We’ve all seen the stars of NXT on a weekly basis. The likes of Sami Zayn, Adam Cole and Finn Balor are burned into our minds as indispensable members of the NXT roster. But there are many other NXT surprise wrestlers who made limited appearances on the yellow brand.
In the early days of NXT, you never knew which main roster member was going to show up and face your favourite stars. The likes of Tyson Kidd, Curtis Axel and Finn Balor have all returned to NXT from the main roster to a great response from the crowd. Cesaro returned to face Sami Zayn in a series of great matches in NXT that you can read about here. Sami Zayn vs Adrian Neville
Top 5 NXT Surprise Wrestlers
6. Daniel Garcia
Daniel Garcia is one of the top young stars today in AEW. He has had fantastic matches with a wide variety of opponents, like CM Punk, Eddie Kingston and Minoru Suzuki and gets better with every match. Despite being just 23, he is years ahead of his age and looks to be a star for AEW for the next 10 to 15 years at least.
However, Daniel Garcia has wrestled twice in WWE, and once in NXT. His first WWE match came at the tender age of 20, when he lost in 30 seconds to Drew Gulak on 205 live. However it took until 2021 for him to first wrestle on WWE’s developmental brand.
Daniel Garcia in NXT wrestled Tyler Rust in a short match in January 2021. A lot of the match was taken up by a promo by Rust’s manager, Malcolm Bivens. Garcia was handily beaten by Rust and would not appear again for WWE before wrestling in AEW later that year. He would later sign permenently for AEW and be a fixture of their shows, teaming up with 2.0, another pair who wrestled in NXT
5. James Storm
The former TNA World Champion was a big NXT surprise wrestler when he made his one and only appearance for NXT. James Storm made his NXT debut on 25th October, 2015, winning a squash match against Danny Burch. Storm seemed set for a stay in NXT, but opted to re-sign for TNA after his win on TV.
Storm was reportedly close to signing permenently with NXT, before a much better offer came in from NXT. TNA reportedly were offering more money to the former Beer Money member, and considerably less dates. This was the factor for Storm, who had recently begun his young family.
“Look, go get your life straight and then get yourself in the best shape you can and in two years let’s see if when can do business again” Triple H said to Storm when they met to discuss the contracts.
4. Rob Van Dam
Rob Van Dam had a “One of a Kind” appearance on NXT TV in June 2014. The former WWE and ECW Champion made a surprise appearance on NXT, facing NXT Champion Adrian Neville in singles competition.
Rob Van Damn returned to WWE in the summer of 2013. Seeing his return advertised is what got me to tune back in to Monday Night Raw. I remember seeing the adverts for Rob Van Dam’s return at Money in the Bank 2013, and needed to see it. I had missed his original run, only seeing clips of his defeating Cena at One Night Stand, and smatterings of his time in TNA. He left again that Autumn, but would return the following year after Wrestlemania.
In his first return run, he made a trip down to Full Sail University to make his NXT debut. He took on Aiden English in the main event of the October 9th 2013 show. He won the match with a Five Star Frog Splash, dominating the future Vaudevillain.
His second trip to NXT a year later was a higher profile affair. He took on Adrian Neville, the NXT Champion at the time, in June 2014. He lost to the Geordie superstar via his trademark Red Arrow move. RVD raised the victors hand as a mark of respect, and was never seen again in NXT. He was certainly one of the best NXT surprise wrestlers, and seeing a former WWE Champion in NXT was amazing to watch.
3. Too Cool (Scotty 2 Hotty & Grandmaster Sexay)
Everyone’s favourite dancing friends of Rikishi have made a surprise appearance in NXT at the end of their storied careers. They were huge stars during the attitude era, with Scotty 2 Hotty’s famous Worm dance being one of the most popular things in the company.
The pair travelled down to NXT for the first NXT: Takeover event in March 2013. They took on long-time NXT Tag Team Champions The Ascension, in a tag team title bout.
The duo were unsuccessful in their pursuit, becoming the latest in a long line of victims for Konnor and Victory. The pair vowed to return to NXT and become the tag team champions, before vanishing off the face of WWE never to be seen again.
2. American Wolves (Davey Richards & Eddie Edwards)
The American Wolves are one of the most famous tag teams in recent years, making their mark on companies all over North America. Eddie Edwards and Davey Richards, both hugely talented singles performers, won gold wherever they went, including TNA and Ring of Honor.
The pair had a tryout match in NXT against The Ascension. Dubbed “The American Pitbulls”, they suffered defeat in their debut match and subsequently did not receive a contract offer from the company.
One rumoured reason for their ousting from WWE was due to the attitude of Davey Richards. Reports stated that Richards told Edwards to go longer than instructed, causing the show to go over time and showing the company that he was not good at listening to instructions. They also reportedly did not perform to their best selves in ring, and had poor attitudes backstage which made people reluctant to work with them.
1. Kota Ibushi
WWE fans will remember Kota Ibushi making it to the Semi Finals of the Cruiserweight Classic. He suffered defeat just before the final, losing to eventual winner TJ Perkins.
But did you know that Kota Ibushi made a number of appearences on NXT around the time of the tournament?
Ibushi made his NXT debut on the 27 July 2016. He faced Buddy Murphy in a singles match that showcased both men as great workers. Kota Ibushi picked up the win with the Golden Star Powerbomb, but it would not be his last NXT match.
Ibushi was announced to be participating in the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, with Hideo Itami as his partner. Unfortunately, Hideo Itami had to pull out of the match with injury. He was instead teamed up with CWC opponent TJ Perkins. The pair beat Lince Dorado and Mustafs Ali in the first round. They went on to face Sanity in the second round, where they were eliminated.
This was Ibushi’s last televised NXT match, but there is another one of his bouts available on the WWE network. He took on Bobby Roode in Los Angeles in a NXT house show, which can be seen here.
Hamish is a writer and podcaster and wrestling fan who is a key part of the Atletifo team.
After playing countless hours of WrestleMania X8 on the Gamecube, he discovered Rey Mysterio getting his head crushed by The Great Khali, and thus a love for professional wrestling was born.
He is also a Media Graduate, as well as writing for multiple sites about Premier League football and the culture of Wales – his home country.