Conor O'Brian is a powerhouse with an intriguing, dark character who is on the cusp of being one of NXT's top prospects.
WWE's developmental system is so loaded with talent—from Kassius Ohno to Corey Graves, from Paige to Adrian Neville—that O'Brian has an unenviable challenge ahead of him in climbing up the rankings.
O'Brian made it all the way to the final four of NXT Redemption before being eliminated. Both members of The Prime Time Players, as well as Derrick Bateman, outlasted him. It's likely to be a similar situation for O’Brian when it comes time for WWE to choose who to pluck from NXT and place on the main roster.
He is a solid wrestler who is good at a number of things, but not fantastic at any of single one.
Luckily, his current gimmick helps him stand out. It will be the success of his supernatural, menacing persona that will determine the course of his career going forward.
From Dark Matches to Darkness
From 2005-2008, O'Brian seemed perpetually on the verge of making the big leagues.
He wrestled in several dark matches for WWE SmackDown and WWE Raw, but never got the call to jump to the main roster. WWE clearly saw something in the 6'4'', 265-pound performer, but not enough to fully commit to him.
He was eliminated in the seventh week of NXT's fourth season and later couldn't finish atop the rankings during NXT Redemption. There was always someone just beating him out. As he told the WWE fans during his elimination, he just wanted a chance to "play the game."
It has been the addition of a spooky gimmick that has earned him more attention.
As one half of the tag team The Ascension, O'Brian has morphed into a far more compelling figure. Chains hang on his oversized coat as he prowls toward the ring, awash in blue light. He evokes memories of The Brood and The Undertaker.
Though his partner Kenneth Cameron is clearly the better talker of the pair here, this NXT vignette forces folks to pay attention in a way O'Brian’s ring skills alone couldn't do.
The Ascension's momentum stalled when, as PWInsider.com reports, Cameron was "released from the company after being charged with battery of a law enforcement officer and disorderly intoxication." WWE has since paired O'Brian with Judas Delvin and carried on the Ascension name.
That's lucky for O'Brian because he stands out far more with the screaming, the brooding and the memorable entrance that come with the Ascension package. The shtick is sometimes over the top, but it allows O'Brian to thrive with just average mic skills.
It also masks his average ring work.
Good, Not Great
O'Brian is a solid athlete with big-time power, but none of his skills are elite.
In a match against Brad Maddox, he impressed with his intimidating aura and his ability to toss Maddox around with ease.
You can see that O'Brian is decently explosive and moves fairly well in the ring. The issue is that none of these skills wow a crowd. It's been mostly his gimmick that has done that for him.
His move set could use some expansion, as he relies on delivering the big boot too much. It is by far his best move and he does it extremely well. For him to be able to pull off longer matches in WWE, he's going to need more variety.
Even if someone like Ryback has a lot of similar moves, they are varied enough to keep the crowd interested.
WWE would likely prefer to see O'Brian's physique improve as well.
For someone whose gimmick is so centered around intimidation, it will help him to be more defined and physically impressive. A bulging body helped Ryback and Big E Langston work their way onto the main roster and it could do the same for O'Brian.
While he's not showing his full range of personality now that he's working this dark, beastly gimmick, O'Brian has solid charisma. The interview he did for his NXT profile shows off a somewhat magnetic personality.
However, this element of his repertoire like everything else is good, not great.
WWE Comparisons and Projection
Though their gimmicks are worlds apart, O'Brian is a lot like Vladimir Kozlov, who was his pro from NXT Redemption.
Both Kozlov and O’Brian are middle-of-the-pack powerhouses with enough athleticism to get by. If O'Brian wants to surpass Kozlov in terms of career achievements, he's going to have to ride his gimmick there.
Perhaps he develops as he gains experience, but the eye-catching ring attire and style of his Ascension person will be what affords him his initial opportunities. It will be what can push him past men like Richie Steamboat and Xavier Woods in the race to the main roster.
NXT roster is teeming with creepiness right now with Bray Wyatt and his Wyatt family, Corey Graves and Leo Kruger providing all the chills and goose bumps that WWE needs. That could be a factor in when The Ascension gets called up, as WWE is not going to want creepiness overkill.
When the company does decide it needs more of the macabre, O'Brian will most likely be brought up as a tag team package. He's far more valuable as part of Ascension as opposed to by himself.
It's a team that could make some noise in WWE much like The Brood did years ago. Don't expect him to branch off and do what Edge and Christian did on their own.
O'Brian is far more likely to match Gangrel's career output, to be a memorable character and solid worker, but not somebody who can sustain a decade-long career.