Top 20 Worst NXT to Main Roster Call-Ups So Far (2/2)

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Hi folks! Today, we’re looking at 20 of the worst NXT call-ups WWE has ever made. This is the second part, so if you would like to check out the introduction and the other ten, you’ll have to look here: #1-10

#11. RETRIBUTION

Nobody anywhere, has ever had something positive to say about Retribution. The talent themselves aren’t to blame, and let me tell you why.

Mustafa Ali had so much to gain. I would say he was the only one keeping it somewhat on track, near the end. However, losing match after match after match, there was nothing he could say to salvage the group. Their mission was to take over, but Ali spent much of his time pointing fingers. Sadly, the group’s downfall will be mostly pinned on his shoulders, seeing as he was the leader. He was the “hacker”, which was an angle which had potential (although they ripped it from Impact Wrestling’s Sami Callihan). Despite this, he rarely used his skills to gain them an advantage.

T-Bar was the original leader, before Ali’s revelation. For anyone who had seen him before as either Donovan Dijak in ROH, or Dominick Dijakovic in NXT, putting on a mask and going by this ridiculous name was a huge misfire. There was potential here, but only had he stayed as the leader, being presented differently, and had a cool name. It doomed him from the start. His Twitter game was the only saving grace, as his only way of showing how entertaining he could be.


Slapjack, otherwise known as Shane Thorne, was way out of his depth. Before this, his biggest success was as one-half of the NXT tag team TM61, which disbanded after his partner left WWE. He has struggled ever since, but WWE keeps on booking him. Again, like T-Bar, what the hell is Slapjack? He never did much, just stood around with a mask CM Punk called a consequence of his being “bored in catering” near “an abundance of paper plates”. With a terrible name, crappy attire, nothing to say, and a bunch of losses, Slapjack was a tremendously flawed abomination.


I would say Mace had the best name. It is a weaponized heavy club with a spiked metal head. However, the guy behind the mask, Dio Maddin, was only known as a commentator for a while on Raw. Nobody felt he had anything to offer, because he hadn’t proved himself anywhere. To anyone who cared to look him up, he was a former announcer, which rapidly takes away the feeling of danger.

Reckoning, more famously known as Mia Yim, added some colour to the mix. She proved herself on the independent scene, and is a former Knockouts Champion by defeating Gail Kim. However, while she worked in NXT for a while, she never truly got over (she would sometimes get booed, despite being a face), or won the women’s title. There were others who would have been more suitable, because Mia Yim had been a bubbly character for a long time. She played the heel role in Impact for a little while, but never on a stage like this. Reckoning never came across as menacing, sadistic, or anything which would garner heat. To me, it was just the same old Mia Yim in a mask, so I couldn’t buy in.

One of the single worst NXT call-ups of all time is Mercedes Martinez. She deserved a run on the main roster after working her socks off for so many years to get to this point. Martinez would have been a solid veteran to have around. Yet, very early in the stables formation, she saw the writing on the wall. She was too smart for this, and asked to go back to NXT. Management granted it, and they spared her any further embarrassment. Lance Storm said she was the only “survivor” of the group.


Why are they not to blame? Because WWE set them up to fail. First, the only two who could have pulled it off were Dijakovic (not as T-Bar) and Martinez. They have so much experience, not just in the ring, but portraying heels. So Slapjack, Reckoning, and even Ali were wrong for this. The only way Ali would have fit in was if he kept playing the hacker and never revealed himself until the group got over. As soon as WWE revealed him to be the leader, the fans were like… oh, really? Who is this guy again? The one from 205 Live? Right, let’s change channel.


Second, Retribution had nothing to do with each other. It was a randomly thrown together group of people. When The Shield and The Wyatt Family came up, they had been working with each other a while and figured it out. This group was trying to figure themselves out on a show which rarely knows what it’s doing until the last moment every week (McMahon’s rewrites). Forcing strangers together to get this gimmick over is like asking them to do the impossible.

