It seems like a lifetime ago now, but back in the day, new debuts on the WWE roster would come as something of a surprise. Unless you attended OVW or FCW events, chances are you weren’t familiar with the company’s newest stars and as a result, expectations were not quite the same as they are these days.
NXT has become a brand in and of itself over the last few years and now, every superstar who arrives on the main roster arrives with a weight of expectation. There are definitely pros and cons to this, but that’s for another article. Instead, I’m going to take a look back at this year’s call-ups, all of which have been pretty big names, and rank them from worst to best.
N/A: The Revival
The Revival were called up to the WWE on the Raw following Wrestlemania and instantly made a name for themselves by defeating The New Day on their debut. Unfortunately, the rest of their year has been ravaged by injury and the duo has yet to be given the chance to make a mark on the WWE roster.
There is plenty of cause for optimism, though, especially considering the current health of the WWE tag team division. Potential matches with the likes of The Bar and The Shield are mouth-watering prospects, and I expect them to have one hell of a year in 2018.
8: The Riott Squad
Putting The Riott Squad last on this list is in no way indicative of the performances they have put on so far, it’s just that we haven’t really seen them given a chance in the ring just yet. The trio, consisting of Ruby Riott (don’t forget that extra T!), Liv Morgan and Sarah Logan have run riot over the Smackdown women’s division over the last month, my only real concern is that their act has literally just been copied and pasted from Monday night’s antics.
The trio will no doubt play a big role in the division in the coming months but right now, they need to do their own thing a little more, instead of coming off a knock-off version of Absolution.
7: Tye Dillinger
Remember how excited we all were when Tye Dillinger finally got called up to the main roster? Well, it didn’t take long for that excitement to die down as it became very clear the WWE had absolutely no idea what to do with him. While he was initially booked to look strong, Dillinger quickly disappeared from weekly television and his only notable appearance has been in a triple threat bout involving AJ Styles and Baron Corbin. Since losing that match, Dillinger has not been seen on television and things are not looking too promising for him going forward.
6: Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose
These two women, who make up two-thirds of Paige’s Absolution stable, have made quite the impact since making their debut on Monday Night Raw last month. While the two have not yet been given a chance to show what they are made of in the ring, they have made their presence known each and every episode of Raw and are likely to play a huge part in what looks to be a Wrestlemania program between Paige and Asuka
5: Shinsuke Nakamura
As much we don’t want to admit it, Shinsuke Nakamura’s run in the WWE has, thus far, been a big disappointment. Shinsuke’s debut was much hyped and he arrived on Tuesday nights with the world at his feet. Shoddy booking since his debut, however, has squashed all of our hopes and dreams for Shinsuke.
His initial feud with Ziggler, while flawed, was an indication that the company had plans for him but then he was shoved into a terrible feud with Baron Corbin before having to eat the pinfall twice to Jinder Mahal on consecutive events. Shinsuke has shown signs of what he can do, not least of which in a terrific bout with John Cena back in August, but since then he has not lived up to his promise. Fans still dream of a match between AJ and Shinsuke at Wrestlemania and hopefully, this year was just a slight blip.
4: Bobby Roode
Bobby Roode is one of the most natural heels on the WWE roster, so it came as something of a surprise when he arrived on Smackdown as a face. Roode oozes arrogance and I can’t help but feel his current character in the WWE is preventing him from breaking out on Smackdown.
It is still early days for Roode but like Nakamura, his run on the main roster hasn’t delivered in the way many fans hoped it would. A run with the US title should sort him out a little bit, but Roode really needs to turn heel if he is ever going to become the star we all know he can be.
I never thought I would have enjoyed weekly walks with Elias quite as much as I have done. Elias was never really a star in NXT, and while he is still not a big star on the main roster, his character has improved leaps and bounds, and he is becoming one of the most enjoyable acts on Raw’s midcard.
He has become a regular wrestler on Monday nights and his character work has been excellent. Each and every week he does exactly what is expected of him, which is to rile up the crowd, and while his in-ring work is not spectacular, he has definitely improved throughout the year and has put on solid encounters with the likes of Roman Reigns and Finn Balor. Elias is never going to be world champion but at his current trajectory, there is every chance that the Intercontinental title could find itself over his shoulder in the next few years.
Asuka’s debut match at TLC had many fans worried about the way that the WWE was going to handle her. Asuka ran riot through the NXT women’s division and Emma, a glorified jobber in the WWE, getting to look competitive against her was not an overly promising sign.
Those initial worries faded fast, though, and Asuka has been booked to look like the dominant star she is ever since. Her performance at Survivor Series was emphatic, and it looks as if she is on a one-way journey to the women’s title at next year’s Wrestlemania. While she has not delivered a great match in her time in the WWE yet, her booking has been pretty damn good over the last month or so and the future looks very bright indeed.
1: Samoa Joe
Samoa Joe arrived with a lot of hype following this year’s Royal Rumble event, and while his initial matches with Seth Rollins may have been so-so, his impact was instant. Taking out the former WWE champion on his Raw debut, Joe was booked to look dominant from day one and has exceeded all expectations in his debut year.
His feud with Brock Lesnar this summer was one of the year’s highlights, and his performances since he returned from injury in November have seen him continue exactly where he left off. While Joe may not be able to move up the roster too much because of Lesnar’s continued presence, expect Joe to get his first taste of WWE gold fairly quickly in 2018.