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Welcome once again to the NXT TRACKER, where I pick an NXT talent, assess their progression to this point and make bold, sure-to-look-hilarious-in-retrospect predictions about their future prospects. Today I’m going to have a look at an NXT veteran who seems to be heading up the card – Tommaso Ciampa.
Ciampa, 32, is a twelve-year veteran. Early in his career, he was playing roles – which in light of his current “Psycho Killer” persona look pretty out of place – such as “Tommy Penmanship” and “Thomas Whitney, Esquire.” In 2005, he took a chokeslam from The Undertaker on an episode of SmackDown in a scene you might remember, though you probably didn’t put together that this was Ciampa. His look as we know it debuted in 2014, along with a gradual character shift that serves his stiff-looking offense well. Ciampa is about to undergo surgery for a torn ACL – hopefully, this won’t staunch his development for long.
Signature Wins in NXT
Ciampa’s signature matches in NXT have primarily been losses; the recent ladder match defeat at the hands of The Authors of Pain, which led into his heel turn, is certainly the biggest character moment for Ciampa in NXT. The next biggest moment he’s had was a loss to partner Johnny Gargano in the first round of the Cruiserweight Classic tournament, which should be required viewing, and may have been a dry run for Ciampa’s eventual turn. As far as big victories go, he and Gargano won the NXT Tag Team Championship from The Revival at Takeover: Toronto.
#DIY had gotten such great reactions – after both members floundered a bit as singles wrestlers – that I was genuinely shocked to see the split; NXT isn’t exactly brimming over with tag team talent at the moment. “Psycho Killer” is fun to chant, if a little risque in WWE’s current climate; it’ll be interesting to see whether the company embraces the nickname or chooses to abandon it before Ciampa’s eventual trip to the main roster. The heel turn was done in expert fashion; again, the real test will be to keep Ciampa strong and in the forefront of fan’s minds for as long as this injury may keep him out.
Ciampa’s been around long enough that he’s seen NXT’s best and worst days as far as booking goes. Luckily, they were treated as a priority even during the months where NXT was treading water and as a result, the heel turn carried a lot of weight. He probably would have had enjoyed a longer run with the tag titles if The Authors of Pain hadn’t been perceived to need the titles more than #DIY, but I think it worked out well for all involved. The story told in his tournament match with Johnny Gargano was perhaps the high point of a tournament that was filled with high points, and Ciampa’s ability to tell an effective in-ring story should help him to achieve a lot on the main roster.
The immediate future is going to be rehab of the ACL, unfortunately, as Ciampa is the latest in a list including Dash Wilder, Finn Balor and Shane Thorn of folks who have had injuries at the worst possible time. Beyond this, if WWE is committed to him, I’m not worried that he’ll do well. We’ve seen with Balor and Wilder that those in position to receive a significant push aren’t suffering as far as card placement from these injuries, as was often the case in past years.
I’d have a clearer idea of what I’d want to say here if ACL injuries were easier to predict. Regardless, I think Ciampa’s stay in NXT once he returns will be relatively brief. With Bobby Roode likely to hold the NXT Championship as a heel for a while, there’s not a lot for a heel Ciampa to shoot for. I think he’ll have an obligatory feud with Johnny Gargano, maybe do a job or two to Aleister Black or Roderick Strong, and head up to the main roster. The question there – an interesting one – will be whether the WWE wants to try to use Ciampa to elevate the struggling 205 Live or to sidestep it initially and work toward midcard titles. I think the WWE is wise to use someone like Sasha Banks to lend a bit of her credibility to 205 Live; I see someone like Ciampa as the kind of person who can work main roster feuds while having matches for 205 Live that keep the crowd from staring at their phones during potentially the best matches of the night.
I prefer to be bullish on Ciampa, as he’s one of my favorite guys at any stage of the WWE roster. However, the heel turn has me thinking my hopes aren’t misplaced. Get well soon, Tommaso.
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