WWE NXT felt like a laboratory this week.
Gimmicks and characters aren't finished products at Full Sail University, which was evident on Thursday's edition of the show. The Vaudevillains, Becky Lynch and others worked to find themselves, in search of the best path upward.
The Divas portion of the NXT big board saw little movement. That could well change if Lynch proves she can be even better as a villain than she was as a fan favorite.
Simon Gotch and Aiden English moved up a bit thanks to continued gelling.
Based on a combination of size, physical ability, mic work, gimmick and presence, the following rankings line up who is most ready to move up to the main roster. It's a look at the constantly fluctuating hierarchy of WWE developmental. Who is most polished and has the best chance to succeed in the big leagues?
Only prospects who have debuted on TV are considered; Finn Balor's time is still to come, then.
|NXT Prospect Rankings (Top 20)|
|1.||Sami Zayn||6'1'', 205 lbs||Best all-around prospect, excellent showman, consistently produces quality matches|
|2.||Adrian Neville||5'10'', 194 lbs||Top-tier high-flyer, great athlete and in-ring storyteller, improving but still below-average on the mic|
|3.||Tyler Breeze||6'0'', 190 lbs||Quick, fluid in ring, charismatic, thriving with current gimmick|
|4.||Hideo Itami||5'9'', 182 lbs||Highest ceiling in NXT, improving English and mic skills will be key for this great mat worker|
|5.||Colin Cassady||6'10'', 276 lbs||Big, charismatic, slowly stepping out of Enzo Amore's shadow|
|6.||Kalisto||5'6'', 170 lbs||A marvel to watch in the ring, fast, agile|
|7.||Bull Dempsey||6'2'', 300 lbs||Throwback brawler, good showman, impressive on the mic, surprisingly athletic|
|8.||Viktor||6'2'', 219 lbs||Excellent mat worker, underrated on the mic, good presence|
|9.||Konnor||6'4'', 265 lbs||Powerful big man, good showmanship and intensity, limited on the mic|
|10.||Enzo Amore||5'11'', 200 lbs||Poor in the ring, elite on the mic, extremely charismatic|
|11.||Aiden English||6'3'', 215 lbs||Charismatic, solid wrestler, gimmick has potential|
|12.||Simon Gotch||6'1'', 221 lbs||High-level showman, charismatic, versatile in the ring|
|13.||Baron Corbin||6'8'', 275 lbs||Big, explosive, raw in the ring, but has great presence|
|14.||Jason Jordan||6'3'', 245 lbs||Athletic, fluid in ring, great look|
|15.||Scott Dawson||6'3'', 245 lbs||Excellent mat worker, but lacking elsewhere|
|16.||Buddy Murphy||5'11'', 227 lbs||Powerful, explosive, bodybuilder look|
|17.||CJ Parker||6'3'', 220 lbs||Solid in all departments, not great in any|
|18.||Tye Dillinger||6'3'', 223 lbs||Solid all-around wrestler, lacking in "it" factor, needs to find the right gimmick|
|19.||Mojo Rawley||6'4'', 290 lbs||Explosive, athletic, struggling with showmanship, one-dimensional in the ring|
|20.||Marcus Louis||6'2'', 245 lbs||Aggressive, powerful, needs to tone down facial expressions|
|Height/Weight from WWE.com|
The Versatile Vaudevillains
The Vaudevillains are still a work in progress.
Gotch and English continue to infuse more viciousness into their act while stripping away some of the old-timey, sillier shtick. It's hard to be both goofy and dastardly, it seems.
In this process of refining the gimmick, both men have displayed impressive versatility. WWE knows that English can be a crooner and a goon and that Gotch can ham it up and slip a snarl on under that mustache.
Their chemistry as a duo is coming along as well.
In their bout against Buddy Murphy and Wesley Blake, they showed off a number of double-team moves. The one that had the crowd chanting "That was manly!" was a double wristlock followed by synchronized jabs.
They're not going to be confused for The Rockers, but their cohesiveness is a welcome sight.
Gotch landed some good-looking strikes throughout the match. He's become increasingly aggressive and comfortable with his heel status as well, grinding his elbow into his foe, exuding the aura of a predator.
It's going to be fun to see this team continue their climb and discover themselves. They are far from as good as they can be.
Buddy Murphy Sneaking Up the Ladder
Gotch and English are going to get the most attention following their win over Team Thick (what a terrible name), but Murphy's stock rose on Thursday's NXT as well.
For now, his is a case of one tag partner outshining the other. Blake is a good athletic and mat worker, but there's more electricity surrounding Murphy. He makes the crowd notice him, and not just because his tights look like The Hulk's post-transformation.
Murphy moves well, fluid and fast. That belies his build, which is something out of a He-Man cartoon.
He showed off good technical skills as well as some solid selling. Whether he was screaming while in a wristlock or reacting to a slam to the mat, Murphy aided the story of the match.
It doesn't hurt that he has a supporter in Dusty Rhodes:
For now, Murphy and Blake are used as other teams' stepping stones. The more opportunities they get, though, the more they're going to impress.
Waiting for the White Knight
Hideo Itami and The Ascension stand in the on-deck circle, awaiting a chance to take a real hack.
The narrative between them has been a slow-moving one. That will be good for its ultimate payoff, but in terms of Itami and his enemies, it means less chances to make an impression.
The Ascension are still steamrolling lower-level foes: They finished off Jason Jordan and Tye Dillinger with little resistance on Thursday.
Too rarely have we gotten a chance to see them in a longer, more competitive match.
As for Itami, he's experiencing one of the worst Groundhog Days possible, living out a scene where The Ascension clobbers him again and again. That has meant that we've seen how well he takes a beating, but little else.
WWE is hinting that he'll have a partner ride in and battle alongside him. Those fans who read the spoiler reports already know who that is.
That moment is going to be key for Itami, Viktor and Konnor. It will inevitably lead to some big matches and allow this story to take significant steps forward.
We'll get to see a lot more of Itami in the ring, revealing how well he's adapting to the shift in style from Japan to NXT. As skilled as he is, the expectation is that he'll start climbing up the rankings once those clashes are underway.
|NXT Diva Rankings (Top 5)|
|1.||Sasha Banks||5'5''||Most polished NXT Diva, high-level ring worker, impressive showmanship, thriving as a vicious heel|
|2.||Charlotte||5'10''||Natural magnetism, becoming a ring general, great presence in the ring|
|3.||Bayley||5'6''||Charismatic, works her gimmick effectively, above-average in the ring|
|4.||Becky Lynch||5'6''||Experienced, athletic, remains to be seen if she can handle a heel role|
|5.||Carmella||5'5''||Good presence, fun energy, raw but athletic in the ring|
|Height from WWE.com|
Sasha Banks, Still the Boss
Charlotte has the famous name and more great matches on her resume. Banks is still better.
She's the more compete wrestler right now; watching her work against Bayley on Thursday's NXT was further proof.
Her mastery of mat wrestling was on display. She controls a match extremely well, moves slickly from move to move and executes everything with precision.
Beyond that, her showmanship sets her further apart from her peers. So many Divas on the main roster overdo this part of the equation, screaming like a tennis player and overacting in general.
Banks mocked Bayley, squawking at her when she was down and pantomiming fake tears. This was all done better than what one would see from one of the Bella sisters. She plays her character in its proper context.
She also has one of the best finishers in the game today. Her signature hold, Bank Statement, looks like a torture device.
Bad-Girl Becky Lynch
WWE is asking Lynch to change hats again.
After looking as if she was coming to Bayley's aid, Lynch attacked her onetime friend. That heel turn is just the latest change for a Diva who hasn't been with NXT for long.
WWE hasn't allowed her to stick with a persona for more than a few weeks. She is constantly shifting into new skins. She began as a bubbly, green-clad dancer then moved to a more frenzied punk-rock persona. She'll now have to adjust things again.
If she can flourish with this new role, her stock will rise and prove her to be mighty versatile.
Uncertainty and opportunity lie ahead for her.