In previous editions of Job Opportunities we’ve taken multiple looks back at some of the biggest WWE losers who went on to become huge stars and even dipped our toes into the absurd standing water of World Championship Wrestling, but this week we’re stepping through the yellow ropes.
NXT originally started back in 2010 as a hybrid pro wrestling reality competition show, and while we’ll definitely touch on some of our favorite “NXT rookies” in the future, we’re going to be focusing on a few familiar faces who’ve stopped by since NXT became a “brand” in 2012. This’ll be our first coverage of the Full Sail era so expect more, and make sure you read until the end for some bonus pre-NXT NXT faces.
Up first, why don’t we start with the Extreme Rules 2019 main event?
Long before he was boring Raw and pay-per-view audiences to death as pro wrestling’s most violent and infantile foodserver — and even before he was the “Lone Wolf” character who might’ve been a motorcycle-enthusiast werewolf, we never got confirmation — Baron Corbin (Esquire) was popping up in enhancement talent roles at NXT live events as early as 2012. Here he is teaming up with “Travis Tyler,” aka the National Wrestling League’s hilariously named “The Mile High Magnum” Dak Draper, to lose to an early incarnation of the Revival (Garrett Dylan and Scott Dawson) in 2013. Look at that hairline! He had no idea the skullet days were right around the corner.
He’d also pop up from time to time as a fired-up babyface, like when he sprints to the ring to face Damien Sandow while yelling “COME ON! COME ON!” at the crowd. For want of a nail, Baron Corbin could’ve been our generation’s Ricky Steamboat.
… probably not.
If we’re talking about Baron Corbin ahead of Extreme Rules, we should also talk about his tag team partner, the “Sassy Southern Belle” Lacey Evans. Nowadays she’s the kind of character that calls in a noise complaint on the Street Profits, but back in the day she was a thrift store vintage clothes enthusiast wrestling under her real name. Yes, her real name is Macey Estrella, which is pretty close to being named Mazzy Star, and they went with “Lacey Evans.” Let’s pour one out for the days when Lacey’s sassy walking was intended to get her all the way to the ring for a wrestling match.
She also competed under the name Macey Evans from time to time, and even the moniker Ruby Mobs, which sounds like a group you’d have to run away from in a Final Fantasy game.
This is one of my favorites, because of how unassuming she looks. Who knew that innocent little enhancement Diva (back when we still called them that) Sarah Dobson was the kind of woman who hunted live game, knew the taste of game meat, and was really into Vikings?
Somewhere between wrecking the indies as Crazy Mary Dobson and joining the Riott Squad, Sarah Logan popped up on NXT TV for a few enhancement talent spots under the amalgamated name “Sarah Dobson.” And speaking of speaking of “Macey Evans,” here’s Macey and Sarah, wrestling under her real name of Sarah Bridges, teaming up in an early appearance for both. Man, one tweak and they could’ve been a bad-ass hoss tag team, couldn’t they?
Unnamed Ring Announcer
Since we included her at the top of the post in a more recognizable fairy form, we’ve got to give a shout-out to Unnamed Ring Announcer from the November 20, 2013, edition of NXT TV. That’s her standing beside Big Ass, back when we all kinda liked him.
A few months later, Lexi Kaufman would get the gimmick of a glitter-sneezing cheerleader and the name Alexa Bliss, just in time for a surprising first round victory against WWE veteran Alicia Fox in a Women’s Championship tournament. Bliss didn’t win many matches as a sparkly fairy — even with a goofy first-draft kind of entrance theme I’ve been singing in my head for years — but would find greater success and an unexpected main roster call-up for the work she did managing NXT Tag Team Champions Blake and Murphy. Now she’s a former 2-time Smackdown Women’s Champion, and a former 3-time Raw Women’s Champion.
You gotta be joking me.