Third, the initial hype was sound, even if it got many comparisons to the worst of Antifa. It was relevant, considering the political tension of the time. The gimmick was there, but following up on that, it needed a solid plan. Initially, it included dozens of hooded members performing random acts of violence. The chaos felt dangerous to WWE’s rosters, and they fought back. There was a very good chance it could be a threat… until it wasn’t. The roster would come out, scare them off, and they would retreat. It had nothing other than numbers, and there was no intelligence behind their attacks.

When the group was officially introduced, all the anonymous members disappeared. Retribution went from a large group of 20-30? Down to 5. And as explained above, most of those weren’t a viable threat when we found out who they were. Retribution needed to keep the anonymous, because they were its strength. Being able to call on random guys to attack members of the WWE roster was promising, but I guess they all went back to their parents’ basements?

Fourth, an invading group signed contracts and was assigned to Raw? That is so dumb I feel the need to swear. How can anyone writing a story think that telling the audience they signed contracts is a smart idea? Seriously, someone’s smoking way too much with Rob Van Dam. This group is working outside of the company’s jurisdiction. It would be like WCW telling us Kevin Nash and Scott Hall signed contracts before their debuts… AFTER the New World Order had been revealed. You don’t do that; it kills the story in its tracks.

Fifth, WWE never gave Retribution a chance after the unrelenting criticism. It never made tweaks, nor ever tried giving them a winning streak. The group remained the same for so long as a bunch of losers preaching a big game, but getting nowhere. They could easily have had Ali say… yeah, we’re changing this up. You’re no longer called T-Bar and we’re changing image. It didn’t need to make sense; the group didn’t have any to begin with. Let Ali channel his inner Vince McMahon by changing it up every week at the last minute until they finally settled on something the fans could digest. Anything to get away from this monstrosity which had poorly festered in the bowels of Raw for too long.


Sixth and last point, what the hell were they so angry about? WWE apparently “screwed them over”, and they were getting Retribution. They were getting revenge for something, but no one ever figured out what. How can you get revenge on a company which not only signed you to NXT, but PROMOTED you to the main roster, gave you a ton of hype, told the world you signed contracts, and now you’re getting regular air time? The only thing they could rebel against was the very gimmick they were given… but that would be too meta. You don’t purposely make a terrible gimmick, just so the stable can rebel against the company for forcing it on them. That’s too much of a head scratcher, even for me.

In the end, it doesn’t even matter. TLDR version: Retribution sucked the biggest balls in the history of NXT call-ups.

NXT Call-Ups



#12. Ricochet

I would say the biggest issue with Ricochet is that his best asset is his athleticism. Vince McMahon doesn’t care about this. The only things he cares for, is if you can 1) play a character and tell a story, 2) look great, and 3) get a reaction. He never revolves the programming around high spots (except Shane O’ Mac jumping off something), so he can ricochet around the ring all he likes. Ricochet will never get McMahon’s approval until he shows he can act.

It’s a great shame, because he is a wasted wrestling talent. I say wrestling talent, because he is not a sports entertainer. You stick Ricochet on to any professional wrestling card and he will deliver the goods. Have him on Raw or SmackDown, and you’ll be lucky to see him at all. I consider him the most athletic man to sit in catering, of all time. He would benefit by going back to NXT, or leaving altogether, because Ricochet is nothing, and will probably always be nothing, in the eyes of Vince. I hope to be proven wrong one day, but I highly doubt it.



#13. Sanity

Eric Young is arguably the most overlooked talent in WWE history. Since returning to Impact, he has proven time and time again how awe-inspiring he is on the microphone. He can tell a story on the level of a Mick Foley, a Roddy Piper, a Jake Roberts, or anyone. Listen when he talks, because everything he says is so deliberate. There’s meaning behind every word. Not only that, but he has an incredible range. You need a comedy guy? He can do it. Super hero? He can do it. Maniac? He can do it. Underdog wrestler fighting for a world title? He can do it. Few in the business have proven they have the range of Eric Young.

