WWE Developmental Analysis: In The Performance Center Era and Beyond

Matthew Schroeder‘s (@mat_matician) help in collecting this data and guidance in analyzing it was essential to this project, which required scanning the entire cagematch.net database.

The data referenced here is up to date as of mid-October 2020.

What follows will not be an exhaustive analysis. The amount of data related to this project is vast. Many more articles could be written on this subject, referencing this data. At best, this is an introduction.

The purpose of this analysis is broad. But among our issues of interest was in learning about what the output of WWE’s developmental system has been, in recent years, and going back to as early as the year 2000.

I might at another time, but I will not try to make opinionated conclusions about the output or cost-effectiveness of WWE’s current or previous developmental systems here. I admit I have intuitions about the system (possibly biased by my personal experience as an independent wrestler) that were not much swayed either way by examining this data. If anything, my view has become more complicated. The phenomenon of NXT arguably morphing into something beyond a developmental system further complicates the issue. While we may measure match counts, match types, and time in interesting ways in attempt to shed light on this topic, nonetheless, qualities like “success” and “talent” remain elusive in their subjectivity with regard to pro wrestling, largely due to the predetermined nature of matches. Most importantly, opportunities for wrestlers and the results of their matches are ultimately left to the judgment of WWE’s key decision-makers, CEO Vince McMahon chief among them.

The Performance Center era

The information in this article will focus first on the period since the WWE Performance Center was opened in Orlando, Florida, in July 2013. The opening of the facility marked the moment World Wrestling Entertainment took its talent development in-house, after many years outsourcing developmental to various regional wrestling promotions (e.g., Ohio Valley Wrestling, Florida Championship Wrestling, etc.)

Of particular interest to us was the issue of sorting out which wrestlers, among those who have worked extensively on WWE’s main roster:

  • a) had most of their previous match experience in companies not affiliated with WWE or its developmental system (referred to throughout as “non-universe”)
  • b) had most or all of their previous match experience within WWE’s developmental system, or
  • c) somewhere in between.

We should keep in mind when it comes to the “non-universe” match data, cagematch.net does not have a complete record of all matches that have occurred. Certainly many matches wrestlers have had with lesser known promotions are unaccounted for. However, we believe cagematch.net has the most completed record available for this type of research.

Since we are initially focused on the output of WWE developmental following the opening of the Performance Center in July 2013 (and since many wrestlers who were among the first to train at the Performance Center were participating in WWE-affiliated developmental with Florida Championship Wrestling in the time immediately previous to July 2013), January 1, 2014 seems as good a time as any to start the clock on the analysis.

You will notice throughout we are using a wrestler’s 10th WWE main roster (MR) match as an arbitrary qualifier for assuming a wrestler has worked extensively on the main roster. This is not a perfect qualifier, but we struggled to find one that would be as effective without getting convoluted. Dark matches were ruled out of this criterion.

As of the timing of the data collection (mid-October 2020), 128 wrestlers have had their 10th WWE main roster match after or on January 1, 2014.

The table for those 128 wrestlers, with various other data points in additional columns is below. They are sorted in chronological order, beginning with the wrestler who had their 10th MR main the earliest.

A few notes for reading the table:

  • The numbers you see in parenthesis next to each wrestler’s name is simply a unique identification number associated with each wrestler in the cagematch.net database.
  • The name listed for a given wrestler in some cases may not be the name the wrestler is best known by. In many cases, a name used early in the wrestler’s career may be shown. Rest assured, though, due to our reliance on unique ID numbers for wrestlers, matches for an individual wrestler who used many names are counted to the individual wrestler and their associated ID number.
  • “A TV” refers to WWE main roster programs Raw and Smackdown
  • “B TV” refers to WWE programs 205 Live, Main Event, and possibly others.

You may click on any of the table images to enlarge view

Note the column “Non-universe development” (on the far right, in orange) attempts to measure the percentage of non-WWE matches a wrestler had before that wrestler had their 10th main roster match.

So for example, someone like Finn Balor (listed in the table as “Prince Devitt” has very high percentage (96%). He wrestled many matches before coming to WWE and working in NXT. For an opposite example, Baron Corbin was signed by WWE and went into developmental without ever having had previous wrestling experience. His result in this column is 0%.

Again, this is where the incompleteness of the cagematch.net database may be misleading. The most controversial example may be that Becky Lynch (who I would venture to guess most people would not think of as “pure Performance Center” developmental talent) has a value of 38% in this category, likely due to the lack of a complete record on cagematch.net of her pre-WWE independent wrestling matches.

