The WWE-ek: Who’s NXT?

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First and foremost, I’d like to wish a speedy recovery to our resident pro wrestling fanatic Michael Dworkis, the author of this column. Mike experienced some pretty crazy health issues recently and is taking time to recuperate. We wish him and his family the best and we hope to do our favorite former WWE employee justice. (Yes that’s Mike sitting right next to Randy Orton’s crotch).

I’ve given my opinion on the current state of the WWE multiple times and most recently in my recap of last week’s Monday Night RAW.

So instead I’d like to talk about what’s “NXT” for the WWE.

Har har, I know.

Having been following NXT for the past year I’ve noticed that the WWE has a slew of really talented performers in the “minor leagues.” However, we’ve seen a lot of talented younger wrestlers get unfairly eaten up and spit by the “E.” (I’m looking at you Shawn Spears, Colt Cabana, Trent Baretta, Ray Gordy and many, many more). So this will be an honest evaluation of the young talent (that I’ve seen) and if they can make it in the WWE.

Sami Zayn: This is the #1 guy in NXT. The former El Generico has already made his live debut for the WWE and to great reaction. It’s only a matter of time before he’s a main roster guy. As El Generico (for those unfamiliar) Zayn was “the generic luchador” complete with cape, mask and a lack of knowledge of the English language. In NXT the mask, cape and lack of English vocabulary has all disappeared. Zayn has already become the most over competitor with the NXT fans, he cuts a great promo, he has had tremendous matches with main roster talent (like Antonio Cesaro, Jack Swagger and Curt Hawkins) and he has proven that he can take the move set he made popular on the indie scene and make it work in the world of the WWE. Zayn is not your prototypical WWE Superstar — but look at the top two guys in the company, CM Punk and Daniel Bryan. They’re both undersized competitors with non-traditional moves…but people love them. Zayn, if used right, could be printing money for WWE.

Bo Dallas: The son of Mike Rotunda, the brother of Bray Wyatt, the nephew of Barry Windham and the grandson of Blackjack Mulligan. That’s one hell of a pedigree. Bo Dallas made his main roster debut at the Royal Rumble and competed on the following night’s RAW defeating Wade Barrett … then was never heard from again. And for good reason — he had no personality. Much like the early incarnation of John Cena, Bo Dallas was just a guy. He has a good look and he can work in the ring, but he had no personality. He was a goodie two-shoes, a completely vanilla nobody. So, the bookers of NXT took his nice guy persona and made him a heel. Now he’s the over-the-top, saccharine sweet “babyface” who calls all his fans “Bo-lievers.” Dallas actually plays the role to perfection and it could be a role that really could work for him in the future, although he needs a better finisher than the Iron Claw or the belly-to-belly suplex.

Adrian Neville: The Man Gravity Forgot. In theory, Adrian Neville should become a huge star. He has a thrilling, high-flying move set, he’s chiseled out of stone and the man can make you look like a million bucks. However, there’s nothing that separates him from Tyson Kidd, Justin Gabriel or Evan Bourne. His twisting Phoenix Splash is a huge highlight reel move, but again so is Gabriel’s 450 and Bourne’s Shooting Star. Neville reminds me of Chris Benoit but if Benoit wrestled like Rey Mysterio. Neville’s going to make it to the main roster because of his talent but I think will suffer from the cruiser weight curse and get lost in the shuffle rather quickly.

Corey Graves: The former Sterling James Keenan is a really strong worker — he’s got a unique look and a charismatic personality, but there’s one big thing holding him back. CM Punk. There’s not a hell of a lot separating the heavily tattooed, anti-establishment punk rock antihero from the Punker. Well, there is one thing separating them, Graves is nowhere near as good as Punk on the mic. I think if the WWE got creative they could figure out a spot for Graves, but they’ve really got to work hard to differentiate him from Punk.

Solomon Crowe: He hasn’t debuted on TV yet, but Solomon Crowe is awesome. How do I know? He wrestled on the indies as “The Callihan Death Machine” Sami Callihan. The dude, despite his small stature, was an absolute monster. He’s a death match wrestler who can grapple with a captivating personality and wrestling acumen to spare. Sounds like Jon Moxley, who we know as Dean Ambrose of The Shield (the two were actually in a stable called The American Death Machines). His size is really going to hinder him but this guy is special. It’s like if Taz and Bruiser Brody had a really pale love child. Crow has the talent to entertain, but he needs the right gimmick to even make it to the bigs.

Leo Kruger: Here’s an interesting guy. He’s a solid worker, his gimmick (a modern day big game hunter) is over with the NXT crowd…but where does he fit in WWE? He seems to have “lower mid card” or “every week on Main Event” written all over him. There’s nothing distinguishing him in terms of his move set now despite being over. He’s very generic in the ring. If he got called up to the WWE right now he’d been released shortly thereafter. I think some more seasoning both in the ring and on the mic could really help, but those improvements have to significant. Kruger could easily be the type of guy who gets released from NXT due to stagnancy or he’ll have a cup of coffee in the bigs.

CJ Parker: Parker recently re-debuted with a hippie gimmick complete with George Clinton-esque multi-colored dreads. Parker really embraces the character, channeling his inner Boogie Woogie Man, but I don’t think this is going to translate into anything serious in the WWE. He has comedy gimmick/stuck with Khali and Hornswoggle written all over him. His in-ring work also hasn’t impressed yet, despite the fact he’s super over with the NXT audience.

