On the night when Vince McMahon announced he was shaking things up on Raw by... well, no one is sure how exactly yet... so it’s not even clear if the addition of four other NXT acts to the previously revealed call up of Lars Sullivan was part of the “overhaul” in response to low ratings and poor reviews, or just some coincidental year-end house cleaning.
But Lacey Evans, Nikki Cross, EC3 and Heavy Machinery are coming along with the Freak - at an undetermined time, to one brand or another. They’ll be leaving a stacked roster where they were all occassionally featured mid-to-upper midcard players to join stacked rosters with lots of those, and even more rarely featured undercard Superstars.
How will they fare on Raw or SmackDown? That’s what we’re here to make some educated guesses and/or wildly speculate about, while catching the non-NXT watchers up on what the rest of us have been getting from these folks over the past couple years.
Note: The Ceiling, Realistic and Floor references are for where they could end up on the card, and are not comparisons about talent level, type of performer, etc.
The man Mauro Ranallo likes to call a Jack Kirby illustration come to life probably has the best chance to hold a major title, despite never capturing a belt on the black-and-yellow brand. That’s because, well... look at him. He’s big with the kind of distinct look that makes him stand out for casual viewers. An internet controversy over old message board posts allegedly written by the man behind the character didn’t catch steam, and/or WWE decided they weren’t going to change plans over something that might have happened in the days before they signed him. That’s probably a sign those plans aren’t small, or they would have punted on a potential headache.
His character in NXT was always vaguely defined. They took a couple swings at establishing him as an oddly well-spoken monster - Mauro will also call him the “Loquacious Leviathan” - but mostly he was just a big, mean monster who never won the big one. Sullivan’s wrestling is built around bieling people around the ring abd punishing power spots like his Freak Accident finisher, but working in NXT has proven he’s got stamina and the other skills necessary to work longer matches. It’s hard to imagine he won’t at least end up putting over babyfaces on their way up the card.
Ceiling: Braun Strowman
Maybe the act most familiar to main roster fans, since she’s been on SmackDown a time or two - most recently as a surprise challenger for The Man while WWE was in her native UK. She’s also got the most rabid NXT fan base of anyone in this group (I know she’s the one I’m most excited to see get a chance to impress a larger audience). That’s in part due to Cross being the only member of this group with indie cred. As Nikki Storm, she spent years in Europe, Japan and the bigger U.S. Women’s promotions like Shimmer & Shine before signing with WWE in 2016.
Her WWE character is very different from “the white chocolate cheesecake of professional wrestling” routine she worked on the independents, and speaks to her range. Cross debuted on television with SAnitY as the most unhinged member of the chaos loving faction, and the popularity of her antics was a major factor in the group turning face. She’s been a staple of the women’s title scene, and delivered one of the most unsung matches of the Women’s Evolution with Asuka in a fantastic last woman standing match in 2017 (yes, before Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair’s “historic” one this past fall). A lot will probably depend on where she lands, but her usefulness as a reliable hand kept her on-screen in NXT, and should at the next level as well.
Ceiling: Ruby Riott
Realistic: Bayley (circa 2018)
Floor: Peyton Royce
Many were surprised when the man who was known as Derek Bateman during his first NXT run earlier this decade re-debuted on the black-and-yellow in 2018 as opposed to going straight to the main roster. He’s been through developmental once already, after all, and bulked up & reinvented himself as a top act in TNA.
It’s still not clear why that didn’t happen. He’s a charismatic performer who’s solid but unremarkable in the ring. EC3’s mic skills get him cheered even when his “Top One Percent” schtick shouldn’t. There never seemed to be much of a plan for him in NXT, and rumors say he was set for a call-up this summer before he got injured in Brooklyn. His biggest challenge will be dealing with any reluctance decision makers might have about pushing a guy who was released once and made his (new, Dixie Carter-related) name elsewhere.
Ceiling: Samoa Joe
Realistic: Bobby Roode
Floor: Tye Dillinger
There’s long been talk WWE officials are high on Evans, and its easy to see why. She’s a tall, blonde former U.S. Marine. Her personal story is compelling, having overcome a troubled home life to join the military, get through college, start a business and marry & have a daughter before pursuing wrestling.
She’s capable in the ring and has shown progress over her time on television. Some of her offense is based on how long her legs are; that and her Women’s Right punch finisher seem like throwbacks to another era. The same could be said about her gimmick - Lacey’s elitest southern belle character is slightly controversial (and the “stay at home and be a proper lady” routine quite ironic considering her own accomplishments) but easily hateable. Yet somehow, she’s never quite taken off outside of the Florida house show circuit either.
It’s an act I can see getting a main roster push, and a pretty long leash to get over before that push would be called off. She’s the thumbnail image on the video and article hyping the entire class, for instance. I’m not sure Evans will connect with enough fans to prevent a push from eventually stalling, but if she does... her public relations potential alone probably means she’ll be around as long as she wants to be.
Ceiling: Nia Jax
Otis Dozovic & Tucker Knight debuted as a team during the 2016 Dusty Rhodes Classic. You can figure out everything you need to know about them from a glance. They’re big and they’re fun.
“Tucky” and “Dozer” get more than their fair share of backstage videos because it’s really hard not to laugh at their “steak & weights” meathead routine. Knight plays straight man to Dozovic’s George Steele-meets-Randy Savage delivery as they eat meat and work out. In the ring, they get pops with big man tandem moves and Otis’ version of The Worm, which he ends with an elbow drop and calls The Caterpillar (like the tractor manufacturer, because... you get it).
To their credit, they’ve developed into a solid team act capable of working longer matches around their signature spots. Will they get a chance to show that on brands where tag wrestling is already an afterthought?
Ceiling: Too Cool
Realistic: The B-Team
Yep, I know these are similar. You can swap in Beauty & the Man-Beast, Titus Worldwide and Test & Albert in any order if you’d like.
Agree? Disagree? Give us your scouting report below, Cagesiders!