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Cheers, Torch readers, and welcome to the NXT Tracker. Normally the idea here is to take a wrestler from NXT and track their progress there, commenting on their potential to make a splash on the main roster. Since we’re at that time of year that a number of workers have just been called up, this time I’m going to recap what we saw of those performers in NXT and the early indications we’ve gotten from their main roster debuts.
In some cases, it really is tough to say what the main roster will do. I would have considered American Alpha to be can’t-miss prospects, but Smackdown’s tag division has made them seem like just another team, which is surprising in a division that really does need more depth after largely working dark matches and multi-team matches over the last month. The Vaudevillains are another cautionary tale. Fans who only watch the main roster must have considered them a total joke, but go back and look at their NXT Tag Team Championship victory over Blake & Murphy and tell me they didn’t look to be on their way to great things.
Enough about the falling sky – let’s allow hope to spring eternal and have a gander at one of the most interesting crops of main roster calls in NXT’s history.
Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson were meant to be the object of my next feature before this call, as I basked in the afterglow of the three-way match at TakeOver: Orlando. Instead, they were brought to Raw after a fantastic run in NXT, holding the tag titles for eleven of thirteen months before dropping them to #DIY after yet another great feud. The Revival thrived during the best and worst times for NXT as far as storytelling goes, as their ability to shape a story in the ring continued to get better all the time, and they reached a point where their work as heels is nearly second to none. Early on when the team gained steam out of nowhere – they made a deep run into the first Dusty Classic without much of a push to that point – I pegged Dawson as one of the best heel promos in the company, who could perhaps one day nip at the heels of Kevin Owens for total jerkhood on the stick. Recently, Dash has made great improvements to himself in the same area, closing one of the few gaps in the team.
The Revival answered an open challenge from The New Day on Raw after Wrestlemania, with the opening “Hey Yeah” strains of their theme music eliciting an appreciative pop. The New Day did a couple of jobs to put over The Revival out of the gate before an ill-timed jaw injury to Dash that can’t help the momentum of a team that already may have an uphill battle in store due to their smaller statures; I think others have made too much of this issue, as smaller tag teams haven’t run into the same unbreakable glass ceilings as singles wrestlers over the years, but I can’t deny that it might be tough for them when Gallows & Anderson are potentially in front of them, and Sheamus & Cesaro sit across the aisle as babyface roadblocks that will be tough to overcome. As long as they’re not cut off at the knees, though, The Revival should have some strong matches with Sheamus & Cesaro, Enzo & Cass and The Hardy Boyz in what has become one of WWE’s best divisions for either brand.
For my part, I just hope to see the constant cheating of The Revival continue, as this has done wonders for their opponents to this point, as well as for themselves. This is classic pro wrestling, dudes; Revival, indeed.
Here’s a surprising call. Samson’s potential move was spoiled weeks in advance, but until the loser-leaves-town match against Kassius Ohno was announced, I looked at it with a doubtful eye. On the other hand, Samson had more or less gotten the point across with his gimmick in NXT. If he wasn’t going to gain traction there – and he wasn’t, given that his more cartoonish persona was better-suited to the main roster than NXT – he may as well step up and see what happens. The big question is: is this heel heat or “go away” heat? More interestingly, is it real heat while a portion of the audience thinks it’s “go away” heat?
I have to say I’ve been pleased with the promotion of Samson so far. There hasn’t been a rush to involve him in a feud he’s going to ultimately lose; instead, he’s kept in our minds as the camera pans past him, following another wrestler. These are the touches that WWE has really been missing in recent years, and are part of the reason my enjoyment has been spiking of late.
Samson is an okay power wrestler who really does come off as annoying, in a good way. I don’t think he’s a top-shelf guy, but he has the chance to have some fun midcard feuds and perhaps an occasional feud for a midcard title.
It’s potentially a cheat to use Joe, but he’s recent enough, so I’ll take it. Joe has been presented as a very important cog in the machine, and furthermore, one that may be pay-to-see as his matches on TV have been infrequent. I do think it’s nice to have some guys presented this way, retaining an aura of secrecy rather than being tossed in wacky tag matches and the occasional squash. Brock Lesnar is great, but he doesn’t have to be the only Brock Lesnar around, and in time Brock will need real challengers for his title. While I suspect most of these threats will come from The Shield, if Brock ends up working as a face for a few months, he and Joe can have a hard-hitting feud that deserves a high buyrate (or however they prefer to gauge the success of those shows now).
