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Tryout 2: Rick Poehling

Let’s talk about….NXT and getting over

“Great. Here comes the most boring Diva on the roster.”

With Aksana having been released just a few days earlier, I eagerly wondered who had taken that title and affixed it unto their lofty head. When I noticed Paige coming down the aisle, I argued in vain with the usual chestnuts about how if they just gave her time to work, she would be more over than-

Rhianna stopped me. “If, if, if. I want to like her, I really do. But what is the possible reason to care? She has no personality. None.”

A perfunctory argument later, the match ended, Cody Rhodes debuted as Stardust, and the rest of us all quickly basked in the glow of what was surely the greatest gimmick change that one man could possibly have. But the conversation stuck with me during my perusal of the dirt sheets the next day, reading about Vince and Dunn trashing Adam Rose. It stuck with me as I wondered, honestly, how Emma got so screwed up in her run-up to the main roster. And it started me thinking, about the weird science that is ‘getting over’ in this business, and how someone stays over, and how those things relate to the world of the NXT rookie getting that rare chance on the main roster.

By the way, has anyone SEEN Xavier Woods? Did he ever really exist?

NXT, essentially the WWE’s nod to those of us cantankerous enough to grumble about wrestling only being good when WCW Saturday Night was on, might be one of the best of Vince’s creations in a world where streaming is the future; there’s very little chance that Vince could sell NXT for the money he desired to a traditional network. Produced for what probably amounts to the change on his nightstand (although, considering the scuttlebutt about recent budget cuts, perhaps we should amend that to Vince’s sock drawer), it offers the younger talent the chance to work on a character and get it down as cold as possible, which should, in theory, allow them to get that character over stronger when they are brought up to the main roster. Bray Wyatt being the ultimate example of someone (Husky Harris) making the most of his character and opportunity.

But the most recent batch of NX T callups seems to have produced a resounding, how shall we put it, thud. Beginning before Wrestlemania with the butchering of Emma (pairing anyone with Santino is death in many ways, but his stuff with Beth was ever so much fun, I think that they thought that it could be recreated), to the latest (Adam Rose dying a slow death despite a gimmick that seems tailor-made for at least a crowd wakeup pop), I wonder why we’ve lost the thread that gave us The Shield and The Wyatt family.

For many months, I heard the refrain that ‘we’re not calling people up until we have a storyline for them’, something I thought to be rather refreshing. Having seen what has happened recently, I wonder if they have even considered whether or not they are getting ‘a’ storyline, or the ‘right’ storyline.

To recap: Paige. One of the most capable in-ring females the system has ever produced, she seemed to improve by the day down in NXT. Debuted the night after Wrestlemania, wins the Divas title, and has held it for quite some time, through 2 months now. Certainly capable of having a match of strong quality, having proven it several times over down in NXT. Has the most unique look of any female on the roster; no one would argue that she has the look of a Victoria’s Secret model, not in the slightest. Suicide Girl, yes.

No, you can’t look at my internet history, thank you very much.

Now then, we have Paige in NXT = badass anti-diva who kicked the holy hell out of anyone who crossed her, never lost her title, and in general projected an aura of a star. Paige in WWE = Simpering wimp in her debut who gets lucky with one move and wins the belt. Continually buried on commentary in the backwards way that Cole and Lawler have of pointing out that ‘everyone else’ thinks that her win was a fluke, and then acting surprised when she disposes of the likes of Alica Fox, or, as Cameron calls her, THE GREATEST WORKER IN THE WORLD. (With Melina a close second.) Given a few video packages, but very little mic time to get any part of her character over. And why is this? Because WCW.

Sorry, I have a macro on my computer that kicks in sometimes. By the way, I’m still hoping that someone comes up with a picture of Xavier Woods. It’d be like seeing Bigfoot at this point.

