Scott: Let’s skip the (overdue) pleasantries and get down to business. You and I both regularly watch NXT. I jumped back in on May 22, 2013 — the debut appearance of Sami Zayn. I’d like to say I’d been aware of some of the personalities before then, but I’ll admit the Raw debuts of guys like Big E Langston and The Shield caught me off guard.
But now it’s been 14 months of watching the show every week, and in that time the WWE Network launched, making possible the two NXT supershows. I didn’t catch every NXT appearance of current Raw stars like the Wyatt Family, Bo Dallas or Paige, but I experienced enough to be invested in them as performers before they hit the main stage.
Some of the major players of the Sami Zayn era seem to be nearing the end of their NXT runs in preparation for a spotlight career. A flurry of confirmed signings of top international talent make it seem as if NXT will soon be shifting into a new focus, because as big as some of the new names are, it’s hard to imagine WWE just inserting them into prime time storylines with no conditioning of a portion of the audience.
So now seems like the perfect time to take a look at the NXT roster, to break down who we think can succeed in the big picture, and who might be best to consider selling office supplies. Part of the discussion is space on the main roster (for example, it would seem Antonio Cesaro is ready for maximum exposure, but apparently the storytellers can’t let his star shine at the expense of Roman Reigns), part of it is how the developmental act translates to the road show.
So where should we start?
• • •
David: Well, I hope to one day buy a Swingline stapler from Corey Graves, but that’s neither here nor there. Let’s start at the very top rung of the ladder that is NXT, which is fitting, since a ladder match is how Adrian Neville won the NXT Title in the first place. He spent the first portion of his time in NXT as a tag team wrestler, including two stints as NXT Tag Team Champion (with Oliver Grey and Corey Graves), but since that time has had a fantastic singles run, with matches against Zayn, Cesaro, Dallas and Tyson Kidd.
He seems poised to step up to Raw and Smackdown, which is, in my opinion, fantastic news. Between injuries and wrestlers who have recently been released, it seems like the ranks of the high flyers on the main roster have been diminished, while the ranks of wrestlers who provide a good contrast to those high flyers have been expanding. Neville has already had great matches with Cesaro, Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper, and I could see him working well with main roster stalwarts like Sheamus, Roman Reigns and, if he got the chance, John Cena.
The only obvious problem I see for Neville going forward is his verbal communication skills. He’s definitely improved during his time in WWE, but he’s still not great. As it is, I see him as a lock for a run with the Intercontinental or US Championships, but not sure how much further he can go.
• • •
Scott: It’s far too early to say if a run with the NXT Title is an accurate predictor of eventual main roster success, but certainly someone sees big things for Neville or he wouldn’t have stood victorious as the curtain dropped on NXT’s first two supershows. I certainly enjoy Neville on NXT, but it’s easy to see how he lacks the charisma of some of his colleagues. He has no discernible character (guy who jumps high?), and while I’m not pining for him to be repackaged into some sort of goofy gimmick, I’m predicting he’s a flop if he shows up on Raw as more or less himself.
Perhaps he needs to follow the NXT path and come in as part of a tag team. It wouldn’t be hard to find a better performer than Graves to team with, turn on and lose to Neville. One of the things WWE still needs to sort out is the hierarchy of its shows. Right now NXT is more important than Smackdown, since anything relevant from Smackdown is replayed (or flat out restaged) on Raw. No one advances their career based on Smackdown performances. (The same can be said of Superstars and Main Event).
Ideally someone like Neville could move up from NXT to one of the B, C or D shows and make a mark there. But the structure isn’t in place for that right now. You either make waves on Raw (even if they’re Bo Dalls-sized waves and not Shield/Wyatt tsunamis) or the at-large fanbase loses interest.
The guys you site as good Neville opponents are indeed worthy ring partners, but they’re also all huge fan favorites, and Neville doesn’t seem to have heel instincts. Maybe Neville’s ascension could do for cruiserweights what we hope Paige (and eventually others) could do for the women’s ranks. I’d have higher hopes for him as one of the guiding lights of something new — as Raw is in need of fresh ideas.
