6/19 WWE NXT Scouting Report: Dot Net staffer Zack Zimmerman breaks down top WWE developmental prospects including Kassius Ohno, Sami Zayn, Leo Kruger, Adrian Neville, Mason Ryan, Paige, and more
By Zack Zimmerman
NXT has become the most consistently entertaining weekly TV produced by WWE, as well as a very promising developmental territory for the future of WWE to learn, grow, and improve their acts. Performers such as Seth Rollins, Big E Langston, and The Wyatt Family have all found success in NXT leading to promotions to the main roster. This article is a scouting report of the talent in NXT as of June 2013. The ten numbered acts are the most heavily featured acts on NXT, excluding the aforementioned WWE call-ups, ranked by my perception of their potential. A new crop of talent is set to come in starting in July, so look for this article to be a semi-regular piece on Dot Net.
1. Leo Kruger - The South African native was brought up in the business with Justin Gabriel under Gabriel’s father, Paul Lloyd Sr., but bears no resemblance in any facet of his work. He’s had a reduced presence since the dissolution of his team with Kassius Ohno, but has shown loads of ready-to-go potential. His maniacal alpha-male character brings an edge and unpredictability that make him very compelling to follow. His character fits his personality, which fits his ring work and his promo style. Commentators have a tendency to take his character a bit over the top and phony, but Leo can really shine as a dastardly heel when he’s portrayed as a legitimate threat. He’s a Triple H favorite, who at times runs the risk of falling into the boringly methodical category. That said, he’s a technically sound, smart wrestler who aggressively works body parts that set up his finish. His character may be a victim of becoming cartoonish under the wrong creative plans or poor depiction, but if handled properly, Kruger could be a very successful star in WWE.
Pro: Defined character that is an extension of himself and fits his entire on-screen act.
Con: Matches can be tedious in the lower gears.
2. Kassius Ohno - Ohno is a world-traveled student of pro wrestling. The former Chris Hero has trained and taught in schools, camps, and dojos across the U.S., Europe, and Japan; working with some of the best who have ever lived. Ohno took full advantage of the opportunity to work a program with mentor William Regal and put on one of – if not the – best match seen on NXT. He showed outstanding capability as a threatening, slightly unhinged villain. He has been a consistent player on NXT, but has been subject being placed in thrown together tag teams, first with Leo Kruger and now with Corey Graves. He uses great spots and maneuvers from all corners of the wrestling world that haven’t been seen in WWE and help him to stand out as a worker. Ohno is going to be an interesting case to follow, as his on-screen and in-ring act could be a huge hit, but he’s also relatively undefined as a persona.
Pro: Well-traveled ring general whose work is always entertaining.
Con: Has yet to show equal promo/character capabilities as a babyface as he showed in his heel run.
3. Corey Graves - Graves is undersized, underrated, and often under-appreciated. He has a unique tattoo-grunge, almost steampunk look and style about him. Some will draw obvious visual comparisons to C.M. Punk, but the similarities stop at the tattoos. He has his catchphrase "STAY DOWN" tattooed across his knuckles, which he often incorporates into very premeditated, fluid, and compelling promos. Graves is small, but holds his own physically and works a submission-heavy style. He’s been featured prominently on NXT, having earned several shots at number-one contendership, but never feeling like a legitimate threat to the title. He is currently teaming with Kassius Ohno in what feels like a temporary-but-unnecessary holding spot against The Wyatt Family. His matches are always logical and solid, even when he doesn’t feel entirely relevant. He’s not someone I foresee becoming a top player, but there is a place for him without a doubt.
Pro: Deliberate and smooth on the mic with a ring style that can be similarly described.
Con: Being perceived as C.M. Punk Jr. may hinder him and his ability to get over.
4. Paige - Paige is consistently one of the most over performers on NXT. At only 20 years old, she already looks very comfortable in the ring and has a firm handle on her anti-Diva character and personality. She comes from an English wrestling family led by matriarch Saraya Knight and father Ricky Knight. The mother-daughter duo most notably worked together in Shimmer, where Paige was able to gain some U.S. indie experience before joining WWE. Paige is definitely small, but her appeal, charisma, and work won’t let size hold her back. Potentially, Paige and A.J. Lee could have an incredible legacy of matches unlike anything we’ve seen from women in mainstream U.S. wrestling.
