I've been writing for this website semi-regularly since last July, and I was composing an article this past week when I needed to consult WWEShop.com for some image or another. Upon visiting, I noticed they had a ton of items at ridiculous clearance prices and I decided to treat myself to a cheap purchase.
Laugh if you must, but I placed an order for a Nexus long-sleeve shirt for around 11 bucks (shipping included), with the cool "shattered news-clippings" logo on the front, "We Are One" on the back and of course, the trademark Nexus logo on the right bicep.
After placing the order and mistakenly discovering that it was actually YOUTH large and not ADULT large, I chose to not cancel the order and take the risk of it fitting. Surprisingly, it arrived in the mail this past Saturday.
Like a little kid, I wore it all day Sunday while doing chores and laundry. It's a teeny bit snug and short, but as long as my 30-year-old, 5'9" 180 lb. frame stretches it a bit and I don't throw it in the dryer so it can shrink any further, it should last me a fair amount of time.
Wearing it this past weekend while looking forward to ordering Wrestlemania 27 this coming Sunday and potentially seeing Nexus come to its official end, really made me proud to have been a fan of such a group. Wearing the shirt made me think long and hard about how much of an impact Nexus has really had on WWE.
Yes, I realize many critics and smarks look at Nexus in the simplest of ways, the business reasons it was created and what big or little progress they made as a group:
To tryout various FCW talents on a bigger stage. To promote a new rookie show that was once on SyFy and moved to WWE.com. It was a failed excuse to throw a ton of NXT youth movement purveyors into WWE's flagship show's airspace to see how they flew. Its progress of building in strength as a group was rocky and bumpy, full of injuries, botches, weak twists, etc.
All in all, if one is critical enough, a person can take such a group, compare it to the ungodly successes of the New World Order and Degeneration-X, and say, "wow, WWE doesn't have the first clue how to book a heel stable anymore. For shame."
Even though I'm guilty of such blasphemes myself, of comparing the group's tale to more significant stables in wrestling history, it's not how they compared to NWO and DX that made them special or important.
After all, NWO started with three established stars in Hogan, Hall and Nash, and brought on not only mid-card wrestlers but other legends like Ted DiBiase Sr and Curt "Mr. Perfect" Hennig, among others, to bolster their ranks AFTER making an impact. DX started with likely future Hall of Famers "Ravishing" Rick Rude, Triple H and Chyna, and current Hall of Fame Inductee, The Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels.
All talented at doing what they do. All good enough to last in the company a very long time before either passing away, retiring or changing roles.
Nexus being composed entirely of rookies not yet ready for the big time was an incredible risk on WWE's part, but that risk is part of what made Nexus important.
Nexus represents a time in WWE's history when the company's story-lines and characters had reached a serious point of leveling off. The failing economy, combined with a severe lack of strong enough direct competition to push them to make their product better, had put WWE in a place where they were not interested in making any major changes to their formats, drama or presentation.
We saw a company known for its massive swerves, risking taking guys like Austin and Rock and turning them into bad guys before our very eyes, transform into a bland, overly predictable mess.
Only a year or two before, they had made the announcement that their programming was changing to a strictly PG rating, and with a hero like John Cena at the top of the food chain, it really didn't make any sense business-wise to mess too terribly with what they considered to be working.
Then again, after Nexus arrived in June 2010, completely obliterating Monday Night Raw and decimating WWE's top baby-face in the process, Nexus t-shirts and merchandise started popping up in WWEShop.com at an alarming rate. Didn't take long after that for me to see a literal sea of black and yellow shirts out in the crowds week after week, not only on Raw but on Smackdown as well.
WWE was risking a lot in presenting a devious group of radicals booked to repeatedly overpower the invincible John Cena. Clearly, though, fans were responding, showing their support by buying up shirts in bulk. Nexus was still booed heavily by the majority of fans, rightfully so as they were a heel group from inception. But to present their biggest hero with the biggest challenge he's faced in his career was a much-needed gut check.
So, maybe it did have use from a business perspective.
