On December 31, 2012, Wade Barrett defeated Kofi Kingston to win the Intercontinental Championship on the New Year's Eve edition of Raw. The win was the culmination of months of hard work following a dislocated elbow that caused him to miss Wrestlemania 28 and what, according to a report from PWInsider.com, was a scheduled Money in the Bank Ladder Match win.
The emotion expressed by Barrett as he held the Intercontinental Championship in his hands was a rarity for WWE's villains but a major step in the evolution of a performer who was finally reaching the potential so many believed he was capable of.
Prior to his February 20, 2012 injury, Barrett had been a young, up-and-coming Superstar with high expectations. The winner of NXT Season 1, he was immediately thrust into the spotlight as the leader of Nexus, a group of developmental talents looking to make a major impact on World Wrestling Entertainment television.
Barrett would lead the group into battle with the top stars in the industry, including John Cena and Randy Orton. Wade would compete in a number of main event matches against Cena and Orton and appeared poised to be the company's first true breakout star in years.
He was a talented talker, had the looks of a top star and could handle himself between the ropes. But he was still very raw and it was noticeable in those main event matches in which he competed.
Soon, Barrett began falling down the card.
He split from the group and formed "The Corre," a collection of the four most important members of Nexus. It failed to catch fire the way the original faction did and, as a result, it died a very quick death on the Friday Night Smackdown brand.
From there Barrett floundered on the show, floating from match to match with no real direction.
As 2011 came to a close, he had finally gained a bit of momentum in the form of a rivalry with Randy Orton. As Wrestlemania season approached, however, tragedy struck and a mistimed spot involving The Big Show tossing Dolph Ziggler onto Barrett led to six months of agonizing rehab and professional disappointment.
Barrett would tell WWE Magazine in an interview published in its January 2013 issue:
The worst thing was being around wrestling. Such as, I had to go to Wrestlemania this year and do a lot of signings and Axxess, and I hated every minute of it simply because I don't want to be at Wrestlemania unless I'm there to compete.
When the former bare-knuckle fighter from Preston, England returned, it was clear that he had used the anger and frustration he experienced during his time away from the squared circle to fuel his performances between the ropes. He was faster, stronger and showed more intensity and emotion than he ever had before. Somewhere along the way, he became a complete performer.
With convincing victories over Yoshi Tatsu, Tyson Kidd and Justin Gabriel, it became clear that Barrett was better than ever. In a series of matches with then-World Heavyweight Champion Sheamus, he proved that, unlike in the past, he can work seamlessly with the company's top talents. And throughout his rivalry with Kofi Kingston, which produced a number of high-quality bouts, he proved that he had evolved as a performer.
There are very few performers who come into a company as large as World Wrestling Entertainment with such pressure on them to deliver. From day one, it was apparent that the company had very high expectations of Barrett. By 2011, it appeared as though those expectations may have been too lofty.
But an ill-timed injury may have been a blessing in disguise.
It allowed Barrett to re-evaluate himself, to improve himself as a performer, and to return better than he had ever been prior. Now, with the Intercontinental Championship around his waist and a future as bright as he wants it to be, Barrett appears to be back on course.
For World Wrestling Entertainment as a company, and its millions of fans around the globe, the growth of Wade Barrett as an in-ring competitor and his evolution as an entertainer can only be a good thing.
A very good thing.