Hi folks! Today, we’re looking at 20 of the worst NXT call-ups WWE has ever made. The goal of NXT is to usher in the next generation of superstar. However, what works in developmental, does not always translate to the main roster. Vince McMahon uses his roster so differently that wrestlers are rarely prepared for his expectations. Some eventually adapt, while others whither in to dust before being blown away by the winds of change.
This is not a list of talent who aren’t worthy of working on WWE’s top shows. If I had my way, they would be treated differently and prosper. However, all were doing better things on the NXT brand, before facing varying levels of complications and misuse. Not every name deserves success, but it makes us wonder how they would’ve fared under other circumstances. Did they need more time? Was they changed too much? Who was at fault? We will look at these factors and more.
I’ll be splitting this top 20 list in to two halves, as I like to detail each entry. You will find 1-10 here, and 11-20 will be in the next. I arranged it in alphabetical order, and not in a rated fashion. How do you choose something like that? If you like, you can come to your own conclusion on who are the worst call-ups in the history of WWE.
#1. Authors Of Pain
Akam & Rezar were a funny team, and not in a joking way. Originally, NXT fans were skeptical. They didn’t believe the Authors of Pain worked any better than other more deserving teams, like The Revival or DIY (Tommaso Ciampa & Johnny Gargano). Many felt like management would favor them because of their size, and their lack of charisma made it tough for fans to care for their domination over lesser teams. However, their manager Paul Ellering began talking them up in regular promo videos. He told us what the “Authors” are like, what they stand for, and why they should be feared. Ellering did more to sell the team than any of their matches, and his presence worked because he’s a legitimate manager.
Having supported The Road Warriors (AKA Legion of Doom) to their tag team success, the AOP had a mastermind. They had someone who could talk and point them in the right direction. As they weren’t promo guys, he was essential to their presentation. After a while, the dynamic clicked, and AOP faced off against NXT’s best tag teams. DIY vs. AOP was one of my favorite matches of the year, because Gargano & Ciampa pushed them to their limits. They brought the best out of Akam & Rezar. To me, this was proof that AOP could succeed. If done right, they could move up to the main roster and be taken seriously as a threat.
However, immediately upon call-up, WWE took Paul Ellering away from them. AOP wanted to prove they could stand on their own, but they weren’t ready. Instead, WWE gave them Drake Maverick, which was alright… but he’s no Ellering. Much later, when the AOP sided with Seth Rollins, there was potential. This stable could have taken them to the next level. However, Akam suffered a biceps injury, and they were released six months later. Had WWE brought Ellering up with them, he would have been able to sell the team, and they may have gotten over as heels. When they were ready, they could shock the world by dropping him like a bad habit. It would’ve worked, but for whatever reason, WWE didn’t want Ellering.
The AOP won the Dusty Tag Team Classic, NXT Tag Team Championship, and Raw Tag Team Championship. Had they won the SmackDown titles, they would have been a Tag Team Triple Crown as well.
#2. Bo Dallas
I’m still a BO-liever. Did you know? Bo Dallas may be the most hated NXT Champion of all time. After defeating Big E Langston, the disdain thrown his way is unparalleled. As a heel, Bo Dallas had a real slimy quality you can’t find anywhere. His run as NXT Champion was probably his highest point, because after being called up, WWE made considerable changes. Now he was all about inspiring us to “BO-lieve”, and some of us bought in. I was all in on this gimmick, but I can understand why many facepalmed. Think about it… it’s stupid.
Putting “BO” in front of words does not make you hate, it just makes you question why you’re wasting time watching this crap. WWE tried, and so did Bo. The problem was them not trying the gimmick out in NXT first. If they had, they would’ve noticed how dumb it is. What was so wrong about keeping him the way he was? Dallas didn’t need to inspire to get heat, he just had to be as annoying as he was in NXT.
Bo Dallas struggled to get TV time for so long. As part of the Social Outcasts, he was there, but it didn’t amount to much. His only saving grace was forming the “B-Team” with Curtis Axel, which got them some success. However, Vince McMahon got sick and tired of the incredibly annoying entrance music. It’s the only logical reason I can think of. The second WWE changed their theme, their momentum dropped so rapidly you’d think they had been shot. That was the end for Bo Dallas. WWE shelved him for what felt like a lifetime before finally getting released. Being Bray Wyatt’s brother and the son of Irwin R. Schyster got him no preferential treatment.
Some believe the reason Vince McMahon didn’t get behind Bo Dallas was because of his physique. Think about it, Jinder Mahal & Drew McIntyre were nowhere until they went away and returned looking ripped. If Dallas got in better shape, he had the mic skills to carry anything they wanted him to do. It seems he didn’t bo-lieve in himself enough. To Vince McMahon, he was anything but inspirational.
