The fourth and final part of our series on WWE stars who will either fail or succeed in 2016 (check out parts 1, 2, and 3) will be focusing on the NXT roster—those in developmental that seem prime for a big upgrade to their name over the course of the next few months.
Just as failure in developmental could be as drastic as a release from the company, success found in NXT can very quickly snowball into title reigns and a speedy promotion to the main roster. Keeping that in mind, not everyone on this list will be that lucky, and there’s even the possibility that none of them leave NXT until 2017. However, there’s still plenty of good things to accomplish on the yellow brand, even among a sea of talented people all fighting for the same few spots.
Admittedly, I’m more hesitant to trust this prediction now that the build to NXT TakeOver: Dallas is all but wrapped up and Crews doesn’t feature as prominently as I had expected in January, but I still think the sky’s the limit for Apollo.
He still has some work to do as far as fleshing out his character and getting more comfortable on the mic, which are the two things holding him back. In the ring, though, he’s wowed a lot of people, and in such a short amount of time he’s gone from making his debut to being involved in title matches. Before long, Crews is going to be reigning supreme in NXT.
Two names you’ll find absent from this list are Finn Balor and Sami Zayn, as I think both have an extremely good shot of being called up to the main roster this year, possibly even as soon as the night after WrestleMania. Crews, I feel, is going to be one of the men in charge of filling that gap as the top babyface in their stead, likely defeating whichever heel takes the belt from Balor (we’ll get to that below) and going into 2017 with the gold around his waist.
Aries is another man I can’t help but think will end up taking the reigns as a top guy in no time, but my gut tells me he won’t stay a babyface too long, so I can’t group him as the man above or directly below Crews on that list. He’s coming in as a face because of his connection to the crowd, though this feud with Baron Corbin could be a one-shot deal before he starts playing up his cocky side more and turns heel.
A Double strikes me as the type that WWE won’t want to rush to the main roster due to his size, age, and how AJ Styles is taking up one of those spots already. Granted, he’s a veteran with far more experience to his name than nearly everyone there, which could be a resource WWE wants to tap into.
There are plenty of amazing matches awaiting Aries in NXT alone without even touching the main roster, so even if there’s no title reign (which is a very good possibility) he could end up carving a niche as one of the go-to guys to always bet on when it comes to match quality.
Simply put, Baron Corbin made such amazing progress in 2015 that he doesn’t get enough credit for, and I fully expect this trend to continue. If you look at Corbin from the beginning of last year compared to what he is now, it’s night and day. With the right training and dedication, The Lone Wolf advanced from quick squash matches and dicey, short bouts to some pretty damn good showings.
Corbin has to be one of the top heels in NXT throughout this entire year, and unless WWE’s plan for the NXT Championship is to keep it as stationary as possible for the next few months, I 100% expect it to find its way to Corbin.
This one is on a lesser scale than everyone else on the list, but just because someone isn’t in contention at the top of the card doesn’t mean there aren’t improvements to have been made.
For the longest time, Elias Samson was a jobber who couldn’t even settle on the spelling of his name (Sampson for a while) but WWE took the time to repackage him, stop the endless string of losses, and run vignettes for him. Since making his re-debut at the end of the year, he’s come across as a legitimate superstar who is actually worth something, and he’ll be wrestling Apollo Crews at NXT TakeOver: Dallas.
If someone like Tyler Breeze can linger for quite a while, reinvent himself and then become a success, then Samson could be in the same boat. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if he were used as one of the most primary midcarders in NXT throughout the whole year, facing off against the top babyfaces to get a touch of the next step in his career, albeit to a losing effort since he’s not quite there yet. Considering where he was at the beginning of 2015, he’s made great strides already, and winning matches left and right is certainly nothing to be ashamed of.
You’d have to be a fool to not mention this guy on the list, right? He has a match announced with Sami Zayn of all people, despite not having gone through all the testing to see if he can wrestle!
The real question here is how long Nakamura stays in NXT. If this is just a temporary thing to teach him the basics before moving him up to the main roster, he might not make a big enough splash to be worthy of a spot here in retrospect. However, I’m inclined to believe he’ll stay down in NXT for the entirety of 2016 and somewhat well into 2017. The language barrier could stop him from soaring to Raw or SmackDown, but something else that could keep him down in developmental is the health of Hideo Itami.
If Balor and Zayn move up, NXT will need not only two babyfaces to fill their spot (Crews and possibly Aries, as mentioned before) but also at least one or two others for backups in case they go down with injuries. Depending on the status of Hideo Itami, Nakamura could be defaulted into that position as a replacement for him until either Itami heals or someone else on the roster can take on that responsibility. With so many others involved in tag teams like Jason Jordan, Chad Gable, Mojo Rawley and of course Enzo and Cass, the stars seem to align for Nakamura to have that weight put on his shoulders, and likely do that job justice.