After the disaster of a game that was WWE 2K20, Visual Concepts decided to skip making a WWE 2K21 and have spent two years developing WWE 2K22 instead, with new features and wrestlers in store. The world of WWE is an ever-evolving one, and it is not uncommon that within weeks of a new game releasing, things have drastically changed. Wrestlers change gimmicks and allegiances; some wrestlers leave the company, and, most importantly, new ones join.
In the two years since WWE 2K20, the landscape of WWE has changed drastically, but the brand that has by far changed the most is NXT. Serving as WWE’s sort-of developmental brand, NXT is where new wrestlers and characters debut and eventually leaves for the lands of Raw and Smackdown. This means its roster is somewhat of a cycle, and in the time since the last game, a whole new crop of young stars have arrived on the scene.
In previous games, 2K have only skimmed the surface of the black and gold brand when creating the game’s roster, but WWE 2K22 presents an opportunity to dive deeper and include more wrestlers than ever before, with the potential for Visual Concepts to put tonnes of NXT wrestlers on the WWE 2K22 roster.
10. Grizzled Young Veterans
The duo of Zack Gibson and James Drake has been around in NXT UK for quite a while now. Gibson won the second UK tournament in 2018 and unsuccessfully challenged then-champion Pete Dunne for the United Kingdom Championship. Liverpool’s Number One soon found a partner in James Drake, and they became a force to be reckoned with, becoming the brand’s first-ever tag team champions.
In the years since Gibson & Drake have moved over to the US version of the show and became prominent fixtures throughout late 2020 and into 2021. They made it to the 2021 Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic tournament’s finals, with Gibson getting tons of praise from fans for his excellent promos. With how much they have launched themselves into prominence over the past year, it would be a fitting reward for them to be in the game.
9. Xia Li
Xia Li is an interesting case, as she has been on TV since 2017 but has only started to become a noteworthy figure over the past year or so. Her unique wrestling style was fun to watch, but her character never developed beyond a bland babyface, and the crowded women’s division didn’t have a place for her for quite a while. In late 2020, however, that changed. Turning heel and aligning with fellow Chinese wrestler, Boa, Xia Li has transformed her character into something worth paying attention to.
Now presented as an elite competitor with a complex knowledge of traditional Chinese fighting styles, Xia Li is on the rise like never before, having her first singles match at a Takeover event in June 2021. While Xia Li may not be at the top of the women’s division yet, she most likely will be by the time WWE 2K22 comes out and will remain a prominent figure over the year between this game and the next. As such, putting her in the game now will go some way to future-proofing the roster before the next instalment.
8. Jordan Devlin
Jordan Devlin has been a fairly noteworthy wrestler in NXT UK since the brand’s inception in 2017. He simmered in the mid-card for a few years before getting the break he’d been waiting for at the start of 2020, winning the Cruiserweight Championship from Angel Garza. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t get a chance to do much with the belt. The COVID-19 pandemic hit in full force almost immediately after Devlin won the title, and travel restrictions between the US & UK prevented him from being able to defend the belt.
The US would crown an Interim Cruiserweight Champion in Devlin’s absence, and by the time Devlin was able to return in April 2021, his time had passed, and he lost his title to Santos Escobar. Devlin is yet to make any major moves since losing the Cruiserweight Championship. However, it’s fair to say that he will continue to be featured in both regions for years to come, and putting him on the game’s roster would be a fair consolation prize for his missed opportunity.
7. Kay Lee Ray
Kay Lee Ray has spent the past couple of years quietly being one of the most dominant wrestlers on the brand. Joining in 2019, Ray made a swift impact, debuting in January and defeating Toni Storm for the United Kingdom Women’s Championship by July. From there, she ran through all her competition and put down all challenges to her title for almost two years. Kay Lee Ray ran through the entirety of the women’s division and seemed to be unstoppable.
Ray’s most prominent match came in late 2019 when she was selected to be the final member of Shayna Baszler’s team for that year’s War Games. She would end up losing that match, but her featured role in the match drew more eyes to both her and NXT UK as a result. While she did lose her title to Meiko Satomura in June 2021, she put in a lot of work as champion, and it would be a huge shame if she missed out on being on WWE 2K22‘s roster.
6. Santos Escobar
When Jordan Devlin was unable to defend his championship, the man who rose to the occasion in his absence was Santos Escobar. Originally known as El Hijo del Fantasma, he won the tournament to crown an Interim Cruiserweight Champion, only to immediately unmask and align himself with Raul Mendoza & Joaquin Wilde. Now known as Santos Escobar, he used his allies – known today as Legado del Fantasma – to retain his title and put on some dominant performances.
Escobar used this title reign to bring himself to prominence and brought the Cruiserweight Championship to a level of prestige it hadn’t seen for years. When Devlin finally returned, Escobar soundly defeated him in a ladder match, cementing his reign as a top star. In April, Escobar eventually lost the title to Kushida, but he has remained at the forefront of the show ever since. It would be no surprise if he were to win the NXT Championship at some point in his career, and Visual Concept would be foolish not to have such an impressive wrestler on the game’s roster.
