Friday 2 January 2015

Predictions for NXT in 2015

Years ago one of WWE’s strengths was maintaining a fresh roster. New stars were introduced every few months and older ones were repackaged or quietly phased out. It allowed the product to remain fresh and interesting, helping WWE to flourish.

Over the last few years that’s stopped being the case. It’s a rarity for new wrestlers to join the main roster. The developmental system has been refined from a series of intimate tryout camps into a full scale operation that could probably exist as something separate from WWE. This means that men and women signed to developmental contracts spend longer “learning” their craft because the process of creating a WWE Superstar has to be justified within the company.

This could sound negative but I don’t intend it to be. On the whole I think the developmental system WWE has works very well. It’s there primarily to benefit those people signed by WWE who have no professional wrestling experience. Years ago that would have almost exclusively meant sports models. But there are a range of former American football players, rest of the world football players, amateur wrestlers and other athletes stationed at the Performance Center who have no pro wrestling experience but want to be a part of the company’s future.

It’s a high profile minority who we perceive as being short changed by the sprawling teaching system. Those who have given up main event gigs on the independent scene or spots in New Japan or Ring of Honor, who are on NXT every week being more entertaining than the majority of the overly familiar wrestlers on RAW, are the ones we think of as being treated unfairly. We see them putting on a great weekly show and get impatient for their promotion. This is the downside of NXT.

In 2014 only five wrestlers were moved from NXT to the main roster: Rusev, Adam Rose, Bo Dallas, Emma and Paige. Two of those names, Paige and Rusev, are now established as legitimate stars within the company. Dallas, Emma and Rose are essentially glorified jobbers. There’s nothing wrong with being a name jobber in WWE but it’s not what’s needed right now. If only five names a year are going to be introduced then they all need to succeed. Two new marketable stars a year is not enough.

Overlook the weird makeup and it was a strong start for The Ascension on RAW.
I’m expecting 2015 to have a greater success rate. A proper debut (following a one off appearance on a 2014 edition of Main Event to promote an NXT special) for The Ascension, the premier team of the developmental system over the last two years, came on the final RAW of 2014. They have a polished act with a particularly believable finisher. Should WWE want to have another stab at making tag wrestling an entertaining feature of their TV shows Konnor and Viktor could certainly help.

Beyond that nothing is confirmed but there are a number of stars ready to progress to the main roster. Top of the list is Adrian Neville. He dropped the NXT championship last month. The tradition of the last three years is that when someone loses that title they get called up very soon afterwards. The Royal Rumble would be a good time to debut a guy like Neville. A couple of spots could be designed to let him impress and he could eliminate some main roster cannon fodder to add further impact. It would be a safe environment to debut him in: major enough to make a splash but crowded enough to offer him support.

As the man who defeated Neville for the NXT championship Sami Zayn stands a good chance of leaving the developmental system behind this year. He’s a naturally likeable man, has a string of good matches to his name, and has apparently impressed the right people. Now that his journey to the title is over I’d expect him to have a fairly substantial reign but I can’t see it lasting much beyond the summer. Whenever he drops it he’ll be a logical call-up. I suspect he’ll do better than Nev in the long run because he’s stronger on promos and is more charismatic.

Depending on how much we want to invest in the “drop the title, get promoted” precedent that’s been set there’s a chance we could see Kevin Owens reach Monday nights before the end of the year too. He has to be the current favourite to dethrone Zayn. If he goes on to have a shorter reign than most he could lose the championship himself before the end of the year and be in line for a promotion. Or he could simply not win it and have a short stay in developmental. However you look at it Owens has been immediately presented as a big deal in NXT, which means he’s likelier than most to move on.

Guest stars spot on Main Event. Give it a while and they'll be RAW regulars.
It’s not just the lads that are getting called up. Both Charlotte and Sasha Banks could be added to the Divas division within the next few months. With AJ Lee unlikely to sign on for another stint in WWE when her contract expires and only Paige and Natalya being knowledgeable and over enough to make a match with a less experienced opponent work the main roster is going to need some capable female wrestlers around soon. Banks started her career in 2010 and has developed one of the best characters in NXT over the last year. She has put together a number of great matches in NXT. She’d be an ideal replacement for Mrs CM Punk.

‘The Nature Girl’ started training for a wrestling career considerably later and has benefited very much from being her father’s daughter. But she’s also improved very quickly, to the point where she’s one of WWE’s most reliable wrestlers or either gender. Her character work is nowhere near Banks’s, or several other performers, but the fact that she’s basically doing Ric Flair’s old shtick means it doesn’t matter. She has a set of taunts and mannerisms that people will be familiar with that can help her get over, as well as a logical reason for using them.

A distant third to leave the women’s division is Bayley. Like Zayn she’s naturally likeable. Unlike Zayn she doesn’t have years of goodwill built up to help her blaze a path to the main roster. That’s probably for the best. The way Emma was destroyed last year (paired with Santino, jobbed out, then dropped) should serve as a cautionary tale for anyone arguing in favour of Bayley being called up immediately. But after Charlotte and Sasha Banks have moved one I think she’ll be the next woman to move on.

Back with the guys Tyler Breeze doesn’t seem likely to leave NXT this year but I could see him becoming one of the top two or three names on the roster if Zayn and Neville move on. An NXT title win isn’t out of the question for him. Nor is a face turn. He already gets cheered at every taping and handles it pretty well for such an obviously heel character. It would be interesting to see him switched to the protagonist role for matches with a guy like Kevin Owens or Tyson Kidd.

Finally there are Finn Bálor and Hideo Itami. Their current work as a tag team has been pretty enjoyable. I’d like to see them face off against The Vaudevillains and The Lucha Dragons but I can’t see them staying together long enough. The tag team thing was just a way to introduce them to the roster and give them an introductory feud. As the plan will be to use both as singles guys on the main roster it’s to be expected that they’ll be split and work as singles guys in NXT.

Bálor versus CJ Parker? I'd mark.
Not that that’s a bad thing. Either of them against practically anyone on the NXT roster would be great, although I doubt they’ll be around long enough to run through all the possible matches. Both men would have turned down large sums of money from New Japan, which means WWE will be paying them far more than the average developmental worker. With that being the case neither guy is going to stay in NXT for long. WWE will want them on the main roster paying for their keep. Along with Neville and Zayn they strike me as the most likely names to receive a call-up, and they’ll probably do it without ever winning NXT gold.

The final thing I’ll mention here is that WWE needs to plan things better when introducing these new names. Over the last few years they’ve done well with The Shield and Bray Wyatt but they’ve failed with Big E, Bo Dallas and Emma, amongst others. While the latter three were not going to become immediate huge successes they should have become bigger than they are by now. Nobody seems to get a storyline until they’ve slogged through a year or two of meaningless filler and that hurts the credibility of the performers and discourages people from taking an interest in them. I’d like to think things are going to be different for the current crop of NXT names but, sadly, there are no guarantees.

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