Just a few weeks away from the Royal Rumble, usually the official start of Wrestlemania season, the sports entertainment rumor mill suggest that an NXT star could be on their way to the main roster, but will this be a positive move? It’s now time for some online therapy to find the best solution.
According to PWInsider’s Mike Johnson, one of the most reliable sources for pro wrestling news, former NXT Women’s champion, Rhea Ripley is scheduled to make her official main roster debut soon. Last week, she lost a Last Woman Standing match against Raquel Gonzalez, prompting a lot of speculation that it was a way to write her off of NXT before she makes her way to Raw or Smackdown.
Recently, I penned an article and explained that I think WWE management must make the process of building new money-drawing stars a priority. Instead, they booked the 54-year-old Bill Goldberg to challenge Drew McIntyre for the championship. However, I mentioned that Adam Cole and Rhea Ripley should be brought to Raw and made the top stars in their respective divisions on the brand. So, obviously I think Ripley should have a bigger role among the WWE landscape and could be much more of an asset than a big fish in the small pond of the third-tier brand. That’s not meant as a jab against NXT, but to point out that it’s the WWE TV brand with the lowest viewership so Raw and Smackdown offer much more exposure to the general public.
That being said, considering not only the general track record of NXT call-ups, but even Rhea herself, there’s no guarantee that a move to the main roster is a step forward. The theories behind the reason are numerous, but one thing is for sure, the buzz from NXT is rarely transferred successfully to the main roster.
The countless talents that lose their steam on the main roster tell the story, but Ripley’s involvement on the main brands last year is a direct example. The storyline was more about pushing Charlotte Flair to the NXT Women’s championship, a spin off of her success on Raw and Smackdown, than anything else. The sum total of Rhea’s involvement would’ve made her interchangeable with more or less any other female on the NXT roster. The title match at WM 36 was completely designed to push Charlotte, not her opponent, regardless of who it might’ve been in April of last year. Don’t get me wrong, the second generation Flair is a tremendous athlete and already a well established star in WWE, but that is actually the problem with this scenario. There was an opportunity cost for this angle and the argument could be made that it did more to hinder Ripley’s progress than to further cement Charlotte. Let’s keep in mind, WM is theoretically a platform where stars can be made because of the extensive historical value of the event. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin became the top guy when he beat Shawn Michaels. Drew McIntyre enhanced his status when he defeated Brock Lesnar. Where was Rhea’s moment? More importantly, was Charlotte a bigger star because she won the NXT title at this point in her career?
At 24, Rhea Ripley is ahead of the curve for many of the same age, and in order to maximize her potential, both now and long-term, management should run with her as soon as they can on the biggest stage possible. Making Rhea a bigger star now, especially at this age, is how they truly build stars for the future. The same can be said for Adam Cole, who has WM main event potential and could provide the company with a top-tier star for at least the next decade. It’s possible that the office has Rhea as a surprise entrant in the Royal Rumble, but if that’s the path they take then she should win it. If she shows up in a match with thirty other wrestlers and get eliminated, she’s more or less lost in the shuffle from the start of her tenure on the main roster. If she wins the Rumble and goes to WM, it remains to be seen if they can recapture the momentum that she had last year, but it’s probably management’s best best to solidify her as a new star on WWE TV. I want to reiterate that none of this is a jab against or a criticism of Charlotte, she is very talented, but she’s already so well-booked that she didn’t need the win last year. If Rhea Ripley makes her way to Raw, she could be presented like a major commodity and work with Asuka, who is such an MVP of the company. As often as we hear Triple H and the rest of WWE brass talk about the future, this is an example that they should truly invest in the future and present Ripley as a major star.
Another note is that Damien Priest, formerly known as Punishment Martinez before he inked a WWE deal a few years ago, might also be sent to the main roster soon. I’d guess he is definitely going to debut in the Rumble because the match has been used for that in the past. However, Priest is on the other end of the spectrum in many ways than the previously mentioned Ripley. The 38-year-old Martinez is closer to the end of his career than he is to his rookie year. That’s not to say that he doesn’t have the time to make an impact on the big stage, but rather than management can’t flounder his stint on the main roster. That being said, I’m honestly not sure if or how Priest will translate to the main roster. If I had to guess, I’d say he will make a strong impression upon his debut and then be used on the mid-card a few weeks later. I wouldn’t be surprised if Priest was used similar to Bobby Roode in terms of being under the radar for the majority of his WWE tenure despite the skills he brings to the table.
One thing is for sure, the introduction of new characters to the WWE landscape will be challenging for the same reason that the progress of the product has been difficult the past year. As much as the thunder dome improved the atmosphere of WWE programming, it’s still very difficult to present star power in the environment. As frustrating as it is, COVID will still have a major impact on pro wrestling this and it will be interesting to see how the industry continues to adjust to the pandemic in the next few months.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
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