Even though Cena seems to have arisen from all of Nexus' attacks and tactics fairly unscathed, the group's initial build presented Creative with tons of new avenues to work with. Week after week, people would tune in to see just what else Nexus had up their armbands next. Thing is, the success they saw was actually a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, their critics were seeing their constant and consistent gang beat-downs of legends, Vince McMahon and John Cena as being extremely repetitive. None of the Nexus members were actually competing in many matches, if any, so it's not like their members were racking up wins while being brash enough to destroy everything in sight. Their appearances quickly became boiler plate: either appear, surround, attack, 450 splash, or appear, Wade Barrett says a few words, defend yourselves, attack, 450 splash.
However, on the other hand, they did at least look strong in said beat-downs. They came out on top in the majority of those instances. No one was able to stop them. They outnumbered everyone brave enough to fight them on the roster, so simply by numbers alone, they had a clear upper hand. Furthermore, Wade Barrett was terrific mouthpiece for the team, applying strategy and careful planning to each move, always implying bigger plans at play.
The question then remains...
Were they pretty much screwed from the beginning? Either they look strong and beat up everyone in sight and get cut down as repetitive and boring, or they take hits on the chin, watch their members take falls and lose matches and get cut down for looking weak. Seems pretty "damned if you do, damned if you don't" to me.
Fact is, they looked about as strong as they could for as long as they could, however it was only a matter of time before they were ultimately weakened beyond repair. WWE released Bryan extremely early and Sheffield and Tarver fell to injuries. In a surprising twist during one episode of Raw, Darren Young was exiled as "the weakest link."
But for some reason, WWE decided to not dedicate any time to these avenues.
Having Bryan feud with Nexus in matches and on the microphone after he returned and took the US Title from Miz were passed on.
Darren Young being exiled as the weakest Nexus member yielded maybe one confrontation where he took a beat-down and that was officially passed on.
Tarver was back for a few weeks worth of somewhat random appearances on Raw and Smackdown, but that seems to have been passed on, too.
While Nexus may not have made the incredible impacts that groups like Evolution, DX, the Million Dollar Corporation, the Nation of Domination, Right to Censor, NWO and the Ministry of Darkness have made, and while Nexus' creative booking was clearly a bumpy road from what we saw on television, Nexus still represents WWE taking a lot of risk.
They risked their reputation putting inexperienced newbies into the spotlight.
They risked money in manufacturing Nexus merchandise to sell to fans.
They risked ratings in keeping around a stable that may end up officially dying before even being around a full year.
They risked making their top baby-face look too weak to beat a band of rookies.
They even risked mimicking WCW's Hostile Takeover angle (which TNA slightly mimicked with their recent Immortal angle at Bound For Glory 2010) by introducing a dominant heel stable overflowing with members wearing unified black t-shirts.
In fact, one of the biggest risks of all to take with Nexus was the involvement of their top star in Cena himself. The 2010 Hell in a Cell PPV featured a match between Cena and Barrett, where if Cena lost, he would be forced to join the stable against his will. With illegal help from Michael McGillicutty and Husky Harris, Barrett accomplished the unthinkable and forced John Cena to aid the group in their operations.
Fans in attendance and at home were shocked beyond belief. It's been quite a few years since we've seen such an intense response from fans and it was all as a result of John Cena not only losing a match, but losing his freedom and part of his identity. He was still allowed to enter the arena to his own music, he was still allowed to wear his purple shirts and merchandise, he was still largely allowed to be John Cena.
But his allegiance was to Wade Barrett and Nexus, and for even just a short while, even if he had to be manipulated to do it, he lived up to his end of the bargain.
Suddenly, children and grown-ups alike had to acknowledge one crucial aspect of WWE programming that had been lost over the years: each match holds urgency.
John Cena was no longer invincible. He was no longer the untouchable superman that everyone relied upon to win. By the way, my wording there is key. People don't hope for Cena win anymore, they rely upon it. There's no doubt that he's going to lose and doubt is what makes any match worth watching, any gamble worth taking exciting and heart-pounding.
