Sunday 13 April 2014

The Debutants' Ball 2014

So Adam Rose, Paige and Bo Dallas are leaving NXT behind and joining the WWE main roster. With three performers being called up at the same time, as well as Alexander Rusev finally starting to wrestle on the main roster following months of hanging about looking fearsome, there’s a nice swathe of fresh talent for viewers to enjoy. We’re unlikely to see anyone else promoted for a while. But that doesn’t mean we can’t speculate on the next performers who’ll graduate from the developmental system.

Top of the list of potential call-ups for many will be Adrian Neville. Not only is he one of the most dazzling aerial wrestlers working anywhere in the world, with a nice line in crisp kicks and basic wrestling exchanges when he’s not in the air, but he’s also the NXT champion. This is significant. The previous three holders of that title (Seth Rollins, Big E and Bo Dallas) have all been called to the main roster either while they held the belt or shortly after they dropped it.

NXT champions haven’t been the only people graduating from the training system in the last few years but the prize has been built up to be something that indicates its holder is amongst the top candidates to move up the ranks at any given time. The likelihood is that ‘The Man That Gravity Forgot’ will follow in their footsteps and grace RAW with his presence sooner than later. He could, if used well, become a big hit on the main stage. His ability to string together sequences of flying moves is jaw-dropping.

Another man towards the top of any list drawn up is Sami Zayn. Since debuting on the May 22 2013 episode of NXT Zayn has become one of the most popular performers on the show and has been consistently depicted as one of its biggest stars. He has frequently entered sparkling performances and has worked lengthy, well-received programmes with Bo Dallas (for the NXT championship) and Antonio Cesaro. The latter in particular stood out as a highlight not just of NXT but of the entirety of WWE programming, an impressive feat when you consider the calibre of the current WWE roster and the matches the company presented last year.

He slaps hands! What a likeable fella!
I think Zayn’s great. He can wrestle a variety of styles against opponents of all sizes and make his performances believable. Like Neville his aerial moves stand out as being particularly worthy of praise: always on target and crisply performed. His verbal skills are good (surprising when you consider how much of his career he spent avoiding talking) and he’s created a likeable, everyman character that people genuinely want to see succeed.

The way in which he’s been used in NXT, and his ability in general, makes me think that WWE recognises he could be a top star. As such I expect his debut on the main roster to be tied to a long term plan, something that will give him the chance to make an immediate impression and avoid treading water after a few weeks. With WWE currently having just set up a bundle of plots that could go on for some time I would be surprised if we saw Zayn moved up before the autumn. Which is a good thing. As one of the most promising names they have in NXT he should be held back as a big deal.

A man I think could be called up before then is Tyler Breeze. As much as I like and enjoy his act I don’t think a Zoolander-inspired male model gimmick has quite the same long term potential that Sami Zayn (or others on this list) does. I think when ‘Prince Pretty’ does get called up he’ll be working as a mid-card guy with no plans for him to go higher.

Since the call-up-heavy April 7 RAW Breeze has tweeted that SmackDown may need some gorgeous. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him called up to the ol’ blue brand some time in the next few months. The Friday show can afford to be a little more experimental with the wrestlers used because it’s not as high a priority as RAW. In fact making a name for himself there would probably be ‘The Gorgeous One’s’ best route to Monday nights. Not that he appear on both, of course, but I think an unofficial exclusive period on SmackDown would help to phase his introduction and work out the kinks in his gimmick interacting with the rest of the roster.

Pretty much the same can be said for Mojo Rawley. Although I wish that wasn’t the case. I’ve not enjoyed the hyped shtick so far, and nothing about Rawley makes me think that’s going to change. But he’s popular within NXT and could easily be transferred to the main roster to work in a mid-card spot for a while.

Something he has over Tyler Breeze is that he’s pretty big. That means WWE are more inclined to push him, because of the age old belief that size matters in wrestling (and to an extent it does). A heel turn for a man his size would be beneficial because there are plenty of smaller men for him to knock around these days, although I don’t think that will come any time soon. It would have more impact after years of knowing of Rawley as one of the good guys.

Dapper gentleman.
Corey Graves is someone I think we should be expecting on the main roster within the next year. He has the look, verbal skills and wrestling ability to make it to the top of WWE. That he’s currently involved in a feud with Sami Zayn indicates that the decision makers at NXT value him as one of their top guys and see him as someone who can be relied on to deliver exhilarating matches and promos that draw people in. I think that’s an accurate assessment of Graves and see him as the one of the most likely guys in NXT to succeed, along with Neville and Zayn.

On the Divas side of things I think Sasha Banks is almost a dead cert to be the next woman promoted. She’s currently showing that she can play an obnoxious it girl bully and has previously done good things as a likeable babyface. She has range, and she’s talented between the ropes. A Divas division featuring her, AJ Lee, Emma and Paige could see the women’s hit heights it’s not reached since the days of Trish Stratus, Victoria, Mickie James and Lita.

Over in the doubles ranks Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady would be a good addition to the main roster. There’s a certain strange charisma to Enzo’s muttering promos, and he has the look and promo skills to take him far (plus those leopard print tights). ‘Big’ Cass has the height. Each covers the other’s weakness nicely, Cassady making up for Enzo’s unimposing size and Enzo keeping Cassady covered with his verbals.

They could work very nicely in the tag team division. WWE doesn’t really do big man-little man combos anymore, so there’s a niche available for them. They have proven that they can build a rapport with fans having started out as bad guys but being turned face because they were so entertaining. While that’s mainly down to Enzo and his “realest guys in the room” chat Cass has brought the audience on side too.

With Enzo’s leg currently broken it doesn’t look like the pair will move up anytime soon. My guess would be that they’ll win the NXT tag titles before heading up to the main roster. I like their characters (particularly Enzo’s) but they are not the kind of act WWE seem desperate to get to the main stage.

Finally, I don’t feel I can write something like this without mentioning The Ascension. Thanks to call-ups and injuries they’ve been NXT’s only regular tag team for quite a while now. They’ve spent their time squashing random NXT undercarders and specially hired jobbers (such as TNA’s Eddie Edwards and Davey Richards). They’ve developed into a unit that seems intended to invoke hardcase units of the past such as The Road Warriors and The Eliminators. They even use a version of the latter team’s Total Elimination finish.

The Ascension are, in my view, certainties to get a call-up. The prioritisation of the tag team division rises and falls on a month by month basis, but even at its low ebbs it’s doing better than it was five years ago. For it to continue to be something that WWE shows an occasional interest in it will need fresh units at some point. As the only prepped pairing in NXT The Ascension will be first in line when WWE wants a new duo.

If nothing else they at least look like a unit.
Helping Konor and Viktor’s (the letter K is a heel letter) chances is their shedding of the fantasy trappings a few months ago. I liked their Game of Thrones-inspired entrance and act but I can’t imagine many viewers would have agreed with me. Unless WWE were going to embrace the fantasy aspects fully (which was never going to happen even though fantasy’s been pretty big in the TV drama world in recent years) it was best to drop them and concentrate on recasting the pair as bruisers. They’re easier to slot into the grander scheme that way.

There are also some NXT debuts for us to look forward to. The high-flying masked Kalisto (formerly Samuray del Sol) and suit-clad, iPad wielding hacker Solomon Crowe (formerly Sami Callihan) both made their first appearances at NXT live events last year but have yet to make it to TV. With Rose and Dallas likely about to become less of a presence on the NXT show there are spots available for both men.

I’ll be interested to see who’s next to progress from NXT. The system is becoming one that can be relied on to create characters that will slot into WWE programming, so it could be almost anyone based there. And that’s one of the most satisfying things about these progressions: seeing the tweaks that are made to fit these characters into the bigger picture of WWE and watching the guys and girls succeed.

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