#3. Bobby Roode
To understand Bobby Roode, you had to have witnessed his TNA Wrestling career between 2011-2013. He was the “IT Factor of Professional Wrestling”, while holding the TNA World Championship over a record-breaking reign. Roode had serious heat and was probably the greatest heel champion the company ever had. The way he turned on his former tag team partner James Storm is one of TNA’s most memorable moments. You had to hate Roode, and for all the right reasons.
In saying that, he had many incredible matches against all challengers. Although he’d usually end matches by screwing opponents over, everything he did was for heat and it brought prestige to the title. Everybody wanted to see him lose, and when he finally did to Austin Aries at Destination X, the fans rejoiced. Aries was a firm fan favorite, having lit up the X-Division. Roode held the title for so long. Seeing Aries put his reign to an end was one of the greatest moments I have ever seen in wrestling. After losing, he spent a few more years with Impact, but never reached the same heights.
His momentum continued in to NXT, and he won the title in less than a year. Roode was the oldest NXT Champion in history, but it was all fresh, because he was now “Glorious”. Eight months later, after going undefeated in singles matches for all that time, he lost the title to Drew McIntyre and moved up to Raw a few weeks later. Since then, he has won five championships, including the Raw Tag twice, the SmackDown tag, United States, and the 24/7 titles.
While the success would have satisfied some, his “Glorious” gimmick was mega over. Many felt it was a wasted opportunity, even more so to those who know his potential from his TNA days. Seeing Roode in the mid-card feels squanderous, however, I’m not unhappy. Roode is 45-years-old, and his prime has long gone. From a business perspective, it doesn’t feel right to push him to the moon now. How many years has he got left? The important thing is that Roode gets what he can out of this run with no regrets. It sucks for his TNA fans, but yeah, I’m not losing any sleep over it, or anyone else on this list.
#4. Chelsea Green
She is another former TNA Impact Wrestling Champion struggling to catch a break. Formerly going by Laurel Van Ness, she portrayed a psychopathic, jilted at the altar bride. She was in love with Braxton Sutter (aka The Blade in AEW), but it was a one-sided relationship. Eventually, she coerced him in to marrying her, all while he had obvious feelings for Allie (The Bunny in AEW, and his real-life wife). At the wedding, Sutter shared his feelings for Allie, and Laurel Van Ness lost the plot. This portrayal got her noticed by WWE, and after many failed attempts, Chelsea was signed to NXT.
The original plan was for her to debut as the psychotic character, but she suffered a broken wrist. Upon her return, Chelsea Green debuted as herself, with Robert Stone as her manager. This was a good partnership, but I feel it didn’t highlight the depth of her talent. Despite failing to win the NXT Women’s title a few times, management took a liking to her, and she appeared in random matches on the main roster. The biggest of these was a singles contest against Charlotte Flair. Chelsea would have joined the women’s Survivor Series team, but again suffered a wrist injury, so the outcome of the qualifying match had to be changed. She would have gone over Natalya, Liv Morgan and Tamina.
Chelsea wanted to get elective surgery to enhance her breasts, so she asked repeatedly and was denied. WWE said they would feature her on TV, but months went by and nothing happened. So Chelsea went ahead with it anyway, while recovering from her wrist injury. WWE later released her back in April, after months of inactivity. In the end, Chelsea felt they messed her about, and has no regrets. She has since wrestled for Ring of Honor, the NWA, and works with her boyfriend Matt Cardona (aka Zack Ryder) in Impact Wrestling.
Continuing the trend of former TNA Impact wrestlers. Ethan Carter III is another former TNA World Champion, but unlike Bobby Roode, endured a much tougher time in WWE. They originally billed him as Derrick Bateman, with Daniel Bryan as his mentor in the fourth season of NXT. Back then, the brand was a hybrid of a reality game show with the occasional wrestling match. Despite it being about eliminating contestants, they did not get rid of Bateman. He continued to be featured after NXT changed in to being a full-fledged wrestling show. However, in 2013, three years after his debut, WWE released him.
This was a blessing, because he showed up in Impact Wrestling months later as “EC3”. Ethan Carter III was the kayfabe nephew of the owner, Dixie Carter, so he had the money and his auntie to back him up. It worked like a treat. By 2015, he was the World Champion and the main event heel Impact needed after Bobby Roode. He defeated Kurt Angle and Sting during this run, which showed how much they wanted to push him. EC3 won the World title twice and had many significant moments, most notably the feud with his “Chief Of Staff” Rockstar Spud (aka Drake Maverick).