Speaking of the women, let’s go to NXT’s other top singles star, reining NXT Women’s Champion Charlotte. I think the smart move is to keep her in training for a while to polish the rough edges a bit more, but there’s certainly a temptation to bring up someone who, at her best, shames most of the current Raw females and also has the undeniable Flair legacy. Not to be morose, but the clock is ticking on the Nature Boy’s relevance. What’s your call on Charlotte — too soon or strike while the iron is hot?
• • •
David: When you say she shames most of the Raw Divas, I have to agree wholeheartedly. She is a better in-ring performer, and has shown at least flashes of talent in backstage vignettes, although she has been paired, mostly, with Sasha Banks, who, while a talented wrestler, could make Keanu Reeves look like Tom Hanks in comparison. To answer your direct question, they should strike while the iron is hot. I think she’s ready to move up, and the connection to her famous father could be a good way to get her established on the main roster. Although, it also could be to her detriment. One of my worries with Charlotte is that when she gets to Raw, the creative team there, which is entirely different from the team at NXT, will see her as nothing but Ric Flair’s tall, blonde daughter… which doesn’t bode well for her in the long term.
Another issue with Charlotte is I’m not sure where she should be positioned on the card. We currently seem to have two sets of Divas. There are the ones who are on Total Divas, and the ones who are in the title picture. They’ve crossed paths recently, but really only to cement the Naomi/Cameron break-up/feud. While she hasn’t appeared on Total Divas, she does have a connection to both Nattie (having defeated her for the NXT Women’s Championship) and Summer Rae (members of the now defunct BFFs), which make her a natural choice for that group. However, I would argue her in ring skills warrant her being in the title picture with AJ Lee and Paige, but as I’ve said, I’m not sure the Raw creative team can look beyond the obvious.
Since we’ve started out with the champions, it seems only natural to discuss the current NXT Tag Team Champions: The Ascension. I’ve seen rumors that Viktor and Konnor are going to be called up sooner rather than later to feud with the Usos for the WWE Tag Team Championships. Have you heard these rumors, and how do you feel about the idea of NXT champions coming to Raw to immediately challenge for titles on the main roster? Does it say more about The Ascension, or more about the tag team situation on the main roster?
• • •
Scott: The Ascension puzzle me in a way. Not them specifically but tag teams in general. On one hand, they’re as good a bet as anyone to contend for the Usos’ belts — the prime alternative seems to be thrown-together teams like Rybaxel, since the Matadors apparently existed only for comedy and since the Rhodes brothers are in an endless vignette loop. On the other hand, there’s always buzz about trying to build a tag division from the bottom up, and removing the Ascension from NXT leaves a giant void. None of the other NXT teams have been presented as serious competitors, and if they follow the Paige script and use the Ascension’s departure as a way to create an eight-team tournament, well, are there really eight teams? Are there even four?
The good news for Konnor and Viktor is, unlike Charlotte, they can be repackaged. Not saying they need to be specifically, but Charlotte is always going to be Ric Flair’s daughter, for better or for worse. They can’t give her another character, there’s already too much invested in her family name (for what it’s worth, they’ve spent the capital well so far, but there’s always reason to doubt the Raw writers). But the Ascension guys could easily take on new forms, either as a standalone or as part of a stable.
I’m really hoping to see WWE get serious about tag teams as a thing, and not just a rock tumbler hoping to spit out singles stars. That’s what I enjoy about Harper and Rowan, as well as the Usos and to an extent the Rhodes boys — they’re in it to be the best team as if that’s its own important thing, which it certainly can and should be.
To answer your specific question, I’m not ready to see the Ascension on Raw. I want a legitimate program heading toward the next NXT supershow. Maybe that’s the Vaudevillains, maybe it isn’t. But let’s talk about those guys individually and as a team. Aiden English has been around a lot longer than his partner, Simon Gotch. Both can do funny, and English had a bit of potential being semi-serious. I’ll say right now English’s character is a no-go on Smackdown or Raw, no matter how perfect it has been in the NXT realm. But is the man behind the character able to take on something else and succeed?
