After months of arguably subpar television, WWE NXT comes stumbling to the finish line of its first season. Many have observed the program’s emphasis on recaps and promotional videos, thus writing it off as nothing but a hype machine with a gimmick of bringing forth young talent.
However, in recent years I’ve developed a deep soft spot for rising wrestlers and their paths to notoriety and beyond, taking pleasure as I watch them flourish and dreading when it seems their “future endeavors” will soon be wished the best in.
Therefore, I’ve assumed an earnest following in the affairs of NXT and its “rookies” (a term not befitting all the wrestlers; some I’d think “amateur” more suitable for, while “pro” would fit snuggly alongside names like Bryan Danielson and Wade Barrett) and as the first season comes to a close, I decided to sit down and profess my honest predictions for the futures of these eight stars in the making, or jobbers in the waiting.
My predictions will be made in the order of the first Pros’ Poll as I remember it. Should I err, feel free to yell at me. Conveniently, this places Bryan Danielson last in my article, which is fun for me since I’m sure he’s the one you’re all most dying to read about. Harhar.
Darren Young: Initially, Young was among my least favorite rookies on the show, with one of my favorite pros mentoring him. Their contrasts did not end there, for soon WWE used their differences of characters to make for one of the better NXT angles.
With more attention being paid to Darren Young, he was able to show his worth to a greater extent and I think became more appealing for it. Though his style exemplified a lackluster and mechanical version of a strong style I think many young wrestlers have taken to, he at least employed that to work quasi-decent matches and have a nice spot here and there.
I can see him being called up again, probably repackaged (his gimmick was horrible and not once did it play into his role, besides to show his divergence from CM Punk) and given a minor role.
Watching John Morrison and The Miz both blossom since being on Tough Enough, I know not to completely discount the possibility of an essentially farm bred wrestler making something of himself. Darren Young has a solid enough foundation to build off of in the future. Worst case scenario, he could always do an angle as John Cena’s and Booker T’s illegitimate son.
Michael Tarver: When the first Pros’ Poll came out, my thought was, “What the fudge? Why is that piece of trash Tarver not ranked dead freakin’ last?” Towards the end of his tenure, however, I started to see potential in his mic skills (he, unlike most the rookies, could at least have a point to his promos, even if sometimes he stumbled around before getting to it) and with the knowledge of his real life burdens, it made the emotion he exuded compelling.
Yet even with that background, I have a hard time imagining him as a “dream come true” babyface. In the ring, he showed flashes of talent, but like most of the contestants, it was highly undeveloped. I think Tarver is the least likely to make it on WWE television again, but should he, I expect a minor heel role for him, maybe finally putting his knockout gimmick they spoke of upon his debut to use.
Skip Sheffield: Personally, the only thing I found appealing in Skip Sheffield was his Backpack Stunner finisher, which I’ve often marked for.
I’m sure his nonsense promos and silly catchphrases would appeal to children and for that I could see him getting another chance in the WWE. Plus, experience tells me Vince is willing to grant him opportunity after opportunity based solely on his physique. Look for him in either a monster role or as a babyface brute who gets over against cowardly heels.
David “A-List” Otunga: Do you know what’s always irked me about Otunga? Vladimir Kozlov, Ezekiel Jackson, and Rob Terry all have practically the same finisher, yet with so many people using that move, WWE or Otunga thought it acceptable for him to use it, too, and perhaps the sloppiest I’ve ever seen it performed. He’s a big guy. Ten-year-olds on trampolines can figure out some nice powerhouse moves pretty quickly, how hard can it be to teach that muscle freak a halfway decent finisher? Sheesh.
Anyway, it goes without saying that in the ring he’s awful and the least experienced, but his character could be beneficial to WWE in attracting a new demographic. I’m never one to cite on popular culture, but he seems to reflect that contemporary hip-hop style my little stepsister is so annoyingly obsessive of.
Plus, I’ve been told by every girl who happened upon me watching NXT (so my stepsisters and my mom) that he’s “hot”, which, when talking to many girls who are casual fans of the WWE, seems to have been a pivotal role in John Cena’s popularity for them.
