WrestleMania weekend was big for NXT in more ways than one. Friday night’s Takeover: Dallas show ended up blowing WrestleMania out of the water as far as critical acclaim, whilst Baron Corbin finally made his main roster debut courtesy of the Andre the Giant Battle Royal. Maybe Baron will stop being a moody so-and-so now he’s finally up there? Of course, there was more on Raw…
Whilst Baron Corbin’s Monday night saw him go to a double count-out against Dolph Ziggler, Raw also the debut of two more acts from NXT: Apollo Crews, and the long-awaited appearance of Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady (without Carmella). SmackDown is set to see the debut of the Vaudevillains, as the WWE tag team scene suddenly becomes piled up.
So, where do we begin?
On the same show, we saw a vignette to build up the repackaging of the former Los Matadores, with the former (?) Primo and Epico seemingly becoming heels by saying that they come from a beautiful country. Now, I’m not about to slaughter WWE for making these call-ups, if only because it’d feel like they’d not be able to do right for doing wrong. This was the right episode of Raw to make these debuts, especially given that the Raw crowd in Dallas was the hardest-of-the-hardcores – but unlike WrestleMania 24 hours earlier, this time the crowd were actually catered to.
Debuting on WrestleMania some 48 hours after losing to Austin Aries at Takeover, Corbin’s call-up was a matter of “when, not if”. Having re-debuted on NXT in September 2014 with a push, Corbin had done just about all he could in NXT without holding any titles. Granted, he’d come up short several times – losing to Neville in a number one contender’s tournament in January 2015; and again in a triple-threat number one contender’s match against Sami Zayn and Samoa Joe earlier this year.
But with the NXT title pretty much sewn up, and Baron Corbin having no involvement with Finn Balor at all, save for two tag team matches, he was pretty much running in place in NXT. The informal feud with independent stars was running its course, and even if NXT were to bring in extra guys to continue the feud, it was time for Baron to make the step up, if only so that we didn’t get a second season of Breaking Ground where he’s miserable at being in developmental.
The only issue with him debuting in the Andre the Giant Battle Royal at WrestleMania was that he didn’t even get an entrance. Corbin was wheeled out with the majority of the entrants who weren’t really tall or called Shaquille O’Neal, to the point where the first acknowledgment of him was one of those “hey, look, isn’t that NXT’s Baron Corbin?” lines on commentary. Granted, for a Raw debut, a double count-out wasn’t ideal, but Corbin laying out Ziggler with the End of Days outside the ring was the main takeaway, but considering that you had the likes of Fandango, the Social Outcasts, R-Truth and plenty more expendable guys backstage, it’s a little weird that Corbin’s debut wasn’t a squash. Unlike…
This was a call-up that was surprisingly late. In that a lot of people were surprised that Vince didn’t see Crews after his NXT debut and immediately put him on Raw!
Crews’ debut was a squash against Tyler Breeze – the man who joins the Ascension as a poster child for the failed NXT call-up. In NXT, Crews was in a similar position to Baron Corbin; since his debut last summer, Crews only has two televised singles defeats to his name – one against Baron Corbin at December’s Takeover: London show, and the other a decisive loss against Finn Balor. Much like Corbin, Crews was nowhere near the title picture, and save for a rushed feud with Elias Samson (that ended up bumped from the Takeover special in Dallas), he’s largely been considered an afterthought in NXT this year.
In terms of promos, Crews has been fairly hit-and-miss, which will be a big concern on the main roster. His in-ring is good enough for the main roster, but as NXT viewers have seen, his talking has gone from being pretty good on his NXT debut, to yet another generic WWE promo guy.
As far as what happens next… well, Crews needs to make a splash in much the same way he did in NXT last summer. Yes, the squash against Tyler Breeze allowed him to showcase his two finishing moves – the gorilla press slam followed by the standing moonsault; and the atomic drop lift into a spinning powerbomb. Ideally, WWE should keep Crews against guys who he can do that to, and in squashes – but as a babyface, there’s very few guys he can do that against whilst not being perceived as being being slotted in the lower card.
The worst thing that WWE can do to him as he’s establishing himself is put him up against another big guy – “to showcase his power”. Is a feud with the Miz for the Intercontinental title too much, too soon? Perhaps, but given the alternatives are likely a feud with Ryback that’d do no guy either good, Crews needs to hope that creative actually have a plan for him.