• • •
David: As a fan of Chikara, and the wider Chikara-verse, the Vaudevillains are my kind of tag team, but I sometimes have to remind myself not everyone sees wrestling the way I do. That fact leads me to agree with you that the idea of a show tune-singing wrestler probably won’t fly on mainstream WWE television. However, I think he’s a pretty talented wrestler. He’s a taller guy, and, while he’s not in the great shape Lex Luger was in his heyday, he “looks like a wrestler.” He’s got a strong television presence and an interesting voice that I think lends him the possibility of a strong future, if the WWE can find a gimmick that works for its main audience while still suiting his talents… but that’s kinda the catch, isn’t it.
While Gotch hasn’t been around long, I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen from him so far. He’s got a good look, although I wonder if he’ll need a makeover before moving up to the main roster, as his look (the moustache, hair style and singlet) is pretty specific to the old-timey character he’s portraying right now. I suppose they could parlay that look into some kind of “hipster” gimmick on the main roster, but I’m sure Vince would blanche if the creative team tried to get him to understand what a hipster is. Unfortunately, I’m not sure I’ve seen enough from him to know if he’s got what it takes to make it at the highest level in the wrestling business.
• • •
Scott: One thing we probably have to think about is the definition of star. Is Aiden English destined for the WrestleMania main event or a run with the top belt? Highly doubtful. But can he string together three or four years on Raw without falling completely off the map, a la Curt Hawkins or Zack Ryder? No doubt.
The most popular illustration here is Colt Cabana’s outward desire to be the Honky Tonk Man, to have a long enough run of modest television prominence to be able to play the character more or less forever, even if that just means legends appearances and autograph shows well past the working days. The growing success of the NXT show might allow certain performers to market themselves on the touring scene as “former WWE star…” just as well as a forgettable Smackdown stint. How bright is Michael Tarver’s star shining these days?
I don’t know if English is limited to only the comedic circuit, which despite Santino Marella’s retirement and the release of Jinder Mahal and Drew McIntyre, is robust on account of Damien Sandow, Fandango, Adam Rose, the Matadors and so on, but there’s money to be made in that realm. Some performers might rather be in that loop than just the bottom end of the “serious” wrestlers, because it’s awfully difficult to break through into the main event scene, and at least the comedic acts are involved in memorable moments.
This leads to a question about another NXT standout of recent vintage — Tyson Kidd. If you’re in his shoes, would you rather be on Raw and Smackdown in the middle of the card or at the focal point of the leading NXT story?
• • •
David: Tyson Kidd is an interesting case. His wrestling skills have always been solid, but he’s had very little chance in five and a half years to show any kind of character. I think his recent run in NXT has been good for him. While some of the people in the Internet circles we run with make fun of his constant cries of “Fact!”, I feel like he’s shown marked improvement both in terms of actual spoken promos, and showing character in the ring. I think, despite the chants of “Nattie’s Husband,” he’s shown he is a lot more than that, and a high profile feud with Sami Zayn has been much better for him than languishing in the middle of Raw or Smackdown.
Speaking of Sami Zayn, how have we gotten this far into this piece with barely a mention of the guy who, as of right now, is the likely No. 1 on my TWB 100 ballot for 2014? I look forward to seeing Zayn wrestle every time he gets in the ring, but I’m glad they’ve decided to keep him in NXT for now. It’s not that I think he’s incapable of making an impact on Raw, but I’d like to see him get the NXT title, if nothing else than as a reward for having great matches with everyone from Tyler Breeze to Cesaro. There’s also the fact I’m wary of what the main roster’s creative team will do with him. I’ve enjoyed his work so much on NXT I’m worried it won’t be the same when he gets to the main roster, plus I’d like to see him work with the group of guys who are coming into NXT in the near future.
So, am I right to worry about Zayn’s prospects on the USA and SyFy Networks? Or do you think his talent will allow him to do what Daniel Bryan did in overcoming bad storylines to become a major player in the WWE?