Upon returning to WWE, he rejoined NXT, and it felt right. Anyone who followed his Impact career assumed he would eventually win the NXT title. This didn’t happen. He lost most of his matches, and his call-up was delayed because of a concussion. When he eventually got to the main roster, EC3 had done little in NXT to warrant being there. His biggest win was over Dean Ambrose, who soon got a win back the following week. After this, they relegated EC3 to the ironically named “Main Event” show for a while. It seems management did not see enough potential.
In a dark match, WWE had Drake Maverick accompany EC3 as his manager. Vince McMahon didn’t like it, so they scrapped the idea. He spent the rest of his WWE career in the 24/7 title picture, picking up four reigns, each lasting less than a day. These title reigns are his only achievements in WWE. EC3 returned to Impact for a one-off feud with Moose, and now works for Ring of Honor, where he “controls the narrative”. He’s sick of not being able to show what he can do. EC3 does not need anyone writing his script. He can do it on his own, and frankly, I don’t blame him.
No, EC3 may not be the greatest wrestler of all time. However, he was worthy of playing a part in WWE’s mid-card scene, much like Bobby Roode. He is worthy of winning titles, but I doubt he would ever become WWE or Universal Champion. Still, WWE management can’t stand him, and we may never know why. When that’s the case, the narrative will always be one of swimming pointlessly against the current.
#6. Ember Moon
She has had it tough since becoming the NXT Women’s Champion. First, she had to follow in Asuka’s footsteps, which is no easy feat. Ember didn’t beat her to get the title, she had to wait for Asuka to vacate. It felt like NXT wanted to sell her as a threat, and her finisher helped with that. However, coming up against Shayna Baszler, she wasn’t enough of a match. WWE promoted her to Raw in April 2018 and struggled considerably.
The problem here is that Ember Moon had some identity in NXT. Yeah, it wasn’t much of one, but it was there. When she got to the main roster, they stripped what was there away, and she became Adrienne Reese. There was no Ember Moon anymore. She was just called that for the sake of having a ring name. When you have almost no identity, fans (if they care) ask things like… why is she called Ember Moon? What’s the story behind that? Is she a wolf? Does she come from the moon? Is it hot there? Does she start fires with the power of the moon? What exactly is this gimmick?
I have an answer for you. No one has a clue what Ember Moon is, not even herself. She might have a moon show up somewhere in her entrance, but that’s all you’re getting. Don’t even dare to think WWE will get in to it more than that. Ember used to howl and wear wolf-like attire during her first NXT run, so she might be a werewolf? That would make a good movie. Either way, she struggled so hard that WWE sent her back to NXT. She won the new tag titles with Shotzi Blackheart. They lost the titles. Shotzi got moved up to the main roster with Tegan Nox as her partner… which is baffling.
What happened to Ember? She’s just there on NXT 2.0. She’s likely to serve as an enhancement talent until WWE releases her from contract. I cannot see her becoming anything more. The ship sailed long ago, or should I say, the moon disappeared behind the clouds? Ember is nowhere, and it’s sad because she’s not exceptional, but nowhere near as bad as some who have been on the main roster for years.
The main thing which held Ember Moon back in recent times is a ruptured Achilles injury. In 2020, she said:
“I look back at my career in WWE, I’ve been here five years. Yeah, I could say, I should have been the one to defeat Asuka’s streak, or I hope that I could say, aw, man, me and Bayley from SummerSlam, I wish I’d done more. The more and more I sit back and look at everything I’ve done and would re-do, I think about my injury currently. Realizing that I may have a career-ending injury. I’m coming back from the hardest injury and I might not have a chance to redeem myself of all the things I wanted to do and I want to do in my future. It’s so hard to think back and regret, when I try to look forward.”
Funky dance time! If you can remember back, Emma’s time on the main roster with Santino Marella saw them doing a funny dance move with their hands for no reason. It was confusing, unless you saw her run on NXT. As always, if anything quirky makes it up from NXT, it’s never adequately explained or sold. They expect everybody to know how and why they are the way they are. It’s dumb, but yeah, unlike NXT, the main roster develops little character traits.
Even without this, Emma was one of the best workers in the women’s division. Her & Paige wrestled to become the first-ever NXT Women’s Champion, and they put on an absolute clinic! It is often overlooked how much Emma helped to build the NXT women’s division, so Paige had enough viable challengers to make her worthy of a call-up. On the main roster, they did not use Emma often enough in a wrestling capacity. She would appear mostly as a manager for Santino Marella, which was alright, but the gimmick didn’t get over like they were hoping. The final nail in the coffin was the introduction of Emmalina, which is famous for being dead on arrival.
