It is only a few short weeks away. The one night of the year pro wrestling fans look forward to – Wrestlemania. This year’s spectacle takes place at the Florida Citrus Bowl, in Orlando, Florida. It occurs on April 2, 2017 and is the 33rd edition of this top notch event. NXT, the WWE’s developmental system, that some consider a separate brand within the company, holds most of their shows and television tapings in Orlando, at Full Sail University. The majority of NXT is run by Triple H. Some of the wrestlers who started their careers at NXT, will be participating in their first Mania, in a city where it all began.
The last time the WWE held their premier event at the Citrus Bowl, Shawn Michaels ended the WWE in-ring career of Ric Flair. Sitting in the front row were Ric’s children, one of whom was Ashley. She would later be known as Charlotte in NXT. During her time there, she had rivalries with real life friends, Sasha Banks, Bayley and Becky Lynch. Charlotte became the NXT women’s champion on a couple of occasions. Approximately three years later, after working hard, perfecting her on screen persona and her in ring skills, the WWE brass decided to promote her to the main roster, along with Sasha and Becky. The crowd went wild when the three of them made their debuts on Raw in June 2015. Bayley was introduced on Raw a year later. Currently, she and Charlotte are embroiled in a rivalry over the WWE Women’s title.
Since Flair debuted on Raw, I think her character work improved tremendously, and she performs at a superb level in the ring – just like her father. She is also one of the best heels in the company. I know she will have a great match at Mania. I am sure it will be emotional for her, not only because the event is in Orlando, where she began her wrestling career, but also because it is at the same venue where she witnessed her father’s WWE in-ring career conclude nine years ago.
During Sasha’s tenure in NXT, she captured the Women’s Championship on a few occasions and had great rivalries with Charlotte and Bayley. Sasha developed and perfected her “Legit Boss” character in NXT, and spent the majority of her time there as a heel. But, the crowd began to cheer her, despite her heelish mannerisms. They saw how confident she was inside the ring, her charismatic persona, and the way she portrayed her gimmick. When she was promoted to Raw, the larger crowds still cheered her. In matches where she was not even involved, they chanted “We want Sasha.” She emerged as the WWE Women’s champion on a few occasions, and the fans could see the emotion on her face, especially when she won her first title on July 25, 2016.
While in NXT, Sasha and Bayley had several spectacular matches, one of which was a thirty minute Iron Woman Match. Currently, it looks like the WWE is heading towards a storyline where Sasha turns on Bayley, and Sasha reverts into her heel persona, where I believe, she was at her best. These two may not have a one-on-one match at Mania, but I am pretty sure they will have a place on the card.
The first champion of NXT was Seth Rollins. He earned the title after being successful in a tournament. Once he was announced as the winner, Triple H presented him with the belt. After a few years with NXT, the WWE decided to promote not only Rollins, but also Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns. Collectively, they became known as the Shield. Whenever they appeared on Raw, Smackdown or pay-per-views, chaos ensued. The crowd loved it, because it provided a sense of unpredictability. The WWE decided to split the faction, and each became successful on his own.
All three members have captured the WWE title, and Ambrose is the current Intercontinental champion. As it stands now, it seems that only two of the three former Shield members will have spots on the Wrestlemania card. Roman Reigns, who gets booed mercilessly each time he appears on screen, despite the company positioning him as a face (fan favourite), may battle the Undertaker. I am sure fans will be upset if Reigns emerges victorious in that match. Meanwhile, it seems that Seth Rollins may battle Triple H, if Rollins is able to recover from a legitimate knee injury in time. Depending on what transpires on Smackdown over the next few weeks, Dean Ambrose looks like he will be defending the Intercontinental title against a wrestler who had an impact in the WWE’s developmental system, Baron Corbin.
NXT also helps wrestlers who have years of experience in other organizations adapt to the WWE style of wrestling. If top WWE executives feel the wrestler meets the necessary criteria, after a couple months or years in NXT, they are then promoted to the main roster. One such wrestler is Samoa Joe. Joe spent a fruitful and successful decade in TNA Wrestling. When he left the company, he decided he wanted to continue his career in the WWE.
Joe made his NXT debut in the summer of 2015. He had intense rivalries with Finn Balor, Baron Corbin and Sami Zayn. He won the NXT Championship on a few occasions. Joe was promoted and made his debut on the January 30, 2017 edition of Raw. With his attack on Seth Rollins, he showed his allegiance with Triple H, in his rivalry. In Samoa Joe’s first match on Raw, he defeated Roman Reigns. He now has a match at WWE Fastlane against Sami Zayn, which I am sure he will win. I am hopeful that because of his association with Triple H, and the fact that he has shown his dominance since arriving on Raw, he receives a spot on the Wrestlemania 33 card.
Born in Quebec, Kevin Owens began his wrestling career in the independent circuit. He had a very successful tenure at Ring of Honor and became the promotion’s heavyweight champion. He left the company in 2014 and entered the NXT division of the WWE in the latter part of that year. Since his debut there, he has made an immense impact on the entire company. His matches are full of passion and intensity. His promos are the same, and are filled with a little humor, and he is portrayed as a heel.
In NXT, he had tremendous matches with wrestlers like Sami Zayn, Finn Balor, and Samoa Joe. He won the NXT Championship in February, 2015, but lost in a great battle against Finn Balor on July 4 of the same year, in Tokyo, Japan. Kevin made his main roster debut on a May edition of Raw, attacking John Cena. Two weeks later, he defeated Cena, stunning a lot of people. I think when that transpired, fans began taking him very seriously. He won his first title – the Intercontinental Championship, at the September 20 Night of Champions event.
When he was promoted, his string of great matches continued. He battled the likes of Sami Zayn, Cesaro, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and many others. In my opinion, his biggest accomplishment was becoming WWE Universal Champion after winning a four way match on the August 29, 2016 episode of Raw.
Based on recent occurrences on Raw, I envision Kevin Owens against Chris Jericho happening at Mania. On April 21, 2016, a storyline started which saw the beginnings of a Jericho and Owens “friendship.” However, in a segment called “the Festival of Friendship” which aired on the February 13, 2017 edition of Raw, Owens viciously attacked Jericho, effectively ending their team. I do not think the audience was stunned that it happened, as the seeds were subtly planted for this a few weeks before that segment. But, how it occurred and how violent the split became was stunning. Nonetheless, it sets up what should be a tremendous match in Orlando.
Getting promoted from NXT is not easy. A wrestler must work hard, train hard, and have the desire to be successful to achieve that goal. I think going through NXT is a good idea for wrestlers, even veterans from other promotions. It provides them with mental toughness, and preparation for their Raw or Smackdown debuts. It also helps with character development, promo work, and perfecting a wrestler’s in-ring ability. Currently, stars like Sasha Banks, Charlotte, Baron Corbin, Alexa Bliss, Bray Wyatt and others who have gone from NXT to WWE, likely will have matches at Wrestlemania on their “home” turf. With many others on the way from NXT, I think the future of the company looks very bright.