Watching Corey Graves at work is like watching a panther tear into his meal—equally hypnotizing and disturbing.
"The Savior of Misbehavior" has often been compared to CM Punk because of his tattoos and his build, but Graves is no rip-off of anybody. He is his own blend of moxie and darkness, a combination that makes him one of the most intriguing prospects on the NXT roster.
The native of Pittsburgh, Pa., won the NXT tag titles (alongside Adrian Neville) from The Wyatt Family.
He later broke away from that pairing in violent fashion. The mercilessness he showed in trying to break his ally's leg is one of his best assets. It will carry him to the main roster and beyond.
His submission skills give him a dangerous aura, much the way that Daniel Bryan can conceivably trap any of WWE's giants in the "Yes!" Lock and put them away.
A propensity to torture his foes with a variety of holds pairs perfectly with his aggression. Graves feels like a pitbull in the ring, capable of locking his jaw on someone at any given moment.
Fans saw that trait in his recent bout against Sami Zayn. As Zayn came rushing at him, he clocked him with a teeth-loosening right hand.
He also focused on Zayn's leg for much of the match, including hitting a chop block that flipped him over.
Put Graves in a No Disqualification match or some other rule-lacking gimmick bout and he's sure to excel. His brawling looks like the kind of action that belongs in a bar fight. Hard strikes, viciousness and an aura of toughness are among his best weapons.
While his mic skills are still a work in progress, he already possesses a good supply of "it factor."
Confidence glows from him as he saunters to the ring, snarls at the crowd and threatens his opponents. In this collection of clips that include his work from the indy circuit, one can see that on display, especially in the speech he gives early on detailing the places he's conquered.
In the struggle to get noticed, Graves' sinister vibes and his look give him an edge.
The tattoos covering his arms and his unconventional choice of ring gear make him recognizable and marketable. He'll never be in danger of blending in.
Being the sultry, "bad boy" type of sexy will get him points with the female portion of the audience as well.
His look, though, is also one of his drawbacks.
Graves just isn't built like the typical brawler. At just 6'1'' and 208 pounds, per WWE.com, he fits more of the high-flyer mold.
That could mean WWE is unsure about how to sell him. Does the company portray him as a guy capable of slugging it out with the roster's powerhouses despite being smaller, or does it try to push him more into a cruiserweight role?
This is a similar struggle to what Punk faced.
WWE hadn't seen a wrestler like Punk before and so was unsure about which category to shove him in. Graves, like Punk, is his own separate category.
Officials will also have concerns about his agility. He moves well in the ring but is not as smooth or as quick as peers like Zayn, Neville and Tyler Breeze.
In this tag match from 2012, CJ Parker and the other competitors outshine Graves in terms of athleticism.
He's still the best overall in-ring performer of that foursome. His strengths just lean more toward torturous holds and striking, not speeding around the ring.
Even without all-world athleticism, Graves has produced high-quality matches, most notably against Neville last October. His promo resume doesn't have a true highlight, though.
WWE gave him a major opportunity on the March 6 episode of NXT. Before his match with Yoshi Tatsu, he griped about not being on NXT Arrival and claimed he could beat Cesaro in one try, unlike Zayn.
Graves failed to live up to the moment.
He was not as magnetic as he has been throughout his career. That's concerning as officials may see that as him faltering under the brightest lights he's faced so far. Should he stumble in a similar capacity, he'll start to develop a reputation for missing when the stakes get higher.
Fans who have seen his work for the International Wrestling Cartel and other places know that a star is sitting inside him, even if it hasn't emerged for a bigger audience yet.
How WWE views and uses Graves will influence his career trajectory.
He will require more creative booking and outside-the-box thinking to tell his story. He's a highly talented wrestler with a unique set of skills.
Make him the leader of some kind of brawling gang. Have him stalk bigger foes, damage their ligaments and call himself a giant-killer. Just don't try to make him the next Punk, the next Jeff Hardy or the next anybody.
Suffocation via smoke from the fire in our own hearts. #FilthParade— Corey Graves (@WWEGraves) February 10, 2014
Should WWE effectively tap his talent, Graves will become a valuable asset, drawing great heat and working some memorable feuds.
His skills will lead him more toward an upper midcarder role than serving as world champion. His ring work, though very good, isn't quite good enough to have him overtake the company's upper echelon.
WWE and NXT are both flush with amazing athletes. Graves will have to fight to make his way past them.
If there's one thing Graves has proved he can do well, though, it's fight.
Be sure to check out previous installments in this ongoing series: