Let’s take a look at WWE’s development promotion.
The third brand, the yellow-and-black army, the home for many a lapsed fan who is sick with the main roster and wants an independent feel. I am talking about NXT.
We will get into how some of its past stars adjusted, why some adjusted poorly, and then take a look at the current crop of call-ups and where they may fall into the WWE picture.
There are three types of NXT Talents; Forever NXT, Not Quite Ready and Main Event Stars. So let’s take a look at the first wave of NXT talent and see where they have fallen.
First off, let’s look at ‘Forever NXT’. This is the kind of talent that will never get over on the main roster and should stay in NXT permanently.
Let’s start with The Ascension. These guys seem more like two failed plumbers that cosplayed as The Legion of Doom, at a WWE event, someone saw them, laughed and then thought it would fun to sign them as jobbers.
They were presented as Championship level bruisers in NXT, but since they moved to the main roster they have been switched between enhancement talent and comic relief. Not doing either very well. In my opinion, they should have stayed in NXT. Make them gatekeepers for the Tag Titles.
Dana Brooke is another talent that should have stayed in NXT. Although she is a former bodybuilder and certainly has the look she has never been taken seriously. She came in as a lackey for Charlotte Flair, and then got stuck in the lower card faction known as Titus Worldwide!
To be fair to Dana has improved in the ring, although she will never be a top star in any promotion outside of Impact Wrestling. Her ringwork would have been acceptable 10 years ago, but now with the women’s evolution, the standard is now too high. Any women in the Mae Young Classic could replace her. But in NXT her skill set would be great to sharpen other women coming up to the championship level.
As much as I love Sanity and their gimmick and as big of a fan that I am of Eric Young, the main roster has absolutely not worked out for them. They came across as a bargain basement version of The Wyatts. In fact, Eric Young would have been better off doing this gimmick in TNA. The one thing that made them stand out from the other factions was the inclusion of a female, but we really haven’t even seen Nikki Cross with Sanity since her main roster debut against Becky Lynch. Keep Nikki Cross but send the rest of these guys back to NXT. Vince has no idea what to do with them.
But if WWE insists on keeping them around I say split them up. Eric Young proved in TNA that he can be a dynamic legit top guy, which in WWE would translate to being a good mid-carder.
And whatever they had planned for Lars Sullivan (I’ll get to him later) do it with Killian Dain.
Coming up next, it’s the ‘Not Quite Ready’ group. The ones that have the potential to make a big shout, but the WWE have not helped them so far.
First off, we have Apollo Crews. This young man is a perfect example of someone who needed to stay in development longer. This is where he should have actually created a character. He made a name for himself as Uhaa Nation at Dragon Gate. And I think WWE snapped him up without thinking about what they would do with him.
They signed him, gave him a new name, and that was about all Vince could be bothered to do.
If I asked you what the idea behind the Apollo Crews character was, you could not tell me. At the very least he needed a strong heel to play off. Maybe even a rivalry that could have defined him, as the one Ember Moon had with Asuka. There is no logical reason for this man to not be a top star. He is massive, yet moves like a cruiserweight. He seems very likeable. And on top of that, he proved a few weeks ago that he even has a sense of humour.
If it’s not too late, more of this kind of stuff could finally help him reach his potential.
While we are at it I am going to throw the Irresistible Force Nia Jax in this column too. I know she got a good push in NXT and got her character down, but let’s be honest she needed more training. The number of botches in close proximity is really unacceptable for anyone not related to The Rock.
She also could have used more work getting her promos a little tighter. Honestly, she has to stop smiling through her lines. You are a heel, Nia! If she tightened those elements of her game up she would be truly unstoppable.
The biggest one in this group, in my opinion, is Shinsuke Nakamura. How great was Nakamura in NXT? He was a rock star that lived up to the billing. Part Michael Jackson part Bruce Lee. Nakamura was simply cool. From that ridiculously addictive theme song to the funky gyrations as he entered the arena. I went out of my way to watch this guy and I was never disappointed. Sure he was no longer in his prime, but that just meant he had to work smarter.
But then he went up to the main roster and I was realised he was not working smarter, he was just lazy. Real shame.
Finally, the main event crop. The ones that could have skipped NXT altogether and gone straight to the top of the WWE food chain.
First off, Samoa Joe. He has wrestled all over the world and at every promotion, he has either become a World Champ or been a top guy. Samoa Joe frankly should have received the A.J. Styles treatment. Styles never went to NXT because he was already ready.
Need more proof? Just look at him verbally own Brock Lesnar, Roman Reigns, Kurt Angle, and of all people Paul Heyman. He ethers everyone!
Next. The future of WWE. It is not Roman Reigns, nor Seth Rollins, it is and has always been Drew McIntyre. In his first run, Vince called him The Chosen One. Vince got it right, although it was about 5 years too early. This guy carries himself with the conviction that only comes when you almost lose what you always wanted, yet somehow got back.
Looks. Promo. In Ring. Got ‘em all.
That Claymore is a latter-day RKO. I love it!
