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Hello to all the Cagesiders out there! Today I will be talking about something other than putting models in Halls of Fame. I'm going to be very brief with the following statement: NXT right now is in its best moment since the rebrand of late 2021. Not only have they gone back to old colors and back on the road, but the quality of matches has been great and a lot of characters have been developed well during the last year and a half. With WrestleMania season incoming, that means that the post-Mania NXT call-ups are also rapidly approaching as the main roster begins to shuffle and the developmental brand starts to make room for new faces. But which male NXT superstars and teams are ready to make the jump to either Raw or SmackDown during the rest of the 2023 calendar year? Here are 10 of my personal picks.
Some honorable mentions go to current North American Champion Wes Lee, whom I personally think will stay in NXT for a bit longer and perhaps chase after the main title for a bit, as well as the Creed Brothers, whom both have potential to be the next big babyface tag team but need a little bit more polishing in NXT before they make the big jump.
10. Tony D'Angelo and Stacks
Starting off this list is a tag team, because it's all about the family. Tony D'Angelo was one of the first characters to be introduced during the 2.0 era, and he quickly rode the Italian-American mobster gimmick to decent success, sending the likes of Pete Dunne, Tommaso Ciampa, and Santos Escobar out of NXT. Along the way he gained his own group of lackeys that has been cut down to one, that being Channing "Stacks" Lorenzo. Together, the two have gone through some solid character development that saw Stacks become The Don's underboss as he earned his respect as well as that of the fans for his loyalty to Tony D. Although both of them are currently in a team role chasing after the Tag Team Titles, a heel Don with Stacks as his stooge can work on the main roster mid-card, that is if they don't split them up before a call-up even happens, whether to move them in different paths or to keep Stacks in NXT to get more seasoning. Either way, D'Angelo looks like a good pick for a late-year promotion, but it's yet to be seen if Stacks will stay by his side until then.
Who would have thought that putting NXT UK's resident Spaniard technician A-Kid under a mask would be one of the brand's best decisions of the last year? Not only has Axiom captivated with his move-set and his charm, but he has established himself as one of NXT's brightest future stars and as a constant on weekly TV. Although the recently signed Dragon Lee seems like the favorite to succeed future Hall of Famer Rey Mysterio as WWE's masked marvel for years to come, Axiom has grown into an effective babyface who could help the company grow their fanbase in his native Spain once he is set for a call-up. Bring him in late in the year, and let him get over by having bangers with just about anyone on the main roster.
The Gallus Boys are in an interesting situation right now. While Mark Coffey and Wolfgang sit high atop the tag team mountain as champions, leader Joe Coffey still has not returned since late last year, likely due to the dreaded visa issues. When the Iron King returns, I expect Gallus to be back at full force and ready for promotion. They could plausibly be foils to other babyface teams and groups such as Legado del Fantasma, which can be enhanced by adding real-life friend Piper Niven to the equation. If not, then a war of European fighters with the Brawling Brutes seems like a match made in heaven. I predict that they will get the call during the last months of 2023 and kickstart a feud with any of these (or other) teams, which will likely end with the Gallus Boys on top.
7. Tyler Bate
It might be hard to believe it but Tyler Bate, the inaugural and final NXT UK Champion, is still only 26 years old, having debuted with WWE at just 19 years of age in early 2017. Despite his long tenure under contract with the company, he remained in NXT UK as one of its top guys for all of its existence and only made the jump to the United States last year. However, he is certainly main roster ready with years of experience, excellent in-ring work, and charisma working in his favor. Tyler's British Strong Style should get him over well in the big leagues, where he can work wonders with workhorses like Seth Rollins, fellow future stars like Austin Theory, or old foes like GUNTHER. Once he can find his footing in NXT and start competing for titles again, he'll be a lock for a move sooner than later.
6. JD McDonagh
I know some people like to make fun of JD McDonagh for being a creepy-looking Irish fellow with a very large head, but you cannot deny that this man has been a part of some of NXT's best matches since the rebrand. An effective angry and psychotic heel who can also deliver classics in the ring is a great combination, and some proper main roster boking alongside with good babyfaces to pair him with should help him become much more than just a future mid-card gatekeeper heel like a Baron Corbin, and it should also help make fans see him as something more than a poor man's Finn Bálor. The Irish Ace seems primed for a call-up as soon as the Raw after WrestleMania, and he could have good first feuds with the likes of Johnny Gargano, Santos Escobar, Ricochet, and others. In fact, let him eventually continue his great war with the next man on the list once he gets there...
