WWE Prized Rookie Roundup Part 2: A Look Back at NXT Season 2
Back in the summer of 2010 when NXT Season Two was on, I wrote a few articles analyzing the show and the characters presented. I thought Season Two's rookie crop was incredibly strong and included a number of future superstars.
In today’s edition of the Prized Rookie Round-Up, I’ll take a look back at the performances from that season and see how things have progressed since that time.
If I’m going to talk about NXT Season Two, I have to start with my main man A-Ry.
Two years ago when he was on NXT, I wrote at length when he all but took the competition by the throat, dragged it out back to Jim Ross’s proverbial woodshed, and beat it senseless.
Among other things, I wrote that, “if it were purely up to the Pros and WWE management this time around, Riley would win this thing by a country mile” (something Riley himself said almost verbatim on the next episode of NXT…hmmm).
On a show that featured the son of one of WWE’s all-time greats and a guy who was a legend on the independent circuit, Riley was far and away the star of the show.
He cut outstanding promos; his character had enough blend of gimmick (“The Varsity Villain”) and just plain awesome; he had both size and in-ring skill; he had connections to one of the rising stars in WWE in The Miz, who served as his mentor for the season.
For all intents and purposes, Riley was and still is (in my opinion) the best rookie to come through NXT other than Wade Barrett—and even that could be hotly debated.
At the time, I also wrote that Riley “is the next breakout star whether he wins the competition or not.” Riley did not win NXT Season Two – he came in third to babyfaces Michael McGillicutty and eventual winner Kaval – but as I predicted he did indeed make the most short-term impact of anyone from the show.
Riley stayed partnered with The Miz, as Miz rose to the top and won the WWE championship from Randy Orton, and stayed in his corner as Miz competed in the main event of Wrestlemania XXVII. True, most of Riley’s TV time came in the form of taking the fall/getting beat up for The Miz, but being partnered with the company’s rising heel performer isn’t a bad gig.
Then, shortly after Wrestlemania XXVII, Alex Riley—with very little backstory—turned face on The Miz, got a big reaction from the crowds and got a few clean wins over the former champion.
It looked like Riley’s star would keep going up and up. Except, as we know, it didn’t.
For whatever reason—I’ve yet to find any definitive answers—Riley has been buried deep, surfacing only to job here and there. I remember hearing something about his burial, starting with him botching the sell for Jack Swagger’s gutwrench powerbomb. The last time I checked, though, Swagger doesn’t have the backstage pull to bury someone for messing up (paging Randy Orton…) so I feel like it’s something more than that.
Riley, as I noted before, is a great hand in the ring and on the mic, and he got over as a babyface hero when fighting The Miz. So why has he dropped off the face of the earth? And as a follow-up, what can we expect if/when he rebounds?
It’s not like people don’t come back from burials. HHH most famously became a jobber to the stars after the MSG Incident. Swagger came back from jobbing to Santino Marella to win the World Title. MVP suffered a lengthy losing streak before rebounding and turning into a popular babyface.
Riley, I think, has the ability to stick around. But only time will tell.
Perhaps there was something in the water during NXT Season Two. Despite this crop of rookies being rather talented, no one’s career has really taken off the way we might have expected. Case in point #2: Kaval.
When we found out that NXT Season Two would be driven by fan voting, it became fairly obvious that Kaval (formerly known as Low Ki and Senshi) would almost definitely win the competition, barring a late surge from Michael McGillicutty. He was, like Daniel Bryan in Season One, an internet and indie sensation. He was a high-flying, technically sound babyface with solid pros in LayCool.
It seemed destined that he would win. And he did. And after that, nothing happened.
What went wrong here? For one thing, Kaval – as with Daniel Bryan – was forced to job week in and week out (his final record was 3-6) seemingly as a way to test his loyalty. Then, after the inevitable happened and Kaval was named the winner, everyone on the show came back and beat him down.
Like Bryan, Kaval was an indie guy who was forced to “pay his dues” on his way in; unlike Bryan, Kaval took his ball and went home. Kaval was unhappy being labeled with the dreaded “Creative has nothing for you” tag, despite the fact that people have overcome having no feuds or direction and made it out OK (CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, etc.).