Conor O’Brian: Here’s an odd one. He’s gigantic, has a good physique (he probably could tighten up a bit) and has a great gimmick. As “The Ascension” complete with a dramatic, Dracula-esque ring robe, he’s the perfect demonic heel. He also can work. He’s got some innovative moves and he’s quick. The problem is…he doesn’t fit in the WWE with the gimmick. Remember Sean O’Hare and Kevin Thorn/Mordecai…exactly. It also should be noted this dude has been in the WWE development system forever. He was “Roughouse” O’Reilly for a longtime and even wrestled on ECW house shows (remember those?) then left for personal reasons for a few years then returned. He also appeared on NXT too. So, it makes you scratch your head why he hasn’t been called up.

Tyler Breeze: The former Mike Dalton (not to be confused with the Jersey Shore musician) has a really interesting gimmick — the pretty boy who doesn’t want anyone to hit him in the face. He’s a new age Rick Martel, except with a more cowardly chicken shit heel persona. I actually haven’t seen him do too much work yet, so it remains to be seen if he can back up the gimmick.

Aiden English: This is a tough one to call. Love the gimmick — he’s an entertainer. He comes to the ring singing original show tune-styled songs that talk about his opponent for the night. Sounds like a modern day version of The Genius, right? English also can work. He’s got a Rick Rude-style physique and wrestlers like a less rough Fit Finlay. He recently had a fantastic match with Rob Van Damm. The only problem is, what differentiates him from an “intellectual” heel like Damien Sandow?

Alexander Rusev: People have always wondered why Samoa Joe never has been signed by WWE. If you were to ask that question right now they would respond with two words — Alexander Rusev. This dude is a beast. He’s agile but as thick as a mack truck. He has a terrific minor league gimmick as a Salvatore Bellomo-esque wild man. I don’t think this’ll translate to the WWE however. A solid gimmick and he’ll be printing money. In fact, put him and Big E. Langston as a tag team and you’ve just found the power team you’ve been missing since the APA disbanded.

Charlotte Flair: Yes, this is Ric Flair’s daughter. Not a work at all. One look at her face and you’ll know she’s the “Nature Girl.” Charlotte is still green but I have to say she’s got all the tools to be the most successful Flair child in pro wrestling. Yes, David won some titles but he was one of the worst wrestlers of all-time and sadly we never got to see Reid reach his potential due to his passing. Charlotte is chiseled and statuesque and can move like a cat. She still needs season, but she is one of the most readymade in the divas division…which is something we can’t say about the majority on the current WWE roster.

Enzo Amore: I saw him briefly in a loss to Scott Dawson and Alexander Rusev (he teamed with Colin Cassidy) but I saw something special. The smaller and heavily tattooed wrestler has a the gift of gab. His gimmick, being a wise ass Jersey guido who calls guys “SAWFT” is great. However, I’ll need to see more of him in the ring before I can fully pass judgement. There could easily be a future for him as a manager, but will the WWE ever fully go back to using managers besides Zeb Colter and Paul Heyman?

Mojo Rawley: This guy, barring injury, is going to make the WWE roster. He’s a big, agile former football player with a big personality. Sadly, his problem is this — he’s so green. The dude should not even be on NXT television right now. But he has that look, the same one that got Chris Masters on TV…twice.

Kassius Oho: I don’t get this one. The former Chris Hero is a proven in-ring general and a proven master behind the mic yet he’s not used often on NXT TV and when he is he’s usually getting jobbed out. Ohno really could make a huge impact on the WWE. On the microphone he has the ability to be on the same level as CM Punk. When it comes to in-ring style, the dude can go. He can hang with any one from Daniel Bryan to John Cena to Santino and make a match fantastic. He’s a “CM Punk” guy and I hope his history with Punk can get him onto the main roster. I think if he did get on board and was given even the smallest chance he could do really well.

Paige: I think it’s a matter of when and not if she’ll be on the main roster. Paige is the CM Punk/Daniel Bryan of Divas — she can work, she’s got a unique non-traditional (pale and not enhanced in any way) look and she can connect with the audience. Yet despite her non-traditional look, she’s still extremely attractive hence she’s still marketable to the WWE. She’s definitely better than most of the main roster divas, outside of AJ Lee and Natalya, so I think she’ll do really well as this decade’s version of Lita.

Sylvester LaFort: This very oily French Canadian manager is getting quite the push as the manager of Rusev and Dawson, but I don’t see it. He looks like a Randy Savage stunt double and really adds nothing to the team of Rusev and Dawson. He’s mediocre on the mic and his look is actually a bit creepy. I’d rather have Armando Estrada back.

Xavier Woods: The WWE has never had a great track of making a former TNA star mean anything in WWE. Vance Archer (TNA’s Lance Hoyt), Braden Walker (TNA’s Chris Harris), Marcus Cor Von (TNA’s Monty Brown), etc. have not made it. However, Xavier Woods could be different. The WWE has taken their time with the former Consequences Creed and have redeveloped him into a unique “blerd” (black nerd) character. With his patented war cry of “It’s Morphin Time!” and his high-energy in-ring style have won over the NXT fan base. He also got a ton of on-air mentions this week on RAW with his Twitter petition to get Big Show rehired. This could lead to something special…or it could be forgotten in a week. Woods could make it in the WWE but he has the TNA AND Cruiserweight curse working against him.

All photos credit WWE

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites

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