This Monday’s Raw will mark the one-year anniversary of the debut of the Nexus, a group of rookies that appeared ready to rock the WWE Universe and change the course of our industry. Unfortunately, as we move into the summer season, the shocking arrival of the NXT Season One participants to the big stage has long been stalled.
Following Wade Barrett’s victory in the inaugural season of NXT, thus earning him a contract with one of the WWE’s two branded rosters, the entire cast from the first season attacked John Cena, CM Punk, Luke Gallows and any other member of the WWE payroll during the main event. They tore down the set, ruined the ring and humiliated all those ringside.
It’s been reported that the announcers and ring attendants were kept in the dark on this storyline in order to create a more organically shocked reaction. The announce team, who were decimated in the attack, went silent and the final 10 minutes of programming during the overrun consisted of nothing more than a hushed crowd watching a gang attack.
The Internet exploded. Nobody saw this coming. It hadn’t been reported anywhere and once again WWE proved that (when motivated) they can really take our breathe away with something new, original and intriguing.
The members of the original Nexus were as follows: Wade Barrett, Justin Gabriel, Skip Sheffield, Daniel Bryan, Darren Young, Heath Slater, Michael Tarver and David Otunga. Bryan was removed immediately following the initial attack when he was released by the WWE for offending Mattel with his awesome tie-choke of Justin Roberts. Skip Sheffield, who was quickly becoming the de facto #2 in the group, broke his leg and has been out of action ever since.
The rest of the group continued to plague John Cena through the Summer, leading to a big tag match at SummerSlam that saw the return of Daniel Bryan as a babyface against the Nexus. After losing this match, and after subsequent attempts to take out Cena, CM Punk replaced Barrett and exiled him to Smackdown where he was soon joined by Gabriel and Slater to form the Corre. Along the way, Tarver and Young were kicked out of the group.
Today, we are looking at a completely different New Nexus, led by Punk with Season 2’s Michael McGillicutty, Welsh powerhouse Mason Ryan and Nexus original David Otunga.
While the short-term purpose of creating a stable is to raise ratings and develop interesting storylines, the long-term purpose is establish new stars and introduce the audience to characters by giving them credibility as part of a powerful unit. The only way we can really determine the success or failure (or extent of failure) of the Nexus storyline is through examining the players involved.
Wade Barrett: This is a really difficult critique due to the incessant start and stop of his push. Barrett is a master on the mic. He has main event caliber promos when given time and direction. His inflection is dead-on and his stage presence far out-paces experience. He is a solid ring worker. There isn’t anything flashy about his style, but for a WWE main eventer, this isn’t necessary. Barrett tells a good story in the ring with physicality and psychology. His finisher, the Wasteland, isn’t atrocious, but it lacks a punch we need to really pop the crowd. Let me put it this way – Fireman’s Carry finishers are SO 2004.
Barrett was treated like a bona fide superstar through the summer of 2010, but come fall, he had entered a tailspin. The Nexus storyline, which supposedly had a “greater mission,” never hit another level beyond terrorizing John Cena. When Barrett finally received the main event title shot on a PPV that he was guaranteed upon winning NXT, it was mixed with a conglomerate of other upper midcarders and main eventers as part of a Six Pack Challenge. Finally, he was ousted by CM Punk, and sent to Smackdown where he reunited with Gabriel and Slater and added Big Zeke to form the ill conceived Corre.
In short, the Corre made the Straight Edge Society look like the nWo. Now, Barrett has a belt around his waste and a midcard feud that he will inevitably lose to the recently turned Ahmed Johnson—I mean, Ezekiel Jackson. He may be in line for a main event title program with Randy Orton sometime this year, as it’s pretty clear, the strap will remain with RKO for the foreseeable future and he dispatches any and all heel contenders until they realize they’ve completely neutered the Viper and ruined any potential rival he may face.
Barrett is still young, though, and has a marketable look and international appeal. His ring work has significantly improved, and he could be a main eventer down the line. He is the only member of the Nexus that I can say with confidence raised his stock by participating in the program.
