By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
Remember NXT 1.0? Or, well, I guess that’s what we’ll call it. Not necessarily the cheap version of NXT that played its part well enough, but was ostensibly an extension of FCW. I’m talking around 2015/2016, when things kicked up and we started seeing Takeovers, which became can’t-miss for a lot of wrestling fans between then and, say, when the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Before 1.0, we had the OG NXT, which began in June 2012. From there, we had NXT Arrival (remember that?!), and the groundwork was set for 1.0 to thrive, which it did. In fact, it thrived so much that there was a tiny moment in history when NXT 1.0 was probably the hottest wrestling thing happening in the United States.
But since then, we all know the story. The suits at WWE wanted to go in a different direction. Paul Levesque had a life-changing health scare. Some of the stars allowed their contracts to expire in favor of either going elsewhere or just going home. And NXT 2.0 was born. As a result, we’ve received things like druids and poker players and a very Italian dude.
It hasn’t been ideal.
But speaking of things that aren’t ideal …
For those who missed it, word broke Friday that WWE was making cuts to this incarnation of NXT. Among the headlining names was Dakota Kai, who seems to be universally loved by everyone in the locker room and everyone who has a Twitter account (as an aside: At the risk of sounding somewhat insensitive, can you think of a prominent name that received their walking papers from WWE that immediately wasn’t always beloved by the locker room? That locker room must be filled with love and friendship and butterflies and unicorns because those relationships run deep. But I digress).
Kai was very good in the ring and in my mind deserved a title run, but it felt like that ship sailed when she wasn’t able to pull it off against Raquel Gonzalez (now known as Raquel Rodriguez). Still, she had been in NXT for an awfully long time, she put in some great work and she constantly made everyone around her better. If that’s not a recipe for someone who might deserve a shot on the main roster, I don’t know what is. Well, strike that. We all know what the recipe is these days and I guess it’s sex appeal? Eh, I digress again.
Anyway, behind Kai, the most talked-about cuts came in the form of Malcolm Bivens and Dexter Lumis. Bivens is hilarious. Period. There isn’t much else to say. He’s laugh-out-loud hilarious. But it never quite felt like WWE knew what to do with him and they certainly didn’t seem willing to accentuate his strengths, until only recently when he took on the role of the Diamond Mine’s mouthpiece. (To be fair, it should be noted that it was reported both Kai and Bivens told the powers-that-be that they didn’t want no part of whatever the hell NXT was becoming and they were getting the hell out of there as soon as they could anyway. My guess is they said it a little more tactful than that, though).
As for Lumis, someone should give him an Emmy for the commitment he gave to the weird, creepy role he was asked to play. We’ve seen Sam Shaw in a bunch of places prior to getting to NXT, but he never quite looked and/or acted like this. Did it work? My guess is the answer to that is polarizing. I got a kick out of it from time to time, but it was so clear the character had an expiration date, that my cynical mind couldn’t help but hear the clock tick each time I saw him on television. Free from those chains now, I can’t help but wonder what the future holds for him.
But that’s the thing — we can probably all agree that if Dexter Lumis (a/k/a Sam Shaw) wants a future in pro wrestling, he’ll be able to have one. The problem? That can’t be said about everyone else.
THE NAMES YOU DON’T KNOW
Draco Anthony. Vish Kanya. Paige Prinzivalli. Mila Malani. Raelyn Divine.
Those are five out of the 10 names that came across Friday’s cut list that made me go … huh? Who? What? Prior to Friday, I had heard those names maybe once or twice in my life and that was just when they signed and WWE touted its new signings in some press release or something. And so, like any inquiring mind might do, I tried to educate myself.
I was a tiny bit familiar with Anthony because he had a cup of coffee on 205 Live and made some appearances on NXT 2.0. Divine, meanwhile, was signed last year during that phony-baloney Las Vegas tryout that the company orchestrated to prove to the world that it’s looking for fresh new blood. She’s also the sister of Mace or Face or whatever the hell his name is now. Malani came from the same Vegas tryout and never made it onto TV. Kanya came from India and was an MMA fighter that never had a match. And I still can’t find a thing on Paige Prinzivalli.
What’s this say? It says little to no fans even know who half the people who were released on Friday were. Or, well, perhaps some fanatics knew of them, but most of these wrestlers never got on television and some never even had a match. They all signed within the last three years or so and before anyone could even tell if a crowd could or would buy into them as performers, they were given their walking papers.
And all of this happened, why?
Well, according to reports, it was because some, most or all of them weren’t “progressing fast enough.” (Yeah, we aren’t even going to try to pretend that the ol’ “budget cuts” nonsense is a real thing here). The two biggest surprises in my mind, when it comes to “not progressing fast enough” were Persia Pirotta and Harland. The former was getting mega TV time the last few months and found herself in what appeared to be a progressing story with Indi Harwell, Dexter Lumis and Duke Hudson.
The latter, meanwhile, is perhaps the most lasting shock to me. Harland (a/k/a Parker Boudreaux), had all the hype in the world when he came into WWE. Sure, you can blame that on how much he looked like Brock Lesnar before the shaved head and the weird, dark, cult-ish gimmick, but he was a former college football player and if I recall, WWE wasn’t quiet about bringing him in, even as Paul Heyman sang his praises for a short second sometime ago.