Kaval could have done alright had he stuck with it, I think, since he was outstanding in the ring and could cut decent promos. With enough time to show what he could do, there’s a chance he could’ve wound up with Bryan’s push. Then again, there’s a chance he could’ve been buried like Alex Riley or the next performer I’m going to discuss.
Regardless, Kaval is back on the indie circuit, arguably the biggest bust in NXT history. Some of it wasn’t his fault, being small and not a WWE guy, but time has shown that WWE will show some flexibility to those performers who deserve and it and want it enough.
Was the impetus for this change in philosophy because of the Kaval situation? Perhaps. Very few indie-based, smaller superstars made it huge before Kaval walked out. Then again, perhaps that’s being a bit too generous on my part, to think that Creative would see what happened to Kaval and say, “oops…we messed that one up.” Then again, you never know.
Now we come to the third of the three finalists for NXT Season Two. And the third guy who fell off the map.
When Joe Hennig was brought up from developmental to be one of the stars of NXT Season Two, people were mainly excited for the fact that he was the son of one of the all-time greatest performers (Curt “Mr. Perfect” Hennig).
For whatever reason, the bookers decided to rename him Michael McGillicutty (supposedly in honor of his mother, whose maiden name was McGillicutty) despite the fact that they constantly mentioned him being Curt Hennig’s son. This led to one of the strangest attempts at a catch phrase by his pro, Kofi Kingston: calling McGillicutty’s fans “The McGillibuddies” (and we wonder why Kofi has never gotten a serious push).
Despite all the hype, the long winning streak to begin the season (six straight victories) and the general hoopla surrounding McGillicutty as a possible winner, it became obvious that this guy wasn’t exactly what WWE was expecting him to be.
At one point during the season, The Miz very accurately summed up the aforementioned feelings about McGillicutty: “Your dad was great. You’re mediocre.” Some might disagree, but the fact is that McGillicutty is just not anywhere as good as his dad.
And therein lies the problem.
It was, perhaps, unfair to compare the two of them since they are two very different people, and no one is great right away. Both are good in the ring, but Curt Hennig had a swagger and a cocky flair that allowed him to be both vilified and beloved due to his ability to bring a promo to life like nobody’s business. His son, on the other hand, cut one of the all-time most awkward heel promos after coming in second to Kaval and has never really developed solid promo skills.
Despite a push as a part of the New Nexus and a tag title run, he now languishes down on NXT Redemption.
Of course it’s not too late for McGillicutty to turn it around, but the fact remains that he was held to too high a standard coming up. It’s unfair to judge a rookie by his famous father, at least right away, and it might be best to distance himself from the association and get over on his own. Ted DiBiase Jr.’s career never really went anywhere until he said “screw it” and stopped trying to be The Million Dollar Man #2. Dwayne Johnson stalled out majorly when he was trying to be “the young and hungry third generation superstar,” and it took the creation of his own entirely unique persona to become the megastar that is The Rock.
McGillicutty still has the potential to do something good with his career, but needs to learn to cut solid promos and try to be something other than his father. If not, he may not see the end of Spring Cleaning.
Another son of a famous wrestler (this time Mike “IRS” Rotunda) Husky Harris was at first one of the most perplexing additions to the NXT Season Two roster.
When I started watching him, I had no clue why he was there. As I wrote at the time: “So…he’s fat. And he smirks a lot. And he’s really awkward and doesn’t care about other people. I went to high school with pretty much this exact guy. Nothing good can come of it. Apparently, though, the powers that be are high on him so we may see him around more often.”
Then, as the weeks went on, Harris started figuring it out. His promos went from “weirdo who occasionally slips into Will Ferrell doing Harry Caray” to a strong mix of arrogant and anti-social. His smirking starting being less “generic a-hole heel” and became more legitimately off-putting and intimidating. He developed a solid persona and began getting over as a heel, eventually put into New Nexus with McGillicutty before getting written off TV following a Randy Orton punt.
I’ve followed him somewhat since then and I love what I’m seeing. When he was on Season Two, I wrote that “if he improves in the ring and adds a little more creepiness (think ‘Randy Orton Viper creepy’ and not ‘You’re a pretty girl and I want to smell your hair’ creepy) then he might make some noise.”