Of those 128 wrestlers, there are 20 wrestlers who came to WWE with no prior wrestling experience. Those wrestlers are filtered in the following table:

Charlotte Flair (12939)
Baron Corbin (12474)
Braun Strowman (16167)
Mojo Rawley (12415)
Enzo Amore (13212)
Lana (13845)
Dana Brooke (15363)
Jason Jordan (11408)
Alexa Bliss (14526)
Carmella (15172)
Nia Jax (14763)
Riddick Moss (15858)
Mandy Rose (16878)
Sonya Deville (17658)
Rezar (17239)
Akam (17499)
Ronda Rousey (19446)
Lacey Evans (18121)
Tucker Knight (17113)
Bianca Belair (18242)
Click to enlarge view

A more historical analysis: Ohio Valley Wrestling, Heartland Wrestling Association, Deep South Wrestling, Florida Championship Wrestling, NXT

Let’s take a longer view of WWE developmental history. We looked at what percentage of talent in a given year that had their 10th main roster match had the majority of their previous experience outside of WWE’s system (“non-universe”) or majority within the WWE system. Again, this data may be incomplete due to the incompleteness of non-WWE records in the cagematch.net database.

I understand readers may want to know which developmental system was the best, the most effective at putting out talent wrestling stars. It’s a difficult question to answer without gathering better data about how many wrestlers signed to developmental and main roster contracts throughout the relevant period of time. Otherwise the denominator to weigh the results against isn’t clear.

In this very long table, we instead look all the wrestlers who had at least 100 main roster matches since 2000 (217 wrestlers) and this is what the table looks like, sorted by highest MR match counts:

NameTotal WWE main roster matchesnon-WWEHWAOVWDSWFCWNXT
Randy Orton20914%2%16%0%0%2%
John Cena200017%4%65%0%0%2%
Kofi Kingston190823%0%8%21%38%10%
The Miz180118%0%42%26%4%11%
Dolph Ziggler17790%0%44%0%52%4%
Sheamus157452%0%0%0%47%2%
Cody Rhodes14100%0%87%0%1%12%
R-Truth133850%0%0%0%6%44%
Natalya129166%0%2%3%16%12%
Cesaro128893%0%0%0%3%4%
Jack Swagger12870%0%40%2%57%1%
Rey Mysterio124899%0%0%0%0%0%
Zack Ryder123817%0%26%20%1%37%
Shelton Benjamin11951%0%49%0%0%0%
Seth Rollins113479%0%0%0%16%5%
Jimmy Uso11246%0%0%0%58%36%
CM Punk110487%0%13%0%0%0%
Jey Uso10777%0%0%0%48%45%
Roman Reigns10540%0%0%0%80%20%
Primo105390%0%0%0%8%1%
NameTotal MR matchesnon-WWEHWAOVWDSWFCWNXT
Dean Ambrose101692%0%0%0%6%2%
Chavo Guerrero101299%0%0%0%0%1%
Curtis Axel10079%0%0%0%69%22%
Heath Slater9955%0%0%13%69%13%
John Morrison9888%0%86%0%2%5%
Big E9680%0%0%0%74%26%
Chris Benoit962100%0%0%0%0%0%
Daniel Bryan95197%0%0%0%1%3%
Titus O’Neil9280%0%0%0%56%44%
Batista89913%3%42%0%0%0%
Drew McIntyre89745%0%4%0%26%25%
Alicia Fox8750%0%29%0%51%20%
Alberto Del Rio84796%0%0%0%4%0%
Santino Marella8087%0%87%0%4%2%
Rusev7834%0%0%0%18%78%
Bray Wyatt7790%0%0%0%79%21%
The Hurricane77199%0%1%0%0%0%
Booker T765100%0%0%0%0%0%
Fandango76224%0%0%2%53%20%
Jinder Mahal74067%0%0%0%25%8%
NameTotal MR matchesnon-WWEHWAOVWDSWFCWNXT
Sin Cara73637%0%0%0%41%22%
Wade Barrett72319%0%16%0%52%13%
Naomi7130%0%0%0%86%14%
Ryback7076%0%28%18%39%10%
Luke Harper70487%0%0%0%1%12%
Charlotte Flair6950%0%0%0%0%100%
Epico67972%0%0%0%26%2%
Bo Dallas6730%0%0%0%62%38%
Brian Kendrick66984%12%0%0%0%4%
Carlito66584%0%14%0%0%2%
Damien Sandow66415%0%56%0%27%3%
Tyson Kidd66061%0%0%1%21%17%
Eddie Guerrero657100%0%0%0%0%0%
Kevin Steen65395%0%0%0%0%5%
Luke Gallows65231%0%17%45%5%3%
Erick Rowan64657%0%0%0%12%31%
MVP64271%0%1%23%1%4%
Mickie James64067%0%30%0%1%2%
Becky Lynch63437%0%0%0%0%63%
Baron Corbin6310%0%0%0%0%100%
NameTotal MR matchesnon-WWEHWAOVWDSWFCWNXT
The Great Khali63087%0%0%8%0%5%
Sasha Banks61922%0%0%0%0%78%
Charlie Haas61952%34%14%0%0%0%
AJ Styles610100%0%0%0%0%0%
Victoria60128%16%48%0%0%0%
Beth Phoenix59244%0%54%0%2%0%
Curt Hawkins58715%0%23%19%29%14%
Ted DiBiase58457%0%0%0%31%11%
Jamie Noble58260%35%2%1%2%0%
Braun Strowman5750%0%0%0%0%100%
Nikki Bella5620%0%0%0%85%15%
Fit Finlay548100%0%0%0%0%0%
Chris Masters54820%0%66%0%0%14%
Darren Young54676%0%0%0%9%15%
Layla54113%0%0%0%38%50%
Brie Bella5370%0%0%0%88%13%
Chuck Palumbo533100%0%0%0%0%0%
Tamina52413%0%0%0%40%47%
Kalisto52368%0%0%0%0%32%
Trish Stratus5220%0%0%0%0%0%
NameTotal MR matchesnon-WWEHWAOVWDSWFCWNXT
Lance Cade51419%56%24%0%1%0%
Spike Dudley512100%0%0%0%0%0%
Bayley50816%0%0%0%0%84%
Viktor50164%0%1%0%8%27%
El Generico49783%0%0%0%0%17%
Bobby Lashley4900%0%97%3%0%0%
Konnor4884%0%0%19%15%61%
Tyler Breeze48718%0%0%0%11%72%
Karl Anderson482100%0%0%0%0%0%
Xavier Woods48063%0%0%0%22%16%
Justin Gabriel47327%0%0%0%48%25%
Paul London471100%0%0%0%0%0%
Apollo Crews44076%0%0%0%0%24%
Matt Sydal43293%0%5%0%2%0%
PAC43082%0%0%0%0%18%
JTG4240%0%49%0%0%51%
Umaga41865%35%0%0%0%0%
Alexa Bliss4160%0%0%0%0%100%
Shinsuke Nakamura40892%0%0%0%0%8%
Chad Gable40712%0%0%0%0%88%
NameTotal MR matchesnon-WWEHWAOVWDSWFCWNXT
Lance Storm404100%0%0%0%0%0%
Snitsky40388%0%12%0%0%0%
Prince Devitt40379%0%0%0%0%21%
Kelly Kelly4010%0%40%0%10%50%
Carmella3980%0%0%0%0%100%
Melina39153%0%33%0%13%0%
Vladimir Kozlov3860%0%75%15%2%8%
Eve Torres3830%0%0%0%100%0%
