Mount Rushmores of Wrestling is a series that breaks down the cream of the crop of professional wrestling in our quest to come to a consensus on the top 4 of any given category. In today’s edition, we’re talking the greatest NXT Superstar call-ups of all time based on their impact and successes on WWE’s main roster.
Jason: We’ll start things off with the Superstar who had the best actual debut on the main roster. In the grand tradition of past NXT Champions appearing on Monday nights while still holding the big X belt, KO strolled out on Monday Night Raw in the middle of John Cena’s US Title Open Challenge, but refused to wrestle the Doctor of Thuganomics. Instead, he launched into a wonderful tirade explaining how the NXT Championship was better than some secondary belt on a nostalgia run, and continued this amazing show of disrespect by beating the crap out of Cena and then stomping on the United States Championship with his own gold held high.
It’s an iconic shot of the NXT Champion not only standing tall over a mid-card belt in the midst of the run that rejuvenated it, but above the biggest star in the industry. That Owens would then go on to beat Cena clean in his debut match showed that Quebecois combatant was a force to be reckoned with.
Now let us never speak of how the rest of his feud with Cena went.
Since coming to the main roster, KO has maintained a position at or near the top of the card, becoming the second-ever Universal Champion, and holding the ugly fruit rollup version of the belt for 188 days. He’s a multiple time United States and Intercontinental Champion, has had high profile feuds with everyone from Roman Reigns to Shane McMahon, and is almost always the best part of anything he does in WWE. More than that, WWE loves to give the guy “moments” that last with you well past their shelf life. From headbutting Vince McMahon to diving off the WrestleMania sign, to the Festival of Friendship, Owens is a top tier talent, and though he is sometimes relegated to the mid-card, he has always been a star.
Forrest: While her undefeated run as NXT Women’s Champion is arguably more notable, it is impossible to understate the impact that Asuka has had on WWE’s main roster since her debut there. One of the few women’s Grand Slam Champions, the first women’s Royal Rumble winner and a newly-minted Miss Money in the Bank, Asuka is nearly as dominant amongst stellar peers like Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair, Bayley, and Sasha Banks as she was on the sometimes more uneven NXT.
Those numerous accolades aside, however, Asuka’s most defining feat on the main roster to date is how much the company has relied on her during the COVID era. From Becky ‘The Man’ Lynch, the most over star on the roster, relinquishing her Raw Championship in an emotional show of respect to Asuka, to frequent show stealing appearances in other segments, multiple PPV matches, and even stints on commentary, Asuka has helped secure the women’s division in uncertain times in an uncompromised way few other WWE Superstars are able to. Through Japanese-laden promos, taunts, and numerous wins meant both to affirm her own ability and to help establish less refined talent like Lana, Asuka’s mark on the WWE Universe will likely always be remembered fondly, and has certainly made her my most favorite wrestler of all time.
Jason: If we’re talking about the most successful NXT call-ups of all time, the objectively correct answer is obviously Charlotte Flair. In just five short years on the main roster, Flair has racked up 10 reigns as Women’s Champion (5x on SmackDown, 4x for Raw, and she was the final Divas Champion before the belt was retired), won the 2020 Royal Rumble, and participated (admittedly as a bit of a third wheel) in the main event of WrestleMania 35. She topped the PWI Top 50 in 2016, modeled in the ESPN Body Issue, and even appeared in her own Cricket Wireless Commercial. At times, it feels like the company’s a little too into her, in fact, as she has quickly become the female face of the company. Even as stars like Becky Lynch emerged as crowd favorites that eclipsed her popularity, WWE maintained faith that Charlotte should always be at the forefront of the company.
That’s doubly reflected in her booking, as Charlotte has been protected to a degree that has occasionally been damaging to other performers. Though it should take a performer of Charlotte’s stature to end Asuka’s legendary undefeated streak, she did NOT need to beat the Empress of Tomorrow to take the SmackDown Women’s title only days before a triple-threat Mania main event she was already a part of. Similarly, her match at Mania 36 with NXT Women’s Champion Rhea Ripley seemed designed to make a star of the Australian grappler…except that Charlotte beat her, scoring the rare tapout victory over Ripley that she has yet to recover from. Still, Charlotte is at the top of the wrestling world for a reason, and it’s not just because of her family name. She’s a top-tier performer who can go in the ring, on the mic and in the press, and if the rumors are true, it may not be long before she steps away from the squared circle and toward the silver screen.
Forrest: Although he debuted with The Shield, former NXT Champion Seth Rollins quickly and wholly defined himself as an individual force to be reckoned with on WWE’s main roster. The 29th Triple Crown Champion, 18th Grand Slam Champion, and only wrestler to hold the NXT, WWE, and Universal Championships, Seth’s tenacity, high-profile feuds, and in-ring ability have rocketed him to the top of the roster, and if PWI is to be believed, to the top of the industry itself — no small feat.
Rollins, too, has been uniquely positioned as a kind of era bridging talent. Through wins against CM Punk as part of The Shield, and (potentially mistakenly) over industry legend Sting as part of The Authority, Seth has been handed the torch in ways few others have ever been. He’s met the call with a stunning Money in the Bank cash-ins, record-breaking wins over Brock Lesnar, and Royal Rumble and gauntlet-dominating performances that indicate, paternity leave aside, he’s just getting started.
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