Now, unlike many of you, when I encounter NXT graduates, I am watching them fresh, not tainted by past greatness. Sure, I hear the names of these stars, but I haven’t seen a lot of their stuff on NXT. Sometimes, I hear of the greats, like Charlotte Flair or Sasha Banks, and then I see them and realize the hype was justified. And then there are others like Bayley, American Alpha, and to a lesser extent The Revival, that leave me both unimpressed and confused.
If they were all successful on NXT, why has that not translated?
Maybe one of the reasons NXT talent struggles could be the main roster itself. On NXT there seems to be more comradery than on Raw or SmackDown. They seem to really support each other down there but I have to wonder does someone like Rusev really want to make Aleister Black look good? The Colons could not have been too happy when Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa showed up as a tag team on Smackdown. On some level, they knew there was one more team in front of their chance at a title, or push, or any semblance of relevancy.
We all get a little nervous when a shiny new toy shows up at work, doing the same job we’ve become complacent at. Do we really show them all the tricks we know or does our human instinct for survival and self-preservation kick in?
Not to mention that the roster is simply stacked. When someone like Shelton Benjamin can’t even get a match on Smackdown, that is an indication of how congested things have gotten.
Secondly, there has always been a sense that Vince McMahon gave Triple H the development brand expecting them to fail. Well maybe that’s not fair, but I do think Vince feels threatened by what Triple H has done with NXT. Whereas Triple H wants the NXT grads to succeed, Vince is perfectly fine with waiting and seeing. One of the reasons I think Vince has been so obsessed with Roman Reigns is because he is Vince’s guy, and maybe one of the last times that Vince gets to push a homegrown talent over the already established stars that tend to fill up the NXT roster.
If ever there was a man that seems afraid of change it is Vince McMahon. I pray for the day when Triple H is finally set loose and allowed to truly grow this promotion.
Thirdly, the location. NXT is recorded at Full Sail, which seats 400/500. A nice size, but much more intimate than say the 7,000/8,000 or more seats, that you get at a Raw or SmackDown Live show. Ask any live performer and they will tell you size matters. It matters to the audience too. Ever go to see a huge musical act at a very small and intimate setting? My best friend Tom tells me about his favorite live show ever. It was the night Prince died and Dave Chappelle did an impromptu tribute show at a small venue in San Francisco, I’m talking about three hundred people, and it was a majestic night because everyone in that room felt like family, all there for a common purpose.
Stars seem even bigger in small venues, whereas stadiums seem to minimize and almost shrink even some of the biggest acts.
As I said earlier I don’t have this problem with NXT stars. But how many people watched Asuka’s amazing undefeated run on NXT and had high hopes for her when she made the jump to Raw? Well, that didn’t go well. It’s a strange thing to say because she is the Smackdown Live Women’s Champ, but she has been either missing or losing to mid-carders since she won that title. Based on her skill set she should fit into the Main Event Ready category, but she may have been better off as a ‘Forever NXT’.
Expectation can ruin an experience.
Having said that from the current crop, who do I think will make it on the main roster?
Ricochet is a born babyface that has made an immediate Jeff Hardy-like connection to the WWE Universe. At a time when every young wrestler seems to do flippy stuff, Ricochet stands above all. He is as close as pro wrestling will get to its very own Spiderman. I am itchy with anticipation at the thought of what he will do once he enters The Royal Rumble. Watch out Kofi.
Tommaso Ciampa is a main event heel in the making for sure, get him away from Johnny Gargano and let him be his own man.
Lacey Evans is polished and primed for her rumored Wrestlemania match against Asuka, with Vince reportedly very high on the ex-Marine.
Even the big stars not called up yet, there are some prospects. Adam Cole is the closest thing I’ve seen to Shawn Michaels since Shawn Michaels. The same goes for the Undisputed Era. Loaded with talent, especially Bobby Fish. Shayna Baszler is a beast. Imagine her against the likes of Bayley?
Velveteen Dream will be a groundbreaking and gender-busting Superstar. Patrick Clark is an absolute prodigy. He took a gimmick most would refuse to do, owned it, and made it gold, but he needs a little more seasoning.
If Mauro Ranallo was willing and healthy enough, I’d love to see this man doing some of WWE’s PPV’s.
However, the list of stars that are not gonna make it is just as big. Johnny Gargano should just be sent to 205 Live. Sorry, I don’t see it. EC3; based on how he’s been treated since his call up I don’t think too highly of him. Kairi Sane could get lost on the main roster. I hate to agree with Sam Roberts, but Bianca BelAir is not quite there yet. I thought Lars Sullivan was Main Event Ready but now I think he is not quite ready yet.
If NXT cannot continue to create legit stars why does it exist? Is it just another brand or can we depend on it to feed the whole machine? Because the worst thing that could happen is WWE signing the best indie wrestlers so no one else gets them, but then never giving all that talent a real chance to make their mark.
There is nothing sadder than talent wasted. WWE owes it to these young men and women to not sign them unless you have a legitimate plan to get them over. Because once a wrestler has proven how talented they are, the burden is on the promotion to exploit it.