WWE: The Top Five Next Big Things from FCW
The last decade has been one of dominance for WWE.
The downside to this, for the wrestlers, has been a lack of alternative employment and bargaining power, without a WCW to provide a ship to jump to or from.
But what's also been detrimental for WWE (as even Vince McMahon or Triple H will no doubt confess) has been a lack of legitimate competition to keep WWE on their game, no pun intended.
With no rival company on their level, WWE have found themselves unable to buy ready-made talent. The independent circuit isn't what it used to be, and they let go of breeding grounds such as Memphis Championship Wrestling, the Heartland Wrestling Association and, of course, Ohio Valley Wrestling.
MCW is defunct, HWA maintain a working relationship with WWE but are not an official developmental territory, and OVW now serves TNA.
This leaves Florida Championship Wrestling as the only official farm league for WWE.
From the current roster, here are the top five standouts you can expect to be on your WWE television screens in the near future.
And the current FCW Heavyweight Champion (Mike Dalton) isn't one of them.
5: Xavier Woods
You may remember Austin Watson as Consequences Creed in TNA, where he sported a gimmick based on the character of Apollo Creed from the Rocky movies (thank goodness he never met his "Ivan Drago").
A minor coup for WWE after his run in TNA, he's been repackaged as the rather bland Xavier Woods and hasn't really done much in FCW since arriving there in the summer of 2010. That's why he's in the No. 5 spot.
However, Woods has the ability to really be something, but do WWE have the will? In an era of cookie-cutter wrestlers, Xavier needs a jump-start to fulfill his potential.
If that happens, there's no reason he can't soon be tearing it up with the likes of R-Truth, Zack Ryder or Dolph Ziggler.
4: Seth Rollins
Former Ring of Honor World Champion Tyler Black (real name Colby Lopez) fully embraced the fall-out from his decision to sign with WWE while completing his ROH run, turning it into a heel angle that gained him red-hot heat in his final matches there as fans chanted "you sold out!"
Then, he was given the inferior name of Seth Rollins upon his arrival in FCW in the summer of 2010, and has been there since.
It may surprise some to see Seth listed fourth on this list, but the truth is, with the seemingly never-ending current season of NXT and no other options, WWE have approached him in a way similar to how they handled Daniel Bryan at first: by humbling him and his independent scene fans through their corporate creative carte blanche, and that hasn't boded well.
Of course, Rollins knows how to wrestle, and wrestle well. As evidenced by the instant debut of new signing Sin Cara as Triple H's pet project, WWE don't adhere to their ethos of wrestlers working a "WWE style" when it suits them.
WWE just can't stand the concept of debuting someone from TNA or ROH right away, for fear of vindicating a competitor's product. Even the name-changes aren't just about copyrights, since they could christen wrestlers differently upon arrival to the main roster. No, it's about making a petty point.
The former Tyler Black is being made into another example, as counter-productive as it may be for WWE and, given the series of matches he could have been performing the last year with Daniel Bryan, CM Punk, and others, it truly is detrimental to the product.
Not every talented performer can receive a push on television, but they can certainly be made a priority. Seth Rollins, spectacular as he often is, currently fails to be a priority for WWE.
3: Damien Sandow
Not to be confused with Damien Demento, Damien Sandow is headed for the big time.
Demento, of course, was the former Mondo Kleen who the then-WWF presented as a paranoid schizophrenic and didn't last long before being released and not heard from again until he started posting a series of ridiculous YouTube videos, presumably to try to reignite his career.
Sandow, on the other hand, used to be one of Michelle McCool's "Teacher's Pets" as Idol Stevens in WWE before going back to developmental and then himself being released from his contract in a decision that surprised many.
Fortunately, he was brought back into FCW in (you guessed it) the summer of 2010, when WWE realized they needed to start developing talent, and start doing so in a hurry.
The Damien Sandow persona today is arguably inspired by the social unrest in the United States and borrows more than a little from the "Tea Party" movement in berating fans for lack of individual responsibility while calling for a revolution.
Love him or loathe him, this Damien is on interesting territory, and the fact WWE have instructed those in FCW to invest time and thought into his character signals bright things ahead for the 6'4", 250-pounder.
2: Antonio Cesaro
A very European uppercut!
Switzerland-born Claudio Castagnoli enjoyed much success under his real name on the independent scene, particularly in ROH as one half of "The Kings of Wrestling" tag team with Chris Hero who, unlike his partner, did not get picked up by WWE.
Still emphasizing his outlook on life as "very European" but now known as Antonio Cesaro, this man has the build and ability to go far in WWE.
Even William Regal on FCW commentary stated that his European uppercut move was, in fact, better than his own (it has to be seen to be believed). There is a credibility and believability to his work-rate that is just excellent.
Unfortunately, Cesaro's been given Dean Malenko's old James Bond-like theme music, and does admittedly still have to improve on the microphone.
But he has a look, an in-ring style, and a background that is completely unique and that can take him very far in WWE...providing, of course, WWE chiefs perceive these qualities as beneficial rather than detrimental, erratic as their views are.
1: Dean Ambrose
The man known previously as Jon Moxley has had greatness written all over him from day one.
He can grapple, he can brawl, he can fly. And he can talk.
Boy, can he ever talk.
Imagine a wrestler combining personality elements from Rowdy Roddy Piper, Raven, fellow Cincinnati native Brian Pillman, and Heath Ledger's take on the Joker in The Dark Knight, and you come close to having an idea of this man's projected persona.
But don't ever try and figure him out. He's no stereotype.
He's been called a street urchin and a homeless man, a drug dealer and a crook, a loner and a cult leader, with a promiscuous mother and a product of dire poverty. He may emerge to be some or none of these things at all. He's just different, one-of-a-kind, and has "it."
They may have lumbered him with the less edgy moniker of "Dean Ambrose," but it doesn't matter. He can't be held back. He's bursting with personality.
With intricate mannerisms and facial expressions, psychotic ticks and twitches, agitated breaths, and an aura of uneasiness, Ambrose still retains an articulation and intelligence to his promos that render him utterly riveting to watch.
That's not to say Dean can't back it up in the ring. If you've seen his "impromptu" match with CM Punk during the latter's visit to FCW, or Daniel Bryan's house show bout with him, you'll know it to be true.
This man had to be in the No. 1 slot. He's the only one worth betting your money on; he's going to be a major superstar.