Mojo Rawley3790%0%0%0%0%100%
Brodus Clay3750%0%0%10%72%19%
Brock Lesnar3610%0%10%0%0%0%
Jimmy Wang Yang36091%9%0%0%0%0%
Michelle McCool3480%0%0%67%0%33%
Trevor Murdoch343100%0%0%0%0%0%
Rene Dupree34050%5%42%1%1%0%
Kana34081%0%0%0%0%19%
Sylvain Grenier33550%0%50%0%0%0%
Alex Riley3290%0%0%0%70%30%
Lita32482%9%0%0%0%0%
Paige31970%0%0%0%6%24%
NameTotal MR matchesnon-WWEHWAOVWDSWFCWNXT
Ezekiel Jackson3164%0%0%0%92%4%
Samoa Joe31587%0%0%0%0%13%
Aiden English3131%0%0%0%4%94%
Nia Jax3120%0%0%0%0%100%
Dash Wilder31243%0%0%0%0%57%
Maven3110%88%13%0%0%0%
Davey Boy Smith Jr.31072%0%4%0%24%0%
Rosey30971%28%1%0%0%0%
Maryse3080%0%68%0%21%11%
Bobby Roode30744%1%0%0%0%55%
Shannon Moore30675%25%0%0%0%0%
Orlando Jordan30250%0%50%0%0%0%
AJ Lee30218%0%0%0%65%17%
Mr. Anderson30190%0%9%0%1%0%
Scott Dawson29416%0%0%0%0%84%
Dana Brooke2910%0%0%0%0%100%
Gail Kim28993%0%6%0%2%0%
Marco Corleone28171%5%19%5%0%0%
Shad2782%0%77%0%21%0%
Rico27447%3%7%0%0%0%
NameTotal MR matchesnon-WWEHWAOVWDSWFCWNXT
Torrie Wilson273100%0%0%0%0%0%
Elias27232%0%0%0%0%68%
Adam Rose2721%0%0%0%41%58%
David Otunga2650%0%0%0%65%35%
Yoshitatsu26179%0%0%0%12%9%
Cedric Alexander25195%0%0%0%0%5%
Damaja24158%0%18%0%0%0%
La Sombra24086%0%0%0%0%14%
Jason Jordan2370%0%0%0%9%91%
Colin Cassady2363%0%0%0%6%92%
Enzo Amore2340%0%0%0%0%100%
Mike Knox23054%0%0%45%2%0%
Kaitlyn2270%0%0%0%56%44%
Kenny22552%0%47%0%1%0%
Joey Matthews22588%0%12%0%0%0%
Emma22327%0%0%0%0%72%
Johnny Stamboli21860%40%0%0%0%0%
Jillian Hall21745%0%55%0%0%0%
Prince Mustafa Ali21596%0%0%0%0%4%
Mistico209100%0%0%0%0%0%
NameTotal MR matchesnon-WWEHWAOVWDSWFCWNXT
Tyson Tomko1977%4%89%0%0%0%
Mandy Rose1970%0%0%0%0%100%
Summer Rae1960%0%0%0%4%96%
Maria1960%0%67%0%33%0%
Liv Morgan1941%0%0%0%0%99%
Tony Nese18992%0%0%0%0%8%
Cameron1880%0%0%0%24%76%
Paul Burchill18754%0%46%0%0%0%
Heidenreich18648%0%46%0%0%0%
Sarah Logan18583%0%0%0%0%17%
Rosa Mendes1844%0%31%0%65%0%
Akira Tozawa17999%0%0%0%0%1%
Sonya Deville1780%0%0%0%0%100%
Lince Dorado17697%0%0%0%0%3%
Lana1760%0%0%0%0%100%
Mascara Dorada17599%0%0%0%0%1%
Heidi Lovelace17580%0%0%0%0%20%
Aksana1740%0%0%0%76%24%
Kevin Thorn17229%1%63%0%6%0%
Dean Malenko171100%0%0%0%0%0%
NameTotal MR matchesnon-WWEHWAOVWDSWFCWNXT
Jazz16896%0%4%0%0%0%
Ricochet16691%0%0%0%0%9%
Candice Michelle1650%0%0%0%0%0%
Robbie McAllister16151%0%49%0%0%0%
Drew Gulak16197%0%0%0%0%3%
Rodney Mack16066%1%33%0%0%0%
Matt Striker16093%0%0%5%0%2%
Tye Dillinger15833%0%19%0%5%43%
Tyler Reks1510%0%0%0%86%14%
Rory McAllister14954%0%46%0%0%0%
Mason Ryan14548%0%0%0%23%29%
Ember Moon14556%0%0%0%0%44%
Sean O’Haire14476%2%23%0%0%0%
Nikki Storm14264%0%0%0%0%36%
Buddy Murphy14224%0%0%0%0%76%
Luther Reigns14168%5%26%0%0%0%
Elijah Burke1400%0%100%0%0%0%
Peyton Royce13824%0%0%0%0%76%
Lacey Evans1370%0%0%0%0%100%
Billie Kay13744%0%0%0%0%56%
NameTotal MR matchesnon-WWEHWAOVWDSWFCWNXT
Dawn Marie135100%0%0%0%0%0%
Ariya Daivari13597%0%0%0%0%3%
Swoggle13284%0%0%0%0%16%
No Way Jose12720%0%0%0%0%80%
Beretta12624%0%0%0%63%13%
Jack Gallagher12591%0%0%0%0%9%
Jesse12450%0%13%38%0%0%
TJ Perkins12298%0%0%0%0%2%
Simon Gotch12250%0%0%0%0%50%
Deuce12234%0%62%1%1%0%
Tommy End12075%0%0%0%0%25%
Hanson11788%0%0%0%0%12%
Chris Nowinski11735%42%23%0%0%0%
Nidia1140%17%83%0%0%0%
Mike Bennett11499%0%0%0%0%1%
Raymond Rowe11387%0%0%0%0%13%
Domino10913%0%80%2%5%0%
Grand Total106,73497.934.8227.374.1328.6448.56
Total MR matchesnon-WWEHWAOVWDSWFCWNXT