So when he was called up to the main roster and used like a jobber? My heart sank. I knew what he was capable of, yet Vince McMahon and management couldn’t see what was under their noses. EY is an incredible talent, and they used him like crap. Not only that, but they immediately didn’t understand Sanity. Vince McMahon didn’t like their entrance (although he’s meant to green light all of NXT’s decisions), so they would often cut this from broadcasts. WWE didn’t use Sanity much before they split it up. Killian Dain jumped back to NXT. Alexander Wolfe went to NXT UK. Eric Young remained as an enhancement talent.

The only one who remained was Nikki Cross, who was NXT’s psychopath in the women’s division. She was completely mad, and I loved it! The main roster changed all of that. They humanized her; she became normal, and Alexa Bliss’ best friend. Now she’s a superhero, much like Eric Young could have been. She’s the complete opposite, but at least WWE is using her. Where is the rest of Sanity now? They were all released. Only Eric Young is regularly on TV and is a former Impact World Champion. His new stable, Violent By Design, is everything Sanity should have been. We hate it… for all the right reasons, because the world doesn’t belong to us.

NXT Call-Ups


#14. The Ascension

High on the list of worst NXT call-ups is The Ascension. Why? It was one of the most dominant tag teams in NXT history. The fans loved it because their chemistry was excellent, and their dark image was cool. Vince McMahon took one look at them and said, let’s make them the new Legion of Doom. When that failed miserably, it turned in to… nope, these guys are jobbers.

That’s where The Ascension remained for years, despite knowing what they had done. At some point, they briefly pushed Konnor. I remember him gaining some momentum. Viktor however, there was something about him. I always felt like management had something against him, more so than Konnor. This is what Viktor had to say during an interview with Slam! Wrestling:

Doesn’t believe he’ll ever return to WWE:

“No, never. It’s hard to say never, and I won’t go into why because it only partially has to do with us and our past experience, but my definitive no is a more personal reason. It’s not that I wouldn’t be happy to ever get to call and say, ‘Hey, guys, want to come back?’ But I’m pretty sure that answer will always be no. A line was crossed, and it wasn’t crossed to either of us. It was due to a different situation, and it caused me to lose complete and utter respect or to ever have any desire to work there again.”

Says that he really didn’t want to wrestle anymore because his final months at WWE were so miserable:

“I didn’t want to wrestle anymore, honestly. I was very jaded and so clouded. There was nothing but negative that came out of me when I thought about wrestling, and I needed to get rid of that before I could even start to do anything again. We were both so miserable at the end of our contracts. We were not in a rush to go call up our friends and be like, ‘Hey, can we have some jobs?'”

How he doesn’t want to call a friend and ask for a job:

I knew I was going to get asked this because I usually don’t answer this properly or probably looks bad the way I answer this question. The best thing I can say is with where we were left in WWE, I’m not calling up a friend to ask for a job. Konnor is on the same page as me. I’ve said to him, ‘If you want me to make a call, I’ll make a call.’ I don’t think either of us wants to make the call because we are restarting ourselves more or less.

-The Ascension was NXT Tag Team Champions for 364 days, which remains the single longest reign in NXT history. They are second in the all-time overall list, behind Undisputed Era.


#15. The Forgotten Sons

The original concept of The Forgotten Sons was a team who were overlooked. They had been working in NXT for a while, but felt like they weren’t getting anywhere on their own. It was a slow build, but eventually, through hard graft and working together, The Forgotten Sons began enjoying regular airtime. Their biggest accomplishment was reaching the Dusty Tag Team Classic final in 2019, which they lost to Aleister Black & Ricochet. They failed to win the NXT Tag Team titles on several occasions, before being called up. Many felt it was too soon, but WWE were keen to push them on SmackDown.