Pro: Unique, ultra-appealing Diva with more-than-capable in-ring work.
Con: 20 years young and untested living life on the road.
5. Sami Zayn - Sami has an intangible, endearing, genuine charisma that makes him come across as being extremely relatable. He’s the newest singles star to debut in NXT and picked up victories over Curt Hawkins and Antonio Cesaro on his very first night. In his interviews, Sami shows an innate likeability and instant connection with whomever he is interacting with. He is able to be classy yet flirty when talking to Renee Young, and show intensity, passion, and confidence in his ongoing feud with Cesaro. He has worked all around the globe gaining experience and building a loyal fanbase, so his work will look very familiar to many fans of independent wrestling. His unique hybrid of lucha libre and main event styles make him exciting and very memorable. He is scrawnier than most anyone on the WWE roster, but his strong underdog work and untouchable babyface fire make him an incredibly promising prospect.
Pro: Indescribable genuine personality with standout potential in all areas.
Con: Far from the "body guy" WWE has been known to favor.
6. Adrian Neville - The things Adrian Neville is capable of doing off the top rope are absolutely spectacular. He has been primarily featured in championship tag teams with Oliver Grey and Bo Dallas, so he has yet to show his full potential as a singles act. Prior to signing with WWE, Neville spent extensive time working in Japan with some of the most stellar athletes in the wrestling world. He proved to be one of the best junior heavyweights in the sport during his runs with Dragon Gate, both in Japan and the U.S. Unfortunately for his star-potential, he is as poor on the mic as he is incredible in the ring. His interviews are awkward and he seems uncomfortable having the camera on him when he isn’t wrestling or flying. Improv, acting, or public speaking classes would do wonders for the timid young man with a heavy Geordie accent. His career will be a tug-of-war between his struggles on the mic and his remarkable in-ring prowess.
Pro: Breathtaking aerialist with a great WWE physique.
Con: A self-admitted lack of confidence makes his charisma and speaking capability questionable.
7. Emma - Last-nameless Emma is a talented worker and has a polarizing quirky act. The Lance Storm trainee has won the affection of NXT crowd with her lovable, obliviously ditzy character, and even more so with her bizarre dance and incredibly catchy entrance theme. When her music hits, the arena comes to life and springs into a really fun atmosphere where almost everyone is able to let loose and dance along with her. Her work in the ring is solid technically, but she also stays true to her character which brings a light-hearted, almost comedy aspect to her matches. She runs the risk of falling into bad Santino territory with the goofiness, especially if her character falls into the hands and brain of someone who doesn’t have a good bearing on what to do with her. Her act is enjoyable, entertaining, and works in appropriate doses, but it’s unclear how she would come across on a bigger stage at this point.
Pro: Her dance, music, and personality will stick in your head.
Con: The act will naturally grind the gears of people who don’t like silly comedy, "dumb blonde" stereotypes, or epic dancing.
8. Conor O’Brian - A guy with great size, quickness, power, and the most elaborately produced character in NXT - Conor O’Brian may be the next supernatural star or he may not even get off the ground. His act is underworld themed and runs the risk of losing believability, especially with a name as disconnected from the act as Conor O’Brian. He has all of the gifts he can be given both naturally and cosmetically, but it remains to be seen if he can make his act connect and work in a more modern era of wrestling. He also has yet to show that he can put out good in-ring work on a consistent basis. He shows hints of getting it, but isn’t always as entertaining as he should be with his experience, having spent extensive time in developmental. He is inconsistently featured on NXT TV, occasionally portrayed as a legitimate threat, and other times seeming aimless. His pairing with the now-released Kenneth Cameron showed promise as The Ascension, and his apparent recent pairing with Rick Victor in a similar gimmick also has potential if used appropriately.
Pro: Physically gifted and ultra-unique gimmick.
Con: Inconsistently featured. Inconsistent matches. Oh, and who names an evil underworld character Conor O’Brian?
