Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Who's Part of the Next Guard of NXT?

Don't laugh, Dempsey could end up being a net positive for NXT sooner rather than later
Photo Credit:
The current golden age of NXT is not over yet, and it won't before the end of the year, I imagine. While Neville and Kalisto have already hit the main roster running and haven't looked back, the rest of the group will still have things to do in the territory, even if they're making waves on the main roster like Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn are currently. Sasha Banks, Charlotte, Becky Lynch (who may be there the longest of this group), Bayley, Finn Bálor, Tyler Breeze, and a convalescing Hideo Itami will all provide continuity between eras so that a brain drain isn't in the cards. However, when Zayn and Owens are gone for good and the rest of the stars start to filter into circulation on the main roster, they're going to need to be replaced. So who will replace them?

It's easy to rattle off names like Jessie McKay, Uhaa Nation, Solomon Crowe, and a rumored-to-debut-tonight Samoa Joe. They're the low-hanging fruit, and no doubt they will win over the Full Sail crowd immediately or, in the case of Crowe, once they're given a sustained good-faith push that isn't tied to an outmoded, half-baked gimmick. But it won't just be those wrestlers who fill the ranks, especially if NXT is to grow. The group is going to have to find some gems, much like Breeze, who had spent what had to have seemed like an entire lifetime as Mike Dalton before being repackaged. Those wrestlers are already in circulation in NXT, and all they need are a chance.

The first one who comes to mind may be a surprising name that was not given the best of looks, thanks to a short-sighted company directive on nicknames. An itchy block-finger on Twitter didn't help matters either. Bull Dempsey may have come hurtling into the NXT consciousness with all the grandeur of a wet fart, but he's spent a good while proving in bits and pieces that a poor first impression should not be held too much against him. His feud against Baron Corbin had many people rooting for his opponent, but once the blowoff match happened and Corbin was tasked with going more than just 90 seconds, then the bloom came off his rose quickly.

Dempsey, however, showed something more than wild-eyed confusion in that match, and in the truncated spots he's been given on television, he has shown promise. It wasn't until the NXT house shows in Philadelphia where in the extended setting he was given a shot to shine. The first night, he owned the boos, even turning them against the crowd by going in full imitation mode of his mentor and Philly/ECW favorite Taz. The second night, he even won the crowd over by eating a cheesesteak. The guy has subtle, muted personality, but if he's given a chance to explore the boundaries of it, he could unlock something special, or at least more than just "guy needed for Rhino or Corbin to squash in like 30 seconds" that he is now.

The second guy who could end up shouldering a load for the next guard of NXT wrestlers is someone who's in his second go-around with WWE developmental, first as Shawn Spears and now as Tye Dillinger. Much like Breeze, it's taken a lot of time and a total gimmick switch for him to have something that has caught on with live crowds, which of course is the Perfect Ten gimmick. For those who haven't been to any of the touring NXT house shows or any of the Floridian circuit, Dillinger has come to the ring touting himself as a "perfect ten," replete with placards a la Olympic judges. My descriptions don't do it justice, but it has been an avenue for him to effuse charming and amusing personality. He even won a crowd full of cantankerous Combat Zone Wrestling standbys (including DJ Hyde himself) over in a match against the former Sami Callihan.

This gimmick will more than likely be his last chance, like the Breeze persona was for Dalton or the Adam Rose bit was for Ray Leppan/Leo Kruger. But it's one hell of a trump card to pull. Couple it with his veteran wits and wile, and he could get some mileage out of it on television, either as a comedic presence early on or in more serious roles later, much in the same way Breeze's arc has gone since feuding with CJ Parker over photobombs.

Finally, the last name to ponder would make her waves in the women's division. She's already made some inroads into the main narrative, as she got a Women's Title match recently against Sasha Banks. But the potential for Alexa Bliss seems to be so much more than what is evident. One wouldn't know it right now looking at her, as she's in limbo stuck behind the aforementioned women on the roster plus new hotness Dana Brooke plus visiting emissary looking to get her mojo back Emma. She's also stuck in a similar rut as Lynch in that her character isn't nearly as fully-formed as it should be. The Blue Fairy shtick had limited appeal, and right now, she's drifted into a nebulous stock "glamorous" type without the kind of hard-edged boundaries that Carmella or even Brooke have at the moment.

But the tools are there. For one, her improvement in the ring from her debut in the NXT Women's Championship tournament when all she did was bump and do counter pins until even now has been exponential. She's showing an aptitude for Americanized lucha-inspired high flying offense that not many women under WWE's watch since Lita retired have. Her pixie frame makes her the ideal underdog for even wrestlers as small as Banks, and molding a character out of the current nebulous orb she's drifting in shouldn't be that hard. Even so, if she's sticking around in NXT for awhile, then she'll have time to pick up the character game, much like Lynch is now. Meanwhile, if she stays on her path of improvement, she could be a viable challenger for the main event by NXT Takeover: Do They Know It's Almost Christmas?

Of course the three above aren't the only ones who could be stars, and they may not even get to the point that the current midcarders have arrived at. The Performance Center is teeming with trainees and greenhorns that could make their way to the house show circuit and to television sooner or later. The point is that if NXT is to be a successful supplement to WWE programming in addition to a developmental territory or a premium brand or whatever it is, it cannot continue only glomming stars from the indies or abroad. Luckily for them, unconventional, lesser-known lumps of clay are ready to be formed right in their hands.