• • •
Scott: To me, Zayn is the ultimate “please don’t screw this guy up” in my book. He’s undoubtedly capable of delivering a fantastic match in any scenario. He’s a natural hit with fans of all ages. I generally dislike when people posit “If (insert wrestler) doesn’t main event WrestleMania, then WWE dropped the ball),” but honestly, how can you not feel that way about Sami Zayn?
I’ll admit to not being aware of Daniel Bryan’s pre-WWE career at the time he debuted on season one of NXT, but I learned quickly he already had the highest of respect among people whose opinions I respected. I tried to get in on the ground floor with Zayn’s WWE career as well. Part of me wants to not compare the two but it also seems essential given the striking similarities.
I would like to think current management sees in Zayn the possibility to meet or exceed Bryan levels of popularity, and in so doing consciously avoids the missteps that plagued Bryan early on in his WWE run. And say what you will about the company never being sold on Bryan’s prospects, but we’ll always have WrestleMania XXX. That was no accident. Sami Zayn can tell those kind of stories in and out of the ring, and — barring injury — I’ve never been so sure of anything in my wrestling fandom as I am of Zayn’s potential.
Now, how do they actually get him from the simmering at the surface of NXT to the center spotlight on biggest stage of them all? I can think of 87 different ways, none of which will actually happen. I’m anxious to see what he can do as soon as possible, but I don’t want him to get lost amidst all the guys currently getting elevated on the main shows. A double-edged sword.
Here;s the big question I’ve never been able to answer: How much does Zayn have to be reintroduced to the main audience? In my world, everyone who loves Raw should watch NXT, but I know that’s just not the case. Can they just bring him up, say “this guy is awesome” then let him prove it in the ring on his first night? I don’t want to think about ways to mess up his debut, but I’m sure it’s possible. How would you handle it — and when?
• • •
David: That’s a big question, but you asked, so I’ll put on my fantasy booker hat and see what I can come up with. First things first… I would not have him debut at the Royal Rumble. For some reason, the WWE creative team has seen fit over the past couple of years to make big debuts in the Royal Rumble match. I wasn’t a fan of that tactic for either Bo Dallas or Alexander Rusev. I think there are too many guys, and a debuting wrestler gets lost in the shuffle.
But you didn’t ask me how I would not handle his debut, so here’s what I would do if I were on the creative team. First, in September, I would announce 16 NXT Superstars are going to have a shot at a showcase at Survivor Series. The way it would work is there would be eight singles matches throughout October and November. The eight winners would then be in a traditional five-on-five Survivor Series elimination match, with the other two spots being given to main roster wrestlers with NXT ties.
I also would announce on Raw this match is happening, as a way to get the WWE Universe excited about it — and excited about NXT. There would be video packages each week showing what happened on the previous NXT, and how that affects the “First Annual NXT Survivor Series Showcase.” That way, the WWE Universe at large gets to know some of the guys they don’t know, and they get excited about the NXT Universe. This has an added benefit of being a good advertisement for the WWE Network, which is available for $9.99 per month.
The teams would be the following:
Enzo Amore, Colin Cassady, Xavier Woods, Mojo Rawley and Sami Zayn
Sylvester Lefort, Marcus Louis, Cesaro, CJ Parker and Bull Dempsey
Amore and Cassady fall on one side of the good guy/bad guy line, with the Legionnaires being their counterparts. Parker and Woods have a feud that may not be burning up the NXT Universe, but is worthy of a Survivor Series match. With Rawley and Dempsey, you get tag team partners on opposite sides who don’t really like each other, which would provide an interesting dynamic and storyline potential. Then, of course, you have the ultimate good guy, Sami Zayn, and his ultimate rival to this point, Cesaro.
I would start the match with Parker and Woods in the ring. Woods would get the early advantage, even getting a near fall. This would bring Dempsey in to break up the pin. As he breaks up the pin, Rawley comes in to attack Dempsey, but ends up hitting Woods accidentally, allowing Parker to get the pin.