9. Bo Dallas - Without a doubt, the reigning NXT Champion is the most unbearable "babyface" in all of WWE (yes, including John Cena). He is what J.R. would call a blue-chipper and can go in the ring, but he also has tremendous go-away heat from the NXT crowd. He is often met with heavy boos and berated with chants of "No more Bo!" The talent he has gets buried underneath his sappy stuck-on smile and his inexplicable unlikability. His first run on WWE TV went absolutely nowhere after he failed to stand-out or connect. Of late, he’s been delivering lame white-meat material on the mic, dusted with subtle hints leaning heelish that the crowds happily jump all over. There is hope that his mega-heat as a babyface will translate to a successful heel character, otherwise this son of "I.R.S." Mike Rotunda may be in trouble.
Pro: Talented in-ring performer with the sport in his blood.
Con: Nuclear go-away heat from a large portion of the crowd and viewers.
10. Mason Ryan - The "red flag" Mason Ryan has been given multiple chances on the big stage and continues to be a featured act on NXT. He appears as freakishly-muscular as ever, taking the term "body guy" to a seemingly unnecessary level. His work has shown slight signs of improvement since his WWE run, but he hasn’t been tested in anything more than one or two minute squash wins. He also hasn’t been featured in any promos, vignettes, or interviews like the majority of NXT performers are, leaving him as undefined and vague as he was in The New Nexus. The guy has an incredible build, but the wrestling business seems to be moving away from pure body guys, especially when such size is a hindrance to work ability. I don’t think Mason Ryan will cut it in the WWE system over the long run, but the matchmakers in NXT apparently have yet to realize that.
Pro: Impressive physique that makes him stand out in an era where more "little guys" are featured and getting over.
Con: Poor work, poorer character, and proof that the WWE wellness policy doesn’t catch everything.
Other names to keep in mind:
Enzo Amore - In an era clamoring for the return of career jobbers, Amore has the ability to be an awesome one. He talks a million miles per hour and portrays himself as a tough guy, calling himself "realest guy in the room." He is able to walk to the ring with a microphone, draw great heat, and make a babyface look like a star while shutting him up. It’s not the career one hopes for, but it’s a necessary position that could use some solid players like Amore.
Scott Dawson & Garrett Dylan - Expect to see more of these two, but don’t expect it to be high-quality entertainment. This cartoonish redneck act, with their French high roller manager Sylvester Lefort, has a very small chance of ever connecting with crowds or viewers. The way they’re being booked gives the impression management sees something and wants to give them a shot, but I don’t see a bright future for either if the duo doesn’t seriously improve from week one.
Xavier Woods - Seen in TNA as Consequences Creed, Woods comes in with high charisma and great potential in the ring. His gimmick is a true-to-life "90s kid" act which may or may not find success connecting with an audience, whole or niche. The soon-to-be Ph.D. has yet to be heavily featured, other than a forgettable win several months ago, but expect to see him get a chance to show his stuff.
Colin Cassady - Cassidy has only made one appearance on NXT TV, losing his debut in a squash match to Mason Ryan. However, the guy is tall, has really good athletic size, and genuinely looks like a pro wrestler. He hasn’t had the opportunity to show much yet, but his sole appearance gave the impression that he has the potential to be repackaged into an act that will work for him and help him advance.
Rebecca Knox - The yet-to-debut Rebecca Knox is someone who will be completely hit or miss. She has a history of injuries that have caused her to miss substantial ring-time and taken a toll on her career thus far. This paints her as the injury-prone type who may not be long for the wrestling business. That said, she is also a trainee of New Japan’s most impressive rising star, Fergal "Prince" Devitt. It is because of his name value and skill that I could potentially see her coming in and helping to bump up the image of women’s wrestling in WWE, or continue the strengthening of NXT’s female roster.
Richie Steamboat - Richie has been out of action for about seven months with a back injury and has seemingly been forgotten on NXT TV. According to multiple reports, the injury was serious enough that there was legitimate concern as to whether or not his career would continue. He is scheduled to undergo back surgery in the near future, according to Dave Meltzer. There is no timetable set for his return.
Oliver Grey - The UK native was formerly one-half of the first-ever NXT Tag Champions with Adrian Neville. He has been out of action since mid-February due to a torn ACL. He has since had surgery to replace his ACL ligament and remove almost half of his meniscus. When the injury first occurred, he was projected to miss six-eight months. Expect to see him back towards the end of 2013, if all goes according to plan.
Throw any comments, questions, criticisms, or corrections @InVasionZim; always happy to discuss.
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