10 years ago, almost to the day, WWE underwent a cataclysmic shift. The entire landscape of the company was altered and both rosters were put on notice. It was a change that was needed. On the June 7th, 2010 edition of Monday Night Raw, the eight members of NXT Season 1 debuted united, led by the first ever winner Wade Barrett. With John Cena in the middle of the ring, they surrounded and attacked the leader of the Cenation, brutalizing him and anyone else who got in their way.
Nobody was safe. The commentary team, camera crew, and even ringside announcer Justin Roberts were all a part of the fray. There was one unfortunate downside to the commotion of course, which saw Daniel Bryan fired before his career could even get started, though thankfully this would all change in the near future. The eight men left a lasting impression on WWE which we hadn't seen from a new batch of superstars in well over a decade. It was fresh, exciting, and added a genuine spark to the product. Eight, but following this incident, seven men had a huge opportunity to change the business and lay down their marker on wrestling as a whole.
Unfortunately, more than anything else, this moment would turn out to be a huge “what if.”
One decade later on from their electric debut, I'm taking a look back at this monumental event which could and should have changed WWE for the better. I'll also be looking over what eventually happened with the group, and how things turned out for rich of the original members.
The Rise: Nexus Leaves Their Mark (Monday Night Raw – June 5, 2010)
The idea that one group of wrestlers, that the majority of fans were not aware of, taking over is something completely unthinkable. The closest we have come since was the minor NXT invasion around Survivor Series 2019. For the longest time, the WWE way of doing things was always to utilize the top stars and slowly build new ones to eventually take the main event spots. Then the Nexus debuted out of seemingly nowhere. It was something so unexpected, exciting and so well executed that it seemed almost impossible that WWE could screw it up.
Eight men were there to bring about a real change to WWE. How do you make a lasting impression? By destroying the ringside area, the ring itself, the commentary team, the ring announcer, CM Punk, Luke Gallows, and the biggest name in the entire company - John Cena. You simply cannot make a bigger impact in one night than by attacking the franchise player of the company. The Nexus were relentless as they carved out a path of destruction, literally ripping the ring mat apart, tearing the ring ropes out of the turnbuckles and leaving the attending fans in a state of utter shock.
This was a major kick up the arse to a company that badly needed it. Over the coming months, Nexus continued their dominance and it eventually led to a monumental match up at Summerslam. The match that would decide the standing of Nexus once and for all. A team made up of current stars and WWE legends rose up, banding together to defend the company's honour. It was now or never for the Nexus.
The Beginning of the End: Nexus vs Team WWE (SummerSlam 2010)
Team Nexus vs Team WWE would main event SummerSlam 2010. A massive moment for the rookies in the second biggest PPV event of the year. The Nexus had their work cut out of them as they would face the intimidating team of Cena, Edge, Chris Jericho, Bret Hart, John Morrison, R-Truth, and a surprise member... Daniel Bryan. While the match should have gone one way, it instead went in the complete opposite direction. Wade Barrett, as the leader, eventually took the final fall as Cena was able to eliminate him and Gabriel, predictably standing tall as the final competitor in the match. It was a moment where WWE failed to establish Barrett as a main event player, The Nexus as a serious force, and changed the future for good. Instead it marked the beginning of the end for Nexus all so that Cena could have another moment of glory.
There was just so much potential there for the group to be mainstays of the company for years to come with dozens of storylines coming out of it and birthing new stars. It was an incredible, tempting angle that the company was in dire need of at the time. Sure, they would strike it lucky the following year with a certain CM Punk’s sudden popularity rise, but this was a real chance for a change to the establishment.
The Fall (Cena Joins, New Nexus, The Corre, Completely Disbanded)
The aftermath of this devastating loss led to some “make-up” work by the company that was simply not enough to justify the decisions made. Two months later, Barrett won a Hell in a Cell match vs. John Cena, resulting in Cena joining the group. On the surface this was a bold and interesting move, but it really changed very little and had virtually no impact. Barrett went on to have a number of WWE Championship opportunities that all resulted in failure. The feud with Cena eventually died off after Cena went on to defeat Barrett at TLC. It was from there that the group began to capitulate, showing their cracks and would eventually have to find a new leader.
