You’ve seen the trailers for weeks now, and soon WWE will call up some fresh talent from the NXT ranks to throw into the mix on RAW and SmackDown. They may start to be integrated on the shows in the next few weeks or possibly have to wait until the Royal Rumble on January 27 in Phoenix to make an impact on the main roster.
Each show has its strengths and weaknesses in regards to how rosters are constructed. For instance, RAW lacks some quality depth in the tag team division and strength of heels in the women’s division, while SmackDown is loaded with talent in both of those areas. On the other hand, the Blue Brand features smaller Superstars in the men’s division and could be bolstered by adding some size and strength. It has also yet to be seen if Rusev can gain the gravitas at the midcard level with the United States Championship that RAW has had with each former member of The Shield serving as the Intercontinental Champion in the past year.
With that in mind, AllWrestling will try to project where the best fit for each of the rising NXT Superstars might be within the brands as the rosters are currently constructed. Obviously, this could get blown up if there is some sort of roster shakeup by the McMahon family. Though that has typically come later on in the year, a SmackDown house show in Tucson set for the day after the Royal Rumble was just canceled, leading to some rumors that it may be because WWE wanted both locker rooms to be available for the RAW at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix.
So, without further ado, here’s a look at where we see the fresh talent making the biggest mark right away:
No-Brainer Call for RAW
Since the puzzling decision last year to stack SmackDown with The Bar, New Day and The Usos in the Superstar Shakeup, the Red Brand has really come up short with compelling tag team division action. Over the past year, forgettable championship runs after The Bar switched brands included Braun Strowman & Nicholas (a kid out of the crowd), “Woken” Matt Hardy & Bray Wyatt, Curtis Axel & Bo Dallas (The B-Team) and Authors of Pain (Akam & Rezar). Can you honestly remember being excited by any matches from those guys?
The title briefly gained some relevance as a way to push a storyline from top singles Superstars. That’s when Dolph Ziggler & Drew McIntyre won the belts on RAW in September before losing to Seth Rollins & Dean Ambrose on October 22, the somber, shocker of a show that saw Roman Reigns announce his leukemia diagnosis and Ambrose turn on The Architect in Providence, R.I.
Enter All Night Tucker Knight and Otis Dozovic. These guys have the size, athleticism and personality to connect with fans in a way AOP hasn’t because Drake Maverick has hurt them more than helped them as their manager. With the current hierarchy of the RAW tag team division, there’s no reason to think Heavy Machinery could not quickly rise into title contenders.
RAW Tag Team Champs Bobby Roode & Chad Gable work great together in the ring, but lack any charisma on the mic. The Revival seem to not quite have the confidence of WWE decision makers since their initial push ended quickly with an injury. AOP needs some work on its gimmick. The rest of the division – The Ascension, The B-Team, Lucha House Party, etc. – are all teams WWE has already given up on in short order. Should Knight and Dozovic gain traction with the fans with their affable “Steaks & Weights” promos, they could easily take the belts in a few months.
No-Brainer Call for SmackDown
Tuesday nights feature some of the best personalities and in-ring technicians among male Superstars in all of the WWE with WWE Champion “The New” Daniel Bryan, AJ Styles, The Miz, Rey Mysterio, Andrade “Cien” Almas and Mustafa Ali. But do you notice anything about all of those guys? SmackDown Live sorely lacks some of the size and strength which can be seen on Mondays. The most imposing figures among the Blue Brand men’s division are heels Randy Orton and Samoa Joe, and even those guys would be dwarfed by the likes of Strowman.
The man they called “The Freak” in NXT can solve SmackDown’s size problem that has existed since Big Cass came over from RAW last year, imploded his career and got fired from WWE. Sullivan will look like The Incredible Hulk when matched up against Bryan, Styles or other top men’s division stars, but he still has enough athleticism to be able to keep up with the more agile high-flyers.
Obviously, the only matchup on SmackDown that rivals the drawing power and excellence of Bryan and Styles is Becky Lynch versus Charlotte Flair, so Sullivan’s rise within the ranks would take some time. WWE still likely has a few more months to bank the money from Bryan-Styles matchups, but Sullivan could be built up like a true monster with squash matches early on and victories over midcarders.
At the least, Sullivan could hook up with some pretty entertaining matches with Rusev for the United States Championship if WWE doesn’t decide to put the belt back on Shinsuke Nakamura any time soon. After his reputation is built and perhaps even an impressive winning streak, Sullivan could make a play for the WWE Championship toward the end of the year.