After a few more minutes, Enzo would be in against one of The Legionnaires, who would take advantage of the ref being distracted at various points to use underhanded tactics. Big Cass spends most of this portion of the match getting hotter and hotter, until the Legionnaires are able to pin Amore with a handful of tights, or having their feet on the ropes. Cassady comes in and starts to take apart Lefort and Louis, but ends up going too far. His anger causes him to use a chair to injure both Lefort and Louis, which ends up getting him disqualified.
Rawley and Zayn take advantage of the Legionnaires’ injuries to finish them off fairly quickly, bringing the odds closer, with the villains having a one-man advantage. With Rawley the legal man, Dempsey enters the match, and the two lock up. After neither man gains an advantage, Rawley turns to Sami Zayn and says, “You’re on your own.” He turns to Dempsey, shakes his hand and then lays down for his tag team partner to pin him, leaving Sami Zayn staring down the barrel of a 3-1 advantage. Zayn gets in and is on fire. He takes it to all three men, getting a pin first on CJ Parker. Dempsey slows him down, but Zayn manages to tough out the pain, eliminating him with a roll up, which just leaves Zayn and Cesaro.
Sami Zayn starts by getting in a flurry of offense, which Cesaro quickly quells. Cesaro then proceeds to take Zayn apart, to the stunned silence of the crowd. After a pop-up uppercut and a Neutralizer, Cesaro gets the win to be the sole survivor.
I waffled a bit about whether or not to have Zayn make the complete comeback, but in the end, he’s far stronger as the guy who’s trying to get even, and with Cesaro as his white whale, we get to continue their feud from earlier this year in a different milieu. However, I wouldn’t have them fight immediately. I’d have them do a slow burn, where Zayn spends a couple of months fighting random wrestlers on Raw, and, for the most part, winning. I don’t think he needs a winning streak, but I would have him drop references to Cesaro in promos, with Cesaro repeatedly saying he has nothing to prove against Zayn.
This would go until the Royal Rumble, which would feature both Cesaro and Zayn late in the match. Zayn would eliminate Cesaro, but not win. This would give Cesaro motivation for wanting to take on Sami, and they could wrestle at Elimination Chamber, and possibly have a blowoff match at Wrestlemania, perhaps for either the US or Intercontinental title.
Obviously, I’m biased, but I think it’s a pretty good start to Sami Zayn’s main roster career, as well as a good story. In addition, I’ve built some potential stories on NXT, the new focal point of the WWE Network, for Mojo Rawley, Bull Dempsey, The Legionnaires and Cassady and Amore.
More than anything, I want Zayn to start off with something courageous that gets the crowd behind him, and keeps them there. Any other thoughts on Sami Zayn and his career trajectory?
• • •
Scott: I’m not going to describe another potential scenario to that degree of specificity, but to me you’ve hit on the key component of the big picture. Zayn most likely should “debut,” as it were, with a courageous performance that breeds a desire for him to get back on equal footing with his superior. He’s such a fantastic storyteller in the ring his spoken words are almost secondary. He’s perhaps better than anyone at the “show, don’t tell” narrative approach.
Doing this exercise with Zayn and Neville makes me realize the difficulty WWE will have in advancing its good guys to the next level. Tyler Breeze is a much easier solution: Show up, be cocky, win. Rusev was similar: Show up, hoss dudes around, win. For too long it’s seemed the only card the writers had for good guys is to give them some sort of stunning “how did they do that” victory (the pre-NXT prototype is the Santino debut win over Umaga, the modern NXT version is Paige beating AJ Lee), except they never convey the message the NXT stars actually deserve to be on the main stage. If their wins are presented as flukes, then the established heel star gets suitable revenge, where does the NXT graduate go as a character?
There are plenty of examples of wrestlers needing two or three different characters or reboots to finally find something that sticks, enough so that we can’t say the manner in which an NXT star debuts will determine his or her long-term viability. But the growing popularity and availability of NXT makes it more likely a larger percentage of the fanbase will be invested in the NXT version of a performer than ever before (consider how many late 80s WWF fans had no real exposure to Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard before they came in as the Brain Busters).
