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When The Nexus first debuted on an episode of Monday Night Raw on June 7, 2010, it would end up being the launch of one of the most memorable angles of the decade. Fresh and exciting, the group of unheralded stars would quickly become the talk of the wrestling world, and not since the end of the Attitude Era had there been an angle that seemed to capture the imaginations of fans and really feel like the start of a new age in WWE.
While the intent of The Nexus was to launch the careers of a new era of WWE talent, the reality would be much more sobering. Despite the initial success of the angle, the momentum for the group would stall following a major loss at SummerSlam, when the group lost an elaborate seven-on-seven elimination tag match, where John Cena beat the final two Nexus members and submitted the leader, Wade Barrett.
After that match the group would never be the same, going from being a new and innovative faction to just another opponent for Cena to beat. Subsequent losses would follow, and eventually the group would go through numerous changes, eventually being led by CM Punk and then going away forever.
Ironically, instead of launching a new era in WWE it would in some ways be the last gasp of another era. The Nexus would be the last time WWE would seriously try to build around WWE developed wrestlers; later through the NXT brand the future of WWE would be handed over to notably independent stars coming in as known entities (Roman Reigns, Charlotte and Braun Strowman being exceptions). The Nexus stars were mostly talent that WWE tried to mold into new superstars as opposed to trying to expand the popularity of former independent stars. It would also be one of the last true major angles that WWE would produce; with the exception of the Punk Pipebomb and The Shield, it is hard to think of storylines the size of The Nexus invasion taking place in WWE over the last ten years.
So what happened to the members of the original Nexus? Despite the idea that they would create a new era in WWE, none of the real original members are left in WWE. While some of them would achieve notable highlights, none of them would go on to become major, business-altering stars, again with one notable exception. So ten years later, what happened to the members of The Nexus? Let’s look at their careers since.
(Note: We are only looking at members of The Nexus from the original June 7, 2010 invasion, and not later members like Bray Wyatt or Curtis Axel).
Daniel Bryan: Bryan goes down as an official member of The Nexus since he debuted with the group, but that would be his last appearance with the group as he was fired following the assault due to choking Justin Roberts with his necktie and spitting in John Cena’s face. Bryan would then be rehired, fight on the side of WWE in the SummerSlam match and eventually become the most popular wrestler in the company.
Bryan achieved more success in WWE than any of his Nexus counterparts, and it probably isn’t a coincidence that he did that while also being the lone member of the group to by a true star on the independents before coming to WWE, and also not being a part of the real angle after the original invasion, and thus being spared any of the subsequent hamstringing that would come from being a part of that angle. I don’t really consider him a true part of The Nexus, but he needs to be mentioned.
Michael Tarver: Tarver was perhaps the most unmemorable member of the group. He didn’t stand out in any particular way and as evidenced by the rest of his career, both before and after The Nexus, if he wasn’t part of this angle he probably wouldn’t have ever made a real impact in WWE. Tarver was written out of the group in October due to a groin injury and when he returned, it was back in FCW and he was released from the company in 2011. He did some shows for NJPW as an undercard guy representing the NWA, and has appeared sporadically on the independents since.
David Otunga: Like many of The Nexus members, there was clear potential in Otunga. He had a good body and was a good talker. His real-life story of being a licensed lawyer and also being married to pop star Jennifer Hudson made him unique. However, it never really clicked as a wrestler for Otunga and he would become better known in non-wrestling roles after The Nexus broke up. He would stop working for the company full time during the middle of the decade, but does appear from time to time as a commentator.
Justin Gabriel: Gabriel has arguably had the most success in wrestling outside of WWE when it comes to the original members. After the original Nexus group broke up, Gabriel would work for a few years as a mid-card wrestler and tag team wrestler, before being released in 2015 and expressed frustration that his creative ideas were not being used. Gabriel would go on to work in numerous independent companies, including ROH, in the years since and is a regular performer in smaller groups around the world, but has never really broken out as a major star.
Darren Young: Young, like Tarver and Gabriel, struggled to find a role in WWE once the Nexus broke up. He would end up in a tag team with Titus O’Neil, The Prime Time Players, which had a lot of potential, but like with a lot of tag teams, they were broken up for no real reason. Afterwards a pairing with Bob Backlund was short lived, and Young was released in 2017. He has wrestled a few independent matches since, but has largely left the business.
Heath Slater: Like most of his companions, Slater struggled to break out after The Nexus disbanded. Despite almost never getting pushed, Slater fought his way into relevancy and his strange charisma and comedic timing allowed him to gain more prominence than most of his former colleagues, getting a run with the tag titles before being released in 2020. Despite gaining some popularity, Slater was used primarily as enhancement talent for most of his time in WWE.
Ryback: Unlike most of the group, Ryback did get a big push following the breakup of The Nexus. His time in the group ended when he broke his ankle shortly after the SummerSlam match and was out until the following December. He came back under the new name Ryback, and his freakish physique and intense look made him stand out, and he began a Goldberg-like winning streak.
However, for whatever reason, WWE refused to go all the way with Ryback. His winning streak ended when he lost to CM Punk at Hell in a Cell 2012, and would lose subsequent feuds with Punk and John Cena, somewhat mirroring the demise of The Nexus two years earlier. He would remain a midcard wrestler and be protected at times but never seriously pushed as a main event talent, before leaving in 2016. Ryback worked some independents through 2018, but has since remained in wrestling mainly through podcasting.
Wade Barrett: As the leader of The Nexus, Barrett is the best example of how WWE failed to capitalize on the momentum originally gained by the group. Barrett was the total package; tall, charismatic, great on the microphone and good in the ring, Barrett came into WWE with the rocket strapped to his back as the leader of The Nexus. Yet, since he was the one who lost key matches to talent like Cena, he bore the brunt of The Nexus’ failure and it negatively impacted the rest of his career.
After The Nexus and the disastrous rip-off group, The Corre, Barrett was saddled with the Bad News Barrett gimmick, something that absolutely should have killed him, but due to his tremendous delivery, Barret got it over. Of course, the gimmick was dropped and he soldiered on as a mid-card heel instead of a top star in the company, which seemed like a guarantee during the original Nexus angle. He left WWE in 2016 and while he has appeared in other promotions as a commentator or authority figure, he hasn’t wrestled since.
In hindsight, it is interesting to see that the fate of The Nexus members is similar to most NXT call-ups. They come up, get a quick push, but then WWE loses interest in them and they begin to float around the midcard, often going through long stretches of time when they are not involved in any significant angles or pushed on television. The Nexus members were supposed to be the building of the future for WWE, yet none of them (outside of Bryan) are still with the company and most of the them are basically done as in-ring performers.
The Nexus remains one of the most memorable angles in modern WWE history, but ten years after it feels more like a lost opportunity than an incredible angle. When I think of The Nexus, I don’t think of success, I think of all the missed opportunities that came soon after their debut. From the big loss at SummerSlam, to the subsequent burial of Barrett, The Nexus would set the tone for WWE during the 2010s, but not in the way they intended to do so. Instead they would be a symbol for WWE not knowing how to get the most out of potential talent.