But I guess he wasn’t coming along as quickly as WWE hoped he would. And I guess that’s how they felt about Pirotta. And I guess that’s how they felt about the five people they signed within the last few years. And I guess WWE reserves the right to make the decisions, hire the people, fire the people and not blink an eye. And I guess it’s just tough cookies for those who want to dispute it.
But I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: This company is playing with people’s lives. Pirotta posted on her social media one week before being fired that she had just purchased a house. And let’s not pretend like this is the only story like this. Each time a round of cuts happens in WWE, we find out that someone who just lost a job also just made some type of tremendously life-altering decision prior to getting his or her walking papers.
It’s sad, it’s wrong, and it’s heart-breaking. It’s also something we’ve seen and heard before in the dark recesses of WWE doing people dirty. What isn’t as common …
GIVING UP TOO SOON
… Is having a list so heavy on young, green, hopeful talent.
That’s my biggest takeaway from Friday. It’s one thing to bring in seasoned indie vets who spent three to five years wrestling in front of small crowds in suspect buildings, it’s another to pluck kids from the formative years of their adulthood, sell them a dream and then give up on them for not picking it up as quickly as someone hoped they would. Parker Boudreaux just turned 24. Malani is 25. I mean, there is so much life in front of these people and yeah, maybe they didn’t spend their teenage years picking up the fundamentals of wrestling like some of the stars you see on the indie scene now, but I don’t think they should be punished for that — especially if they are showing a willingness to want to learn.
Now, of course, the question becomes, have they shown a willingness to want to learn? Those things, we’ll never know, even though some insiders out there have already commented on a not-so-great reputation at least one of these young wrestlers had. Yet even when you consider that, you also have to consider the level of patience the WWE brass has for stuff like this. In some cases, it feels like they don’t have enough. In fact, in some cases, it feels like their lack of patience is unfair.
I mean, really? Make a big deal out of holding open tryouts one year and the next, send some of those athletes packing? And at the same time, when you look at a WrestleMania card, you see names like Brock Lesnar, Edge, AJ Styles, The Miz, Randy Orton, and even Steve Austin — all guys who have more matches behind them than they do ahead of them. Then, when you look across the aisle, and see the competition on the other channel, you see young, hungry names ready to grind as much as possible to leave a legacy in this business.
Not everyone is going to be Bron Breakker, the son of a legend who most likely grew up in the business and wants to carry on his dad’s legacy. Some of these people will be Projects. As in, capital-P Projects. That should be OK. It’s an investment in the future, and it also sets the precedent that you’re willing, as a company, to give young up-and-comers a true shot. The anti-WWE rhetoric could be quelled just a little if you choose to work with these people as their growing pains become evident.
That in mind, it all leads me back to the beginning.
FROM THE GROUND UP
There was a time when these lists of cuts didn’t include A) only NXT names and B) a ton of names most of us haven’t really ever previously heard. When NXT 1.0 was rolling, it was rolling. The worst-case scenario was seeing one of your favorite NXT 1.0 wrestlers get the call up to appear on Raw or Smackdown because you were certain their gimmicks, careers and trajectory would be compromised. Even Ciampa, one of the very few last ones to stick around, managed to stay long enough before seemingly being forced to get the call to appear on Monday nights.
But look at the most successful NXT call-ups we’ve seen. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn are probably near the top of the list on the men’s side. Shinsuke Nakamura is still useful on the main roster, even if I think they just kind of/sort of played him with the whole Roman Reigns thing. Drew McIntyre returned for his best WWE run by going through NXT first. Even consider those who left — Adam Cole, Samoa Joe, Andrade … shoot, even Killer Kross. All of those people got to NXT after they earned their stripes wrestling around the world in one way or another.
NXT was as good as it was because it was by design. Levesque wanted the best indie talent in the world and for the most part, he got it. NXT was AEW before AEW was AEW. That in mind, what’s the one thing NXT never did with any consistency?
Build someone from the ground up.
Take a person who says, “I want to be a wrestler,” train them, teach them, work with them, grant them patience, and then watch them grow up to be a megastar? Yeah, NXT hasn’t done that with the men (arguments could be made for some of the tip-top women). And now, against all odds, WWE is trying to sell us the lie that its top priority is doing just that? I don’t buy it.
I didn’t buy it before, but I certainly don’t buy it now when you cut people who haven’t even been in the company long enough to warrant a Wikipedia page. I understand the desire to fast-track stars in the most efficient way possible, and I also understand the pickle WWE and NXT 2.0 finds themselves in after blowing up an entire brand and re-imagining a mission statement.
But if that’s what you’re going to do, then go do it. Stick to it. Give people an honest shot. Everyone works and learns at a different pace. If a prospect has the passion, that’s half the battle. It’s such a fickle industry to begin with, both inside and out, that a longer rope is needed for some prospective talent. Don’t shy away from it. Embrace it.
Or else … or else, we might just be two years away from Parker Boudreaux walking through that AEW tunnel, looking Brock Lesnar-like, ready to challenge Wardlow for the AEW World Championship, while NXT 3.0 worries about its next color scheme and an upcoming “open tryout” in Houston. One of those scenarios has potential.
The other would be the art of spinning wheels.