Much like last year's Who could be NXT in 2017? column, we have a lot to look forward to as we move in to 2018 with an even more loaded Performance Center roster heading into the new year.
This year will also start out unique on the TV side as NXT will be holding their first quarter tapings at Center Stage in Atlanta, GA, before heading back to Full Sail later in the spring. This will give the TV talent a fresh chance to make impressions and that's what we're here to discuss. We all know and have seen great things from the top tier roster, so this is about who has shown the most potential on the Florida tour and who we could be discussing a lot come this time next year.
While this is supposed to be about fresh talents who haven't had major TV exposure, the former NXT tag champion has evolved into a top level singles wrestler. At 29, the former Melbourne City Wrestling Champion in his native Australia has been in the system since 2013 and to me, he would be one of the premier traveling wrestlers in the world right now if he was on the independent circuit.
The self proclaimed "Best Kept Secret" had countless main event quality matches against the likes of Aleister Black, Kassius Ohno, Lio Rush, Andrade "Cien" Almas, Roderick Strong, Tozawa, and Jack Gallagher this past year, on both the Florida and touring loops. I've raved about Murphy's work in the past (like this) and it's just a matter of time before he's back on TV showing what he's capable of.
As we've seen recently with the absolute physical marvels like Lars Sullivan and Braun Strowman, strength and size are still at a premium for WWE. There are a few big guys in wrestling, and then there's Babatunde. Billed at seven feet tall and well over three hundred pounds, the former professional and international football player has only been in the system since 2016 and has already been impressive in his limited ring time.
As with most giants, what we would see on TV would definitely not be what you'd see at live events. Babs only had 18 singles matches this past year but much like Sullivan, I expect, well, giant things from Babatunde in the future.
The former Axel Dieter Jr. of Ringkampf in WXW Germany, as well as PROGRESS in the UK, made his way to NXT and debuted on the Florida loop in June of 2017. In the short time he's been down on the loop, Barthel has already had standout matches against the likes of Johnny Gargano, Aleister Black, Roderick Strong and even a Full Sail dark match against No Way Jose.
A technical wrestling standout, Barthel is different than everyone who ususally comes through the system and that's what makes him stand out from the crowd. His presence and ability will carry over to TV and his ability to make those around him better is something I am looking forward to seeing more of.
The former world-traveled Evie on the indies is a ten year veteran who was a standout in her native New Zealand, her second home in Australia, and on countless tours around the world that included Stardom Japan, SHIMMER, and SHINE in the states. 2017 was an absolute whirlwind as Dakota finished up with Melbourne City Wrestling in Australia before a debut on the NXT Florida loop and then competing in the Mae Young Classic, advancing to the quarter finals against the eventual winner Kairi Sane.
Soon afterwards in one of the rarest talent sharing situations, WWE allowed Kai to wrestle at a pair of PROGRESS shows in NY and Boston before returning to the Florida loop. With the recent main roster call ups in the women's division leaving spots open in NXT, it seems like the perfect time for Dakota Kai to begin her TV journey.
In less than two years training at the PC, Evans has already become a Florida loop live event staple, and with her impressive resume, it's safe to believe she's also a leader. The former US Marine has made a few appearances on TV, yet her first true showcase was in the Mae Young Classic as she advanced to the second round against Toni Storm. With her classic pin-up looks and her impressive strength, Lacey is sure to be in the next wave of talent to be showcased in the womens division.
The 2018 NXT roster is as deep as it has ever been and we've barely even scratched the surface on major breakout candidates here on the Florida loop like Donovan Dijak, Lio Rush, Rhea Ripley, and many more who have already had breakout appearances yet haven't been properly launched such as Bianca Belair and Fabian Aichner.
The stockpiling of talent will continue on in the next few months as we are expecting a fresh class this January. Yet, as of this moment, these have been my top names you should watch in 2018 and beyond.