As for his mic skills, they’re good. I don’t doubt that at all. He has a personality that I believe would resonate with enthusiasts of popular culture, while simultaneously garnering the chagrin of detractors of it.
What will become of him next week as one of the final three? I think he’ll win. Honestly, Barrett is the most deserving to me, but I think the key element is that R-Truth is now US Champion.
Of the three semi-finalists, Otunga is the only one with a clear direction after NXT, so for that I think he’ll win, move on to face his mentor (who paralleled Otunga on the show in that of the pros, he was the least talented in the ring), and from there I see big things in his future, regardless of wrestling ability.
Heath Slater: “The Ginger Ninjer” always seemed like a wild-card to me. His wrestling style is unorthodox, but not in a good way – most of his moves just looked flashy with little substance. His “One Man Rock Band” gimmick was just the same: odd but he at least knew what he was doing.
I think that’s a good description of Heath Slater. He seems to know what it means to be a professional wrestler; it’s just that his style doesn’t seem to be something that will get over.
Still, I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t make it back on television. WWE could find a mid-card role for him, but it’s hard for me to imagine what would be in store for him long term. To be frank, he’s a bit of an oddball.
Justin Gabriel: Like Evan Bourne, Gabriel has that strong style and capacity for high spots that will get him over with the fans, but he’s bigger and better looking and for that will probably have a greater chance for success in the WWE.
I definitely see him with a regular mid-card spot and I don’t think he’ll become primarily a Superstars regular like Zack Ryder and Evan Bourne. He simply has too much appeal for that.
His potential makes me think of a debuting Kofi Kingston, so I can very well see him with one of the second tier titles before the year’s end; and if he can improve on the stick, maybe there's a world title reign in his future.
Wade Barrett: A solid worker, English (that gives him an immediate basis for heel heat), great on the mic, and rookie to Chris Jericho, Wade Barrett definitely has a lot going for him. I have no knowledge of just how closely the pros work with their rookies backstage (or if they do at all), but just being associated with Chris Jericho onscreen will be huge for Barrett in beginning his mainstream wrestling career.
Plus, he’s tall and strong, just like the two guys who most recently acquired their first world titles, Sheamus and Jack Swagger. If that’s an indication of anything, I think he’ll be the first of any of these rookies to win a world championship.
As I said earlier, I believe Barrett is the most deserving of the remaining rookies to win NXT, but Otunga appears a more likely winner based on how easily they could book him to face R-Truth for the US Championship. At this stage, I think it would be improper to book Wade Barrett as the winner, for there is no champion that he already has a premise to challenge. Expect this brilliant talent to show up on Raw or Smackdown in a big way.
Daniel Bryan: I’m not sure what they’re calling him now. He called himself Bryan Danielson on camera and since then I can’t recall them referring to him by name at all. Maybe they’re deliberating on that. I believe the only reason for the name change to begin with was to avoid copyright issues with ROH (don’t quote me on that), so maybe we should expect Daniel Bryan to remain. However, the promo he had the night he was eliminated seemed like it might have indicated a name change. Really, it doesn’t matter much either way.
Presently, Bryan Danielson (I’m more comfortable calling him that) has the most going for him, his storyline with Michael Cole having been recapped on Monday Night Raw this week, which is, needless to say, a big step in the right direction. Smackdown often goes unmentiond on Raw, so for Danielson to be featured like that on Monday nights is a very good sign.
I feel his angle is one of the best things I’ve seen from the WWE in a long time. Michael Cole must be happy to be in a storyline that doesn’t involve him being kidnapped and read mediocre poetry to. The promos so far have been excellent, with Danielson showing mic skills I didn’t know him capable of.
In the few months I watched him on HDNet, I thought he seemed to always use the same facial expression and tone in all of his promos. Now he’s showing a greater variety and, with an amount of worked legitimacy being brought into his angle, his promos have been extraordinary for me.
Bryan is definitely going to Raw or Smackdown soon enough, certainly much sooner than any of the other eliminated NXT rookies, and I predict he’ll spend a few years in the mid-card, perhaps brushing the tiredly metaphorical “glass ceiling” between him and the world title picture before bursting through in a deservingly theatric way.