The December 2020 class at the WWE Performance Center held a unique significance. It arrived just before the global pandemic and subsequent budget cuts significantly impacted the company’s recruitment. This group, consisting of five seasoned independent wrestlers and a standout basketball player with professional experience, marked a distinct moment in WWE’s talent acquisition strategy.

This article delves into the careers of these individual trainees, exploring their trajectories since joining the WWE and their current status within the wrestling industry. Did they stay the course, or did their paths take unexpected turns? Read on to discover their journeys.

🌮 Alex Zayne

Alex Zayne aka Ari Sterling at the WWE Performance Center in December 2020

High-flying innovator Alex Zayne has carved a unique path in the world of professional wrestling. His journey began in 2005, leading him to various independent promotions worldwide. Zayne’s technical prowess and captivating in-ring performances earned him a reputation as a top contender, eventually catching the eye of prestigious Japanese promotion New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW).

Zayne’s impressive NJPW run led to a coveted opportunity with WWE in 2020. He signed with their developmental brand, NXT, under the ring name “Ari Sterling.” While his time with WWE showcased his potential, budget cuts related to the pandemic resulted in his release in 2021.

Reflecting on his NXT experience with Wrestling Inc., Zayne remained positive. He praised the locker room, producers, and writers, highlighting the experience as an invaluable learning opportunity. He humorously referred to it as “being paid to go to wrestling Harvard for ten months.”

“Every thing is good. That’s why the name thing is frustrating for me because they’re on top of their s*** for the most part. Every place and person and thing in the world has its faults, but overall the whole experience was incredibly positive. The locker room was incredible. The producers were awesome. The writers were cool. Everyone was super cool and just trying their best to do whatever they think is best, right? So, the most positive thing for me, on a personal level, would be just that I basically got paid to go to the wrestling Harvard for ten months. That’s awesome. Who can argue with that?”

Wrestling Inc

Undeterred by the WWE departure, Zayne returned to his independent roots, thriving in NJPW Strong and other promotions. He continues to captivate audiences with his signature moves, including the “Cinnamon Twist” and the “Taco Driver.” Notably, Zayne has secured an international brand deal with Taco Bell in Japan, featuring the “Alex Zayne Meal.”

Status: Active (NJPW, GCW, Independents, Taco Bell)

Russ Taylor

Russ Taylor aka Taylor Rust at the WWE Performance Center in 2020

California native Russell Taylor, also known as Tyler Rust, boasts a career spanning over 16 years, starting at the Empire Wrestling Federation (EWF) at a young age of 16. Between 2006 and 2011, Taylor captured multiple championships in EWF, including the Cruiserweight, American, and Heavyweight titles.

While honing his skills in EWF, Rust also caught the attention of WWE during their California events. He faced legends like Big Show in 2008 and teamed with Joey Munoz, facing the formidable Vladimir Kozlov on WWE ECW. Additionally, Taylor participated in a WWE safety awareness campaign commercial.

His commitment to wrestling led to an invitation to a WWE tryout camp in 2012, alongside future WWE stars like Adam Pearce, Timothy Thatcher, and Bayley.

Taylor returned to WWE television in 2019 on Raw, teaming with Randy Taylor in a tag team match.

In December 2020, despite his extensive experience, Taylor (now under the ring name Tyler Rust) was announced as a recruit of the WWE Performance Center. He debuted in NXT as Timothy Thatcher’s student and later became part of the Diamond Mine stable. Unfortunately, his time with WWE ended in August 2021 with his release.

After leaving WWE, Rust wrestled his last known match for NJPW STRONG in August 2022, facing BULLET CLUB members Chase Owens, Hikuleo, Jay White, and Juice Robinson.

Status: Inactive

Kuroshio Tokyo Japan (黒潮TOKYOジャパン)

Kuroshio Tokyo Japan aka Sojiru “Ikemen” Higuchi at the WWE Performance Center in 2020

Sojiro Higuchi, better known by his wrestling names Ikemen Jiro and Kuroshio Tokyo Japan, has carved a unique path in the world of professional wrestling. This charismatic competitor has thrilled audiences in Japan, the United States, and beyond with his high-flying style and flamboyant persona.

Higuchi was trained by former United States and WWE Tag Team Champion, Tajiri, and debuted in 2011, quickly establishing himself in Japanese promotions like Smash and Wrestling New Classic. In 2014, he joined Wrestle-1, where he found significant success. He captured the UWA World Trios Championship twice with his stable “Jackets” and even secured a singles victory for the Gaora TV Championship. However, injuries hampered his momentum, and he ultimately left Wrestle-1 in 2019.

A new chapter began for Higuchi in 2020 when he signed with WWE and entered the Performance Center. He debuted in 2021 under the name Ikemen Jiro on 205 Live, showcasing his agility and infectious smile. Jiro quickly formed a tag team with Kushida, named “Jacket Time,” and participated in the NXT Breakout Tournament and Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. Despite their exciting performances, Jiro was released from WWE in September 2023.

Jiro hasn’t slowed down since his WWE departure. He returned to Japan in October 2023, making a surprise appearance for DDT Pro-Wrestling and securing a victory. He also joined All Japan Pro Wrestling under the ring name Kuroshio Tokyo Japan, teaming with Seigo Tachibana in the prestigious World’s Strongest Tag League.

Status: Active (All Japan Pro Wrestling)

Lash Legend (Anriel Howard)

Anriel Howard aka Lash Legend at the WWE Performance Center in 2020

Anriel Howard, a former basketball star, defied expectations by transitioning from the hardwood court to the squared circle in professional wrestling. Standing at 5 feet 11 inches (1.80 meters), Howard’s journey began in Atlanta, Georgia, where she excelled in basketball from a young age. ESPN’s HoopGurlz rankings in 2015 placed her as the 100th rated recruit and the 15th best forward.

