This week, WWE main roster TV saw the debuts of Johnny Gargano, Tomasso Ciampa, Aleister Black, and Ricochet. Now, as an NXT guy, that naturally gave me both a swell of pride and a hearty helping of intense trepidation at what may become of these talents once Vince and the writers’ room get hold of them.
That initial reaction aside, the other thought that I had was: why are they bringing guys up while so many talents are already sitting at home or in catering on a given week? To answer that question, I ended up with a bigger question of just how many talents does WWE currently have working between its many brands?
The wrestler – sorry, sports entertainer – math that I did, adding up the male and female talent rosters of RAW, SmackDown Live, NXT, NXT UK, and 205 Live left me with the number 199. Now, that number is probably off by a character or two in either direction but, for the sake of this article, it sounds fun so I’m going with it.
Of that 199, RAW alone has a male roster of 40+ active superstars, which explains why we see some talents so little, but also creates another question of why we see some talents so much. And, back to my initial question: why bring up this 4 Horsemen of NXT now when there is so much talent that hasn’t even sniffed a curtain-jerker match in months like the Colons, No Way Josè, Titus, Bray Wyatt, and the now departing Tye Dillinger?
My theory is that the WWE has become a little bit like an action figure collector. They have all their main characters. They got the exclusive variants. They filled out the wave with the figures they didn’t want but needed to complete a team, and then they bought some just because they were on sale. Think of WWE TV as a glass display case and the inactive roster as the plastic tub in the closet. They have all the toys, but they lack the space or time to play with them all. But, more new toys keep coming out so they have to pick them up as well. They get a quick burst of inspiration (see Nakamura, Shinsuke) but then run out of cool display ideas and move on to the next thing.
The next thing right now being the NXT thing.
Based on their initial outings, it looks like we can predict a trajectory for the four to at least some degree. Gargano and Ciampa are going to work the tag division. Ricochet is going to be in the Intercontinental/US title zone, and Black is going to the upper mid-card with an eye on main events. This is just my take after one week of TV of course but based on the booking, it makes sense. Gargano and Ciampa (DIY! DIY! DIY!) got wins over The Revival and The Bar. Black got wins over Elias and Andrade. Ricochet teamed up with Finn Balor for a win over Lashley and Rush on RAW and then beat Eric Young on SmackDown Live.
But the question again is, why? Why now? Why give those wins to four NXT guys, two of them already singles champions for the brand, when there are so many other talents already on the RAW and SmackDown rosters to work with?
I have the following theories, to be taken with as much salt as possible, as they are not based on anything other my imagination and armchair smark knowhow, cultivated from hours of podcasts and years of watching the product.
1. Hunter is taking over and these are his ringers. HHH protected all four of these guys during the last round of call-ups to guard the top of his NXT card, so bringing them up could suggest that he is taking greater control over the main roster and wants his top guys along for the ride.
2. The WWE is going to do more cross-brand talent sharing as we saw with the Worlds Collide tournament, and NXT will no longer be viewed as the main roster farm team but as a competing brand. This could mean that Gargano and Company were brought up to showcase the NXT product to the audience that only watches RAW/SmackDown Live in order to drive up network subscriptions, while also adding an “anything can happen” element to all the shows.
3. They are planning a full-on “invasion” angle and these are the first shots of an inter-brand war. I hope not, but it’s a storyline they have used in the past and it could lead to an NXT vs WWE network event that would be excellent cross-promotion for the whole company.
4. The WWE wants to generate some internal competition for spots and they think that by bringing in these four talents, arguably the best that NXT has to offer, it will raise the bar for everything from work rate to promo skills. It has been said that part of what made the Attitude Era and the Monday Night Wars so good was the competition. Maybe this is a 2019 way of throwing some gas on the creative fires of the main roster talents to get things hot before WrestleMania.
It could be all the above, or it could just be that Vince was busy making football things happen and Hunter snuck his guys in for the week. I really don’t know. What I do know is that with 199 talents to choose from it may very well be time to future some endeavours. Or, for more talents to take their career in their hands the way that Hideo Itami, Tye Dillinger, and Dean Ambrose have and get out of the WWE bubble to see what else is out there.
It is absolutely one thing to have your dream job as a WWE superstar on Monday Night RAW, but it has to be another thing to know that, at best, you can hope to be one of the guys that come out to pull Braun Strowman away from whatever thing he is pushing over on a given week. Where is the line between security and fulfillment?
That question, and the others I have dropped into this column are yet more pieces of the ever-building puzzle that is the landscape of pro wrestling/sports entertainment in 2019 and beyond. There are more ways to make money than ever before. There is the rise of AEW, the survival of Impact, the steady pace of ROH, the appeal of NJPW, and the growth of the WWE as an international business giant. While nostalgia has many fans wistful for the days of Stunners and 2 Sweets, the truth is that this is a new golden age of wrestling. Especially for those of us with a little spare time and a wrestling column.
I guess you could say I have 199 problems but talking about wrestling ain’t one.
Til next time, I’ll see you around the loop.