Enzo Amore & Colin Cassady
They finally made it! Even if Carmella didn’t… these guys weren’t even on the show for Friday’s Takeover: Dallas event (the live section or the dark matches), and like Crews, they’d largely been an afterthought in NXT since the last Takeover event in London.
Granted, Amore and Cassady did get another NXT tag team title shot at the Roadblock event just before WrestleMania, but aside from that, it felt like they were just waiting for their call-up, particularly with rumours of several aborted debuts having done the rounds. The curious lack of Carmella to their act perhaps means that they’re going to utilise Carmella in NXT’s women’s division.
Amore and Cassady, of course, didn’t win any gold in NXT, but that never seemed to be an issue. They grew from a team that initially debuted as heels, to become a much loved act – kind of like how Emma was for her first main roster run just over two years ago. However, whereas Emma’s act was something that only worked in front of the NXT crowd, the Enzo/Cass act shouldn’t suffer a similar stall. They have their well-established catchphrases, they already have their first feud lined up with the Dudley Boyz, and most importantly, they’re in a division that has no clear challengers, so there’s little chance of them getting lost in the shuffle.
The only downside against Enzo and Cass was buried away in Michael Cole’s commentary – “they’re an acquired taste”. Yes, their act is different, but I can’t help but worry that the first mis-step they make, they’ll be thrown to the wolves via the proxies of Messrs Cole, Layfield and Saxton. Much like these next guys:
The team of Simon Gotch and Aiden English, much like Enzo and Cass, have also been a cult favourite of the NXT crowd. However, since they lost the tag team titles last October, they too have become lost in the shuffle.
Just before the Takeover: London show, the Vaudevillains hinted at a heel turn, before being treated as babyfaces during the London NXT tapings – perhaps due to their cosplay efforts as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Who. Since then though, several vignettes aired on NXT of them pulling a mean face to a slowed down version of their old-timey entrance music, but after losing a number one contendership match to American Alpha last month, they looked to be further away than ever from recapturing the NXT tag team titles (and indeed, being the first wrestler or team to ever become a two-time champion in NXT).
So, what will become of the Vaudevillains on the main roster? Well, for a start, their promoted debut on SmackDown could be interpreted as a strike against them, since the tapings in Houston will likely be devoid of the rabid fans from WrestleMania weekend. Secondly, NXT talent who debut on SmackDown have had a horrendous record – just look at how Bo Dallas and Tyler Breeze have fared since making their debut on the blue-and-white show.
The Vaudevillains gimmick is really an acquired taste; whilst people can relate to Enzo and Cass, as we’ve all seen Jersey Shore and heard loudmouthes from New York/New Jersey. Aside from comic book conventions, there’s very few people who are able to relate to guys who act like they live in the past, and this is where I fear they will come unstuck.
WWE has a horrible record of transitioning NXT “gimmicks” onto the main roster; Adam Rose didn’t last too long before being phased down the card. Emma, we’ve already talked about, had no chance of success with the dancing buffoon gimmick that worked in front of the Full Sail audience. The Vaudevillains, I fear, will quickly end up being at the wrong end of the tag team division.
Curiously, whilst only Baron Corbin appeared on Friday night’s Takeover special, the loss of all four of these acts together will leave a hole in the NXT roster. Whilst neither Enzo/Cass nor the Vaudevillains were at the top of the NXT tag team division, their promotion to the main roster leaves the new NXT tag champions with a somewhat sparse list of challengers.
Aside from the unthroned Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson, the only regular team left in NXT for Jason Jordan and Chad Gable are the pairing of Zack Ryder/Mojo Rawley and Blake and Murphy – compared to the main roster’s now burgeoning division, NXT sorely needs new tag teams to keep the new champions of American Alpha looking credible.
Meanwhile, the loss of Corbin and Crews leaves another gap in the midcard, albeit one that shouldn’t be too difficult to fill. The recent debuts of Austin Aries and Shinsuke Nakamura mean that NXT as a whole won’t suffer from this round of call-ups. As for the rumoured future call-ups of the likes of Samoa Joe and Finn Balor, well, we need to wait and see what transpires in the coming weeks of NXT television – and whether they add to the debut of No Way Jose with some new pushes of talent ahead of the next (unannounced) Takeover event.