The more I grow to love and respect an NXT performer’s work, the more I’m worried he or she won’t translate to Raw, or the writers won’t know how to handle them, or moving away from Full Sail will be problematic. Of course I want them to succeed on the big stage — that’s the whole point. I want them all to have a debut moment as thrilling as the Cubs’ Javier Baez hitting a game winning 414-foot home run in the 12th inning. And just like in baseball, I don’t want them to just be great at NXT forever.
This is not to say every working wrestler has to have a good run on Raw to be deemed a success. That’s clearly not the case. However, once you sign that developmental deal and begin to climb the ladder and headline NXT supershows, you build those expectations of WrestleMania moments for yourself.
I do want to get to a quick look at the rest of the NXT roster and see if there’s anyone we think should or shouldn’t move up (now or ever). But first I want to ask if there needs to be a more structured pipeline for promoting NXT stars. They’ve done the Royal Rumble thing once (Bo Dallas won a fanfest tournament). Your Survivor Series idea certainly has merit. I might suggest next year’s Money in the Bank show have a match that’s only NXT stars fighting to get a one-year Raw contract.
We’ve done the Rusev/Wyatts/Bo Dallas/Adam Rose thing, where a series of vignettes lead up to an actual debut. We’ve done the thing where Xavier Woods deal where he just appears on Raw and his story starts from scratch. And then there’s the Paige surprise appearance, where she is her exact character, as well as the surprise Shield debut, where the announcers have to tell us who they are and then it takes a while for their stories to unfold.
So should there be some specific way each year in which an NXT star wins the right to advance, or is it best to leave all the options open for creative collaboration?
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David: I think it’s best to leave all options open. As much as I like the idea of an NXT Money in the Bank match, I’m not sure it’s something that can be relied on as an annual event. The nature of that type of storytelling seems to have a short shelf life, since I can’t think of too many stories they could tell surrounding the expiration of that one-year contract, and I’d rather them not add another gimmick where they’re telling the same stories over and over.
I think calling up talent from NXT has to be an individualized thing, involving finding a way to fit the NXT character into the main roster. This leads me back to the Vaudevillains, whose gimmicks we’ve already agreed probably aren’t suitable for the main roster. I was trying to figure out: what is the purpose of their gimmicks, and gimmicks like theirs? Is the point for the talent to prove that they are capable of getting over no matter what they’re handed by the creative team? Is it a case of the NXT creative team knowing oddball characters get over at Full Sail? Or, is there a disconnect between NXT and the main roster, where they don’t realize these characters probably are not going to fly in the mainstream wrestling space?
• • •
Scott: All right, maybe a one-year Raw contract doesn’t make sense. And I have never been a fan of forcing a match (Hell in a Cell, TLC) just because that particular themed pay-per-view is on the schedule. But I still see the value in some sort of annual showcase where the reward is a shot at the big time. I guess you’d have to temper that with the fact they can bring up pretty much whoever they want whenever they want — the last thing WWE needs is one more arbitrary narrative device that’s negated at the whims of whichever power figure happens to be in control on a given week.
The disconnect you mentioned has to be addressed at some point. Why was Paige forced to surrender her NXT title (on account of her Divas Champion obligations) when past NXT titleholders were allowed to do double duty? And what was the point of filling the Women’s Title tournament with main roster stars like Natalya? Wouldn’t they have to surrender the NXT title for the same basic reasons Paige could no longer keep hers?
That’s just the storyline continuity. There exists the larger issue of what purpose it serves to have a performer go all-in on a character that clearly can’t work on the touring team. We’ve seen quick tweaks (such as Becky Lynch’s recent drastic improvement) and some more gradual evolutions (Rusev is functionally the same but tried and dropped certain aspects of his presentation), and I’m not sure any of that stuff is canonical — the only part of a character or performer’s NXT backstory that matters is whatever the Raw or Smackdown writers decide to preserve.
Certainly guys like the Vaudevillains are getting more attention than NXT wrestlers without stage names or flashy attire. Someone must have something in mind for their future, but it’s hard to say what that might be.
