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Torch faithful, welcome to the NXT Tracker. With all the calls to the main roster that happened last week, I’m going to take a look at the six talents (but essentially four acts) that made their way north and predict – no matter how futile such an exercise may be – how their careers may go based on what they showed in NXT. Note that I write this after the Raw of 4/16 but before the SmackDown of 4/17, so a potential Ciampa or Gargano surprise tonight won’t be covered. For his part, and for whatever tweets are worth, Johnny Gargano said he had “more to accomplish” in NXT, so I’m not holding my breath for that one, but I wouldn’t write off Ciampa showing up sooner than later.
The Authors of Pain
In all the time I’ve watched NXT – which is to say I’ve seen every episode since the Network started five years ago (where does the time go?) – this might be the most improved act from debut to present, with Alexa Bliss also having a legitimate claim to that particular crown. The Authors used to be an act I tolerated because I figured monsters need to be around too, but given time to develop as an act and work with dynamite tag teams like The Revival and #DIY, while also hiding behind Paul Ellering to allow them to say little other than to yell in their respective languages, watching AOP went from a job I do for this site to one of the highlights of the show. While I’m not holding out for either Akam or Rezar to be a breakout singles star in the making – though I do like Akam’s selling enough to see a few good matches in his future – I think given the right slow-burn booking and presentation, we have an answer to the depth problem that has plagued Raw’s tag division. Last night Raw added Breezango and The Ascension, and it’s hard to imagine that this accomplishes much other than to give the Authors a couple more teams to buzz through before they inevitably win the tag titles.
The Paul Ellering issue is the most interesting part of this. While Ellering was never in the top tier of managers in WWE, the act is still nearly impossible to picture without him leading the charge. Shedding Ellering eventually was bound to happen, but doing so while also attempting to get AOP over on the main roster is the definition of trial by fire. They’re only two shows deep, but the Authors seem to be exuding the confidence required of a monster team, and while the presentation of the duo is still somewhat unclear (the Authors worked as heels for much of their NXT run, but finished as tweeners at worst), I’m interested to see where the new beginning takes them, and I’m bullish on their chances to succeed. By this time next year I suspect they’ll either be multi-time champions or, better yet, a handful of months into a long title reign where they repeatedly turn back challengers. Hopefully enough teams can be scrounged up to warrant a reign of some real length; I worry that the return to dual-branded PPVs could result in a lot of reigns being shortened as there’s always a big defense on the horizon. But I suppose that’s another article.
No Way Jose
Jose had a strange NXT career. He was off TV for long stretches with no explanation, with fans largely under the assumption that he’d return with some character tweaks that freshened the act. Instead, he invariably turned up with the exact same presentation he had upon leaving; I don’t think this is a bad thing for him as I don’t see him as a main event talent anyway, but it does beg the question of why he’d be completely off TV. Further, Jose was only booked on a single TakeOver event, in a losing effort against Austin Aries, in a match that existed both to get Aries a first big win and to establish that No Way Jose wasn’t only about fun and games (though he would soon show that he was again, indeed, just about fun and games).
I wouldn’t rule out a run with tag titles down the road with a wacky tag team partner, but I think Jose is likely to fulfill the role he filled in NXT – engage the crowd, get them pumped up, lose the match, and bounce back with a smile to keep himself over. I wouldn’t turn down the chance to see a small push for the guy – nothing crazy, but something like an Intercontinental title feud for a month or two – just to see how he responds, but I suspect Jose is going to be The Godfather, except winning way fewer matches.
Ember is fascinating, because everyone who watches her sees the good and the potential in her, but she was handled fairly poorly at a few junctures in her NXT career, and she never exactly soared on the mic (her sit-down interview with Shayna Baszler was a bizarre thing to watch, as Baszler seemed to live in reality while Ember had stepped in from some ethereal dreamworld. I didn’t hate it, exactly, but it was jarring to watch).
In the ring, Ember had it before she ever showed up in NXT. She’s essentially the same wrestler today as she was two years ago when she arrived, with a little better grasp of how to cut a short promo. What she has for herself in spades is a cool factor that can’t be forced, giving her a credibility with the fans that will go a long way for her as she gets started on the main roster. The carnival of Raw is probably a much better home for her than SmackDown or especially NXT. The roster is huge and there isn’t an immediate requirement of her to be a huge selling point of every major show, so the bookers can take their time with her (let’s ignore the fact that bookers on Raw are not known for taking their time with talent).
I’ve heard it argued that Ember should have been more successful in NXT, but the numbers suggest that she’s at the top of the list. She’s won three matches at TakeOver, and in the history of TakeOver only seven women have even won a single TakeOver match period, and incredibly just two – Asuka and Charlotte – have a winning record. So, the sky hardly fell for Ember.
Ember continues to confound me; I typically cheer for her but wish I was cheering her more. I’m eager to see her first feud on Raw.
Here are two women who aren’t on the “won at TakeOver” list, though the intent is for this to be a Miz-style act; the girls lose, and then the girls talk so big that you’re eager to see them lose again anyway. I’ve talked a lot about this on the PWT Talks NXT podcast and in columns like this, but the switch from Billie Kay being the assumed leader of The Iconics to Peyton Royce taking over gradually was an interesting thing to see. Billie is good in the ring, but her personality just never stood out the way Peyton’s did, and if I’m being blunt, Peyton’s looks probably help a lot as well.
From an aesthetic standpoint, I think “The Iconics” is a better name than “The Iconic Duo,” and it’ll also make it easier for the heel – when they break up down the road – to slide into a nickname like “The Iconic Peyton Royce.” As far as booking, the two of them were overwhelmingly on the losing side of things in NXT, as there were always high-priority babyfaces like Ember, Asuka and Nikki Cross for them to lose to. As such, I agreed with the decision to keep them off TV for a while, so we could forget about just how many matches they’ve lost and simply be anxious to see them again. They were treated as very important in their debut, and a feud with Charlotte signals that the WWE is high on them, despite the number of times they’ve counted the lights.
As far as potential goes, I think Peyton’s got Alexa Bliss-like potential; she can be a big-talking champion who hides behind her friends when the going is tough. I don’t know if she’ll reach Alexa’s heights (ahem), but it seems like a fair enough comparison, and what is this space but a chance to overestimate the potential of workers I’m come to love through my obsession with NXT?
All in all, I think we have a very solid crop here, despite the absence of some names that fans bandied about as potential callups like Aleister Black, Adam Cole, Andrade Almas, or the former members of #DIY. Additionally, I’m not really counting Drew McIntyre for our purposes, as his stay in NXT was predictably short and wasn’t his maiden voyage to the main roster (though, again, I think an entire article can be spent talking about the decision to align him with Dolph Ziggler).
FINAL THOUGHTS: Once I see this set of NXT tapings, I’ll have a better idea of how the show will restock the shelves; until then, it’s always fun to be repeatedly surprised by the shows at this time of year. Cheers, all, and I’ll see you next time.
NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS COLUMN: NXT TRACKER – The Street Profits: Assessing and predicting the prospects of NXT wrestlers’ main roster future