01st Oct2019

WWE Roster: 2019 Mid-Year Report – NXT & NXT UK

by Chris Cummings

So, as a WWE fan, and seeing as Nerdly has great wrestling coverage, I thought it would be cool to take a seat in the bleachers and give you a longtime fan perspective report on WWE’s roster as we’ve reached – as of writing – August 2019.

This isn’t gospel or fact, obviously. It’s just opinion, and my opinion at that. You might disagree, and that’s fine. Just know that this is purely for fun and to give my thoughts and views on the great roster of talent that WWE has right now. I’ll rate people like a report card would rate people… From A* to F grade… you know what those grades mean. Also, I’ll do a ungraded grade for the men and women that are injured or that we haven’t seen on the product this year. I’ll be taking most things into consideration, from work-rate to promo skills to booking (I didnt want to take this into account but I have to, if we don’t see these men and women then how do I grade them?), charisma, psychology and overall presentation. Maybe even fan response… basically, it’s an all-encompassing report from a fan’s viewpoint of WWE’s incredible collection of stars.

I’ll be focusing on A LOT here, so grab a coffee, put your feet up, and check out my report of WWE RAW, Smackdown, NXT, 205 Live and NXT UK. Next up is NXT and NXT: UK (with these I didn’t go into the depth of the roster of guys who have rarely appeared or have only debuted in the last month in the new talent initiative deal) Phew, here goes!

NXT

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ADAM COLE

Adam Cole (Bay-Bay) has been one of the focal points of NXT in 2019 as part of the incredibly-over Undisputed Era faction. Worked a wonderful trilogy of matches on TakeOver events with Johnny Gargano over the NXT Title. Current NXT Champion has a bright future in WWE if his NXT run is anything to go by. Great promo, great in the ring, Cole is an all-rounder than surely cannot miss. His feud with Gargano has perhaps been the best of the year in WWE so far.

GRADE: A

THE STREET PROFITS

Montez Ford and Angelo Dawkins are a great team, but it must be said, one of these guys could be a huge player in WWE one day, and the other is Dawkins. Won the NXT Tag straps in 2019 and entered an awesome match with Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish at TakeOver Toronto in August. The two have been appearing on RAW and SmackDown in backstage segments where they talk about the show and what’s been going on. They have charisma, especially Montez, and ability. I foresee them one day, perhaps sooner than we think, splitting, with Ford going on to have a strong run as a singles heel. I hope I’m right.

GRADE: B

BOBBY FISH

Fish has been back on form since settling back into the ring following his serious injury in 2018. A great worker who can cut a good promo, he’s one of the four walls that holds Undisputed Era up, with each man offering something unique to keep the faction strong. His team with O’Reilly is, in my view, the best in WWE on any brand. They’ve had incredible matches with Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch, Forgotten Sons, Street Profits and War Raiders in 2019.

GRADE: B+

DANNY BURCH

The talented Brit was part of an awesome four-team tag match this year with Forgotten Sons, Undisputed Era and Street Profits, and has been on and off TV with his partner Oney Lorcan. Sadly, since Lorcan has gone to 205 Live, Burch hasn’t been on NXT TV much. Could perhaps benefit from a singles run in NXT UK or becoming part of a new team.

GRADE: C+

THE FORGOTTEN SONS;

I forget a lot about these guys, which makes sense I guess. They’re sluggish and while they have a good luck, they’re rarely fun to watch. Sons of Anarchy inspired faction were part of a fun four-way team match at a TakeOver in 2019 and go tot the finals of the Dusty Tag Team Classic, but have otherwise done very little. I’m not a fan, there are much better teams in NXT to focus on, and I don’t see much of a future in these fellas.

GRADE: D

JOHNNY GARGANO

The face of NXT for much of 2018 and 2019, Gargano has become one of the best wrestlers in the world. Has yet to have a TakeOver match that wasn’t at least very-good. Feud with Adam Cole over the NXT Title has been excellent. The strange booking of his character in which he turned heel but didn’t really turn heel has caused crowd reactions to calm down, sadly. He’s a phenomenal performer and one of the best underdogs in WWE’s modern history, without doubt. Hopefully, once Tommaso returns from injury, we’ll see the final chapter to that legendary rivalry too.

GRADE: A+

KEITH LEE

Keith Lee had been absent, strangely, from NXT TV, at the beginning of 2019. He’s a talented big-man with a lot of charisma, and could be a big part of the show eventually, but time will tell. Had a good match with Dominik Dijakovic and was meant to feud with him for a while, but suffered an injury in March. Hopefully Lee will get back on the horse when he’s healthy.