Before she was the (arguably) funnier of the two IIconics, Billie Kay was mild-mannered “Jessie” in a series of enhancement bouts on NXT. She’d been wrestling as Jessie McKay for a while, but 2014 WWE was a much different place, and didn’t care much for surnames. She’d get part of it back, at least, and evolve into a … well, a kind of wrestling Maleficent (?) before abandoning any pretension of gimmick to be annoying forever lifemates with her best friend and wifey, Peyton Royce.
Can you imagine Peyton Royce wearing something like this now? She looks like she just picked some random things out of a box marked “woman” in the closet at Full Sail.
Like “Jessie,” Peyton Royce started her NXT career as jobber “Cassie.” They’d occasionally team up at live events as Jessie and Cassie, which is about as close to a Disney Channel original series as a tag team can get. Also like Jessie, Cassie MacIntosh would get a new name — Peyton Royce, clearly named after Disney star Peyton Roi List, so maybe “Disney Channel” is what they were going for after all — and a new gimmick. She liked smelling flowers. Again, she didn’t really find herself until they stopped pretending they had gimmicks and got hilariously weird about everything, but it all worked out, and gave us our beautiful IIconics.
“Hello, I am Elias Samson. You probably remember me as ‘Elias Samson’ from NXT, as it was the exact same gimmick as on Raw and Smackdown but with a last name. You might not remember me from my earlier, pre-gimmick jobber appearances, though, like this one alongside ‘Mike Rallis,’ aka Riddick Moss before he got on that Jinder Mahal diet. It’s still pretty crazy that I’m the only person in the history of WWE to completely shit the bed on NXT, get called up to the main roster, and be AMAZING. Sometimes things just work better on the main roster. Weird, right?
Anyway, here’s Wonderwall.”
Bonus: Important NXT Characters Before NXT
Before he was the host of the Firefly Funhouse, before he was the WWE version of Bray Wyatt, before he was the much better NXT version of Bray Wyatt, and even before he was HUSKY HARRIS, he was Duke Rotundo, a cross between Matthew McConaughey and the 1998 version of Edge who loved to have fun™, hung out with his increasingly confusing brother Bo, and occasionally reminded you to Never Forget that Florida Championship Wrestling was coming to your area on September 11.
BRB, looking for vulture and witch puppets in the background of that promo.
The guy on the left is Jon Bolen, who you may have seen during his brief 2005 TNA run following a “gut check challenge” win, or from his time in WWE developmental territories Ohio Valley Wrestling and Deep South Wrestling. The guy on the right, teaming up with Bolen to face The Pitbulls (not those Pitbulls, the Jame Noble ones) on 2006 episode of Velocity is “Sterling Keenan.” You might’ve seen him as Sterling JAMES Keenan on the independent circuit, but you probably know him best as Corey Graves, former NXT Tag Team Champion and current color commentator on practically everything WWE does.
It’s absolutely jarring to see him with long hair and without all the tattoos, but here you go.
Holy shit is right.
Finally, here’s my favorite.
It would be impossible to replace Dusty Rhodes and Triple H as the most important “authority figures” in NXT history, but young Darren Matthews comes close. Here he is in the early ’80s (thanks to a photo from WWE.com), a couple of years before taking on the name “Steven Regal.” That’d turn into LORD Steven Regal, which would turn into William Regal, and eventually land him a job as NXT’s resident Anthony Stewart Head of a general manager. Bill Regal is one of the best to ever do it, on screen and off, and I just wish there was more footage of him shooting on jerks at the Blackpool Pleasure Beach as a bad-ass 15-year old.
Even William Regal had to start somewhere, right?
And there you have it. Those are 10 more former enhancement talent “chumps” who stuck with it, found what worked, and became some of wrestling’s biggest stars. Never underestimate the transformative power of a dream. One day you’re ring announcing for Colin Cassady on a show nobody’s watching, and the next you’re hosting WrestleMania and a 5-time World Champion. It’s pretty great.
Make sure you’re here next week as we take another look back at some of pro wrestling’s most memorable losers, and drop a comment down below if you’d like to see anyone featured.