Aleister Black is quickly approaching EC3 territory.
Which is a shame—Black has arguably top-five upside on the WWE roster. There is room for a character like Black's, not to mention his in-ring prowess. Good on the mic and in the ring, Black shouldn't have any problems jumping right into the fray at the top end of cards.
Yet he's hardly getting television time.
For those out of the loop, WWE has recently made a habit of botching NXT call-ups. The Superstars with adoring fanbases from the smaller NXT shows go up to the main roster and immediately get lost in the middling booking of a show trying to scratch and claw for ratings.
The most notable example is EC3, who was a main event star in other promotions. He has "Vince McMahon guy" written all over him in the looks department, was a great performer on the mic elsewhere and is even good in the ring. Yet he's become a jobber quickly, to the point it's a wonder he doesn't just beg to go back to NXT quickly.
Black is flirting with the same status. He arrived randomly with other call-ups in February, got a few wins and immediately went into a weird tag team pairing with Ricochet (whose direction since arriving hasn't been much better).
Now? Black's thing since the Superstar Shakeup is cutting promos, talking about how he has no direction or anything to do:
And look—these are really good. That is Black's thing. He's really good.
But everything about Black since his arrival has seemed random. And as we found out, it was. Black said as much on an episode of Sheamus' Celtic Warrior Workouts (h/t Cageside Seats' Sean Rueter): "And my call-up was obviously a quick one, cause I wasn't scheduled to be called up yet. It was a last-minute decision."
A bit of confirmation never hurts, yet it does make Black's promo work without getting in the ring all the more frustrating. He's clearly in a holding pattern, and there isn't an easy way out. All his talk about an "open door" seems to hint at a feud with Bray Wyatt, but neither can avoid to limp out of the gates and take a loss upon returning to the ring.
Therein rests the bigger problem: Black is believable against anyone. He can spar with a supernatural beast like Wyatt because he's got a little bit of that going for him too. He can up and decide to encourage Finn Balor's Demon to come out and fight and realistically stand up to it. He could goad a Daniel Bryan into a philosophical standoff, perhaps even throw deadly strikes in the same ring as a Brock Lesnar.
Instead, nothing. And the longer it drags on, the bigger the chance the general audience gets bored and doesn't care how good Black might be or the possibilities.
This isn't suggesting WWE needs to throw Black on television for the sake of it. He can't afford to be just another guy randomly tossed into tag matches and trading wins and losses on weekly shows with the same opponent until having a random payoff match at a pay-per-view.
Black needs meaningful feuds. So does weekly WWE programming. Heck, WWE needs characters like Black. Most of the top names in the company are "good guys who throw jabs on social media." Seth Rollins is fun but his run is just there. Becky Lynch has cooled considerably. Shane McMahon is the top villain, with Drew McIntyre as hired help. Lesnar is dancing with a boombox.
Simply put, there is room for sheer character work. Not a one-off random Dolph Ziggler appearance because WWE needs a quick feud for an overseas show. An actual, prolonged beef with another lethal Superstar like, say, this guy:
A prolonged, violent, mic work-littered feud for Black will let the broader WWE audience finally see what he can offer the main roster.
From there, we get into those possibilities with Wyatt, Balor and all the other talents on the roster. A great mic worker with a character who borders on supernatural with lethal strikes sure sounds like a legend who just main-evented in Saudi Arabia.
Overall, it is borderline silly it has gotten to this point. WWE has a big, talented roster, but it is almost laughable within five hours of programming time a week on the big shows, the company can't get Black better involved outside of sub-two-minute promos.
In hindsight, maybe WWE fans will get to look back on this time as a small bump in the road for Black before a brilliant feud catapults him to main event status and keeps him there. But the inverse is also true, and it screams EC3—an inexplicable misstep for a company seemingly intent on making them.
It doesn't have to be this way, but Black has to be given the freedom to be himself on the mic and in the ring so he can get the audience behind him for the long run. Everybody wins if it happens.