Daniel Bryan: The second highest-profile member of the original Nexus lasted only 15 minutes with the group. The pop he received at SummerSlam upon his return and reveal in the main event was shocking to say the least. Unfortunately, the follow-up has been equally underwhelming. Bryan had some great matches and appeared set to have a true run in the midcard in an effort to create a new draw that was distinctly different from that of the rest of the roster. However, his push stopped during the run to Wrestlemania after he won the U.S. Title, and his match with Sheamus was even bumped from the big show entirely—never a good sign for future prospects.
I’m not an IWC mark that registers three stars for a match just for seeing Bryan step into the ring, but I’m willing to say they have really dropped the ball on a potential push. He had really begun to get over on ring work alone with his high impact offense and impressive selling. Right now, though, he’s on the same level as Evan Bourne, where he is fed to larger competitors in an effort to make them look more formidable.
Bryan has hope, though. I don’t think he’ll ever be a full-time main eventer or even upper midcarder due to his inability to cut a convincing promo and vanilla look, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he is still on the roster, wrestling TV matches five years from now.
Justin Gabriel/Heath Slater: I’ll pair these two together because that’s what WWE has done. In my opinion, his immensely helps Slater and is a detriment to Gabriel’s growth. If there was someone that should have been removed from the Nexus/Corre and turn on Barrett, Gabriel was the guy. His high spot style is perfect for a babyface midcarder. People want to pop for a 450 splash, so let them do it for the good guy.
He’s also perfect for a high-flying babyface tag team similar to the Hardy Boyz circa 2001. Unfortunately, WWE could care less about tag teams and seems insistent on burying the entire form of match. Gabriel is really stuck because his skillset is wasted. Slater, well… Slater is useless so I won’t go much further on that.
David Otunga: He has the look and that’s about it. At first, I thought he had a chance to be a great talker, but he doesn’t have the versatility to really rise in this role. He is an atrocious, borderline dangerous ring worker that shouldn’t ever participate in a match longer than 2 minutes. So, of course, he’s the perfect guy to carry the tag titles.
If WWE wanted to best utilize his talents, they’d make him an Alex Riley-type character. Let him focus on the mic and learn how to talk without using the identical sentence structure repeatedly. He could be a good manager, but they don’t believe in such things anymore. Hopefully, Otunga’s role is minimized and he’s released before seriously damaging anybody in a match.
Skip Sheffield: If there is someone other than Wade Barrett that is going to come out of this with the possibility of receiving a major push, it’s Skip Sheffield. I wouldn’t have said this during NXT when he was a bumbling idiot cowboy, but when he turned into a meathead powerhouse freight train of destruction, boy was that something to watch. Sheffield has perfected his mannerisms, facial expressions and execution of power offense the way they wish Mason Ryan and Ezekiel Jackson would eventually develop. He could have easily been “the Batista” of the stable if it weren’t for the injury. He didn’t cut a half bad promo, either, and could definitely grow in that respect.
A few weeks ago on Twitter, he said he’d be back soon. If I were booking, I’d have Sheffield return during a match between Miz and Alex Riley at Capitol Punishment and interfere on behalf of the Miz. Miz can cut a promo the next night about how he has realized that he doesn’t need help with communications, since he has no problem talking himself. He has decided to replace Riley with someone of greater stature, physically. This will make Miz look like an evil genius, put Sheffield back in the main event scene as a secondary player, and really give us something special when the two finally split. But in reality, he’ll probably return as the bumbling idiot cowboy and run comedy segments with Santino and Kozlov.
Darren Young: The book has still yet to be written on this guy. I haven’t watched any of the latest NXT season online, but reports indicate that he’s one of the most polished guys on the show. He’s another that really should be in a tag team at the moment. His pairing with Percy Watson as the fun-loving party boys from South Beach would fit well in the WWE’s PG format, but apparently, kids don’t like tag teams (tell that to the Hardys) so I don’t expect him to ever become much.
