Last night as the Adam Rose character died yet another death in front of a live crowd, one begins to wonder if something isn’t quite right with WWE and its developmental system.
We may be overreacting and it’s only been a few weeks for Rose but three of WWE’s most recent NXT call-ups have been nothing short of complete flops — Paige, Emma and the aforementioned Rose. With Rose and Paige, there’s still plenty of time to resurrect them and Emma may have a future but by and large, the debuts and subsequent angles, matches and storylines for these characters haven’t done the three any favors.
Rose is an obvious case. His act is a small-crowd one, it’s one that got over instantly at Full Sail University where it seemed like a fun, raucous environment that filled up with random goobers wearing crazy costumes dancing to some insane music. It felt big in that setting, on that stage but it doesn’t translate to a major arena. In a major arena it’s 10 weirdos running down the ring carrying a guy very few people in that crowd has ever heard of, it just doesn’t work.
Emma, much like Rose, has an act (or a dance, really) that got over in the smaller atmosphere of NXT where it was given time to develop and cultivate. Compare that to her debut where she was introduced as “Emma from NXT!” by Santino, did a dance nobody had ever seen and really never recovered since. Similar to Rose, a major crowd doesn’t get it because a majority of that huge crowd has never watched NXT. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if 40% of the people live even know what NXT is. That number should hopefully rise with WWE Network but that remains to be seen.
Paige, unlike Rose and Emma, had an act that could have and should translate to WWE. The problem with her though, is exposure. She was immediately thrust onto the scene the night after WrestleMania, won the title from AJ Lee and away she goes… well, not exactly. The NXT crowd loves her, the hardcores adore her, but that’s not your audience. The bulk of your audience, even though this is the (ugh) “REALITY ERA” and has access to thousands of hours of wrestling from all across the world is still shrouded in a cloak of casualness. They’ve never seen Paige before, they have no idea what to make of her, how they are supposed to react to her or who she is. Worse yet, she looks different than the rest of the Divas which is great, but it’s not being cultivated or delivered to the casual WWE audience. Paige spent much of her NXT tenure lauding herself as the anti-Diva, the one not like the others, yet on a three-hour weekly show, we haven’t yet created that identity.
One of our Twitter followers brought up a great point and something that is undeniably happening with NXT and the WWE developmental system:
.@voiceswrestling Rose? 100%. It’s funny to me that with NXT they’ve now created their own faux indie with acts that don’t translate to TV
— Barry (@TheBarrylad) May 13, 2014
It is ironic that after so many years of hand-wrangling about indie acts not working in the major business, narratives that guys could only get over in front of bingo hall crowds, etc., etc. and here we are. As Barry said, after so many years of WWE feeling the independents were not doing a proper job of training their stars of tomorrow, they’ve essentially done the same thing. Now for the record I think NXT and the Performance Training Center are fantastic additions to WWE and will reap benefits moving forward. However, WWE needs to realize the scope of NXT, who is watching it and how to develop characters and talent for the next level.
NXT isn’t WWE’s first development rodeo, they were hugely successful with a number of developmental territories throughout the 90s and early 2000s, most notably Ohio Valley Wrestling. OVW graduated John Cena, Randy Orton, Brock Lesnar, Batista and a bevy of other WWE superstars, most of them tailor made to transition into WWE. They did it differently than NXT is though, for better or for worse, OVW developed the men and the workers behind the personas rather than develop the characters as NXT currently does.
In NXT, someone like Emma has time to develop a kooky dance and a persona that gets over in front of that crowd. When they deem her ready, she’s up to the main event roster with that same persona and tendencies. In a perfect world it’s the ideal situation. The entrance ramps are the same, the rings are the same, the production is similar — it’s a smooth transition. The problem is the crowds are wholly different. What they react to is different, what they know, who they know, how they know it, it’s all different.
How Ohio Valley differed was developing the worker, regardless of character. I spoke with former OVW wrestler Rob Conway a few weeks ago about his transition from Ohio Valley Wrestling and the main roster and it’s obvious in just a few minutes the difference in development. We talked at length about the difference between the developmental systems and while he loves the current style of NXT and what it does to cultivate the WWE superstars of tomorrow, you can still see the shortcomings.
Conway got over in OVW as a completely different character than what he’d debut in the WWE as. In OVW he was “Ironman” Rob Conway who prominently teamed and feuded with Nick Dinsmore. Conway would make his WWE debut as a french sympathizer named Robért Conway. His running mate Dinsmore would come up as the mentally-disabled nephew of then-Raw general manager Eric Bischoff. John Cena was The Prototype, Batista took the persona of Leviathan and so on.
Was it the best method? I’m not sure but it’s hard to argue with the results. While I think NXT is doing the right thing in giving their trainees all the tools for an easy transition to WWE, they need to remember who’s their core audience and who’s their NXT audience, because they are different.
Paige may get over in front of Full Sail University and the hardcore fans watching NXT, but don’t automatically assume that translates into a crowd of 14,000+ that has never watched a second of NXT in their lives. You’ve done a great job of allowing these workers to get comfortable in these characters and their roles, let your casual audience get comfortable with them as well. Video packages, slow build-ups and characters tweaks are necessary when translating to the next level. The Wyatt Family took some getting use to and were initially met with some head scratching but they were helped by a well-protected plan and an obvious desire to elevate them above the muck.
Someone like Rusev, another recent NXT call-up, is a perfect example of what to do. Since his debut there have already been substantial tweaks to his character from chopping Alexander off his name to becoming Russian instead of Bulgarian. As a result of him being a tucked away in short matches or in video packages, these changes don’t seem so drastic. They may be weird decisions to make after someone’s debut, but we’ll get over it… If Adam Rose came out next week in his Leo Kruger role or changed his music, perhaps even got rid of the “Rosebud” dancers, how would we react? Would we be able to adjust to him? If Emma stopped the “Emma dance”, what is she really? She’s super talented but that dance is why she’s on the main event roster.
We’re only a few weeks into the tenures of Rose, Paige and Emma, so time will tell, but the early returns are not encouraging.