GRADE: C-

KILLIAN DAIN

“The Beast of Belfast” returned to NXT in July after not appearing on main roster TV after the split of Sanity. Began a feud with Matt Riddle immediately by attacking “The King of Bros”. The match should be a lot of fun when it happens, and hopefully this great brawler will finally be able to shine as a singles star in NXT in the latter half of the year after being mishandled and wasted on SmackDown.

GRADE: C-

KYLE O’REILLY

Kyle is a hugely talented technician and the backbone of The Undisputed Era. His in-ring style is fantastic and he’s been involved in some of my favourite wrestling matches in WWE in the past couple of years. Could be a singles star, but works brilliantly in a tag-team. Can’t say anything bad about him. He’s one of the best.

GRADE: A

KUSHIDA

Debuted in NXT after signing with WWE in April. Wrestled Kassius Ohno and a few others on NXT TV since his debut, he hasn’t really done much yet. He will eventually. I imagine there are big plans for the former New Japan star.

GRADE: D

MATT RIDDLE

BRO. Riddle has been on a roll in NXT and 2019 has seen his best WWE matches to date, especially his match at TakeOver 25 against Roderick Strong. A guy I feel would be better suited to a heel role, he’s caused some controversy online with his raw opinions on the likes of Chris Jericho and Goldberg. It might only be a matter of time until Riddle says too much and it released from WWE, but we’ll see. He’s talented, but needs to work on his promo skills.

GRADE: B-

RODERICK STRONG

Roddy has, like always, been one of the best wrestlers in NXT this year. He never fails to deliver in the ring, and has had some great matches with Pete Dunne, Velveteen Dream, Matt Riddle and others. The Undisputed Era has been the best thing for Strong and I don’t want to see them disband. Veteran with enough years left to keep putting on top-class wrestling clinics, Strong, like Cole, O’Reilly and Fish, is one of the very best in NXT.

GRADE: A-

TOMMASO CIAMPA

Tommaso Ciampa had a strong start to the year, appearing on RAW with Johnny Gargano and holding on to his NXT Title. Sadly suffered a serious neck injury in April, causing him to have to relinquish the title and undergo surgery. Ciampa is a fantastic talent who can do it all, and when he returns I imagine he will resume his title run quickly.

GRADE: B+

TYLER BREEZE

The former NXT talent returned to the place he began in 2019 after doing nothing on the main roster. Had a fun match with Velveteen Dream and feuded with The Forgotten Sons once his tag-partner Fandango made his return from injury. Breeze is a great wrestler with a fun gimmick, but perhaps it’s time for an overhaul and a reboot.

GRADE: C

VELVETEEN DREAM

Dream has been a riot since debuting in NXT. He’s a throwback while also being a modern character with a contemporary edge. When this gimmick began I never imagined Patrick Clark would take it to the level he has. A talented and ultra-charismatic cat, Dream is gonna be a big deal for years to come. He’s this good, and he’s only young. Put on some top class matches with folks like Pete Dunne, Tyler Breeze and Roderick Strong, the current NXT North American Champ is only going to get better and better. We best be ready for him to headline WWE eventually, because I see absolutely no reason why that won’t happen.

GRADE: A

ALIYAH

Aliyah is one of those women who has been around the PC and NXT for a while now, and hasn’t done a whole lot. I’m not even entirely sure how good she is (or isn’t) because she’s rarely featured. She is a better heel than she is a babyface and she’s appeared a handful of times in a losing effort to women who are undergoing a push. She’s a tough one to grade due to how little I’ve seen her in 2019.

GRADE: D

BIANCA BELAIR

Bianca only debuted in 2017 and only started wrestling in 2016. She’s literally been doing this less than three years and she’s THIS good. Buckets of charisma, a great presentation, decent promo work and skills in the ring, she is perhaps the fastest rising star in NXT in recent memory in terms of someone who has become so good so quickly. She’s someone to hitch your wagon to, that’s for damn sure. Entered a few very good matches against NXT Women’s Champ Shayna Baszler but lost, losing her winning streak in the process. Bianca will be a champion in WWE one day, surely, and I look forward to it. There are few women in the company that I enjoy as much.

GRADE: A-

CANDICE LARAE

The wife of Johnny Gargano has stepped out of the shadow of that title and begun to show just how freaking good she is between the ropes in 2019. She has been involved in the storylines with Johnny this year, sure, but she also began a feud with a now-heel Io Shirai and the two gave us one of the best, if not THE best, women’s match this year to date, at TakeOver Toronto. A veteran worker, Candice is used to working with men and women, and she can work with anyone. Possibly the best female underdog in WWE, if she’s used as well as she has been in the past month, she could be a big part of NXT going forward. I’m excited to see it.

