Monday, 13 April 2015

NXT Versus ROH

Triple H wants to expand NXT. He's made many comments in various interviews and Q&A sessions that indicates he believes the league can be expanded to into something that could operate autonomously (or semi-autonomously) from WWE. We've seen steps taken towards this goal with the events held at the Arnold Sports Festival and in San Jose as part of WrestleMania weekend. It's still early days but the fact that these events were able to attract very healthy crowds, the passion fans and wrestlers have for NXT, and the fact that the endeavour is being bankrolled by WWE (essentially meaning they don't necessarily need to worry about making a profit) makes me think that the growth of NXT into a marketable second brand within WWE is an attainable goal. It can afford to run at a loss for a while as it expands, that's not a position wrestling promotions are usually in.

That said it remains a developmental league. It's a place for wrestlers to learn and hone their skills before being promoted to the main roster, where they can earn better money and contribute to the shows where WWE makes its profit. Some people are brought in closer to this point than others. Finn Bálor, formerly New Japan's junior heavyweight ace Prince Devitt, could probably have bypassed NXT altogether. Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn and Tyler Breeze are all as main roster ready as they're going to get. Hideo Itami is still finding a middle ground between his stiff-as-nails NOAH style and the softer, safer approach taken by WWE's sports entertainers and working on his English. These things aside he's ready too.

But these names are in the minority. Most NXT wrestlers need NXT for the learning environment it was designed to be, not the WWE-owned indy fed people (not least Triple H) seem desperate for it to become. For the main roster to benefit from NXT as it's meant to a middle ground needs to be found, one that allows people like Enzo Amore, Alexa Bliss and Baron Corbin to become confident in-ring performers while also drawing sizeable crowds in its own right.

The solution WWE have apparently settled on is targeting indy talent with a proven ability to fill buildings of the size NXT will be holding events in as it expands. Essentially this means they're going after Ring of Honor guys. ROH operates on a smaller scale than WWE and is generally able to draw a couple of thousand or so people to their bigger shows. Although the ROH brand name contributes to this it's not enough by itself. It's the wrestler that deserve the bulk of the credit there. WWE understand this and want to sign these guys to help NXT and set back the competition. And while ROH is not direct competition to WWE it will be to an expanded NXT.

This would go down well with NXT crowds. Or any crowds, for that matter.
But my point still stands: ACH would be a good hire.
There are four wrestlers in ROH that I think WWE would be particularly interested in. At the top of the list is ACH. The most obvious reason is his dazzling aerial ability. He never puts on a foot wrong on his flying moves and never has a bad match. He can make himself look tremendously sympathetic when taking a beating, always handy for a smaller lad. He's precisely the sort of guy that could be signed strictly for use in NXT. This isn't to say he couldn't go far on the main roster, he could, but his style is well-suited to the more indy-flavoured NXT. With WWE on the hunt for a new lead high-flyer, and seemingly unaware that Kalisto is ideal for the role, ACH could be a great acquisition.

The second and third guys are Bobby Fish and Kyle O'Reilly. As reDRagon they've been ROH's most reliable in-house tag team for the last two years. Three weeks in the summer of 2013 and the Young Bucks' two month reign last year aside, they held the ROH tag team titles from March 2 2013 until April 4 this year. They're a team ROH has invested a lot of time in and an act the company continues to rely on for selling tickets, VOD streams, and tickets. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that the Fish and O'Reilly team has been one of ROH's greatest booking triumphs of the last few years.

ROH can't outbid WWE but even if they could it's possible reDRagon might be tempted away. ROH have treated them very well but there's nothing fresh left for them to do aside from beat the Briscoes for the longest cumulative days as tag champs, something they're only around four months away from accomplishing. Even their first match with the new Roppongi Vice team happened at the first opportunity, a sure sign that ROH booker Delirious is aware of how new things need to be done with the duo.

