Counterfeit Pennies: Analyzing NXT and its rookies

With the first season of WWE NXT about to wrap up on Tuesday night, I figured it would be a good idea to take one last look at the eight NXT rookies, as well as the show itself.

My personal opinions and extrapolations are below:

Analyzing NXT the show

I’ve watched every episode of NXT since its debut, and for the most part I’ve enjoyed the inaugural season. There have been some hits and misses with the show’s format, but even when they were putting the rookies through ridiculous challenges that had nothing to do with wrestling, I liked the premise of seeing some partially unscripted moments seep onto WWE programming.

The biggest miss for me was that it took weeks for WWE to explain the rules of the competition, so obviously it was hard to follow their logic — if there was any — until they finally decided on using a pros’ poll to determine rankings and eliminations. Also, those rookie challenges that felt more like hazing than anything useful — selling program guides, completing an obstacle course that involved monkey bars and chugging soda — just gave the show an unnecessary outlandish feel while wasting precious airtime that could have been maximized elsewhere.

The biggest hit for me was the general concept of the show — I like that they threw these rookies onto TV not knowing exactly what to expect — as well as the extremely well-produced pre-taped rookie profile packages, where the NXT pros offered actual insight into a particular rookie and what they were looking for from that person both in and out of the ring. I’ve said for years that WWE has and always will have the best production values in the business, and so these rookie profiles on NXT really played into their strongest of strengths.

Analyzing the NXT rookies

Below are my thoughts on each NXT rookie in order of my own personal rankings:

1. Wade Barrett

The most consistent in the ring and on the mic, Wade Barrett really impressed me from the beginning. He’s the only rookie that never seemed lost out there, and he played the cocky British heel as well as could be expected given the booking involved.

I also give a huge assist to Chris Jericho for being an ingenious mentor, especially the way he took Barrett with him wherever he went and energized Barrett’s matches on NXT by yelling and screaming his own commentary at Michael Cole and Josh Matthews.

2. Daniel Bryan / Bryan Danielson

It’s not Danielson’s fault that ‘Daniel Bryan’ was booked as a perennial loser, and I honestly feel this was a result of WWE having no clue as to what to do from a competition standpoint at the beginning of NXT. It just didn’t make sense to have Bryan ranked #1 and then tear him down every week, and while The Miz did everything he was asked to do as a heel mentor, the whole dynamic just got stale after awhile.

With that said, WWE got extremely lucky the way things turned out, because even with all of that negativity and staleness, Bryan was able to pull a rabbit out of his hat and turn the tables on all of this over the past few weeks. In just three weeks, Bryan denounced the ‘Daniel Bryan’ persona, reminded everyone that Bryan Danielson was the greatest wrestler in the world, called out Matt Striker, called out and attacked Michael Cole twice, and punched The Miz on his way out.

The funny part is that WWE hasn’t even scratched the surface in terms of introducing their fans to Bryan’s wrestling acumen, and I look forward to many great matches in his future WWE endeavors.

3. Justin Gabriel

Sometimes, it just comes down to a decent ring presence and an exciting finisher. Justin Gabriel has those two things going for him, and I think he has a great future as part of a tag team with mentor Matt Hardy, or on his own by working his ass off in the ring if given a chance as a lower mid-carder on SmackDown! / Superstars.

4. Michael Tarver

Michael Tarver might not have rubbed anyone the right way, but I actually think he made the most out of the stuff he was given on NXT, which wasn’t much. He was given a mentor in Carlito who is not even with the WWE anymore after being in and out of the doghouse for years, and for the first few weeks he was simply the forgotten rookie.

It’s no wonder then that Tarver’s character was driven from an instant disappearing act towards being uncomfortably off his rocker, something that’s not easy for a veteran to pull off (see: Matt Hardy’s heel turns throughout his career), let alone an unproven, untested rookie.

What Tarver showed me in his final weeks is that he tried as hard as he could despite the awful way he was mismanaged. I saw some real passion in there, and even if we never see him again on WWE television, I appreciated his attempts to make the most out of an impossible situation.

5. Heath Slater

The self-professed ‘One Man Rock Band’, Heath Slater had a pretty good run on NXT. He was given a solid mentor in Christian and he seemed to stay poised in a number of situations. With that said, the biggest problem for Heath was that he couldn’t sustain any momentum after being booked to beat Chris Jericho, and at some point the blame for losing the audience has to fall on the wrestler and not the writers. I’m sure we’ll see Slater again, but I think he needs more work in developmental before being called up to Raw or SmackDown!

6. David Otunga

If Heath Slater needs more work in developmental, then David “A-List” Otunga needs a whole lot more work himself. However, something tells me that Otunga is going to be crowned the winner of NXT on Tuesday night, and with that win he’ll be in a PPV match and added to the Monday Night Raw roster. I choose Raw for Otunga because if you haven’t noticed, many SmackDown! matches last about 10 to 15 minutes these days, and I don’t think Otunga knows how to do that.

While he has shown potential due to his personality and charisma, I worry about Otunga in the ring more than any other NXT rookie. I just hope he doesn’t hurt somebody because he still doesn’t know what he’s doing between the ropes and that’s a scary proposition.

If WWE is smart, they’ll realize this and make Barrett the winner instead, but I just don’t see that happening (hopefully I’m wrong).

7. Darren Young

Out of all the NXT rookie-mentor pairings, I felt that Darren Young and CM Punk made for the most compelling combination on the show. However, Darren couldn’t capitalize on this opportunity because he simply didn’t have the best timing or delivery in his promos and matches. I actually felt like Punk was doing incredible work as the manipulative mentor, and if anything, the way he managed Young did more for Punk’s character than it did for his languishing rookie.

At least Darren can win John Cena lookalike contests in his future non-WWE endeavors.

8. Skip Sheffield

Skip’s catchphrase was ‘Yep Yep Yep, What it do.’ Well, in a nutshell, Skip’s NXT run can be summed up as follows: ‘Nope Nope Nope, it did not.’

That’s all from me this week – CB.

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