NXT Superstars Are Struggling to Connect with WWE Fans on the Main Roster

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NXT Superstars Are Struggling to Connect with WWE Fans on the Main Roster
Credit: WWE.com

It's August of 2013 in the NXT Arena at Full Sail University. The ring announcer proclaims Tyler Breeze, a male model character who quickly became popular with the tiny but amiable live crowd, has left the building.

The announcement draws cheers but the cheers only grow with the sound of stock techno music, bringing the entire arena to its feet. 

Fans are seen dancing, rhythmically pointing their hands to the sky, as purple lights are cued up and a bubble machine blasts tiny bubbles near the stage. 

"The Emmalution is upon us," lead commentator Tom Phillips deadpans as NXT's then-rising star dances up the walkway. 

Emma, a cute and engaging WWE Diva from Melbourne, Australia, anchors the dance revolution upon making her entrance. 

As if the awkward-by-design dance wasn't adorable enough, Emma proceeds to the enter the ring. The clumsy diva struggles awkwardly, by design, as she attempts to use the ropes to pull herself into the ring. The spot is known among wrestling fans as skinning the cat.

It's meant to be a showcase of athleticism, often frequented by elite athletes like Shawn Michaels in his day. But Emma's brand of leg flailing, and using the apron for assistance to complete the stunt, is the antithesis of this.

It's uncoordinated. Bumbling. Awkward (by design). Adorable.

Her match hasn't even started yet and she's already an underdog, with the odds favoring the wrestling ring. Fans get behind her, unanimously chanting ("wooooaaaah...") as the struggle continues. Emma eventually completes the sequence, and the fans explode in cheers. 

The Emmalution could only be bottled in the 400-seat NXT Arena for so long. And she's one heck of a wrestler to boot. She was soon called up to the main roster, eventually debuting in January 13 on Raw.

There, Emma was built up, not by vignettes but by being planted in the crowd waving pun-filled signs on a weekly basis.

Her popular dance was not seen by casual WWE fans—many of whom do not watch NXT yet do watch Raw—until February 3 from the CenturyLink Center, which seats just under 19,000.

Despite winning a dance-off with Summer Rae, where fans cheered for Emma with the assistance of new B.F.F. Santino Marella, the crowd was not as eager to join in on the Emmalution. 

James Caldwell of PWTorch described the awkward (not by design) debut: 

Fandango's music played for Summer Rae to dance. Summer Rae did her usual pretentious dance, then funky music played for Emma to do some weird dance moves that the crowd didn't know what to do with. Santino polled the crowd on who won. Boos for Rae. Santino then led the crowd in cheering for Emma as the winner.

Jason Powell of Prowrestling.net added "Emma performed her usual NXT dance minus the bubbles. The fans just sat there." He went on to sympathetically put the character into context with the dance, saying: 

For those of you who don't watch NXT, the dance is actually over. There seemed to be a few people in the crowd who recognized her and the dance, but most people had no idea what was happening. Cole just can't wait to play the fool by doing the dance, which does neither him nor Emma any favors.

There was a clear disconnect between Emma and followers of the main WWE product. She had lighting in a bottle during her time in NXT. And if WWE truly wanted the Emma dance to translate to Raw, airing clips of her dance would have been more appropriate than Emma literally being presented as just another face in the crowd. 

Emma has since been stuck in a middling, inter-gender tag-team duo with Marella. She is far from competing in a thin Divas championship picture.

Instead, mixed tag team matches opposite Fandango and the female dancer of his choice are the norm. Her highlight on the main roster was the debut of a pink sock puppet, similar to Santino's cobra.

Emma had previously shown immense promise with a show-stealing match against Paige at NXT ArRival. Even as the clumsy Diva, a bad WWE romantic comedy is beneath her. 

Paige, Emma's rival in NXT, has been a bit more successful on the main roster, but hit-or-miss overall. After winning the Divas championship during a debut in front of a partisan crowd, Paige too has had trouble connecting with fans.

She debuted in a hotshot manner, with no build up or backstory. As a result, she has been in an odd position as fans are still getting to know her following a payoff. 

WWE is booking Paige backwards. In an attempt to get the fans behind Paige, once-invisible Diva Alicia Fox has been built into a strong contender. Monday on Raw, Fox became the first Diva to defeat Paige since the young champion was called up. 

Paige's talent should help her through a current rough patch, but case studies like Paige and Emma are evidence of WWE's struggles to transition promising developmental talents to the show. 

Even Adam Rose had his struggles initially. Fortunately, the Aldus Snow-inspired character got over in the cozy confines of the United Kingdom Monday.

A clip on WWE's YouTube channel shows a fervent UK crowd singing his theme music, even chanting "you're a lemon" at antagonist Zeb Colter. Still, his growing pains are destined to continue domestically. 

Upon a forgettable debut two weeks ago in Albany, New York, Jon Mezzera of PWTorch expressed concerns, saying:

I have been worried that Rose's act would not translate from the small NXT arena to a larger WWE arena and that seemed to be the case.

Sound familiar? Perhaps WWE, content with the small-stage popularity of NXT stars, is tricked into thinking their momentum will follow them to the main roster. This has almost never been the case and incoming talents need to be promoted as if they've never met the WWE Universe. 

Because as far the always-lucrative casual viewer is concerned, NXT stars are strangers. 

 

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Alfred Konuwa co-hosts the Kings of Sport podcast. Like us on Facebook!

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