What of the guys who don’t trip our trigger at present? Is there a Raw future for the men behind the likes of Mojo Rawley and Bull Dempsey? I always hate to see anyone released, but there’s only so many spots and I’d rather see my favorite guys and gals get a chance to shine.
• • •
David: As I said earlier, one of the things we, and fans of our ilk, have to come to terms with is we are very rarely going to be the fans WWE caters to. That means we’re not always going to like everything that happens in the WWE. There are plenty of wrestlers on the main roster whose stories and in-ring performance don’t interest me, and even though I don’t want to watch them, I have to remind myself WWE is creating a television product for a mainstream audience, not the little niche I fit into… that’s what Chikara is for.
Anyone who has followed me on the Twittah (shout out to Chris Jericho) for any length of time knows how I feel about Mojo Rawley. I almost always tweet my displeasure about him being on my screen, and that’s probably not going to stop. I don’t enjoy anything he does. I find his energy level and “I Don’t Get Hyped, I Stay Hyped” catch phrase to be annoying instead of charismatic. I think his offense looks ugly, and from my perspective as a fan, his matches rarely seem to have any kind of flow to them. He is usually just moving from one move to another, as if he’s following a recipe. That said, I know there are people who like Mojo Rawley, and God bless them. I think he’s got an okay look, and he might be able to make a living in the WWE. I’m not sure whether this particular gimmick is the one that will get him to Raw, but I think he can be a solid mid-carder, whether I like it or not.
Bull Dempsey, for me, is a different story. I don’t like Mojo Rawley because I’ve never seen anything to like. I don’t like Dempsey because I’m almost offended by the way they chose to debut him, and the gimmick that they chose to give him. For those who aren’t aware, Dempsey debuted on the June 26 episode of NXT, and referred to himself as “The Last of a Dying Breed.” There are a few people who took exception to this moniker, including Brandon Stroud, who had this to say in his “Best and Worst of NXT” column for that show:
When I heard him say “The Last of a Dying Breed,” the first thing I thought was pretty much the same as Mr. Stroud: “Screw this guy.” I love NXT, and think it’s the closest thing we’re ever going to have to a mainstream version of an indie promotion, but that doesn’t mean I need it, or even want it, to emulate or parody even the best parts of the indies. I want it to be its own thing, and I want it to be good at that. The Vaudevillains are a great tag team, and they may be a reference to things happening on the indie scene right now (hi again, Olde Wrestling), but they aren’t a direct rip-off, which makes them acceptable in my book.
But the biggest problem with the Bull Dempsey gimmick is the guy they gave it to. I don’t know Smith James, the performer behind Bull Dempsey, and I’m sure he is a fine person, but he’s not Eddie Kingston. I can’t foresee a time in the future where I would ever confuse him with Eddie Kingston. I’m not sure how much of Eddie Kingston you’ve seen, but he’s a regular in the two indie promotions I watch the most: Chikara and AIW. Kingston doesn’t have the prototypical wrestler’s body, but he is extremely intimidating. He’s tough. He’s mean. He’s surly. I wouldn’t cross him. In fact, if I was walking down the street and saw Eddie Kingston, my first instinct would be to tell him how much I enjoy his work. However, that would be overridden by my central nervous system, which would be telling me to cross the street so as not to make him mad in any way.
Bull Dempsey is not any of that. He’s the loudmouth at the bowling alley who thinks he’s the best because his team won their league. He’s the guy at the arcade who constantly brags about his high score on Pac-Man that got erased because the machine got unplugged. He’s a big talker without much to back it up or make you care. I’m not sure what the future holds for Bull Dempsey, but I have a hard time believing this character will make much of an impact on Superstars, much less Raw.
Of course, those aren’t the only two NXT wrestlers I’m not all that interested in, there are also guys like Angelo Dawkins and CJ Parker. Who else do you see having a hard time transitioning out of the world of “developmental”?