His always winning is a staple, and if he couldn't lose clean at Hell in a Cell, at the very least there could be some serious consequences to suffer should he lose and WWE weaved that pretty well.
Months later, WWE took even further risk by having Barrett name John Cena as the special referee in his WWE Championship match against Randy Orton, declaring that if Barrett didn't win the title at Survivor Series, Cena would be fired. In keeping with Cena's character, he shoved Wade backward into Orton unfairly, causing him to lose the match and sacrificing his job. Cena appeared on Raw every subsequent week of his "firing," but it still made people watch and wonder.
The 2010 TLC PPV seemed to be the biggest breakthrough in John Cena's rivalry with the group, taking on Wade Barrett in a chairs match. Cena proved victorious, and the match's ending took Wade off TV for a week or two, allowing CM Punk to sneak in and take control of the group for himself.
I pointed out earlier how much of a risk it was to form Nexus to begin with. A band of newbies who were too inexperienced to carry the show on their own providing the primary storyline angle for months on Raw was massive. Adding CM Punk to the fold, after SES had been buried and Nexus had likely run its course, was yet another huge risk.
It may not have led to an enormous payoff for the company, but it still shows a ton of guts on their part to take a guy who has shown incredible in-ring work, crisp promos and a vibrant on-screen personality and make him leader of a failing stable.
If only briefly, CM Punk did breathe some new life into the angle and did with the remnants of Nexus what he could, even allowing Mason Ryan a taste of the big time.
WWE has risked a lot to push Nexus, and while I'm not a fan of the group out of sympathy for what could've been, I look back at what occurred and remember enjoying what I saw. For a group of youngsters getting their first taste of Monday Night Raw spotlight, Nexus did pretty much the best they could with what they had in resources.
They were a bunch of kids that weren't nearly as experienced as the veterans that put on the big shows, but they still made waves. You take most episodes during their initial run out of order and even if you don't see the exact same members in the group that you did in the chronologically previous episode, hearing "We walk alone through the unknown" over the speakers and seeing Wade Barrett lead his troops to the ring with a confident and calculating stride brought out unique feelings in all of us.
Whether you despised their cockiness for thinking they could run roughshod over the most powerful wrestling company in the world. Whether you loved the fresh new faces fighting and clawing for their chance at stardom. Whether you rooted for the ultimate underdogs in an environment of professional athletes or whether you simply hoped the pros put the newbies to sleep like sick animals...
You have Nexus to thank for those feelings.
I appreciate what Nexus has brought to WWE programming all these months and hope that even if Nexus dies on April 3, 2011, whether CM Punk wins or loses at Wrestlemania, that WWE will not forget what they risked and learn some valuable lessons for the future. WCW made mistakes with NWO, running it into the ground and not taking creative enough turns in its story and those are lessons Bischoff and Russo over in TNA have apparently long since forgotten.
WWE may have missed the boat in turning Nexus into a grand powerhouse stable with massive marketing potential, they may have went in a particular direction with its booking and they may have presented the group to us in a rather imperfect and flawed way, but its run was believable, it made sense and gave these guys a good start.
For their time to have been perfect is a completely unreasonable expectation, especially for smart folks like us in the IWC, to place on those performers. WWE took a risk in giving these guys a chance and for some of them to still be on TV after all this time shows that they see something valuable in those individuals.
Sometimes, that's all a competitor needs, just a chance to taste the spotlight, a few chances to screw up and the opportunity to assess either how badly they want to be back in that spotlight and improve, or how badly they want to pack up and quit.
Watch this clip from Survivor Series. ECW Championship match between Morrison, Miz and CM Punk. Three guys who are pretty big stars today, and all because WWE has given them chances to screw up and show what they got:
I expect to see ex-members of Nexus back on Raw someday, repackaged, invigorated and brand new. Three are on Smackdown and doing fairly well for themselves for the time being. Others were kicked in the face by The Viper and we haven't seen them since.
Some will return. Others will disappear. It's how wrestling has gone for decades past and it will continue that way for decades into the future.
I'm proud to be a fan of Nexus. Hopefully, at least a few of you are, too.