After watching some of the recent promos he’s cut and the matches he’s done as the Cape Fear/Waylon Mercy redux Bray Wyatt, I think it’s safe to say he’s more than found that creepiness he needs. His promos are borderline frightening (in a good way) and his ring work has improved to the point that his character is believable.
If he keeps up the momentum he’s building as Wyatt, I could see him becoming a serious force on the main roster. I’m intrigued with the potential here.
Back when he was on NXT Season Two, Lucky Cannon proved himself to be so boring that I took to calling him “Vanilla Cannon.”
He cut generically plucky underdog babyface promos (which were booed roundly), and while his in-ring skills were actually really good there was nothing particularly interesting about him. Shortly before his elimination, I wrote that “nobody wants a plucky, underdog babyface with no charisma. Now, the last time the fans turned on a guy like that he went on to become The Rock. I don’t know if I see that from Mr. Cannon.”
So what did he do? He turned heel at the end of the show and resurfaced on NXT Redemption as a legitimately entertaining and smug antagonist, showing that he could cut entertaining promos and be a compelling character. Coupled with his already solid in-ring abilities, I had high hopes for the new version of Lucky Cannon. I’m not saying he was going to become the next iteration of The Rock or CM Punk, but the potential to make some real noise was there.
So what happened to him? They saddled him with the ridiculous Maryse romance angle and then released him. If this were to have happened during his first appearance on Season Two, I would have shrugged and accepted it. But after he showed some real potential as a heel?
I was disappointed. There was legitimate money to be made with this guy, and they blew it. I never heard any reasons for him being released due to attitude issues or anything else, so I can’t say for sure what made them decide to give up on him so soon after he figured it out.
For whatever reason, WWE was hell-bent on pushing O’Neil early on despite his absolute lack of talent. He was a generic big man in the ring (and not even a good one at that) who could not cut a promo to save his life. Naturally, he got jobbed out of the competition first and that was that.
A year later, O’Neil returned to NXT Redemption as a babyface with Hornswoggle as his pro. That combination seemed like it would be the first to go once again, a mix of one tired and cheesy gimmick with an untalented hoss alongside him.
But somehow, two pieces of crap were thrown together and—by power of sheer wrestling alchemy—became something good.
This wasn’t the first time we’d seen this in WWE: once upon a time, “The Real Double J” Jesse James and “Rockabilly” Billy Gunn combined their crappy gimmicks and became The New Age Outlaws.
Now, I’m not in any way saying that Hornswoggle and Titus were in the same league as the Outlaws, but the fact remains that the fans took to Titus this time around and he got the big push WWE obviously wanted to give him. Then, Titus found himself in a best of infinity series with Darren Young before turning heel and teaming with him. The two are now competing as a cheap Cryme Tyme ripoff on Smackdown (“millions of dollars!”).
Before I go any further, I must note that Titus O’Neil has some work to do before he becomes a true star. However, he is a prime example of a guy who worked hard to improve himself and is seeing the results. Early on I thought he had no chance; now, he might be a tag team champion before we know it.
Just come up with a better gimmick. Please.
He was a cheap Eddie Murphy rip-off during NXT Season Two and, despite starting off ranking #2 in the competition, was eliminated fourth. He was energetic but sloppy in the ring and his promos were a bit too over-the-top to be taken seriously (not to mention those hilarious glasses).
Needless to say, Percy Watson did not last long.
He has since returned to NXT and has toned down his character somewhat. I still don’t think he’s going to stick around that long, because from what I’m seeing the commentators focus more on his “athleticism” than anything else. It’s always seemed to be that when the commentators talk about your “athleticism” it’s code for “there is nothing else we can say about him other than the fact that he can jump high.”
And so goes Percy Watson. Next.
(....yeah, that's about all I got.)
Conclusion and Thoughts
Time has not proven kind to the awesome rookies of NXT Season Two.
Of course, it's not too late for some of them, but I'd have to say that WWE has dropped the ball somewhat on these guys despite all the potential shown by the competitors.
Next time I'll cover Season 3 & 4 of NXT.