll remember about her run with WWE. She’d come out all supernatural and stuff, but once the bell rang she became just another wrestler. Talked like just another wrestler. When Ember was out of NXT and not getting to have long matches on a regular basis, it was tough for people to figure why they should care.

Ember also had some injury issues during her time on the main roster. Perhaps more time on TV would have given her more time to find herself, but it feels like one of those things that should have been handled in NXT to begin with.

4. Retribution

RETRIBUTION WWE Raw 9-21-20 Reckoning

You might recall August 2020, when reports were that USA was unhappy with the Raw viewership & ratings at the time. WWE apparently pitched two ideas that were going to boost ratings and send thing in the right direction. One was Raw Underground, which failed miserably. The other was Retribution, which also failed miserably. Masked figures emerged on WWE television wreaking havoc in response to unfair treatment they had received while working for the company. Some of us even came up with reasons for it. As usual, we put more thought into it than WWE did.

Dominik Dijakovic, Dio Maddin, Shane Thorne, Mia Yim & Mercedes Martinez never really had a chance with this thing. Neither did Mustafa Ali, but he did the best he could trying to polish it. The group’s booking never made much sense. They were feuding with heels while trying to be heels. Members kept randomly disappearing. Dijakovic & Maddin stayed together as a little-used tag team until recently being split by the Draft. We’d be foolish to have hope for either one at this point.

3. Tyler Breeze

The hype surrounding Tyler Breeze got to epic proportions during his time in NXT. He’d have these tremendous matches on the TakeOver events, and online experts would tell us that he was the next Shawn Michaels. On one hand, Breeze used HBK as one of the templates for his “Prince Pretty” persona, so the comparison made sense in that regard. On the other hand, Shawn Michaels was a once in a generation talent, and while Breeze was exceptional in the ring, he wasn’t Shawn Michaels.

It was quite evident that WWE didn’t see him in that light either, given what happened when he got to the main roster. After a brief feud with Dolph Ziggler & a equally brief run with Summer Rae as his valet, Breeze went on an extensive losing streak. It was kind of awkward at the time, as WWE Network was airing a documentary series titled “Breaking Ground” that went behind the scenes at NXT. The finale culminated with Breeze’s call-up to the main roster, a moment that would have had more effect on viewers if he hadn’t already been jobbed into olbivion.

I don’t want to undersell the Breezango tag team. Breeze & Fandango had some good moments together on SmackDown and later back in NXT. It was a far cry from where people thought Tyler Breeze’s career was heading prior to hitting the main roster.

2. Keith Lee

So this one isn’t completely on WWE. A good chunk of Lee’s main roster run was consumed with a fight against COVID-19, one that took a lot out of Lee and required time to recover. Everything around that period of time, however, can be put at the feet of WWE. I really wanted to give it a chance, but the change of music & change of wardrobe was too much to overcome, especially once 50/50 booking was added to the mix. Keith Lee went to being a big money ballplayer on NXT to just another guy on Raw in near record time. Add in the concerns over his in-ring style, which just went to show me that the higher-ups were paying no attention to NXT.

Lee might have ended up panning out eventually as the Bearcat, but we’ll never know. WWE’s not hanging onto these people as long as they used to.

1. Karrion Kross

This one is completely on WWE. I haven’t seen all of Kross’s pre-WWE work, but I’ve seen enough to know what his main strength before signing with WWE & in NXT was: He came off like a badass. He looked like he could destroy anybody across the ring from him. He called himself Killer Kross, and that’s exactly what he was. Karrion did much the same thing through most of his stay in NXT. Some argued that he wasn’t a ***** worker like previous NXT Champions, but the man was believable.

Until he got to Raw.

For one thing, the dude was still NXT Champion & walking around with that belt. He’d run through everybody there without picking up a loss, so what happens on his first night? He loses to Jeff Hardy, who hadn’t beat anybody of note in six months. He was missing Scarlett, who’s a very important part of the act. What had been an elaborate NXT entrance became a generic WWE Raw entrance. We were told to wait & see. We waited and saw Kross given some ridiculous ring attire out of some low-rent gladiator movie, then people were shocked when he didn’t get over. Who would have guessed?

Thanks for reading! You can chat about some of your favorite Botched NXT Call-Ups down in the comment section, and/or hit me up on the Twittah or e-mail at [email protected] with your thoughts, opinions, suggestions and betting tips. If my NFL picks this year are any indication I need all the help I can get.

article topics :

NXT, WWE, Steve Cook