Titus O'Neil has to race to reach the crest of his ability before his body is unable to keep up.
O'Neil is improving in the ring and is nearing his potential, but at age 36, he doesn't have a ton of time to further his development. He joined the wrestling world late and his ability to counteract that disadvantage will determine how high he climbs.
He is one half of one of the most entertaining tag teams in WWE, a powerhouse with plenty of charm and a big man in a company where size seems to be a trait going the way of wrestling territories.
At 6'4'' and 270 pounds, O'Neil has the kind of physique wrestling scouts drool about. Should he maximize his physical gifts, WWE will have a top big man at their disposal.
Otherwise, the narrative of his career will be one of "what if?"
What if O'Neil had started his wrestling career earlier? What if he had traded some of those years playing in the Arena Football League for learning the mat game on the independent circuit?
Fighting alongside Darren Young as the Prime Time Players, O'Neil is getting more of an opportunity to showcase his abilities.
He and Young make a compelling pair in terms of their personalities and a complementary duo inside the ring. WWE was wise to make them babyfaces. It's a move that plays to their likability and gives them a shot at dethroning The Shield for the tag team championships.
It's been clear throughout that partnership that O'Neil has the better shot at singles career, though. He's bigger, smoother on the mic and has the more engaging presence.
Former WWE Superstars have taken notice and believe that he is capable of breaking out and thriving.
Big Things Ahead
Scott Hall tweeted about what some folks are expecting of O'Neil.
An athlete like O'Neil, a former football player with power to spare, can certainly accomplish big things. Does that mean winning the tag team championships, hovering around the main event scene or more?
X-Pac (Sean Waltman) believes that O'Neil can summit the WWE.
Jack hasn't gotten Titus in enough trouble for ppl to get with him in the heat. Titus looked great. @TitusONeilWWE is going to be a top guy— Sean Waltman (@TheRealXPac) August 27, 2013
In order to do that, he'll have to rely on his traits that Goldust applauded him for.
Nothing is guaranteed for "The Real Deal" going forward; he could just as easily stay right where he is, titleless and overshadowed or he could prove Hall and Waltman right.
O'Neil's ability to grow in the ring will determine which path he takes.
A Powerhouse with Promise
WWE has hidden O'Neil in shorter tag matches for the most part thus far. His teaming power and intensity are unquestionable, but he's not as smooth in the ring as you'd like to see.
Tag matches enable him to deliver action in short bursts, to overpower a foe and bark at the crowd afterward.
At the Night of Champions pre-show, O'Neil and Young charged into the ring last and had an exciting showing against The Real Americans.
O'Neil leaps over Jack Swagger in the corner and flings him backward here. Both moves are impressive and one can easily see why so many rave about his ability.
Can he maintain our interest for a longer singles bout?
There isn't a standout solo match on his resume yet. Against Sheamus in May, he showed that he has a ways to go before WWE would feel confident in putting him in higher-profile bouts.
O'Neil matches power with Sheamus here and sells well at certain points, but he lacks some of the nuances of the art.
He looks unnatural as he steps out of the corner seemingly waiting for Sheamus to hit him with a knee. He'd also be smart to study the greats in terms of drama as there are times when O'Neil could make the match more engaging by being more dramatic in his suffering.
These are the kinds of things that come with experience.
One has to wonder how much time he has to gain that experience, though. With NXT stacked with talent, WWE may push O'Neil out in favor of someone younger before he reaches his peak. His beaming personality will certainly buy him more time.
O'Neil is armed with energy, "it factor' and a powerful smile.
These will be his tickets to making a connection with fans. The more of his fun side that WWE shows, the more the audience will cling to him.
On a tour of his alma mater, O'Neil was funny, both an ambassador and entertainer.
The swagger O'Neil showed here is invaluable for a WWE Superstar. In a business overflowing with muscular athletes, it's this ability to be himself and to engage that will earn him multiple opportunities to succeed.
His ability to make us laugh has the opportunity to provide a path to the top much the way it did for Daniel Bryan during his run with Kane as Team Hell No. Should the fans take to him thanks to his antics, he'll ride that popularity to the apex of his upside.
O'Neil has the potential to take over Sheamus' spot as a top fan favorite who alternates kicking people in the mouth and joking around. "The Real Deal" will struggle to fulfill that potential, though.
Sheamus is a year younger than him, but has been wrestling for seven more years.
That edge in experience shows in how Sheamus carries himself in the ring and the quality of his matches. Given seven more years of experience, O'Neil is sure to be a better overall in-ring performer, but by then he'll be 43.
The list of men who have become top-level stars at that age is mighty short. Barring a Mark Henry-type run toward the end of his career, O'Neil fans will see him straddle the upper midcard and carry the United States Championship for several months.
Then again, O'Neil has the ability to rewrite our expectations.
He may hit his prime when many wrestlers are hanging up their boots, but he has a shot at being a high-level brawler with a passionate following. He just has to hurry; his developmental arc has to be speedier than most.