The Bollywood Boyz
Do these guys count? They worked in the CWC, have had a couple of matches on NXT TV and also worked the inaugural 205 Live in front of a crowd who didn’t quite know what they were meant to feel. I decided to count them because frankly, what they’ve got going is yet another thing WWE has lacked for me: surprise.
While these two look and come off as really nice guys, I couldn’t help but think the Bollywood Boyz gimmick was better-suited to a pair of heels than to a couple of smiling babyfaces. Now they’ve tweaked the formula to come closer to what Steve Austin and Brian Pillman were doing as The Hollywood Blonds (though whether they continue with that on the main roster is yet to be seen), and were shockingly inserted into what should be a main-event feud with the equally surprising Jinder Mahal. I see Gurv and Harv as a couple of bump machines that are going to take a lot of RKOs on the way to this match, which still might be six to eight weeks away, and the crony formula has worked for everyone from Kurt Angle to Vince McMahon over the years. Although the 205 Live match is, to my knowledge, the only televised victory for The Boyz in WWE, I think this is a great spot for them for the time being, and can lead to a face turn which eventually allows them to be important players in Smackdown’s tag division.
As a wrestler, you really can’t ask for more fanfare – and perhaps pressure – than there’s been for Nakamura. This past Tuesday, he was featured in an “up next” teaser that was simply leading to a video package and not a live appearance. WWE intends to strike quickly with Nakamura, and for this reason (among others), I thought it was a mistake to take the WWE Championship off of Bray Wyatt and put it on a cold babyface when Shinsuke, and not to mention Tye Dillinger, were on their way up. Granted, the WWE has found a different way to keep the title picture fresh.
I don’t think Nakamura was done any favors with his relatively clean losses to Samoa Joe and Bobby Roode down in NXT, but when you drip with charisma, it’s fairly easy to shrug off a loss. It looked like Nakamura was headed for a feud with The Miz, but with Miz’s leap to Raw, this satisfying matchup will have to wait. Instead, I’m looking forward to Smackdown simply to see who he’s going to face and feud with first, which is a place the main roster doesn’t take me nearly often enough. I’m bullish on Nakamura’s prospects, even in the short-term.
As if the arrival of one strong babyface wasn’t enough, Smackdown has also treated us to Tye Dillinger, a move I hoped was coming given that Tye had eaten a lot of pins in NXT and babyfaces bemoaning losses don’t stay hot for long. Tye was brought up to the main roster with none of that talk and none of the self-doubt that was hurting his character, and was immediately fed some low-level competition to get started. It seems the intent of the Superstar Shake-Up was to make Raw a place largely for established stars and Smackdown the place to see fresh faces, and that works for me; again, Tye being a face doesn’t make him an early candidate for a title match, but there’s some midcard pushing to be done with Tye anyway that isn’t necessary with Nakamura, so that’s fine. I wouldn’t be surprised or disappointed to see Tye working with Kevin Owens before long, although with Owens adopting a bit of anti-American gimmickry to sell his U.S. Title reign, the Canadian Dillinger may not be the guy WWE sees as putting in that position.
In the meantime, keeping the audience on board with the chants and cheers shouldn’t be difficult, as Dillinger’s babyface fire has been second to none in the last year, and his late(?)-career renaissance has been one of the more inspiring stories in the company. Smackdown looks to be committed to this character, and I think he’ll be a great player on the main roster for a good four or five years before retirement starts being a consideration.
As much as I hacked on NXT for the past few months, it does look like their prospects have a good future at the moment. If they’re committed to creating new stars with interesting stories – as it seems they’re doing in the last couple of weeks – it could end up being a revival for NXT as well. Here’s hoping the next crop of callups is in just as much a position to succeed as this one.
NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS COLUMN: NXT TRACKER: The State of Booking Headed into NXT Takeover this Saturday night