5. Ilja Dragunov
I would have to be crazy to not include the Czar on this list, considering that he's been main roster ready since at least 2021. But like most of the other former UK standouts, Ilja only made it to the States full-time last year and only recently came back from dealing with visa issues. Nonetheless, he is another man ready to move up after WrestleMania and is ready to make an impact, given that he is one of WWE's best in-ring wrestlers and possesses a fiery personality that makes a Dragon Ball character look like a Care Bear. Although they won't bill him as such, Dragunov could actually pull off being a heroic Russian warrior, which is why he should not be turned heel and should be allowed to get over with his intensity, his mannerisms, and his matches. But the main goal of promoting the Mad Dragon should be simple: getting that long-awaited third clash with his biggest rival not named JD McDonagh, GUNTHER. A match between these two on a greater stage after their first two classics could make both of their careers and especially elevate Ilja as a main event star. It can be done for the Intercontinental or even the World title, and it would likely end up being one of WWE's greatest ever wrestling matches.
4. Pretty Deadly
Yes Boy! You better believe that Pretty Deadly is on their way to the main roster after hosting Stand & Deliver. Kit Wilson and Elton Prince have arguably been the best NXT Tag Team Champions since the rebrand, and they looked destined to be the next top heel tag team in WWE. Their princely looks, mannerisms, and occurrences should not only get them heel heat, but they will also warm them up to fans the same way they did to the New Day in early 2016. They could serve as foils for teams like the Street Profits and the aforementioned New Day, with whom they already have experience with in the ring. Not only do I believe that Pretty Deadly will be Raw or SmackDown bound by April, but I think they have a good chance at becoming tag team champions before the calendar year ends.
3. Grayson Waller
One of the true success stories of the 2.0 era, Grayson Waller found his niche as a cocky Australian heel who can back up his words in the ring and sometimes even outsmart his opponents. He will be an absolute heat magnet when he is more exposed to main roster audiences, much in the vein of Austin Theory or Dominik Mysterio right now. But the person whose shoes he seems ready to fill are those of The Miz, and that's not a bad thing at all. Like Miz, Waller could build himself up to be a more serious heel in the future and become someone who unexpectedly rises to the top of the card. Not only that, but he'll be a great heel opponent for almost any babyface that WWE puts in front of him. I believe he is also set for promotion after WrestleMania, with his Unsanctioned Match with Johnny Gargano at Stand & Deliver serving as his NXT goodbye.
2. Bron Breakker
We all knew this one was coming sooner or later. Bron Breakker has carried the NXT flag as champion for a long while, and he certainly has a lot of potential as a future main eventer. However, the second-generation star is currently going through a tough period despite being champion, as his act has grown a bit stale as the months went on with not much changing in his personality. It seems like after WrestleMania would be the perfect chance to get him out of an NXT crowd that has almost turned on him and let him run wild over Raw and SmackDown. But he will need compelling heels to beat and more character growth aside from "I'm a Steiner, hear me bark" in order to rise up the main roster ranks.
1. Carmelo Hayes and Trick Williams
At the end of this list is not the NXT Champion, but a man who has arguably surpassed Bron Breakker in the eyes of the white-and-gold fans. Carmelo Hayes has been the MVP of the 2.0 era, putting on countless great matches and being an excellent North American Champion while developing the type of arrogant charisma that has helped get him over with the fans and with the people backstage. Trick Williams has been just as good in being his sidekick, and he's someone who has also showed a lot of potential on the microphone and has a good look, so he could also become a big player someday. For now, Hayes is finally getting his NXT Title match with Breakker on April 1st, and it's anyone's ballgame in regards to who could win. He could either lose and go up to the main roster right away, or he could win and stay in NXT a bit longer before dropping the belt to another rising star. We'll have to wait and see, but there's no doubt that Carmelo is the most main roster ready of all the former 2.0 prospects, and he is destined for stardom in the big time with Trick by his side. As they say, Melo don't miss.
What do you think, Cagesiders? Is there anyone I left off this list that you feel is worthy of a call-up this year? Should I follow up this list in the future with an installment for the bright NXT women's division? Give me your thoughts in the comments below, and thank you very much for reading!