100 matches is obviously an arbitrary minimum. It’s not clear whether it’s important to set a lower minimum. For transparency, frequency distribution for total MR matches among the larger all-time dataset of 4,415 wrestlers breaks down something like this:

image.png

Among the 217 wrestlers with 100 MR matches, in recent years there seems to be a trending increase in the prevalence of wrestlers who have had the majority of their prior experience from non-universe matches.

The below column graph tries to address the question: Of the wrestlers who were promoted to WWE’s main roster (using date of 10th MR match as a proxy), what made up the majority of their experience prior to that 10th MR match: WWE developmental or non-universe experience?

And a second similar question: Of the wrestlers who were promoted to WWE’s main roster (~10th MR match), on average what percentage of those wrestlers’ experience up to that point was non-universe experience?

It seems possible talent development leadership played a role in these results. These charts may be reflective of the timing of transitions in leadership from Jim Ross (late 1990s until 2005) to John Laurinaitis (2001 to 2012) to Paul Levesque (2011 to present), and is consistent with an intuition (of mine at least) that Laurinaitis oversaw a period of WWE developmental that was less interested in non-WWE (“non-universe”) experience, maybe even saw it as a negative. I believe Paul Levesque had a similar mentality when he took over talent relations, but for whatever reason evolved after 2014.

WWE EVP Paul Levesque (Triple H) made comments in separate NXT media conference calls that suggest he had a change in philosophy on talent development between 2014 and 2015.

Levesque in February 2014 made it sound like he preferred talent come to WWE with less wrestling experience:

The indie scene becomes less and less of a factor all the time. It just does… We’re having to create the talent. They’re not out there ready to just get picked…  Sometimes it’s really hard to get people out of — they’ve been doing a playbook for eight years, to get them to come over to ours. It’s a tough transition. Sometimes [it’s] easier to almost teach guys from day-one, to just do [our] playbook.

Twelve months later, on another media call in May 2015, his view changed:

It’s funny, sometimes people will say — there’s this big comparison of like, ‘Oh, this guy’s an indie guy; this guy didn’t have experience.’ I don’t care where people come from or — yeah, indie guys are great because they have experience, whether I agree with their style or anybody does, it’s irrelevant. They have experience in front of crowds. And that is something you can’t teach.

Among the group of 217 wrestlers with >=100 MR matches, there’s no strong relationship between non-WWE experience and either MR match count.

But can we say there’s a statistical relationship between non-WWE experience and going on to have a disproportionately high number of matches on the WWE main roster? No. Maybe there are other analyses that might get the heart of whether having non-WWE experience gives one an advantage, but the relationship between those two metrics (a] percentage of non-WWE experience before 10th main roster match and b] total main roster matches) in particular is basically random (as indicated by the very low R-squared result).

image.png

But is there a relationship between developmental background and whether a wrestler is used more on A-shows or on B-shows? (Looking at TV programs only, i.e., excluding house shows.) In other words, are wrestlers with experience being signed and disproportionately cast in less important “B” TV programs (like 205 Live, Main Event, Velocity, Heat, Metal, Jakked, etc.)?

Again, no, there’s no sign of a relationship here. The R-squared is nearly 0.

But maybe it’s a trend that’s only emerged more in recent years?

There are some interesting trends, suggesting wrestlers with majority WWE developmental experience (as opposed to non-universe) tend to have the majority of their TV matches on A shows.

Despite Levesque’s aforementioned turn to accept wrestlers with non-WWE experience, does WWE nonetheless still prefer to put those who are more purely WWE projects into more prominent roles, i.e., Raw and Smackdown (“A” TV matches)?

It’s not present in every year, but especially since 2013, there does actually appear to be a distinct difference in the destinies of wrestlers with non-universe experience versus those without.

The analysis here likely only scratches the surface. I’m interested to hear any feedback or questions that might lead to better insights.


Brandon Thurston creates all current Wrestlenomics content. He’s written about wrestling business since 2015. He’s also an independent pro wrestler and trainer. Learn more about Brandon and Wrestlenomics.


Did you notice there are no ads or pop-ups on Wrestlenomics.com?

Your support is essential to allowing Wrestlenomics to publish ad-free written and audio analysis like this. Consider supporting today.

Become a Patron!

Get Wrestlenomics blog posts emailed to you as soon as they’re posted.