Since then, now going by Tenille Dashwood, she works in the Impact Knockouts Division as part of a stable called The Influence. She has a talk show called “It’s All About Me”, where her guests are expected to host and ask her questions. I’m glad that she has finally found her place, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she gets a title soon. Dashwood’s biggest asset is her Instagram, which is one of the hottest and popular accounts in all of wrestling.
#8. Karrion Kross
NXT put so much effort in to building Kross as a legitimate threat to anyone in WWE. Then he showed up on Raw, still the NXT Champion, and lost to Jeff Hardy in his debut. Now, I will not sit here and say Jeff Hardy isn’t a big enough star to beat Kross. However, when he has been built as a very serious threat for a long time, while Jeff has been a mid-card enhancement talent for ages, you can see why NXT fans would be pissed. What is the point of crowning a NXT Champion when he will go to Raw and get beaten by a guy with no momentum? It makes little sense, and it devalues everything NXT is doing.
To make matters worse, Scarlett is nowhere to be seen. His entrance has been altered, so it’s no longer the jaw dropping spectacle it was. He’s wearing gladiator gear with a mask to hide one of his best features… his facial expressions. They have cut everything NXT built up, ground it down, and shot it so far out of a cannon, it’s hard to imagine anyone finding it again. Karrion Kross on Raw is so far gone from Killer Kross. It worked in Impact because they let him be truly psychotic. He would kidnap people and choke them out like a mad stalker. In NXT, they made him a dominant heel monster, with Scarlett leading the way.
What is he now? Even his promos aren’t enough to describe this sudden change of direction. According to a new report, it’s making him more marketable. If he’s heel, why would you want him to be so? It’s illogical. This is a classic case of WWE management not understanding how to present someone like Kross. It has to be one of the most frustrating things, to have everything you worked on for years, be twisted in to something so alien. This Karrion Kross is unrecognizable. I don’t need Scarlett there to get him over, because I know he’s capable of doing it on his own. If that’s what they are afraid of (Scarlett upstaging him), they could do way better than making him a gladiator. It’s not the 80s… bring him back to 2021, before it’s too late. TICK TOCK! The sands of time won’t wait forever.
Top Comment under this video (from 1 year ago) reads: “Once Vince gets his hands on him, he will take Scarlett away from him, water down his entrance, change his name to the ‘Kross Experience’, and BURY HIM”
#9. Keith Lee
Oh boy. Keith Lee made history by becoming the first man to hold both singles championships in NXT. His matches with Dominick Dijakovic (aka T-Bar) are some of the best I have ever seen in WWE. Lee is talented enough to work with anybody and make it gold. However, management feels he hasn’t got what it takes on the main roster, otherwise, they wouldn’t keep taking him off TV.
Again, Lee is a guy who had his persona stripped away. In NXT, he was known for asking fans to “Bask In His Glory”. The cool thing about this line is it works whether he’s a face or heel. It sounds more like something an arrogant villain would say, but he got over with it, and fans would chant (sing) it during his matches. WWE took his entrance music away and gave him something generic. Lee had to apologize and promise something was in the pipeline.
He was a lovable champion and the fans would hang on to his every word. NXT gave him time to connect to the audience, but the main roster hasn’t given him that. Initially, his biggest moments, going over Seth Rollins at Survivor Series. Roman Reigns showing him respect. Taking on Brock Lesnar & Braun Strowman at the Royal Rumble. These were positive signs, and the fans reacted accordingly. However, something changed. Management didn’t like how some of the bigger guys were working. I can understand why, because Lee works like an indie wrestler. He likes to be athletic and fly around, but in Vince’s eyes, he’s a super heavyweight. It doesn’t suit him to be flying around like a cruiserweight. He needed to slow down and be more like a Big Show, or a Kane, and make everything he does impactful.
It has been obvious for some time that Lee isn’t happy. The frustration is all over his face. Being repackaged as “Bearcat Lee”, who is that for? Why change the name? Again, WWE does things, doesn’t explain it, and then wonders why no one buys in. The name belonged to an old wrestler way back in the 50s and 60s. Is this change to honor a man who paved the way for African-Americans? No, WWE hasn’t said this. The fans are just assuming that. Lee’s expression has changed and he doesn’t work like he used to.
We don’t know if he’s a face or heel yet, because they haven’t given him a mic. Everything about it is confusing, when all they had to do was keep him exactly like he was in NXT. Give him mic time. Build him up with some programs, you know, where the storylines make sense and have a payoff. I’m not writing off this Bearcat Lee thing just yet. However, it’s going to need some serious work. If WWE doesn’t care to sell this gimmick like it’s the best thing since sliced bread, then I will not care either. Did you know? Bearcat is another word for a Binturong, which is an endangered species in Asia. It feels like Lee’s career could be endangered if it carries on like this. I sorely hope not. He’s way too good to be let go.
