Friday, June 5, 2015

So Many Wrestlers Getting Tryouts in Orlando Right Now

Busick and Gulak are among those getting tryouts right now
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
The latest round of tryouts for WWE at the Performance Center is underway, and some big names in the world of independent and foreign wrestling are getting evaluated for a potential career in WWE. If the rumors and rumblings are true, and WWE is about ready to beef up NXT to be its own brand under the umbrella and not just a developmental territory, then expect a whole bunch of them to be signed too. Various reports have been floating around from different sites, but the list of notable names with descriptions for those not in the know can be found after the jump:
  • Johnny Gargano - Gargano is the most notable name on the list, and the funniest thing is that he may not even be there on his own merits. If you believe the rumors, WWE has it hard for Candice LeRae, but she doesn't want to move to Florida without Gargano, whom she is dating. I find it difficult to believe that WWE would only humor a male wrestler to get a female one in tow, but Triple H and NXT at least are forging new frontiers, I suppose. Still, while Gargano isn't my cup of tea in the ring, he's been on top for Gabe Sapolsky's family of promotions for almost five years now. He's insanely popular and works a kinetic style in the ring. I wouldn't be shocked if he left Orlando without some sort of offer.
  • Drew Gulak - Gulak right now is part of a core of classic, mat-grapplers that has taken over the Sapolsky bloc, along with Biff Busick, Timothy Thatcher, Tracy "Hot Sauce" Williams, and TJP. However, he's also worked in Combat Zone Wrestling, where he was Champion and ran with the delightfully dry troll gimmick "Gulak for a Better Combat Zone" vowing to clean the place up of its ultraviolent image. He's also worked Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, Chikara, and other various local promotions. The guy may be the best total package in-ring wrestler going on the indies today, and while he's rarely, if ever, called upon to show personality, the CZW stuff as well as his turn in the Gentlemen's Club has shown he can do everything required of being a full WWE superstar.
  • Biff Busick - Speaking of Busick, he's getting a tryout too. He's a bit more well-rounded in the ring than Gulak is; while he's made his bones with Gulak and crew mat-wrestling like World of Sport was filming them, he's also excelled working at traditionally laid out wrestling matches. His character chops may be the rawest of the group; most of his oeuvre is derived from his projected intensity in the ring. However, he's drawn comparisons to Daniel Bryan in the ring, and everyone knows how well Bryan got over on being an excellent wrestler, even before he introduced the world to the YES! YES! YES! chant.
  • Chuck Taylor - Chikara fans will know Taylor well as the cantankerous yet impossible-to-boo rudo whose goal in life is to harass the Colony and make children cry. Someone on Twitter said that he'd be the perfect foil for John Cena in a feud over the children, and I think that would be the best endgame for him and for Cena if the goal is to keep him busy without having him be in the main event. Few wrestlers have the raw connection with fans that Taylor has, and while his stylings are polarizing, he's still one of the most effective comedy wrestlers out there.
  • Athena - She's been one of the most ubiquitous female stars on the indie scene for the last three or four years, save the time she's been on the shelf hurt. She's been a staple in SHIMMER, Women's Superstars Uncensored, and in the Texas indie scene, both for Anarchy Championship Wrestling and Inspire Pro Wrestling. Athena not only an excellent wrestler, but she is supremely versatile as well. Her resume includes vicious brawls, standout hardcore matches (including one in ACW with the next entry on this list), prestige technical bouts, and even some high-flying spot-fest stuff. Her finisher, the O-Face, might be the most over move in women's wrestling. If she leaves the Performance Center without at least a verbal agreement, then WWE clearly has fucked up.
  • Jessicka Havok - Havok is the LADY HOSS WWE has been missing since it jettisoned Kharma and Beth Phoenix. She has the size and knows how to impose it to build a story in the ring and help get her opponent over as an underdog. She's a relentless brawler, which is a style that works well in a WWE ring, and she legit can look as scary as she wants to be. However, while I so desperately want her to get signed and make that big money, I'm afraid that WWE is going to end up putting her in the "oh she's just jealous of the HOT model women" mold. Putting Havok in that mold would be a total mistake because no way her character has ever projected anything more than dominance and terror for dominance and terror's sake. To present her as "jealous" would be the most unbelievable thing that an audience would be forced to take as canon in wrestling history. Still, NXT has been a haven for female performers, and she definitely could thrive there. NXT doesn't have that archetype and never has. She'd fill such a huge void there.
  • Taeler Hendrix - Hendrix is best known from her stint in TNA, where she won Gut Check, was featured intermittently, and then was released under allegations that the company weight-shamed her out of a contract. Recently, she's popped up on WWE TV as a Rosebud. In fact, she's been part of Adam Rose's entourage a bit more frequently than others. She's a bit rough around the edges, but she seemingly knows her way around a wrestling ring. She'll fit in fine with some Performance Center seasoning.
  • The Mighty Don't Kneel - TO be honest, the only exposure I've had to Mikey Nicholls and Shane Haste was at WrestleKingdom 9, when they teamed with Naomichi Marafuji and Toru Yano to take on Suzuki-Gun, and I wasn't able to get a handle on them from their short time in the ring during that match. However, the Australian tag team comes highly regarded from regular viewers of Pro Wrestling NOAH.
  • Matt Riddle - Not a wrestler, but notable because he's the latest to attempt transitioning from mixed-martial arts to professional wrestling. He's fought for Ultimate Fighting Championship and Bellator with an 8-3-2 record. I don't know much about how much charisma he has since MMA isn't my bag, but hey, he'll have a space to cultivate it anyway.
Of course, not all of them are going to get signed, but if the rumblings about NXT's gross expansion are true, the brand is going to need more bodies that can work and who have experienced in front of a charged environment while the big projects like Baron Corbin, Dana Brooke, and the non-wrestler Performance Center bodies get seasoned. I wouldn't be shocked if all of them got some kind of deal. Of course, if all of them got signed, it would be a crushing short-term blow for the indies as well as fuel to the fire that WWE is trying to do to that scene with NXT what it did to the territories during national expansion in the early 1980s. However, it can't sign ALL the wrestlers, so things won't be that bad. At least I hope.

In other personnel news, rumors are floating around that WWE is considering lifting its embargo of signing established TNA talent. With the company circling the drain and contracts expiring soon, WWE may look to the roster for bodies to fill NXT. I haven't seen any concrete reports, but the signing of Samoa Joe, who despite his close relationship with John Cena and high regard from his Ring of Honor days, is about as TNA as one can get seems to indicate a detente in that attitude. Additionally, WWE has reportedly been hot to sign AJ Styles, but he can't do anything until his New Japan Pro Wrestling contract expires at the end of the year.

Exciting times are afoot for wrestling fans if WWE and NXT are considered to be prestige endpoints and not a predatory body set on ruining the diversity of the ecosystem. I am on the fence, since I can totally see how the company is trying to establish a virtual monopoly on American pro wrestling. Still, I do want to see people who excel at their craft get paid top dollar for it. The landscape is changing as well, especially as Triple  H is gaining more power and pushing these ready-made indie stars more easily than when Vince McMahon was fully running the show. While I don't know whether it's more for better or worse, the times are certainly interesting to say the least.