Part 1 - Alexa Bliss, American Alpha, Apollo Crews, Baron Corbin & Bayley.
Finn Balor – Debuted 25th July
In his very short amount of time active on Raw so far Finn Balor has seen it all and done it all, experiencing a rocket push as won the Universal title in an insanely quick time – less than a month after first appearing on the Monday night show. His victory was like nothing we have ever seen before and truly showcased the power that NXT has now that the developmental brand is televised every week on the WWE Network.
Sure, he picked up a horrible shoulder injury during his crowning match against Seth Rollins at Summerslam but that just means he was never pinned and never lost, meaning it’ll be easy for him to be reinserted into the main event upon his return to action, could he even be in with a shout at winning the Rumble? I just hope they’ve been filming his recovery so we get another sweet, sweet WWE 24 episode too.
He’s undoubtedly had the best career on the main roster of all of 2016’s graduates as not only did he win the top belt on Raw, he also beat Seth freaking Rollins and Roman bloody Reigns clean on his rise to the very top of the company – an unprecedented rise in many companies across the globe, let alone the world largest wrestling organisation.
Mojo Rawley – Debuted 24th July
I’ll say it now, and you can hate me for it, but I like Mojo Rawley. He’s not the best wrestler in the world, far from it in fact, nor is he the best talker, he just shouts a lot, but the man himself is so damn likable. Seriously, this guy seems to go out of his own way to make others happy and that’s exactly the sort of wrestler I want to support and see do well throughout his time in WWE.
Since his promotion Mojo has continued to in the same vein as he was in NXT; not really doing a great deal, but continuing to remain relevant. He has been paired with Ryder since debuting on Smackdown and sadly their first real break (winning a tag team battle royal) was hit with a lightning rod of bad luck as Zack suffered an injury and their pursuit of the tag team titles is on temporary hold, with little sign on resuming soon.
Hopefully Rawley doesn’t get lost in the wilderness without the experienced head of Ryder by his side but I think he will continue to do just fine, simmering in the lowercard with a few tastes of the midcard every now and then. Not everyone needs to be a main eventer in order to be a success in WWE and, in my opinion, Mojo Rawley is a great example of that mantra.
Nia Jax – Debuted 25th July
What an odd time Nia Jax has had since appearing on Raw. At first they were having her crush jobbers each and every week, building her as the female Braun Strowman and the next big challenger for the title. She was shaping up to be another Awesome Kong style female, breaking the mould of what a female wrestler is perceived as, but since then things have changed and her fear factor aura has dissipated into thin air.
The reason for this was, after a less than impressive victory against Alicia Fox at Clash of Champions, she was tapped out by Becky Lynch at Survivor Series. Now, I’m no wrestling booker, but surely having your sizable monster heel submitting completely defeats the point of them being a monster in the first place. Surely she should have been built like a skyscraper until one plucky babyface managed to chop her down – instead she was built like a Lego house and crushed before the foundations were even complete.
Nia should be able to recover from her defeat and regain some credibility in 2017, starting with a feud against Sasha Banks. After all, her different stature and style means that she could be an interesting and usable entity in the Raw women’s division.
Sami Zayn – Debuted 7th March
Okay, so 7th March was actually Zayn’s third debut at the top tier of WWE; first he had a crack at John Cena’s US Open Challenge (getting injured in the process), then he popped up at the Royal Rumble before finally graduating on Raw in order to save Neville from the attack of Kevin Owens. And whilst a vast majority of people wanted Sami at the top of the card fighting for championships right away, he’s been more of an upper midcard fighter, which, for now, is just right for him.
I’m excited to be a part of what is hopefully Sami’s slow ascent to glory and 2017 really could be his year. Smackdown will hopefully come knocking and trade the superstar over to the Tuesday night show where he will shine brighter than ever against the likes of Dean Ambrose, The Miz, Bray Wyatt and more.
The Vaudevillains (Aiden English & Simon Gotch) – Debuted 7th April
Well if there is one thing wrestling fans love, its being proven right and The Vaudevillains tenure on the main roster has proved so many who were certain the gimmick wouldn’t work on the main roster right. Sadly, the transition for English and Gotch has been the roughest of the bunch and they have settled in as the resident, Ascencion-level, jobbers to the Smackdown tag division, losing to almost every team available.
When they first debuted they were fortunate to awarded a title shot as Enzo suffered and injury in their number one contenders match at Payback but since they all that has been on their diet in pinfalls. I feel bad for the pair as they clearly give everything to the character but it seems it just wasn’t meant to be.
That’s the lot, hopefully you enjoyed reading whether you agree or not! Here’s to the NXT promotions of 2016 and I look forward to seeing what the 2017 graduates produce and with the likes of Samoa Joe, Shinsuke Nakamura and Asuka waiting in the wings its set to be another great year in wrestling.
Words - Thomas Brady
Images - Thomas Brady
Editor - James Marston