GRADE: B+

DAKOTA KAI

I wanted to put Dakota in here even though she went down with an injury in January, because I’m a fan and feel like she could be a big deal in WWE once she gets back to the ring. Not much else to say.

GRADE: UNGRADED

IO SHIRAI

Io was kind of just part of the show for much of 2019, taking part in good matches, but not really adding much to things as a character on television. That was until she turned heel by attacking her “friend” Candice LaRae in July. This resulted in an incredible match at TakeOver Toronto. She’s rejuvenated by the heel turn, and it suits her. Competed in top notch matches with Shayna Baszler over the NXT Women’s Title, Bianca Belair, Kairi Sane and others. The future is incredibly bright for The Genius of the Sky. She will become NXT Women’s Champion in 2019, I’m sure.

GRADE: A-

JESSAMYN DUKE & MARINA SHAFIR

Jessamyn Duke and Marina Shafir have mostly appeared in the role of “lackeys” to Shayna Baszler, often running in to help Shayna retain her title, or attack an opponent. It’s good use for them considering how little experience they have in wrestling right now. It’s tough to grade them, because they’ve only been in a couple of televised matches, but if the pushes of Shayna and Ronda is anything to go by, as long as they pick it up, they should have solid runs in WWE eventually.

GRADE: E

MIA YIM

Mia took part in the Mae Young Classic last year and was quickly signed to a contract afterwards. She didn’t do a great deal in the opening portion of 2019, but has gone on to become a bigger part of television, most recently in a feud with Women’s Champ Shayna Baszler, whom Yim wrestled for the title at TakeOver Toronto. Mia lost, but the match was good. She’s been doing this a long while, and she’s popular. It’s nice to see her flourish in NXT.

GRADE: C-

SHAYNA BASZLER

“The Queen of Spades” has been NXT Women’s Champion since Evolution last year. Her run has been one of the most memorable title runs in NXT history, and has featured some great matches. Shayna is someone I always look forward to seeing. Her character is great and she seems to be able to work well with most opponents. Her matches with Mia Yim, Kairi Sane, Io Shirai and Bianca Belair have seen some excellent results at times. It’s hard to bet against Shayna at this point, as she continues to hold onto that title, and that’s part of the fun. She’ll undoubtedly make it to the main roster soon enough, and hopefully find equal success.

GRADE: A

NXT UK

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ALEXANDER WOLFE

The former member of Sanity made his debut in NXT UK in April after not seeing much action on SmackDown before or after the breakup of Sanity. Became part of the heel Imperium faction in NXT UK and has immediately restored the aura he had in NXT. He’s a big guy with a unique style in the ring, and I hope we get a chance to see him work more in NXT UK. The Imperium faction are great, and Wolfe is a nice addition to the group.

GRADE: D

AMIR JORDAN

The Yorkshire native has seen success as a tag-team wrestler in NXT UK. He’s talented and popular and has grafted on the UK indie circuit for a while, so it’s nice to see him shine at times. Perhaps someone who could do with some character development and storylines, like many of the NXT UK guys could do with, quite honestly. He’s good in the ring, but he’s missing that development as a character outside of it, something that’s important in wrestling. Hopefully it happens for him.

GRADE: C+

DAVE MASTIFF

The big rugged Black Country native has had a solid mid-card run in NXT UK so far. Had a decent big-man brawl with Eddie Dennis at NXT UK TakeOver Blackpool in January. He’s a guy that seems to be easy to push, but is not a guy who is on par with many of the talent in the UK brand, in my view. He’s big and strong, but the intensity doesn’t seem to be there for me. Maybe a tweak to his shtick could help?

GRADE: C-

EDDIE DENNIS

Dennis had been undergoing something of a push prior to falling to an injury this year. Lost to Mastiff in a brawl at TakeOver Blackpool in January. He’s a guy who seems to have the backing of management, but is a little on the slow side in the ring, and a look that doesn’t really fit with his portrayal of a “monster heel”. I could see him getting a push again, though, once he gets back on the road.

GRADE: D

FABIAN AICHNER & MARCEL BARTHEL

Now, I could put these two on their own, because they are each fantastic, but they have mostly been involved in tag-matches together this year. Aichner is a jacked technical flyer who is very talented, and Barthel, one of my favourite guys to watch in NXT UK, is an old-school villain reminiscent of William Regal who hits hard and fast. As a team, they are fantastic, just like they are on their own. I hope they get a chance at gold soon enough. Part of the Imperium faction with Wolfe and Walter.