In NXT the team would have an entire roster of fresh opposition. They likely wouldn't get to display the dominance they have in Ring of Honor but I think it's fair to assume they'd be allowed to look immediately competitive with tag champs Blake and Murphy. It's also worth noting that aside from those two and the Enzo-Big Cass team there aren't that many teams kicking around in NXT right now, the Lucha Dragons having been promoted and the Vaudevillains having disappeared. A renamed reDRagon would be a welcome addition.

That they lost the tag straps to The Addiction, a talented pair of guys but men WWE are unlikely to have interest in, could indicate that reDRagon have announced they intend to leave ROH soon. Getting the titles off of them now avoids any sticky booking situations arising later. Of course it could just as easily be a switch made to tell a story and freshen up the doubles scene.

Bullet Club T-Shirt there. It's very much the new nWo shirt.
Another team WWE could show interest in from ROH is the Briscoe brothers. They've got a solid track record of good matches and have worked out their characters. The only stumbling block that presents itself is that Jay Briscoe is still the same man who made comments about shooting people if they tried to teach his son homosexuality was acceptable. Which, y'know, is a problem. ROH is a company that can get away with publically slapping down a guy like that and then getting back to business as usual. WWE isn't. It would be too big a deal (rightly so) for their sponsors. It could be assumed he's learnt the error of his ways but would they want to take that risk when they don't need to? I'm not sure they would.

Jay Briscoe is also a guy I think ROH would put up a fight for. Like reDRagon he's benefited from some strong booking over the last few years. He's not been pinned for around the two year mark and is only the second man ever to enjoy a second reign as the ROH world champion. He's a company stalwart who has, famously, been there since day one. Losing him would create a big gap in their man event scene. It could also send the message that even the most loyal ROH wrestler is willing to leave if they're offered more cash.

But Jay Briscoe isn't the fourth guy I think WWE would definitely be interested in. He and Mark are guys that I could see WWE hiring but not trying their hardest to lure away. The fourth name is Adam Cole. He's got everything  WWE looks for. The look, the wresting ability, the mic skills. There's nothing about Adam Cole WWE wouldn't embrace. He's probably the most signable member of the ROH roster.

The most important thing to note about Cole is that he would be an ideal replacement for Finn Bálor. They don't work especially similar styles but they can both slot into the experienced babyface role well. With a call-up to the main roster looking likely for Bálor a replacement who has as much appeal to live audiences would be desirable. Cole could fill that role nicely. As with Jay Briscoe I could see ROH making a counter offer but it wouldn't be one that WWE couldn't match. If they wanted him they'd get him. And if they're serious with their expansion talk, which we're assuming they are, they'll want him.

There are a handful of other guys WWE could be interested in. At 29 Jay Lethal is still young enough to enter the developmental system and have a meaningful main roster career. The same goes for 23-year-old Adam Page. Despite having lost steam over the last year or so Michael Elgin remains someone who'd make a solid mid-card addition to WWE and he'd look completely at home in NXT. ACH.

Samoa Joe, who last wrestled for ROH at Supercard of Honor IX on March 27, doesn't feel like a true ROH guy after only working four matches for them in the last five-plus years, but he's worth mentioning here. Because obviously Joe could be a draw for NXT and do great things with everyone on the roster. With him being conspicuous by his absence from future ROH show line-ups, most notably the New Japan co-promotions, it seems safe to assume he's going to WWE. I wouldn't be surprised if they next quarterly special ended with him confronting NXT champ Kevin Owens.

But none of these guys other than Joe can be said to be the attractions that ACH, reDRagon, Cole and Briscoe are. They're reliable, exciting, in-ring performers who could benefit both WWE and NXT in the long run but they're not the instant fix that is required for NXT's expansion to work before this time next year. If NXT is going to grow and ROH stars are being targeted to help with that, Cole, O'Reilly, Fish, ACH and Joe are the guys I'd expect to get signed.

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