Wesley Blake had previously won the NXT Tag titles with Buddy Murphy, a team which helped get their manager Alexa Bliss over. Steve Cutler worked as an enhancement talent in NXT for years, so he was keen to prove himself (he now goes by Steve Maclin in Impact). Jaxson Ryker was more famously known as Gunner in TNA Wrestling, where he is a former TV & Tag Team Champion. Also, he holds singles wins over AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Rob Van Dam, Bully Ray, D’von Dudley, Bobby Roode, James Storm, Mr. Anderson (Kennedy), Christopher Daniels, Kazarian & MVP.

Somehow, having an opinion on Donald Trump got the stable taken off TV. Jaxson Ryker indirectly hurt the careers of Wesley Blake & Steve Cutler, who were later released. I understand that Jaxson Ryker may have upset some supporting Trump at a sensitive time, but was there any need to punish Blake & Cutler? I can’t remember anyone being pushed so hard to have the rug pulled under them so quickly, just because of a tweet.

NXT Call-Ups


#16. The Vaudevillians

Continuing the NXT tag team trend that the main roster will never understand. The Vaudevillains were all about being old school. They were NXT’s cup of tea. The fans were head over heels. They were the bee’s knees of gimmicks. When they came to the main roster with bells on, I was hoping they would look happy as a clam. I was hoping management would allow them to kick up their heels.

However, there is no room to enjoy the quirks of yesteryear. No twiddling of mustaches to be cherished. All that will be remembered is the Simon Gotch and Enzo Amore bout of fisticuffs. The Vaudevillains were loved as the NXT Tag Team Champions. Aiden English would later become an announcer, and now resides in Impact Wrestling as a close friend of Deonna Purrazzo. Where is Simon Gotch? For the past few years, he has worked for Major League Wrestling as part of the stables Team Filthy and Contra Unit. If you don’t like Enzo Amore, I recommend this shoot interview for you.


#17. The Viking Experience

So, when they debuted on the main roster, I started calling them the War Machine Viking Raiders Experience. Or was it the Viking Machine War Raiders Experience? Maybe it was the War Experience Raiders Machine Vikings? No, not the latter. Whatever they were called, when WWE’s creative team renamed the NXT Tag team Champions, the War Raiders… as The Viking Experience, the internet blew up. Parts of the web are still recovering from that apocalyptic day. Another name which was considered is “The Berzerkers”. Good lord, I don’t know which is worse.

In terms of damage, it hurt for a while. WWE renamed them The Viking Raiders a week later, but insisted on their finisher being called The Viking Experience. Vince wanted that name somewhere, somehow. Still, as much as he wants everything his own way, it can’t always be so. We spoke up, and WWE had no choice. You have to feel sorry for Erik & Ivar (fka Rowe & Hanson), because this was their first impression to the wider WWE Universe. We have to give it to them though; they persisted. While they have only won one Raw tag team title since 2019, they are probably due for more soon.


#18. Tucker (Heavy Machinery)

Yeah, we know Tucker was the weak link, but he wasn’t all bad. It was a matter of changing his presentation and getting him more involved. The biggest problem was Otis, who stood out so much next to him, that it was easy to forget Tucker standing there. This wasn’t as much of an issue in NXT, because the gimmick of Heavy Machinery relied on both. Tucker was the leader of the team. He would ensure Otis didn’t get in to trouble. There was chemistry between them, which we saw little of after the call up.

Also, Tucker was the hardest worker in the ring. He would lay the foundation, take the punishment, and Otis would tag in and clear up. You need a reliable hand in every team, and Tucker provides that. Their popularity should have got them a reign as NXT Tag Team champions, but it never happened. By the time they got the call-up, neither had proven themselves and Heavy Machinery struggled. Otis only got a singles push because of how unique he is, but WWE noticed it wasn’t enough. Tucker gave Otis more dimension, and now where is he? A two-dimensional heel with Chad Gable, who is another reliable hand going nowhere since the split of American Alpha.