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Scott: As far as the people getting semi-regular screen time, I agree with you on Dawkins and Parker. I won’t be shocked if either gets walking papers before they appear on television. I’m not sure what the deal is with Corey Graves these days, nor do I care. Nothing personal, but he rarely adds anything when he’s on screen. Marcus Louis and Sylvester Lefort don’t engender visions of grandeur, but it’s not impossible to see them getting a main roster run because “not Americans” is textbook storytelling.
As usual, heading into the next supershow we’ll start to get a clearly defined idea of who management sees as having long-term potential. As we noted, it’s good to see a guy like Tyson Kidd developing his character and performance in the NXT main event scene as opposed to being forgotten on a C show. As for Zayn, it’s fair to ask how many times he can hog NXT’s brightest spotlight before he gets a real shot at the big time.
When Bo Dallas graduated, it was clear he had nothing left to prove at NXT. It also was clear he wasn’t going to the top to get into a title picture or main event program. And that’s OK. His brother was destined for greatness, and despite some fits and starts, the team is showing a tremendous amount of dedication to the Wyatt Family’s place of prominence on the main roster. (No small amount of credit goes to Harper and Rowan. I have loved their contributions even as Wyatt’s stagnated.)
Tyler Breeze’s showing against Neville this week is another brick in a sturdy wall he’s constructed showing he deserves to be more than just a Raw caricature of his NXT character. So should I want him to stay at NXT until a logical spot opens for him in the Raw narrative? It’s the same question I have about Zayn — I fully believe he could headline WrestleMania. Does the company have the same faith? Is there a logical launching pad?
One of the things I’ve tried to do while watching Raw each week is see if the company (and fans) can handle multiple leading stories and rising performers. Obviously Roman Reigns is ascendant these days, but his SummerSlam showdown with Orton is not as important as Brock-Cena or even the Brie-Steph match. I could almost argue they’ve soft-sold Rollins and Ambrose a bit, but I also firmly believe you don’t need to feature each story every week unless you’re going to actually advance the plot. We know why these guys are fighting and it’s OK to fan the flames with a highlight package.
We’ve covered a lot of good ground here, but we need to reach some sort of conclusion. Let’s frame it as such: in the Network era of NXT, there will have been at least three “supershows,” and possibly a fourth, before WrestleMania XXXI. I suggest at least one man and woman from at least one of those supershows needs to have a prominent role at the Granddaddy of them All in the Bay Area next spring, or else all this NXT devotion becomes more a sideshow than anything else.
At this point, it seems Paige is a lock to be in that mix, though there are other women who could carry the same weight. For the men, there are obvious candidates, but who’s your pick? Who gets the nod and what is their role on the biggest stage in wrestling?
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David: The Ascension jump right off the page. They’ve had a long run as NXT Tag Team Champions, but this tag team tournament seems pretty much designed to get the belts off of them in an effort to elevate them to the main roster. I have to assume that as soon as they get to Raw, they will be thrust into the WWE Tag Team Championship picture. If they don’t get an immediate title reign, it seems like they’ll get there pretty quickly, which could mean they enter WrestleMania as either champions or contenders. I’m sure that will be a welcome relief for Konnor, who has been in the developmental system off and on since 2005, and I think there’s a good chance he and Viktor will get a WrestleMania moment (note the lowercase m) in Santa Clara.
Outside of The Ascension, I’m not sure what to think. There are always so many x-factors to consider: injuries, the fickleness of the WWE Universe, bad booking. As a fan, I think Sami Zayn and Adrian Neville are currently ready to make an impact on the main roster, and should have ample opportunity to earn themselves a look at The Showcase of the Immortals. But I also think Kevin Steen, whose signing was officially announced this week, could go straight from the indies to Raw with nary a problem. The question is: how does the biggest boss of them all in WWE, Vince McMahon see it?
Mick Foley, in a recent interview with Stone Cold Steve Austin, pointed out the talent that goes the furthest are the ones who have the ability to turn Vince McMahon into a fan of theirs. There are a lot of fans who think they know what Vince looks for, but Mick Foley hardly fits that common perception, so there’s got to be something deeper than just a body builder’s physique. Getting Vince’s attention… that’s the biggest x-factor of them all.
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