Sleeper Call for RAW
Though RAW has its share of great talent in its women’s division, there is a pretty marked imbalance in the locker room when it comes to babyfaces versus heels. Arguably, the five best talents on the roster with Alexa Bliss unable to wrestle are all faces – RAW Women’s Champ “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey, Sasha Banks, Bayley, Natalya and Ember Moon. Though The Boss would likely eclipse Bliss as the top heel on the show if they turned her, it seems like WWE is holding back that card to have Banks and Bayley be faces as the first women’s division tag team champions.
It’s the perfect setup for a rising Superstar like Lacey Evans. With Bliss out, the remaining heels are Nia Jax, who plenty of fans are tired of watching get title opportunities, Mickie James, Alicia Fox, Dana Brooke and Tamina. I’m not sure if they would push Ruby Riott on her own or consider Riott Squad more of a women’s tag division act. Nobody else in that group stands out as someone the WWE Universe would consider a legitimate threat to Rousey, an undefeated champion billed as “The Baddest Bitch on the Planet.” Along with the meteoric rise of Lynch, the lack of heel competition for Rousey on RAW is likely part of the reason why fans are salivating to see The Rowdy One throw down with The Man, and to a slightly lesser extent, Charlotte Flair.
Evans could stroll right in and become the heel the Red Brand sorely needs with Bliss unable to perform in the ring. Her gimmick which incorporates her past military service and upbringing as a Southern belle, along with her pin-up model looks and outfits, make her a dark horse to be perhaps the biggest star among this group of promotions. Furthermore, Evans has the size and agility to be able to compete with the incredibly athletic former Olympian Rousey. Though her gimmick stresses old-school manners and gentility, she also can connect with women and modern thinking because of her progressive female angle. Unless Lynch or Flair come over to RAW in a Shakeup or Bliss can get cleared soon, it wouldn’t take Evans long to establish herself as a dominant heel.
Sleeper Call for SmackDown
Given that Cross debuted against Becky Lynch on SmackDown and has worked some Blue Brand live events, it’s probably pretty safe to consider her going to Tuesday nights. Of the rising Superstars, my level of concern for the chances of success are probably highest with Cross. The SmackDown women’s roster is already chock full of some of the best, established talent in the WWE – SmackDown Champ Asuka, Lynch, Flair, Carmella and Naomi – along with a few up-and-comers like Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville as well as managers bucking for in-ring time in Lana and Zelina Vega. Though it’s likely there may be some movement within this roster to RAW, it’s impossible at the time of this writing to figure out what that might look like.
Cross certainly checks the box with a unique gimmick as the crazed, deranged wildling type figure she strikes in the ring. With that type of character, she could passably work as a face or a heel. So far, she’s worked as a face in the live events, teaming with other faces against Rose and Deville. However, the women’s championship race has to firmly revolve around Lynch, Flair, Asuka and even Carmella at this point, and Cross doesn’t make a great fit with any of the other performers as far as a contender for the women’s tag belt either.
The other mitigating factor in evaluating Cross is whether WWE chooses to have her rejoin her old NXT faction Sanity on the main roster. Since Eric Young, Alexander Wolfe and Killian Dain have essentially been missing persons without making appearances for long periods on WWE TV with the main roster, it seems unlikely WWE would want to attach another person to what looks like a failing gimmick on the main roster.
That being said, Cross cultivated quite a following of fans in her 2 ½ years at NXT, and she had an impressive debut against Lynch. At this point, it’s tough for me to see exactly how and where she fits, but that doesn’t mean she won’t find a niche for herself and have success.
It’s not hard envisioning a fit for EC3 on either roster. I also agree with WWE Hall of Famer Edge when he expressed the opinion on the Pod of Awesomeness with Christian that EC3 will likely find more success on the main roster than he did at NXT. Here’s what Edge had to say:
“Not that he didn’t do great in NXT, I just don’t think it’s the best place for a guy like him. I think EC3 reminds me of Cena...if you were to put Cena on the NXT roster starting out, I don’t know how great it would’ve gone."
Before he left Impact, EC3 gained a level of heat there that might have warranted him going to the main roster immediately. Being that many of RAW’s Superstars in the men’s division – Drew McIntryre, Dean Ambrose, Bobby Lashley, Baron Corbin, etc. - are heels, it might make more sense for EC3 to go to SmackDown. But would they want to introduce two young male singles Superstars who come with a big pedigree on the same show? Especially, considering Andrade “Cien” Almas is still trying to make a name for himself, and Mustafa Ali is starting to take off on SmackDown.
EC3 could easily be inserted into a title picture on either RAW or SmackDown. He certainly would give either Rusev or Dean Ambrose a run for the U.S. or Intercontinental Championships. Should the rumors be true and either Seth Rollins or Drew McIntyre become the next Universal Champion then EC3 could eventually go toe-to-toe with either one of them. If you were betting on this group Superstars, you would most likely put some money down on EC3 because he seems like the safest bet to succeed.
Let me know what you think @josephspencer00