During her college years, Howard played for the Texas A&M Aggies (Bianca Belair also attended Texas A&M), where she achieved a remarkable feat: becoming the first player in the university’s history to secure over 1,000 career rebounds, totaling 1,002 rebounds. She also set an NCAA Tournament record with 27 rebounds in a 2016 game. Her talent earned her a spot on the Southeastern Conference (SEC) All-Freshman team.

In her senior year, Howard transferred to Mississippi State University, leading the team to the NCAA Tournament in 2017. Her outstanding performance garnered recognition, including being named to the 2019 First Team All-SEC by both the Associated Press and Coaches, as well as earning a spot on the 2019 SEC All-Tournament Team and the 2019 AP All-American Honorable Mention team.

After declaring herself eligible, she was selected 24th overall by the Seattle Storm in the 2019 WNBA Draft. She played a total of three games with the storm and scored five points and three rebounds in 23 minutes. Unfortunately, her hoop dreams were cut short as she was waived by the team early in the season.

Despite her promising basketball career, Howard followed her passion for professional wrestling. In December 2020, she signed with WWE and made her debut as Lash Legend on NXT in September 2021. Her confident persona and impressive mic skills quickly established her as a force to be reckoned with. Whether she continues to dominate in NXT or transitions to the main roster of Raw or SmackDown, Lash Legend is poised to make a significant impact in professional wrestling for years to come.

Status: Active (WWE NXT)

Zachary Green

Zachary Green aka Nash Carter aka Zachary Wentz at the WWE Performance Center in 2020

Zachary Green, better known by his ring names Zachary Wentz and Nash Carter, has had a remarkable journey in the world of professional wrestling. Let’s take a closer look at his career, from his early days on the independent circuit to his current status as a TNA superstar.

Zachary Green’s wrestling journey began in 2014 when he stepped into the independent wrestling scene. Alongside his partners Dezmond Xavier (Wes Lee) and Trey Miguel, he formed a stable called The Rascalz. Together, they captured several tag team titles, including the AAW Tag Team Championship, the CZW World Tag Team Championship, and the PWG World Tag Team Championship. Green also held the CZW Wired Championship during this time.

In 2018, The Rascalz caught the attention of Impact Wrestling, where they continued to make waves until 2020. However, their biggest break came when WWE came calling. Green and Xavier signed with WWE in December 2020 and were assigned to the NXT brand. They rebranded themselves as Nash Carter and Wes Lee, forming the tag team known as MSK (short for Must-See Kids). Their high-flying, energetic style quickly won over fans, and they achieved significant success in NXT.

In 2021, MSK won the prestigious Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, solidifying their status as top contenders. They went on to win the NXT Tag Team Championship not once but twice, showcasing their chemistry and athleticism in the ring.

Unfortunately, the wrestling landscape can be unpredictable. In 2022, WWE released Nash Carter (formerly Zachary Wentz), leaving fans wondering about his next move. But Green didn’t stay away for long. He made a splash in Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA), now known as Impact Wrestling, where he performs under his birth name, Zachary Wentz. As a member of The Rascalz, he continues to showcase his skills and add to his impressive resume.

Wentz’s journey came full circle when he and Trey Miguel captured the Impact World Tag Team Championship, proving that his talent transcends promotions.

As Zachary Wentz, he remains a force to be reckoned with in the wrestling world. Whether he continues to thrive in Impact Wrestling or sets his sights on other opportunities, one thing is certain: Zachary Wentz’s passion and dedication will keep him in the spotlight for years to come.

Status: Active (TNA Wrestling)

Wes Lee

Deveon Aiken aka Wes Lee at the WWE Performance Center in 2020

Deveon Everhart Aikens, born on November 2, 1994, is an American professional wrestler who has carved an impressive path in the wrestling world. Currently signed to WWE, he performs on the NXT brand under the ring name Wes Lee. Aikens made his professional wrestling debut in 2011 as Dezmond Xavier. Alongside his partner Zachary Wentz, he formed the tag team Scarlet and Graves. Together, they achieved success in Combat Zone Wrestling (CZW), becoming 2-time CZW World Tag Team Champions. In Pro Wrestling Guerrilla (PWG), Dezmond Xavier and Wentz held the PWG World Tag Team Championships, setting a record as the longest-reigning champions in the company’s history.

Under the ring name Dezmond Xavier, Aikens competed in Impact Wrestling. He won the WC Sideshow Championship at WrestleCircus by defeating Joey Ryan. Additionally, he held the DTU Alto Impacto Championship during his time in Desastre Total Ultraviolento.

Aikens joined WWE and was now performing as Wes Lee alongside Zachary Wentz (now Nash Carter). As part of the tag team MSK (Must-See Kids), they made waves in NXT. MSK won the prestigious Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic in 2021, solidifying their status as top contenders. Wes Lee and Nash Carter became 2-time NXT Tag Team Champions. Wes Lee also held the NXT North American Championship, making him a formidable force in the brand.

Despite facing setbacks due to a back injury in 2023, Wes Lee remains determined. His passion and dedication continue to shine as he competes in NXT and beyond. Wes Lee’s journey is far from over. Whether he continues to thrive in NXT or explores new opportunities, one thing remains certain: his impact on professional wrestling will be felt for years to come.

Status: Active (WWE NXT)

How did the 2020 WWE Performance Center trainees do?

Out of six performers…

  • 2 are active on WWE’s NXT brand
    • 33% of that class are currently active in the WWE
  • 1 is inactive or status is unknown
    • 17% of that class are currently not active in the pro wrestling industry
  • 3 are active in TNA, Japan, and independents
    • 50% of that class are currently active outside of WWE

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