Michael Tarver: A true man of mystery, Tarver began appearing in the background of every backstage segment for a few weeks, and some return to action seemed imminent. It’s been a couple months now and it doesn’t look like there are any plans for him going forward. He’d seem to be a good sidekick for R-Truth’s 'angry black man' persona. The creation of a New Nation of Domination type stable is always fun conjecture since the group was the focal point of the Attitude Era for some time. Nonetheless, I doubt we’ll hear anything from Tarver until it comes across the dirt sheets that he was sent packing.
Husky Harris: Onto the second wave of Nexus members, one of Mike Rotundo’s boys joined the group. A talented, athletic big man, he was handcuffed from the minute he debuted on NXT with the nickname Husky. He has a chance to be something, but it will be difficult for him to sneak past Vince’s flab police. Pretty sure the last guy to get through was JBL.
Michael McGillicutty: The only guy worse off than Husky Harris on naming is this guy. He’s Mr. Perfect’s son, for God’s sake. They even repeatedly reference his father, but for some reason refuse to just call him Hennig. Cody Rhodes made it as the son of Dusty, but with a completely different character. Calling him Hennig doesn’t mean he has to play the Perfect role, but it still adds credibility. Other than Punk, he’s the only guy in the New Nexus that can wrestle a match for more than 2 minutes, so he’ll stick around awhile. He’s old for a rookie, he’s got a fierce receding hairline, and he isn’t remarkable either in the ring or on the mic, so don’t expect much here.
Mason Ryan: A lot of people say he wishes he could be Batista. Like I already said, he should wish he was Skip Sheffield before even considering Batista. Ryan is as green as a Christmas tree, but he’ll likely have a heavyweight title shot sometime this year. WWE will probably ask Punk to put him over at some point this summer and we’ll all get to struggle through Mason Ryan punches, forearm clubs and grunts. Yes, grunting is part of his minimal moveset.
Ezekiel Jackson: While never a member of the Nexus, he can’t be ignored in this conversation since he was part of the Corre. I’ve long said that when wearing red boots and red trunks, he’s the spitting image of mid-90s powerhouse Ahmed Johnson. His ringwork isn’t any better, and may actually be worse. Johnson failed as a potential main event babyface draw and I can’t see Jackson haven’t any better luck.
CM Punk: Yes, I’ll include him in this column because for the better part of four months he’s been a member of the group. That’s more than can be said for some of the guys listed above. I had high hopes for Punk taking over the New Nexus. He’s natural in the role of stable/cult leader and could have really done something.
Unfortunately, on the first few shows with him in that position, three of the four guys he had that could wrestle a match were removed. Harris was kicked out and sent back to FCW and Gabriel and Slater moved to Smackdown. Left with Otunga, McGillicutty and the debuting Mason Ryan, Punk had nothing to work with. Rather than elevating him or the group, the two entities have managed to bring each other down. Now, he doesn’t have a feud, he doesn’t have a direction and, if reports are correct, he soon won’t have a contract. Sad times for the IWC.
John Cena: He wasn’t a member (even though he wrestled a match in danger of being forced to join), but the Nexus wouldn’t have existed if it weren’t for Cena. Even though Barrett repeatedly said in the infancy of the storyline that Cena was just a pawn, just something in their way en route to a greater cause, that profound mission was never revealed. Unfortunately, the Cena-Nexus storyline isn’t much different than the DX-Spirit Squad fiasco of years before. A group of no-names set their sights on destroying icon(s) and get their asses handed to them on a regular basis. As a result, no new stars are formed and we have months of storyline that never meant anything.
What this furthered proved was that in WWE, John Cena is without equal. One of the biggest problems with the company today is that there are no legitimate threats to John Cena’s reign, and even when he’s not champion, he can win the title whenever he wishes. For nearly six months, an entire stable beat him down on a weekly basis, but he hulked up and took them out.