With another several weeks in the books, WWE’s experimental prototype program appears to be at an apex.
NXT Season 2 was easily overshadowed by the decision to book a new faction, the Nexus, entirely comprised of Season 1’s competitors.
That said, the quality of participants may have been far greater than we could have expected when they were first announced.
After a thorough investigation and three months of programming with an Evil Michael Cole, here now is a more accurate projection of how the rookies would have ranked within any pro wrestling universe.
No. 8: Titus O’Neil
WWE Pro: Zack Ryder
Authentically raw, O’Neil made the jump from professional football to the wrestling ring before his debut on television. But the issues for Titus were far too apparent far too quickly for him ever to be considered a legitimate star on either of the main programs.
O’Neil’s background is hit-and-miss as it comes to wrestlers from the past (Bill Goldberg a hit, Monty Brown a miss), and pairing him up with comic relief pro Zack Ryder left him little hope for an interesting pro/rookie clash.
The Long Island loudmouth wasn’t even a focal feature for O’Neil, who lasted just three weeks past the season premiere.
O’Neil also suffered from a typical stigma associated with wrestlers of the type. As a large, African-American star, he’d likely have to compete with roster spots already belonging to Shad Gaspard, Ezekiel Jackson, and even his rookie cast member Percy Watson.
No. 7: Lucky Cannon
WWE Pro: Mark Henry
Though he was billed to be an ultra suave babyface with catlike agility and “luck” on his side, fans failed to see the intrigue in Cannon from day one.
If anything, most saw him for what he was: a clone of another failed WWE project, “Wildcat” Chris Harris.
Cannon’s natural size was never accentuated considering he was meant to be a face, and while he won matches that kept him alive in the competition, most were just checking their watches for how many minutes were left for this guy’s fame.
Truth be told, Lucky Cannon could use a solid re-branding before coming back up to the big leagues. If he’s built with a little more intensity and some sadistic promo skills, he’ll be on the fast track in the way that Skip Sheffield looked to be.
No. 6: Eli Cottonwood
WWE Pro: John Morrison
If you’ve been watching WWE programming for more than a decade, you likely remember seeing a wrestler named Kurrgan run roughshod over his opposition in late 1997.
He was then known as the Interrogator, and was a massive seven-footer that WWE could easily build into a monster.
Then, for reasons likely related to his “talent,” Kurrgan was ridiculously booked as a tie-dye wearing freak who wanted little more than to dance around and have fun. Why do I bring this up? The same slippery slope could be following Eli Cottonwood after seeing his short stint in WWE.
Cottonwood found himself booked with a bizarre one-word catchphrase (“mustache”) and a severe handicap as it comes to motor skills.
Rather than embracing his general creepy appearance as a tortured soul on the verge of insanity, Cottonwood was nothing more than a bumbling oaf who couldn’t get over long enough to be relevant.
Ironically, his WWE Pro suffers from the same affliction.
No. 5: Michael McGillicutty
WWE Pro: Kofi Kingston
Fans were quick to cry foul when the son of Mr. Perfect had his entire lineage abandoned with a rechristening and new image, yet they were also quick to come back after seeing McGillicutty wrestle.
With a roughneck style and a major undefeated streak to start his career, it appeared as if McGillicutty was pushed to stardom overnight.
That said, Mr. Perfect Jr.’s run was something mysterious when he proved he wasn’t his father on the microphone and was still a little green inside the squared circle.
This isn’t to say that McGillicutty was bad, but as other rookies had their true characters’ emerge, Mike suffered a freefall into the background and was kept around simply because he had already been established.
Those predicting he would win and then immediately turn on his pro Kofi Kingston for a title match were further disillusioned when Kingston dropped the somewhat important Intercontinental Championship to Dolph Ziggler.
No. 4: Percy Watson
WWE Pro: MVP
Perhaps no rookie fit quite as well into the family-friendly image of WWE 2010 as well as “Showtime” Percy Watson. With an immediate charisma and some natural talent, Watson was solid enough to make his way to the big dance.
But what separated Showtime from, say, Titus O’Neil, was a cleverly conceived character and marketing plan.
He came across as a larger version of Norman Smiley, often times giving fans the feeling he was just a few steps away from the Big Wiggle.
This was likely intentional, considering he trained under Smiley in Florida Championship Wrestling just prior to getting the casting call.
Watson’s signature red glasses only helped to give fans something to talk about if they found him too bland to begin with.
He had the best microphone showcase of any of the baby face rookies, though that may not be saying much given the competition. WWE won’t be too quick to give up on “Showtime,” who is probably one good botch away from being a heel instead.
No. 3: Husky Harris
WWE Pro: Cody Rhodes
WWE went out on a limb when they attempted to give not one but two sons of former stars the opportunity at the big time in Season 2 of NXT. While Michael McGillicutty had a cocky attitude somewhat reminiscent of his father, Harris, the son of Mike “I.R.S.” Rotunda was a far more complacent individual.
He took on a different character altogether that was quite admirable given the concept of the entire show. He threw competitions. He played dumb when others attempted to outsmart each other.
And he brought a physicality and strength with a larger frame than most his size would have.
Harris’ “devil-may-care” attitude was nicely understated, yet it was fairly obvious from day one that he wasn’t going to win the competition. Much like Tough Enough, however, this may become one of those things that it is better to lose at than win.
No. 2: Kaval
WWE Pro: Team LayCool
You had to know it was coming. After all the hype behind the WWE signing former independent and TNA star Low-Ki/Senshi, you had to have seen a second “Daniel Bryan isn’t that good” style story coming. Take a look at the evidence from WWE Creative.
From the start of this competition, Kaval wrestled in the most impressive matches and executed some of the best moves.
Despite this, he was laughably paired with the worst NXT pros in the show’s history (at least to this point, seeing as Primo Colon and Vickie Guerrero are now “Pros”) in Michelle McCool and Layla. Even though this could have been a major detriment, WWE didn’t write it that way.
To judge how good Kaval’s performance has been throughout the past three months would be to judge, conversely, how bad Michael Cole is as an evil, Internet-hating troll.
With every passing minute that Kaval shines, Cole is there to attempt to rattle the cage of the fans. Despite Cole’s corporate, big-business fellatio, Kaval still got the nod to win.
No. 1: Alex Riley
WWE Pro: The Miz
It was always too good to be true for Alex Riley, who was the most complete package for any of these eight rookies out of the gate.
Diehard WWE fans had seen Riley’s character and persona before, recognizing that it was always meant to be something special. It was meant to be Christopher Nowinski.
Pairing Riley with the Miz (and again, Vintage Michael Cole in the background), fit perfectly for a brand new heel on the main roster. Riley’s promo abilities, look, physique, and in-ring talent were years ahead of most of his fellow rookies, as well they should be given his age.
Currently, Riley may indeed be too smart to be the top heel in the company, but just like his WWE Pro, he’s well on his way.