That leader would come around at the beginning of 2011. CM Punk took on Wade Barrett in a Steel Cage match, defeating the former Nexus leader and in doing so, formed the New Nexus. Some of the original members, including Barrett, moved over to SmackDown where they would form a group of equals known as The Corre. Unfortuantely whenever even came close to recreating the magic that the original group had. Both groups came to a head in the Royal Rumble, but other than that clash, not a huge deal came out of it.
Eventually, both groups would completely disband with most of the members getting lost in the shuffle and others released entirely. A glorious opportunity to shake things up within the entire company was spurned thanks to questionable booking, poor creative and a desperate need to keep one mans ego inflated.
So... where are they now?
Since the disbanding of The Nexus, literally just two of the original crew remaining in WWE. Some of them enjoyed moderate success while still a part of Nexus, whereas most would have to wait until the group had gone their separate ways before tasting Championship glory. It wouldn't be unfair to say that the vast majority of the group failed to capitalise on the hype and potential of the Nexus...
- Daniel Bryan. Need I say any more? A sure fire first ballot Hall Of Famer, Bryan has almost done it all within WWE. Grand Slam Champion, MITB winner, multi time world champion... Bryan is truly one of the all time greats and by far the most successful member of Nexus.
- Husky Harris aka Bray Wyatt. The second most successful of the group behind Bryan. WWE Champion, Universal Champion, a two time tag team champion and creator of potentially the hottest pro wrestling character of all time - The Fiend.
- Wade Barrett was the first of the group to break out and make it big. The winner of Season 1 of NXT went on to win King Of The Ring and was a five time Intercontinental Champion. Barrett is now doing the rounds on the independent circuits.
- Heath Slater was one of the most recent departures from the original Nexus, leaving the company during the recent mass exodus. He was a four time tag team champion and most recently held the 24/7 Championship.
- Justin Gabriel was arguably the most talented of the whole group. He would go on to hold the tag team titles 3 times, each time with his Nexus buddy Slater. Gabriel now plies his trade in ROH.
- Michael McGillicuty aka Curtis Axel found moderate tag team success as a two time champion and also won the Intercontinental Championship once before his release in April this year.
- Skip Sheffield aka Ryback was one of the few to get a second chance. A one time Intercontinental Champion and prominently featured ever since the group ended. Not currently wrestling, Ryback is still a big name amongst the IWC largely because of his podcast series.
- Darren Young was a one time tag team champion as part of the Prime Time Players with Titus O'Neill. Like Barrett, Young is now working the independents under his real name
- David Otunga was a two time tag team champion and still works the occasional PPV pre show panel.
- Michael Tarver achieved literally nothing after the group disbanded. He was most recently seen in CWE, founded by The great Khali.
- Mason Ryan... nope, me neither.
What WWE Learned From This
Do WWE ever learn anything? Like really?
As discussed above, the landscape of WWE could have been very different over the past decade if they didn’t completely mess up the handling of the Nexus. Multiple new stars could have been made, that much is for certain. Bryan, Wyatt and Barrett may have gone on to achieve great success, but unsung heroes like Gabriel should have been massive stars moving forward.
WWE did clearly learn something from the missed opportunity of The Nexus, made evident just two years later with the debut of The Shield. A group that for sure had more about them in terms of star power, look and charisma - but also their handling and booking created three huge main event stars in the process. The Nexus could very well be attributed as the entire reason that The Shield was created in the first place. No one will ever be able to confirm or deny that, but there are certainly some clear comparisons and similarities to be found between the two.
10 years down the line, all that we as fans can do is to ponder just how differently this could have all played out. The group had everything to gain and prove, with every tool required to succeed, and it was all ripped away when they were just getting started.
The Nexus was by far one of WWE’s biggest missed opportunities in an ever increasing list...