#10. Lars Sullivan
Unlike previous call-ups, Lars Sullivan is a case of a past coming back to haunt you. I wouldn’t say it’s WWE’s fault, although calling him up when he’s clearly anxious is counter productive. I feel like a minority here, in that I was getting behind Lars in NXT. There was potential there, and yes, I didn’t know about his past, but I began seeing what WWE was. After getting the call-up, they put so much in to hyping him for months. Before the January 14, 2019 episode of Raw, Lars walked out because of an anxiety attack.
He had been signed with WWE since 2013, so he was in the Performance Center among some of the main roster stars we see today. It had taken him almost six years to get to this point, yet his past wouldn’t let him do the job. The problem is the revelation of his past comments. Here are some things he said on a public forum between 2007-2013. The following is courtesy of Sports Illustrated:
The first comments to be resurfaced include a crass, sexual remark about WWE executive Stephanie McMahon, a crack about another user’s race and a homophobic insult about Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers. In another post Miley says:
“Not a troll thread, just a thought. And the thought is that there’s a grey area when it comes to sexual intercourse and rape. There’s 100% complete consensual sex when a woman will rip off her clothes and jump on you, then there’s levels that don’t quite reach 100% consent. Most women like men to take control, at what point is it too much control?
I’m not insinuating that the politician who spewed the nonsense about women controlling when they get pregnant by switching it off in their brain is right, he’s a complete moron. But the fact is there is a grey area when it comes to the definition of rape.”
Miley’s comments received additional scrutiny this week after Reddit user “FarceVacant” rounded up several more message board posts in which Miley disparages Muslims, Hispanics and various WWE wrestlers.
“They should be demonized for their religion,” Miley wrote in a thread about Muslims. “They are violent and have a violent agenda against America.”
“Not to be racist, but it seems like white people are more willing to take responsibility of their own lives than blacks and Hispanics, who are all for government hand outs,” another comment reads.
WWE fined him $100,000 and instructed him to complete sensitivity training. After all of this came to light, he continued to work in WWE, and feuded with Lucha House Party. Now, booking a guy against Latinos a month after his comments come to light? Nothing good can come from that. Kalisto later admitted he purposely bust Lars open in their match at Money In The Bank, as retaliation for his comments. Lars was sidelined with a knee injury, which took 6-9 months to recover, but it shelved him for 16 months.
During his absence, it came to light that he had been in homosexual pornographic films. This is hypocritical, considering his homophobic remark toward Phillip Rivers. Lars returned for a few weeks in late-2020, but was soon taken off TV again. WWE quietly released him in January of this year. A month later, he told Fightful he was likely done with wrestling for good.
What can I say about Lars? I mean, people can change. You know, just because a guy said a bunch of stupid stuff online (many do, but maybe not to this degree), doesn’t mean he’s always going to be like that. However, his anxiety attacks, they are clearly a sign of guilt, and it feels like he could never get over that. He knows that no matter how much work he put in, wrestling fans would always point out his racist and sexist remarks.
Lars would always struggle to get over. His past would exacerbate any heat he got. It’s a shame that we live in a world where something you said so many years ago makes you in to this monster that people can’t see past. Yet, I don’t know him personally, and there’s a chance he could still have these views. The main thing for me, is that he would get the respect of management and his peers. If he got that, then I could see past the remarks and hope he became a better person. It feels like he never got that from his peers though, because as far as we know, no one came to his aid or misses him.
As for the pornographic films, that doesn’t change a thing for me. If he’s gay, then that’s fine. He probably needed money, and that’s what he had to do. I’m more offended by him making homophobic remarks despite being gay. That’s first class hypocrisy, which is the worst. Anyway, sometimes life isn’t fair. If Lars is a changed man, then that’s a shame, and I wish him the best. I’d say the opposite if he still thinks being racist or sexist are funny jokes you pass around online “for the lulz”.
Not the best call-up to end with, but it shows how it’s not always WWE’s fault that someone’s career doesn’t reach the heights they were hoping for. Sometimes, the responsibility lies on the individual talent. There’s no better example of this than “The Freak” Lars Sullivan.
Moving on, we’re only halfway through this piece. We have ten NXT call-ups left to go, and I’ll do my best to get the second part posted soon. Can you guess who they are? Please leave me a comment if you want to have a go at guessing who the other ten NXT call-ups will be. As always, thank you for reading! See you soon.