Corey Graves is a weapon WWE should pull out of NXT soon, but a weapon the company will likely be unsure how to use.
Graves is a round peg and WWE offers a number of square holes. Trying to cram him in a role that doesn't fit him will have his career fizzle out, while finding a way to maximize his talents through a bit of creative thinking will lead to the birth of a star.
The Pittsburgh native is too small to be a traditional brawler and not athletic or speedy enough to be a traditional high-flyer.
The Savior of Misbehavior is a wrestler who is no prisoner of tradition. He's an undiscovered species, a fighter, a sadist and a dark charmer with a touch of psychopathy.
Armed with a Brian Pillman-like crazed energy and an intriguing in-ring repertoire, Graves is poised to complete the journey from independent mainstay to WWE Superstar.
How He Got Here
When Graves got to NXT, he already had a full decade of experience on the Independent circuit.
Whether it's been working for Ring of Honor, NWA East, the International Wrestling Cartel or One Pro Wrestling Zero, Graves (then known as Sterling James Keenan) has been putting on compelling performances. He's been the slick, but edgy villain who is too cool to truly hate.
His match history includes bouts against Claudio Castagnoli (Antonio Cesaro), AJ Styles, CM Punk and D-Lo Brown.
Indy fans in the Northeast U.S. as well as the U.K. were starting to take notice of him, and eventually and both WWE and TNA took an interest in him as well.
Even if he was just 6'0'' and even if he didn't fit snugly into a pre-existing category, Graves had enough "it factor" for him to continue to draw the major companies' curiosity.
Graves exudes confidence on the microphone and in the ring, possessing a convincing swagger. He's got a great, unique look and is plenty handsome to attract female fans.
His best traits are hard to define.
There are better athletes and better wrestlers in NXT right now, but few feel like more of a star. Something about him draws one in. His is a magnetism that is equal parts unsettling and difficult to resist.
As for his in-ring work, Graves is a great brawler.
He comes off as a rabid animal or a wild man in a bar looking to pick a fight. His forearms shots and clubbing clotheslines are among his best weapons.
Though he moves well in the ring, Graves is not as quick as most guys his size. His athleticism is solid, but not elite.
In this NXT tag team match, his opponent CJ Parker outruns and outjumps him, but Graves makes up for that with pure aggression.
While the standout nature of his look is one of his best traits, WWE may see his appearance as a negative as well. Graves is more wiry than many of his peers. Though he's just two inches shorter and about 15 pounds lighter than CM Punk, Graves looks much smaller than him because of how he's built.
Daniel Bryan has filled out much more since arriving to WWE, and Graves may be asked to do the same. As tough as Graves looks with tattoos on his neck and hands and as hostile as he is in the ring, WWE may not think he needs some added muscle, but it certainly wouldn't hurt.
Graves has a great persona and possesses elusive intangibles that will create a strong fanbase, but WWE may see his size as a concern. Smaller wrestlers have had huge success, but Graves isn't the all-world performer that Shawn Michaels was and Daniel Bryan is today.
He'll have to rely on his bad-boy aura, energy and brawling skills to succeed on the main roster.
Jim Ross compared him to Jeff Hardy, a Superstar who also broke the mold as well and didn't necessarily look like a wrestler.
If Graves can emulate Hardy's success, world titles and devoted fans are in his future. His skills suggest that he'll more likely be an upper midcarder. His ring work, though very good, may not be good enough to have him overtake the company's upper echelon.
Bet on a U.S. title reign, a feud with some top guys and a number of memorable Street Fights and Extreme Rules matches.
Graves can be a major contributor to WWE, but just how successful he is will depend on the direction WWE takes with him. The company has found a way in his anger issues and "Yes!" chants to maximize Bryan's abilities. Can WWE carve a similar path for Graves?
He is not a guy one can just plug in and have succeed. He's the guy the coach needs to draw up special plays for.
Given those plays, expect Graves to impress.