Tyson Kidd's WWE career had stalled, and NXT came bearing jumping cables.
After being relegated to the sidelines on the main roster, Kidd has found a stage on which to shine, a place where his character can grow and his ring skills are put on full display. A slow-burning, logical heel turn at WWE's developmental show has injected him with momentum.
He likely wouldn't have any of that had he not traveled down to Full Sail University.
Kidd has always been the kind of wrestler purists fans are attracted to—a great athlete and stellar mat worker. He didn't have an imposing build or a magnetic aura to pulls fans in. That led to him watching others get chances that he was not afforded.
WWE had him and David Hart Smith carry the tag titles, but afterward they provided little for him.
His WrestleMania record is a good indication of where the company thought he belonged. At WrestleMania XXVI, he fought in a dark match, a Battle Royal that Yoshi Tatsu won. The next year had a similar feel, with a loss in a Battle Royal before the pay-per-view began.
He didn't make it to the show proper at WrestleMania XXVIII either. A pre-show tag match awaited him.
Injury soon halted him when a torn meniscus took him out of action for nearly a year. After a long journey back to full health, he returned on the Nov. 4 Raw. In a mixed-tag match, he and Natalya defeated Summer Rae and Fandango.
It wasn't a world title shot, but at least he was wrestling again. It wasn't guaranteed that he'd ever be able to compete again, much less with the same spring in his legs as he had before.
WWE failed to make much use of his return, though. He only had sporadic appearances, including a loss to Fandango on Superstars. There were no feuds for him, no pay-per-view matches other than a Battle Royal at WrestleMania. It seemed that only when WWE needed extra bodies did it turn to him.
If you were to guess where his career was headed next, TNA or Japan seemed like the safest bets. Instead, Kidd began performing at NXT.
Stars from the main roster often make cameos down there, but Kidd was set to roost at Full Sail University for a good while. It's been a godsend. Like a baseball player rediscovering his swing after his team sends him to Triple-A, Kidd began to gain momentum.
WWE played up the fact that his wife Natalya was more famous and more successful than him. She was on WWE programming more often, including being featured on the Total Divas reality series.
On camera, he viewed the NXT Championship and NXT in general as a chance to force the spotlight his way. It was an angle born from reality. This was not far-fetched reasoning to justify going after a title—it was a narrative that paralleled his real-life struggles.
NXT was a proving ground for him, a way to remind fans of his talent.
On the May 8 NXT, wrestlers clashed in a Battle Royal to decide the No. 1 contender for the NXT title. Sami Zayn, Tyler Breeze and Tyson Kidd all eliminated each other at the same time, forcing Triple H to book a Triple Threat the next week.
His bout against Zayn and Breeze was one of Kidd's best efforts ever.
He looked at home in the whirlwind match, diving through the ropes and trading kicks with the up-and-comers. It's not likely that he would have had such a lengthy match on Raw or SmackDown and even less of a chance it would be in the main event.
On the main roster, he was filler. At NXT, he was a leading man.
The victory earned him a chance at Adrian Neville and his title at NXT Takeover. This bout was set to be the main event of NXT's second-ever live special.
In an interview before the event, Natalya stepped all over his lines. She answered questions for him, further highlighting that he was residing in her shadow.
Michael Cole asked him about his recent lack of success. Kidd told him, "Anyone who has ever become something, read their story. They've all gone through roadblocks. They've all gone through hurdles."
They spoke about the significance of the match. If he didn't win, it meant that he was "Natalya's husband," not Tyson Kidd. If he failed, it would devastate his career.
The importance he placed on that match highlighted how all wrestling matches should feel. Victory and defeat had consequences. They would shape his destiny. One can't help but be invested with such a realistic, personal story.
The match against Neville was fantastic. Neville's high-flying style meshed perfectly with Kidd's. The two men flipped around the ring, soared at each other and wowed the crowd in the process.
The champ retained after a match that bolstered both men's resumes. The reaction to that loss is what launched his slow descent into darkness. He spurned a handshake attempt from Neville. He then pushed his wife aside when she tried to comfort him and at his press conference afterward refused to say anything.
Kidd was part spoiled brat, part athlete disgusted by his failure. Rather than flip on the villain switch as so many wrestlers have, WWE was allowing Kidd to slowly slither into his new role.
Frustration and wounded pride were beginning to bring out his dark side. It just wasn't ready to emerge. He later apologized for his actions and got a rematch.
That June 12 bout was arguably better than their first meeting. Again, Kidd found himself on center stage opposite a high-caliber athlete. He looked to have the match won at one point, but Neville's foot was on the ropes.
He seemed to become unhinged for a moment, grabbing a chair, ready to bash in his foe's head.
Distracted by Natalya telling him that he was better than that led to him losing again. His onscreen fall endured. The next week, his wife coaxed John "Bradshaw" Layfield into getting him and Zayn a tag team title match. Kidd showed displeasure about his wife having to vouch for him and get him his title chances.
The Ascension dominated Zayn in the early going. They refused to let Zayn escape, and Kidd soon grew annoyed on the apron. He seemed to think that Zayn was trying to go this alone as a means to soak up all the glory. Kidd left ringside, leaving his partner behind.
During this story, fans had begun to see more from Kidd outside the ring than they had his entire career. He came off as smug, a lone wolf with a questionable moral code.
All of his actions made sense in terms of his character, the aftereffects of being discontent.
There had been very little character development in his career up to this point. Pointing out what separated him from other Superstars was difficult. At NXT, he's been asked to show off more range, to pull from his real-life frustrations and forge a character fans can invest in.
This trend continued most recently on the July 3 NXT. After Justin Gabriel lost to Zayn, Kidd attacked him and urged Gabriel to join in.
Kidd had tossed away the last layers of "good guy" he had on, revealing a predator underneath.
This constant sharing of the stage and consistent progress toward a character shift has made Kidd a more viable commodity. He has a much-improved resume in his short time at NXT and has forced WWE officials to take notice of his talents.
During this process, he's also delivered in the ring again and again.
He wouldn't have been able to do any of this from the bench. Had he not gone to NXT and begun anew, he might be in Zack Ryder's spot—forgotten and asked to stand in the dark cover of obscurity.
Looking at the growth and career renewal Kidd has experienced, Ryder and WWE's other struggling Superstars should consider buying a ticket to Florida to see if NXT can launch them upward as well.
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