Putting Rhyno in NXT has been a good move. It makes NXT seem important and legitimises it's claim at being a hot brand by having a guy who's been around for so long wanting to wrestle and be champion there. It gives the younger guys someone experienced to work with and learn from. And it's provided Steve Corino's former 'Rookie Monster' with a deserved career renaissance.
|"Bring me Cyrus to do my talking!"|
The first two are things I've covered before and are, in truth, the most important things about Rhyno's work in NXT. He's essentially an extra trainer who actually gets into the ring and has televised matches with guys, as opposed to helping them lay things out behind the scenes. It's useful and necessary work. But it's Rhyno getting a fair shake that interests me more because throughout his career 'The Man Beast' has come close to getting the top line treatment several times, always just missing out in favour of other guys who better fit the mould of what wrestling companies look for in their main eventers.
Look back at his first big push. Paul Heyman introduced Rhyno to ECW and built him up as a near unstoppable juggernaut. He steamrolled top star Rob Van Dam and was credited with causing the broken leg that put him out of action. He powered through Yoshihiro Tajiri to win the television champion, was positioned as the company's lead heel, and won the world title at final pay-per-view Guilty as Charged 2001. ECW went out of business just as Rhyno was about to become the focal point of the company, including a presumably lengthy reign as the world champ.
The theme continued in WWE. Within his first month he had one of the most enjoyable hardcore title matches ever with Raven (Backlash 2001) and had great singles matches against The Rock and Kurt Angle during the Invasion storyline. This in addition to being one of the names chosen to represent the ill-fated alliance of WCW and ECW in the main event of the monstrously popular InVasion pay-per-view. His good fortune came crashing to a halt after he suffered a neck injury in October and was written off TV for surgery.
When he returned in February 2003, over a year later, he was not afforded the same opportunities as he had been before (after a promising rumour that he'd be brought back as the bodyguard of Matt Hardy came to nothing). He was shunted from a team with Chris Benoit to a feud with Chris Benoit and then into another team, this one with Tajiri. By the time te incident at 'Mania 21 rolled around Rhyno was just another face in the crowd, although it's worth noting he still routinely got better than average responses.
Rhyno's non-WWE career was characterised by a typically lacklustre stint in TNA and an underwhelming stint in Ring of Honor. There are only two things about his time there that stand out in my mind. One is him winning the NWA world championship (TNA's top prize at the time) from Jeff Jarrett only to lose it back to him two days later. He was popular at the time so this was a particularly dumb move: instead of capitalising on someone's connection with the audience and trying to make a new star TNA chose to troll people instead1. The other was his worked shoot outrage at WWE resurrecting ECW as a third brand in 2006, which culminated in a hilarious skit in which Rhyno burned the "original" ECW world title belt, safely wrapped up so we couldn't see that it was, at best, a replica. Natch. He did little in ROH besides act as an enforcer for heel stables, although he did get to wrestle a rough 'n' tough match with world champion Kevin Steen.
The routinely strong booking of NXT should ensure another setback doesn't befall Rhyno, allowing him to have the strong run he's deserved to have for years. He's already had the chance to show off his better-than-I-remembered promo skills and work opposite top lads Finn Bálor and Sami Zayn. He's had impressive matches with Kalisto and Bull Dempsey, and he has of course given Baron 'Barry' Corbin the longest, most enjoyable match of his (admittedly short) career so far at Takeover: Unstoppable. And it's being made very clear Rhyno is a candidate for a world title shot. Long may this continue.
1 This inability to gauge what their audience wants is why TNA is going down the tubes so spectacularly now.