Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The NXT Process: Solomon Crowe

Why hasn't Crowe debuted yet?
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
A little over a year ago, Sami Callihan was taking his victory lap around the independent circuit. The buzz around his signing was palpable because he was one of the most singularly unique wrestlers active on the scene. He was built like no other man, had frenetic energy in the ring like few others, wrestled a variance of styles against myriad opponents, and was able to bring a horror movie-influenced ethos to his mic spots that was matched by really no one else. If WWE was all about signing guys that would stand out, it would have to pick up Callihan. By September, he was down in Orlando, training to become a NXT superstar, the first trip on his journey towards making the world's biggest company's main roster. Somewhere along the way, however, the man rechristened as Solomon Crowe was lost in translation, and he has yet to make his WWE Network debut, let alone make his headway towards a roster spot.

He originally was lurking around house shows with a straight-out-of-the-'90s hacker gimmick that saw him controlling house lights and other computer systems with a tablet, and he seemed to be headed towards a feud with Kalisto, his former indie rival Samuray del Sol. Somewhere along the decision making process, someone thought that gimmick wasn't a good idea to make tape in developmental. On a TV show that gave the world Adam Rose's Exotic Express, the Vaudevillains, and soon to be debuting for real, a team of auto mechanics tagging together, apparently, a hacker was on the other side of the line in the sand that the folks down at Full Sail University refused to cross. Kalisto has since made his debut for NXT television. Crowe is still waiting for his chance, wrestling dark matches on house show dates.

To be honest, the gimmick did sound pretty dated. Whether or not he was using modern technology, most of the world has caught up with the idea of how computers work. People are starting to see through the entertainment industry's attempts at framing technological advances as unknowable and mysterious, most recently exampled by the movie Sex Tape being raked over the coals for Jason Segel's character acting like The Cloud is some nebulous, difficult thing to use. Scrapping the character may have been for the best, but why has Crowe, the wrestler, seemingly been scrapped, or at the very least delayed beyond all reasonable expectation?

Crowe would not be the first person cast out into the NXT sea without a gimmick, and he wouldn't or shouldn't be the last. Gimmicks can be great, but they also are not necessary to get over, especially in modern WWE, where the most over superstars ever were less ornate characters and more identifiable people. Scrapping the wrestler because the gimmick didn't seem like it was taking flight is opposite to everything that is intuitively known about how pro wrestlers get over. Rarely does someone take flight based on the system and the system only. The right positioning helps, sure, but the mix of wrestler and booker usually skews more towards the former than the latter. More simply put, great talents find a way to get over themselves.

Crowe is a great talent. He wouldn't have taken the indies by storm if he wasn't. If he were put on NXT television today, he would win the crowds over within a series of tapings, no matter what kind of character he was given. Yet, the most meaningful action he gets are in dark matches. He gets to stay loose in the ring, but that kind of preliminary action won't keep him prepared for big situations. I've seen plenty of dark matches. They don't go too long, and only serve to warm the live crowd up.

Crowe, as it stands right now, does not get the kind of reps that are meaningful enough to keep him sharp and to keep his game on a comparable level to when he was wrestling on the indies. Almost a year has passed, and he's only been on TV once, as the house DJ for Rose's debut segment, which is to say he hasn't been on TV at all. No matter how good a wrestler is, he or she cannot stay sharp by training only or doing dark matches. Sami Zayn debuted on TV within a couple of months of his signing with the company, and even though he's not made the main roster yet, he's getting every opportunity to hone himself in front of a real live crowd before he gets there.

Sometimes, for all the wrestlers NXT has helped, the people within the confines of the promotion or waiting in the wings of the Performance Center can feel the cold wrath of mismanagement. Solomon Crowe has no reason to be waiting for his shot to get in a real ring and work real stories unless he's got some kind of attitude problem that isn't being reported. But he was ready to be shunted into the main narrative as early as January, and he's still being tossed into dark matches now. He can't have that much of a problem. Instead, his only mistake wasn't a mistake he made at all. NXT's trainers, bookers, agents, and producers are failing him because of their need to get things completely perfect. Sometimes, you just gotta throw a guy to the wolves and let him do his thing.

Crowe is way too talented not to be in the thick of things. Every month he's not booked on the main tapings is another month that WWE risks of losing its grip on a charismatic, unique, and gifted performer. Arguably, the amount of wrestlers the company pulls into the Performance Center will cause for some failures in their training or recruiting process, and not everyone is going to make the dark match on tour let alone the main narrative. However, for Crowe to be counted among those failures would be a goddamn tragedy.