‘You say it best, when you say nothing at all’ – Ronan Keating, 1999.
Watching Aleister Black, the man I’d come to know as Tommy End, debut at NXT Takeover: Orlando provoked a strange bout of déjà vu. Several years ago I had a dream in which I was a wrestler, but an unconventional one. One who never spoke, merely taking notes on each opponent he faced, adding true depth to Michael Cole’s trademark sentiment ‘scouting your opponent’.
Whilst any notion of me wrestling professionally have long since diminished—my diminutive and slightly rotund stature put paid to those dreams—that dream of a wrestler who was unique in saying nothing and letting their actions do the talking never did.
Black is that wrestler.
His dramatic entrance music, serious demeanour and complete zen in the ring are a stark contrast to anything else in NXT or on the main roster. His debut match with Andrade Almas was underwhelming, but the finishing sequence that saw Black lift Almas with his foot before nailing him with Black Mass was compelling. There was clearly something more to Black than your average wrestler, but you didn’t need a video package or lengthy promo to tell you that – his facial expressions and mannerisms did all of that for you.
His subsequent squashes on NXT have also further developed his character. Kona Reeves came right at the Dutchman, who still managed to effectively project his brooding personality before nailing him with Black Mass.
Next on the conveyor belt was Corey Hollis, against whom Black spent most of the match (it lasted a mere 28 seconds) motionless, before rising to his feet and nailing Hollis. Against Cezar Bononi, Black faced a considerable size disadvantage but there was no flinching, no movement away from his trance-like state, just a barrage of brutal strikes. Each squash has been slightly different but all equally compelling, each exposing us to a bit more of his brooding persona.
Black isn’t the only wrestler in WWE history to have remained speechless in his opening showcases – Vladimir Kozlov memorably stomped to the ring in his opening months in complete silence, destroying all those put before him. However, his in-ring deficiencies eventually became apparent and he was reduced to little more than a comedy act alongside Santino Marella.
Silence and wrestling tend not to go hand-in-hand, with ‘the art of the promo’ regularly presented to fans and critics alike as the key to success in the industry. Indeed, Dusty Rhodes’ iconic ‘Hard Times’ promo inadvertently seems to have set a negative precedent, with subsequent WWF/WWE wrestlers somewhat unfairly expected to conform to that high standard. Even big men like Braun Strowman, whose violent squashes were enough to get him over, were soon given long talking segments after making their main roster debuts.
The reality is, however, that promos do not come naturally to many wrestlers, many of whom have used wrestling as an outlet from social anxieties. Many struggle with them and with managers seemingly a non-existent concept in the current wrestling landscape, this is the reason, we are told, that people like Cesaro have never achieved the singles success on the main roster that their obvious in-ring talents deserve.
Not every wrestler has to be like Aleister Black, but in him the WWE have a unique talent in numerous ways. Emblazoned with numerous intriguing tattoos and a violent moveset, alongside an enchanting presence in the ring, Black is one of a kind. I’d argue that he is one of the must-see elements of NXT, despite not speaking, and therefore when he does eventually speak, it will prove even more captivating. Fans will not switch off because it’s just another generic ‘sports entertainment’ promo, filled with generic tropes and awkwardly forced catchphrases, instead remaining engaged with the mysterious Dutchman.
Black’s recent appearance on Main Event makes me think a main roster call-up could be imminent.
Obviously they could ruin the unique development of his character, the level of exposure granted by the main roster has ruined the nuance of many original gimmicks in recent years (Bray Wyatt a case in point), but I am entitled to hope. Because sometimes, just sometimes, dreams become reality.