Here’s my view: I think that the people running creative in the WWE occasionally have vision that is limited to the space between their own posterior region. We used to call it “Headupass syndrome” in my college writing courses, a serious affliction that cannot be cured without a lot of therapy and serious reflection upon your own work. In short, I think that the writers of the storylines see the character in NXT, decide that character can simply translate to the main roster, and forget the MONTHS, sometimes years of work that crafting those characters took. And they also forget that those characters are seen week in, week out, by the same crowds in a small arena, which allows them to connect quite intimately with the fanbase in a way that they will rarely be able to connect on a large show such as Raw.

See, I think that’s where the problem lies. They believe, much like Vince and the rest of his people, that every WWE fan watches every bit of WWE programming that they put out there. That’s why they posited ridiculous numbers for the Network, and now they’re tossing employees off the ship as fast as Han Solo tossed trash off the Millennium Falcon to make the jump to hyperspace. (I blatantly stole that joke from the Daily Show.) As such, when they have a character like Paige’s, they say to themselves, ‘well, she looks different, so that should get her over. Throw her out there! Plus, people will remember her from NXT.’

But they won’t because in comparison to most other WWE programming, NO ONE WATCHES NXT. That’s not meant to be a criticism. It’s meant to be a wakeup call. When you put that guy from NXT out there, he needs the same help he needed to get over that he had down in the minors. Interview time. Strong matches. Vignettes. You know, all that stuff you did with Bray Wyatt and didn’t do with pretty much anyone else. Outside that, push the shit out of them, like you did The Shield, where they kill everyone for months on end, and look cool as hell doing it.

Anyone find Xavier yet?

Paige and Emma were wrestling 10+ minute matches down in NXT, and now they’ve been reduced to less than 10 minutes on the 3 hour Monday night show and comedy segments. Big E Langston, one of the most skilled mic workers at the time in NXT, with the awesome “I want 5” pin counts, has been reduced to 6 man tags after a lackluster IC title reign. Bo Dallas might somehow get this thing over (he’s certainly got the enthusiasm for it), but I have my doubts. And Adam Rose was rushed through as quickly as possible since they’ve had Leo Kruger signed for approximately 63 years at this point, and they have to do something with him.

We expect these guys to ‘get over’ because we’ve watched their matches on NXT, and because they are over. At Full Sail. In front of a small group of fans (probably more than TNA, if their ballpark photos are any indication), who have a deeper emotional connection to the roster because of the fact that they see every show and are invested in the wrestlers and the stories. And all the things that got them ‘over’ down in NXT took time and full use of the structure granted to a wrestling program that only has one hour a week in which to tell the stories it needs to tell.

Let’s face some facts here; Raw is, from week to week, normally a pretty terribly paced show from a storytelling perspective. Normally we get something in the opening segment that will set up the main event, sure, but most of the rest of the show is a seeming mish-mash of crap, with the occasional decently long match, and that’s where we have a real issue. Raw, Smackdown, Main Event; none of them have a narrative flow, which is hurting these wrestlers that come from a show that emphasizes the narrative above all else. Feuds are built and paid off in sequence, with the next one built organically off the first. While Neville is wrestling Kidd for the belt, Zayn and Breeze are figuring out who’s next. Simple. Just like the scalpel that a surgeon carries, you find the spot, you cut a clean incision, you sew it up, you move on. Raw, on the other hand, changes up to the hour before the show if you believe Metzler. Segments jump from serious wrestling to comedy in jarring affect, and the silly crap like multiple authority figures (seriously, after HHH and Stephanie WATCH this past Monday’s Raw, why would Roman still be allowed in the MITB match? He poisoned his boss!) don’t get a sense that those writing the show have any idea who anyone actually IS on the show.

In short (he says after 1600 words of verbal diarrhea), we’re afflicted with a terrible problem here; I want to see Sami Zayn on my screen wrestling, but I’m not sure that, considering their recent track record, that I want to see him wrestling on Raw. That is, to me, a pretty scary thought.

But still not as scary as Xavier Woods. Whoever that is.

Rick Poehling

@MrSoze on twitter.