GRADE: B+

FLASH MORGAN WEBSTER

FMW is someone who seems to fit better in the tag ranks, in my view. Was injured for some of 2019, but began teaming with Mark Andrews, his fellow welshman, in the summer again. The two will get a shot at the NXT UK Tag Titles in Cardiff at NXT UK’s next TakeOver and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the two talented Welshmen pick up the win on their home soil.

GRADE: C

GRIZZLED YOUNG VETERANS

James Drake and Zack Gibson are the most over heels in NXT UK and have been for a while. Gibson especially gets the most interesting, fun and loud heel response from the fans when he’s out there, and it’s a blast. Current NXT UK Tag Champs, won the titles at TakeOver Blackpool in a match with Moustache Mountain to become the first ever NXT UK Tag Champs. Have had some good matches and will once again be defending the belts at TakeOver in Cardiff. Gibson and Drake have great chemistry and Gibson is a top level promo.

GRADE: B

GALLUS

Joe and Mark Coffey and Wolfgang have become a main part of NXT UK in 2019. Joe took on Pete Dunne in a good match for the WWE UK Title in January, and the team have since feuded with British Strong Style and others on television. All three of them are talented guys and they seem to enjoy working together as a team, but since Imperium became the main heel faction on the brand, they seem to have taken a bit of a background role, not really as important at they were at the start of the year. Still… time will tell what they do next.

GRADE: C+

JORDAN DEVLIN

The Irish Ace, trained by Finn Balor, has had a pretty quiet 2019. Last year he was getting shots at the WWE UK Title, but this year hasn’t done as much. Lost to his former trainer Finn Balor at TakeOver Blackpool in a surprise match, and had a good feud with Travis Banks that saw some good TV matches. He’s a confident talker and solid in the ring, so I think we’ll eventually see him get a push again.

GRADE: C

KASSIUS OHNO

Kassius, formerly of NXT, headed to NXT UK this year to teach some of those UK folks how it’s done. I’ve been an Ohno fan for many years, and it’s cool to see him mix it up in the UK against various British talent. A veteran who could be used to put over younger guys who need that extra push, he’s still got plenty left in the tank. I’m not sure we’ll see Ohno capture any gold in NXT UK, but I also don’t think that’s why he’s there.

GRADE: C-

KENNY WILLIAMS

Teamed with Amir Jordan for a good part of 2019. The young flyer is likeable and has a good look, but like his tag partner is missing a lot in terms of character. There needs to be more of a reason for people who aren’t familiar with these guys from the indies to care about them on TV. One of the weaker points of NXT UK is this point, but I know they’re working on that now. Hopefully Kenny undergoes a few changes and is able to make a bigger splash.

GRADE: D

LIGERO

The veteran Leeds luchador has been a mainstay on the UK wrestling scene for years. He’s over when he appears on TV and has had a handful of good matches in 2019. I’m surprised we haven’t seen Ligero do more in NXT UK to be honest, because it seemed like they were going to push him higher up the card at one point. A likeable natural babyface who works well as the underdog.

GRADE: C+

MARK ANDREWS

Another flyer with an abundance of talent. I always thought Andrews would work well on 205 Live. Team with Flash Morgan Webster is popular and should do some big things in 2019 if recent appearances tell us anything. He’s a guy who has a lot of television experience and has very good matches, but I kinda prefer him as a singles babyface. I’m wiling to give the team a chance though, so let’s see what happens.

GRADE: C

NOAM DAR

Dar has been a little unlucky with injuries in NXT UK, but once he has a solid few months without injury I think we’ll see him become a main feature on TV. He’s a vey good heel and he’s worked the WWE style in 205 Live for a good while, so he knows how it’s done. I’ve yet to see him have a memorable match this year though, but hey…. there’s still plenty of time.

GRADE: D-

TRAVIS BANKS

Banks is a hell of a talent with an intense ring style and a mass of ability. Had a chance to wrestle Jordan Devlin at TakeOver Blackpool but was bumped for Finn Balor. Was a pro about it, and went on to have a class match with Devlin on NXT UK TV. Banks has been a little underused in NXT UK, so I hope he gets a better shot soon enough.

GRADE: B-

TRENT SEVEN

Trent has, with his British Strong Style brothers, been one of the main parts of NXT UK since its inception. Charismatic and a hell of a worker, Trent has had top notch matches with Gallus, Drake & Gibson and Imperium this year so far. One of the best in the brand, Seven is one of the best parts of the show, frankly, and I’d love to see him continue to be featured each week.