5. Shotzi Blackheart
Although the hype surrounding her has cooled off in recent months, Shotzi Blackheart is one of the quickest rising stars on TV. She signed with WWE in October of 2019 and was coming to blows with Shayna Baszler by January 2020, and there was no stopping her rise from there. Blackheart experienced a thrill ride of a debut year, entering the Royal Rumble and challenging for the Women’s Tag Team Championships on a couple of occasions, connecting with the fans thanks to her unique look and infectious fun-loving attitude.
She unsuccessfully challenged for the Women’s Championship in September 2020 but went on to be one of the highlights in that year’s War Games match. Her greatest achievement came in March 2021, where, after losing in the finals of the first-ever Women’s Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, she and her partner, Ember Moon, became the second-ever NXT Women’s Tag Team Champions.
Shotzi has had an incredible run despite her brief time on the show, and she is yet to reach her peak. The Women’s Championship is surely in her future, and putting her in the game would make her one of the most popular NXT wrestlers on the game’s roster.
4. Ilja Dragunov
When it comes to European indie wrestling, for a long time, Ilja Dragunov was one of the faces of that style. When he came to the United Kingdom in 2019, it was seen as the brand’s biggest signing since Walter, and he quickly proved to be worthy of the hype. While he enjoyed a winning streak early on in his time on the brand, he fell into the mid-card for quite a while. However, his in-ring style was unique to the brand, and he always stuck out as someone with great potential.
Dragunov’s time would come when the show returned following the lifting of lockdown restrictions in the UK in late 2020. Dragunov had a match with Walter for the United Kingdom Championship that has now gone down in the history books as one of the brand’s best matches. The two men fought with a level of brutality rarely seen on modern WWE programming, and it created a match everyone was talking about. Dragunov has become a powerful and popular wrestler, and the game’s roster wouldn’t feel complete without him on it.
3. Raquel Gonzalez
Not since Shayna Baszler has NXT seen such a quick and dominant rise in the women’s division. Making her official TV debut in February 2020, Raquel Gonzalez became the Diesel to Dakota Kai’s Shawn Michaels, except, in this case, Gonzalez almost immediately became the one to watch. While she was, for the most part, joined at the hip to Kai, she was able to make her mark in several ways during her debut year. Gonzalez started a feud with Rhea Ripley in the autumn, she initially lost to Ripley, but that wouldn’t last long.
At that year’s WarGames, Raquel Gonzalez dominated the match, getting the win for her team, before putting Rhea Ripley away in a Last Woman Standing match one month later. She & Dakota Kai won the first-ever Women’s Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic at the start of 2021 and were crowned the first-ever NXT Women’s Tag Team Champions as a result.
However, all of this was a prelude to her greatest achievement, ending the historic reign of Io Shirai to be crowned Women’s Champion in April 2021, a title she still holds to this day. Given that she is one of the show’s main champions right now, it would be a huge misstep to leave her out of the game’s roster.
While Kay Lee Ray was an impressive and dominant force as UK Women’s Champion, Walter has been the greatest champion any wrestling promotion has seen in a long while. Following Pete Dunne’s impressive 685 days was not going to be an easy feat, but Walter rose to the challenge and knocked it out of the park. At over 800 days and counting, Walter is the longest-reigning champion in WWE since Hulk Hogan’s first world Championship reign in 1984.
Walter’s Imperium stable, featuring Fabian Aichner & Marcel Barthel, has been unstoppable across both regions, with Aichner & Barthel winning the Tag Team Championships for a spell in 2020. Walter’s title reign sees no signs of slowing down. He’s had loads of incredible matches against the likes of Tyler Bate, Ilja Dragunov & Tommaso Ciampa over his reign, and no one is even close to being able to stop this monster. Imperium has defined an era, and putting them on the game’s roster is the least Visual Concept can do to reward them.
1. Karrion Kross
When Keith Lee finally reached his pinnacle in 2020, many fans expected a lengthy, dominant title reign for The Limitless One. However, this was not to be as the brand had been invaded by a force more dominant than anything it had seen before. Karrion Kross debuted in April 2021 and immediately established himself as a top-star, defeating Tommaso Ciampa in dominant fashion at the next Takeover event.
The next stop for Karrion Kross was the NXT Championship. Just like that, a mere 4 months after his debut, Kross was the champion. Unfortunately, fate would intervene, and during his match with Keith Lee, he suffered a separated shoulder, an injury that would force him to take 4 months off – and vacate the title – to rehab the injury.
When he returned in December 2020, however, his dominance continued. He obliterated Damian Priest so hard he ran away to Raw before dispatching with Santos Escobar in short order. By March 2021, Kross had his sights set on the championship once again, a title he won back as soon as he got his shot. Kross is likely to remain NXT Champion for a long time, and as the show’s biggest star, he is a wrestler that must be on WWE 2K22‘s roster.