NXT Call-Ups


#19. Tye Dillinger

WWE hates gimmicks they never intended to get over, or otherwise become annoying to them (but not the audience). I’d give you ten reasons Tye Dillinger’s call up was one of the worst, but I doubt there are that many. The “Perfect 10” was so over in NXT, the more casual fans picked up on it as well. It was originally meant to garner heel heat, but fans ended up liking it, so Dillinger turned face near the end of his NXT run.

Despite getting loud reactions, his main roster run was plagued with random appearances and not doing enough with the “10” gimmick, other than making him enter #10 in the Royal Rumble. They weren’t creative enough to make use of the Perfect 10. It could have been another gimmick like Mr. Perfect, using his arrogance to claim everything is perfect (when it isn’t), but they kept him as a face and added nothing to the character. Dillinger won no titles in WWE. He currently works as “The Chairman” Shawn Spears in AEW.


#20. Tyler Breeze

Tyler Breeze is simply gorgeous. Here’s another gimmick which the NXT fans adored, but main roster management didn’t understand. Breeze portrayed the typical, modern day pretty boy who can’t help but admire themselves every second of the day. They use tons of beauty products, pose in mirrors, and take hundreds of selfies for social media. The selfie stick was popular, and it helped to provide Breeze a unique entrance. Austin Theory is very late to the party on this one. Tyler did it years ago.

He is one of the longest running NXT superstars of all time. One of the biggest matches he had was against Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger. There was some reluctance to promote Breeze, because NXT figured he would not fit in well. They did their best to keep him, but it couldn’t be forever. Eventually, Vince McMahon called him up, and immediately jumped in to a feud with Dolph Ziggler. His biggest win was against Ziggler at Survivor Series 2015, but he would lose the next two. By 2016, he began a losing streak, and descended in to jobber hell.

“Zack Ryder def. Tyler Breeze by pinfall – Yes, you read that correctly. Breeze’s descent into jobber hell continues; boy, does that season finale of Breaking Ground look ill-judged now.” -Wrestling Observer Newsletter writer Alan O’Brien commenting on an episode of Main Event in March 2016.

NXT Call-Ups

Yes, we could say Breezango saved Tyler Breeze & Fandango’s careers for a while. The Fashion Police were mildly entertaining. However, Breeze’s air time would then be dictated by Fandango being healthy, and he was injury prone. The call back to NXT looked promising. They won the tag team titles in 2020, but the reign only lasted 56 days. By 2021, they were both released. Many WWE Superstars were gutted to see Tyler Breeze go. He was very well-liked backstage. Bayley said:

Conclusion

There are other NXT call-ups we could have covered, but this is where I draw the line. The point of NXT is to bring up the next generation of WWE Superstar. As evidenced here, sometimes it works, but much of the time it doesn’t. WWE promotes NXT talent before they are ready, or without understanding how to incorporate their gimmicks in to the product. The difference between NXT and main roster shows makes it unfair. What you learn and grow in to during your NXT run could end up being a hindrance.

The original NXT was a wrestling show, and talent could get away with more. With NXT 2.0, it is being targeted toward a mature audience, but it remains to be seen how it will affect things. For any call-ups to Raw, I can imagine talent adapting easier, because both shows are on the USA Network and have the same rules. Anyone who doesn’t need to be edgy will be fine on SmackDown. NXT 2.0 is less about the art of professional wrestling, and more about colourful characters. I would say the brand as it is now gives talent a more likely platform to succeed later, but we need to see how call-ups like Hit Row and others do.

If you’re interested, I could make up a list of the best NXT call-ups of all time. I didn’t make this to be negative, but to show how WWE has partly failed to deliver the next generation. When you have been watching NXT since the beginning, you want the best for it, because many of the current biggest stars went through there. The wrestling business benefits from having a better NXT, it is dedicated to developing talent and no one else does this on the scale WWE does. Not everyone is destined for greatness, but I believe they all should be given a fair chance. It is time to learn from past mistakes, so the next generation can be better than the last. Thanks for reading!

Also Read: Top 20 Worst NXT to Main Roster Call-Ups So Far (1/2)

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