GRADE: A-

TYLER BATE

Tyler is a young and incredible wrestler. Seriously, the guy is a kid, yet he’s so bloody good. Worked with Trent and Pete Dunne in matches with Gallus and Imperium, and wrestled Gibson and Drake for the Tag Titles in January at TakeOver. The first ever WWE UK Champion will have a chance to become the first ever TWO-time Champ at TakeOver Cardiff when he faces Walter. That should be a solid match.

GRADE: A-

PETE DUNNE

Pete Dunne is the longest reigning champion in modern WWE history, holding the WWE UK Title for 685 days. Lost the belt to Walter at NXT TakeOver New York during WrestleMania weekend in a fantastic match. Had previously worked with Joe Coffey and successfully defended the WWE UK belt at TakeOver Blackpool in January. Dunne has since moved over to NXT and began feuding with Velveteen Dream and Roderick Strong, whom he wrestled for the North American Title to a losing effort in August. One of the best wrestlers in the world, Dunne’s future is as bright as they come, whether he’s in NXT UK, NXT or the main roster. Could he become the first ever British WWE World Champion?

GRADE: A+

WALTER

The big man debuted in WWE at the end of TakeOver Blackpool in January and quickly began a feud with Pete Dunne. Captured the WWE UK Title in April at TakeOver New York, ending Pete Dunne’s lengthy title reign. Formed a stable called Imperium on NXT UK TV with Aichner, Barthel and Wolfe and has been the main man on the brand since. Talented guy who hits hard as hell, he will be defending his title against Tyler Bate in Cardiff soon.

GRADE: A-

ISLA DAWN

A talented Scot with a great look, Isla has been involved in some decent matches this year, but sadly didn’t reach the pinnacle of the brand. Someone I could easily see becoming Women’s Champion, Isla is featured regularly. The NXT UK Women’s division is pretty big, which is great, but it can also mean that many of the talented women aren’t used as much as they should be. I think that will be mentioned a few times here.

GRADE: B-

JAZZY GABERT

The former Alpha Female made her way into NXT UK and aligned herself with Jinny as a hench-woman of sorts. She’s got an awesome look and she has skills between the ropes, but I’m not sure how far she can get as a bodyguard type. I like Jazzy, and maybe we’ll see her become a babyface when her team with Jinny eventually comes to an end.

GRADE: D

JINNY

“The Fashionista” is a really fun character in NXT UK. Hired Jazzy to be her hench-woman which has resulted in a fun balance between them. Feuded over the NXT Women’s Title with Toni Storm. Toni and Jinny have a lot of chemistry, so their matches were very enjoyable. She’s a natural heel and solid in the ring.

GRADE: C+

KAY LEE RAY

Kay Lee Ray made her WWE and NXT UK debut in March of this year and immediately established herself as a mean heel who was aiming for Toni Storm’s NXT Women’s Title. A talented wrestler, it’s cool to see her immediately make waves in the division. She hasn’t been there long enough to talk too much about her WWE career, but it’s been a strong start.

GRADE: D

KILLER KELLY

Kelly is one of my personal favourites in NXT UK. A great look, a hard-hitting style in the ring, she would fit right in as a female member of Imperium. I hope it happens, but we’ll see. She’s not used as much as I’d like her to be, so I hope that changes in the latter half of 2019.

GRADE: C-

PIPER NIVEN

Piper made her NXT UK debut this year, in March, so we’ve yet to see a whole lot from the talented Scot. I’m a fan of the former Viper and hope to see her be Champion eventually.

GRADE: D

RHEA RIPLEY

The first NXT UK Women’s Champion has taken a backseat in 2019, which is a real shame, because she’s great. An awesome look and a hard hitting and powerful ring style, Ripley is one of those women who could easily appear on RAW next week and be successful as she is. I hope she does something big soon, because it’s a real bummer seeing her take a back seat after she was the top dog for a while.

GRADE: C

TONI STORM

The current, reigning, defending NXT UK Women’s Champion is one of the best women’s wrestlers in WWE today. Won the Mae Young Classic last year and has become the female face of the UK brand since. Has had top notch matches with Jinny, Rhea Ripley and others in 2019. Beat Rhea for the Women’s belt in January at TakeOver Blackpool. I hope we see her on main WWE TV one day, grappling with the likes of Charlotte. That’d be cool.

GRADE: A

XIA BROOKSIDE

The female underdog of NXT UK is improving more and more as she goes alone. The daughter of wrestling legend Robbie Brookside has appeared on TV in fun matches with Jinny, Jazzy and Kay Lee Ray. I think she could be a big star in the future, especially as the underdog character.

GRADE: C-

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