WWE’S NXT Breakout Stars…
June 1st marks the day NXT crowned its first winner,
I look back at the first season’s success.
Sports entertainment is an ever evolving industry that is always looking for the next big star. And World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) is the leader in sports entertainment, with 14.4 million viewers a week in the United States alone. Seen in 145 countries around the world and in 30 languages, WWE is a billion dollar company.
WWE is of course always looking for its next star. As other stars leave the company or become irrelevant to the audience, as fans often become tired of seeing similar matches or the same wrestlers competing with each other for too long. And WWE quickly saw the need for a system to find the WWE’s next breakout star.
WWE has always looked to independent promotions to find superstars or divas to join their exciting roster of talent. And for a long time they were associated with Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW), based in Louisville, Kentucky. But in 2007 Steve Keirn created Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW), a Tampa, Florida based wrestling promotion. And by 2008 WWE had cut its ties with Ohio Valley Wrestling and adopted Florida Championship Wrestling as its sole promotion for up and coming stars wishing to pursue a career in World Wrestling Entertainment.
Florida Championship Wrestling operates as an independent promotion, with its roster, championships and even its own television show. It gives wrestlers the opportunity to perform in front of an audience, while learning how to work on screen, cut good promos, and perfect their in ring abilities, all tools that will be needed should they make it to the WWE.
In 2010, after WWE realized their ECW brand was not pulling the ratings needed, they created NXT. A show they hoped would find the next breakout star for WWE. And on February 23rd 2010 the world saw the pilot episode of WWE’s version of a reality show. It saw eight WWE pros pairing with 8 NXT rookies (wrestlers from the FCW promotion). They would battle each other in weekly challenges as well as in ring competition.
The show had Cape Town native Justin Gabriel be mentored by Matt Hardy. The outspoken Daniel Bryan was schooled by former WWE Champion, The Miz (who knows something about a reality show). Michael Tarver was shown the ropes by the “cool” one, Carlito. Skip Sheffield received advice from WWE legend, William Regal, while the “One Man Southern Rock Band”, Heath Slater sought knowledge from former World’s Champion, Christian. Wade Barrett was graced by the presence of Chris Jericho, a former champion in just about every field. David “A-List” Otunga was given R-Truth as his pro, and Darren Young was paired with current WWE Champion, the pipe bomb dropping CM Punk. The season was in my mind a success, and has since produced 5 champions with a combined 7 title regions.
Wade Barrett achieved success in WWE after winning the 1st season of NXT, he would lead the Nexus into WWE. The Nexus consisted of the 8 NXT rookies of NXT’s inaugural season. They led a hostile takeover of WWE. This would earn the group a Slammy Award. After CM Punk took control of the Nexus and formed the New Nexus, Wade Barrett moved to Smackdown, where he joined former Nexus mates Heath Slater and Justin Gabriel, and alongside Ezekiel Jackson formed a group known as The Corre. Following the melt down of The Corre, Wade would break out as a singles competitor and capture the WWE’s prestigious Intercontinental Championship. He would later lose the belt to former Corre member, Ezekiel Jackson. Wade Barrett also had a WWE title match at the Bragging Rights pay-per-view. He would later feud with former World’s Champion, Randy Orton. And many suspected that he may have a big role in Wrestlemania 28, however that was until Wade injured himself in a match before Wrestlemania, an injury which Barrett is looking to soon return from.
Daniel Bryan is perhaps the most successful NXT graduate since the shows inception. He won the Smackdown 2011 Money in the Bank Ladder match to earn a World Heavyweight Championship match. He would then cash it in to become the World Heavyweight champion, until losing the title at Wrestlemania 28 earlier this year. Before that Bryan also enjoyed the success of the United States Championship, won a Slammy for assaulting WWE announcer Michael Cole and is on the brink of capturing the WWE Championship. Daniel Bryan is arguably the hottest superstar in WWE right now.
Justin Gabriel’s success in WWE so far has been in the form of tag team wrestling. Alongside another NXT season 1 graduate, Heath Slater, Justin would win three tag team titles. After which Justin broke out into singles competition. Justin had several near encounters with becoming the WWE Intercontinental Champion, but it was not to be at that stage. While Heath Slater is still an active part of Smackdown, his biggest claim to fame next to his tag team title wins, is the fact that Grammy Award Winning artist, Flo Rida shoved him down at Wrestlemania back in April of this year.
David Otunga has proved to be quite the legal eagle, he was part of the Nexus invasion, and held the tag team championships on two occasions: once with John Cena and once with Michael Mcgillicutty. But these days David Otunga is the legal representative for WWE Raw and Smackdown General Manager, John Laurinaitis which often sees him getting into the ring to help Big Johnny take care of some little problems.
Skip Sheffield joined the other NXT rookies during their attempt to take over WWE, and was part of the group that would win a Slammy for the night they invaded Monday Night Raw. But an injury would sideline Skip from in ring competition. Upon returning Skip worked several dark matches. But it was his new persona Ryback that took Skip from a guy nobody noticed to a guy nobody wanted to forget. Ryback has been running rough shot on Smackdown, and since returning to Smackdown television has yet to suffer a loss.
Darren Young, or the black version of John Cena, as many has called him, is still an active part of WWE. He too was part of the Nexus group and since then had several matches on WWE Superstars, before returning for the latest season of NXT, where he would discover a great chemistry with Titus O’Neil. When Teddy Long lost the position of Smackdown General Manager back at Wrestlemania, new General Manager John Laurinaitis, signed both Darren Young and Titus O’Neil to Friday Night Smackdown where they have been dominating the competition thus far. And many feel could be in line for a Tag title match soon.
Unfortunately not all the NXT graduates are still competing for WWE. Michael Tarver should some potential, but unfortunately for him an injury to his groin took him out of competition for a while. Last year Michael Tarver made some random backstage appearances on both Raw and Smackdown, but it would lead nowhere as on June 13th 2011 WWE announced that they had released Tarver from his contract.
From The Miz slapping his rookie Daniel Bryan, to Bryans suicide dive in a match with Chris Jericho. The upset victory that Heath Slater picked up over Chris Jericho, or Darren Young getting in the face of Wade Barrett. Justin Gabriel’s 450 splash, or Otunga’s turn on his pro R-Truth. WWE NXT saw some memorable moments in its first season.
There is no doubt that the 1st class of WWE NXT rookies are no longer rookies, they have evolved into fully fledged WWE Superstars and champions whose promise continues today. What the future holds for these men is unknown, but one thing is for sure, the future is brightly awaiting all these top stars.
- Mr. Paul, guest columnist
Mr. Paul was born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa. H fell in love with wrestling as a child, thanks to wrestlers like the Undertaker and Mick Foley. He has always looked for a way to be part of the business, and as Jim Ross would say, wasn’t born with the genetics to be a wrestler, being a skinny guy. He started commentating for XWE (Xtreme Wrestling Entertainment) last year and quickly took over all announcing and MC duties, as well as the promotions social media and any writing that was required