I'm officially declaring the Curtis Axel experiment a failure.
I was hoping this would be avoided. I tried to ignore past precedent. I tried to mentally trick myself into thinking it would work, all in the name of nostalgia.
Sadly, the fact still remains: Anyone who is second- or third-generation can't be modeled around a gimmick of their relatives.
Randy Orton wasn't Cowboy Randy. The Rock wasn't being Rocky Johnson. Bray Wyatt isn't the Tax Man. Goldust was as far from his father Dusty as possible.
It pains me to say this. I was as anxious as anyone for Joe Hennig to be repackaged and get television time. I was as excited as anyone when he was revealed as Curtis Axel and managed by Paul Heyman.
Axel lacks charisma. He lacked it as Joe Hennig. He lacked it as Michael McGillicutty. He lacks it as Curtis Axel. We wanted him to succeed because he can wrestle in the ring, and because who of the older demographic of fans didn't love his father, Mr. Perfect?
We allowed his lack of charisma to get off innocent, using the excuses that he was given a bad work name like McGillicutty and wasn't being given a solid booking opportunity. Well, we can no longer hide behind the excuses. He got a new name and weekly television time. He just lacks “it.”
Sure, he can wrestle. The guy can go in the ring. But 10 times out of 10, the guy who can get reaction out of the people is going to win out over the guy who is better in the ring. WWE is entertainment first, wrestling second. If you can do both, great, but make sure you can entertain.
The character is based on his being the son and spin-off of Mr. Perfect, except that he's supposed to be even better. The trouble is, most of the target audience either doesn't know that's the gimmick, doesn't know who his father is or both.
I like his t-shirt. I like the music he comes out to. I like the whole entrance. But those three factors alone never sent a performer to the main event.
Axel never speaks. His father made a living speaking and doing entertaining vignettes. WWE also aims at a younger demographic, and Mr. Perfect was before the younger fans' time. It's sad, because Mr. Perfect in my opinion was the greatest Intercontinental Champion ever. But look at what the IC title means today for today's audience. I'll be honest: I sometimes forget who the current IC titleholder is due to the way it's presented.
Axel never speaks, and it's probably for a good reason: He is bad at it.
Axel didn't go through the NXT show and competition without letting everyone see that his live promo abilities weren't perfect.
Putting Axel with Heyman seemed like it made a lot of sense, but it only works if you let Heyman do all of the talking. Watch this promo of Axel in the early days under Heyman's management: The dialogue is just bad. Keep in mind this is on SmackDown, and the crowd noise isn't authentic.
I thought Heyman could get the heat while Axel delivered in the ring. Problem was, Heyman got a lot of heat, but nobody related it to Axel. He was always the other guy. Even in the feud with CM Punk, Axel was the other guy. Heyman got a new client, and Axel was still the other guy.
This brings me to Ryback. Both he and Axel didn't work out with Heyman, so they've been paired together at the kids' table while those at the big table chat about success. The pairing is going nowhere and is just a reminder of the failure after such high expectations.
Axel gets no reaction, and Ryback gets the reaction of another wrestler's name. I wonder if a tag team of Mr. Perfect and Goldberg would have gotten a reaction?
Both have things to build off of: Axel has his wrestling ability, and Ryback has his appearance. They both love the wrestling business and want to succeed. Unfortunately, both seem forced.
They both seem forced, but let's not ignore that WWE is also guilty in the matter. Ryback was pushed to the moon quickly as a face and then turned around and pushed quickly as a heel. Fans never fully bought into either gimmick. The entire booking logic was terrible in his feud months ago against CM Punk, who beat him several times. What's the point in that?
Axel had a strong debut. He then got stuck with a midcard title that the company seems to hate. Repeated losses in non-title matches against the same cycle of opponents.
In the end, Axel and Ryback were put with Heyman, but Heyman was a bigger star. His emotion and rivalry with Punk was too much for Ryback and Axel to overcome. They were afterthoughts. I don't blame Heyman or Punk; they're just that good. Ryback and Axel lack the charisma to be self-sufficient and make themselves stand out in that type of situation.
I know what remains for Ryback, and it's just Goldberg. That's the match people want to see, and it will make money. Ryback is either done after that one payoff, or maybe it sparks a rub and something new for his career.
I don't know what remains for Axel. He's been repackaged. They gave him the best talker in the game. The only thing that hasn't been tried is him as a babyface. But wrestling logic says if he can't get over as a heel, how would he ever be their hero? Is there a heel who people want to see beat so badly that they would cheer Axel on?
How about Axel versus Ryback in a loser-leaves-WWE match? Axel wins and sends Ryback packing. Maybe that would get Axel over with the crowd!