Mojo Rawley is one of the most physically gifted prospects on the WWE NXT roster, but he's also one of the rawest.
The explosive, powerful, energized talent needs work in order to reach the status men such as Sami Zayn and Adrian Neville have achieved. A more varied move set, increased smoothness in the ring and a wider emotional range during his promos need to be on his checklist as he progresses.
When Rawley first arrived at Full Sail University, he seemed to be shooting ever upward. Fans rallied behind him. He piled up wins in squash matches. Once, he and NFL tight end Rob Gronkowski celebrated one of Rawley's victories together.
Things have since shifted. He last fell victim to Tyler Breeze, losing to the No. 1 contender to the NXT Championship in just seconds.
Zayn, Neville and Breeze are getting far more camera time. Rawley is playing catch-up with men with far more experience in the ring.
Being 6'4'', 290 pounds and bringing NFL-level footwork to NXT isn't enough.
WWE seems to be slowing his climb to the top, perhaps thinking he's not ready for the spotlight. Improvements in the following areas can get him heading in the right direction again.
New Moves, More Moves
Even in matches as short as Rawley's usually are, his limited toolbox is exposed.
No one is expecting him to become Dean Malenko, but he's going to need some additional wrestling holds to go with his barreling-over-people offense.
A sequence from his Jan. 15 match against Bo Dallas highlights the issue. At one point, he hit three consecutive shoulder blocks. He followed that with two Stinger Splashes in the corner and, after he flung Dallas back into the ring, went for a third.
This repetitiveness is a part of why certain fans are so anti-John Cena.
In a 20-minute match, he's not going to be able to rely on such a small supply of maneuvers. He'll need to add more signature moves to make his matches more enjoyable. A short-arm clothesline, various suplexes and a running knee drop would all be welcome additions.
It's his finishing sequence, though, that most needs a makeover.
Currently, he puts foes away with a jumping butt bump and a running seated senton. His backside shouldn't be his primary weapon.
It's just not fitting for a powerhouse like him.
Rawley would be wise to watch tape of "Dr. Death" Steve Williams and look to emulate him. The late Hall of Famer was built much like Rawley and used his power to great effect.
His biggest moves were captivating—hammer blows from a gladiator.
While Rawley's not going to be allowed to drop folks on their heads as Williams did, his matches would improve if were to start implementing the running powerslam, the Doctor Bomb or the military press slam.
One of Rawley's biggest strengths is his energy. He's a frenzied dynamo in and out of the ring.
To a point, that's infectious. At some point, however, it becomes obnoxious.
Rawley can lean heavily on his electric aura, but he'll need to balance that out with more understated elements as well. His interview after his NXT Arrival match showcased that need:
He's likable and fun to watch here, but he goes full-throttle for the majority of the interview. He shouted for much of it, giving the audience no time to breathe. Eventually, he has to master timing and know when to press down on the gas and when to drift.
Roman Reigns' mic work was a lot like Rawley's early on. He barked at the camera, knowing only a straight-ahead aggressiveness.
He's since improved, slipping in swagger, disappointment and seething rage into his repertoire. On the June 9 Raw, not long after The Shield broke up, Reigns addressed Seth Rollins in one of his best performances to date:
It's not a Jake Roberts-level promo, but it's a marked advancement from his one-dimensional early work. It showed that Reigns had more to offer, and he came off as easier to relate to as a result.
This is the progress Rawley should strive for. His hyped shtick is memorable and entertaining, but it's going to be hard to put him into many feuds without him being able to offer something else.
Fans will tire of a single-note song. An energized wrestler who dips into a varied emotional palette will be easier to connect to.
Unlike many of his peers, Rawley hasn't been wrestling for the bulk of his life. He comes from the gridiron, while a large number of NXT's prospects learned their craft on the independent circuit.
That shows in how his ring work sometimes lacks crispness. He springs around the ring comfortably, but when the action tightens, he doesn't look as confident and smooth as the best prospects at NXT.
Fans saw a glimpse of that on the March 27 NXT. Rawley went up against CJ Parker that night.
When he fought out of the corner, tagging Parker with right hands, his movements were a touch wooden. His posture seemed off as well.
It's a minor thing, but it will be a bigger hindrance when he's asked to perform in longer matches.
In the ring against one of NXT's best, that need for sharpening his movements becomes clearer, as seen in the fan-made video below, which captures Rawley battling Zayn at a house show.
When Rawley is doing moves that are borrowed from the world of football, he excels. Leaping up from a three-point stance and ramming his shoulder into his foe are natural for him.
It is the transition between holds that he needs to refine. At one point during this match, Zayn spins around Rawley before using an arm drag to take him to the ground. Rawley looks too much as if he's waiting for it to happen.
In another sequence, he misses a clothesline and doesn't appear to put much force behind it. Then, Zayn hits him while in midair, and Rawley falls back awkwardly.
Again, it looks as if he's thinking out the moves like dance steps. To move upward in the NXT rankings, he'll need to make these moments look more natural.
The greatest wrestlers make fans forget that the action is scripted, partly by how fluidly they perform the action.
Rawley isn't a master of that skill yet, but considering he's only been wrestling at NXT for just over a year, his progress in that department is impressive. Eventually, the mat will feel as much like home as the football field did, and he'll put his athleticism to great use.
Going from the WWE Performance Center to the main roster is a long journey. Rawley can get there with tweaks, adjustments and an increasing supply of experience.
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