Triple H was once the scourge of pro wrestling’s fanbase. “The Game” earned an infamous reputation as the company’s head grave digger. In fact, Triple H has committed so many burials that The Undertaker once took him to court for gimmick infringement. I tease, of course.
Fortunately, Triple H has managed to redeem himself as the COO of WWE. Specifically, “The Cerebral Assassin” has taken what could have been a “B” show full of roughly trained developmental wrestlers and turned into a global empire. NXT in fact rivals the WWE in terms of popularity, especially among ardent “smarks.”
Although Triple H is apparently unhappy with the current state of things in Florida, NXT is still relatively healthy. Even better is the fact that Winter Park serves as a magnet for the best independent wrestlers in the world. The recently reacquired Chris Hero (Kassius Ohno) is proof of that.
However, not all of Triple H’s moves in NXT have been successful. Not only has the company signed some duds, but they have missed many opportunities to acquire some of the greatest wrestlers on the planet.
15. Mistake: Solomon Crowe
The misuse of Sami Callihan in NXT was more than anything else management’s fault. A well respected grappler whose name has been praised by the likes of Adam Rose and Fit Finlay, Callihan, who wrestled in NXT as a deranged hacker named Solomon Crowe, got lost among the shuffle. When he debuted in 2013, Callihan was placed in the middle of what can be called NXT’s “Golden Age.” At that time, WWE’s developmental territory belonged to men like Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Neville, and others.
Quite frankly, Triple H, William Regal, and others could have done a much better job of promoting Crowe as a legitimate title threat. Although only 5’8, Crowe/Callihan is nothing less than a ball of energy. The crowd was into him, as well. All things considered, this was a major misstep by “The Game.”
14. Missed Opportunity: The Young Bucks
To call The Young Bucks controversial is a gross understatement. No team has generated more heat from pro wrestling traditionalists quite like the Jackson brothers. While performing under the hideous name of Generation Me in TNA, Matt and Nick Jackson apparently snubbed Booker T and Rob Van Dam by not showing them the respect they deserved. Jim Cornette, another voice of the old guard, has frequently lambasted the tag team for supposedly making a “mockery” of the business.
Despite such criticism, The Young Bucks are one of the most popular and decorated tag teams in the world. They have held multiple titles in Ring of Honor, New Japan, and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla. Way back in 2008, the Bucks actually portrayed D-Generation X on an episode of ECW. A few years later, the WWE gave them a tryout match. If history had gone a different way, Triple H could have built the NXT Tag Team Division around the Young Bucks back in 2012.
13. Mistake: C.J. Parker
As with Sami Callihan, the brass at NXT did not know a good thing when they had it. Juice Robinson, who now wrestles for New Japan, kicked around in NXT as an annoying jobber named C.J. Parker. Parker’s environmentalist gimmick did him no favors, nor did the fact that he almost never won on TV. Although it is unlikely that Robinson would have ever received a sustained push in the company, Triple H and NXT still could have done much more with him.
According to Robinson himself, his decision to leave Florida in 2015 was based on his own desire to travel the world and make a name for himself on the independent scene. So far, Robinson has done quite well, such as wrestling fellow WWE alumni Cody Rhodes as New Japan’s Wrestle Kingdom 11.
12. Missed Opportunity: Kenny Omega
In the build up to this year’s Royal Rumble, one of the biggest names bandied around was Kenny Omega. Fans hoped against hope that Omega would be a surprise entrant. However, Omega chose to re-sign with NJPW instead. Considering his recent success with the company, this decision is not shocking.
Another factor that probably played a part in Omega’s decision to forgo the WWE was his past experiences with the company. Between 2005 and 2006, Omega was a member of Deep South Wrestling, one of the WWE’s many pre-NXT developmental territories. According to Omega himself, his experience in Deep South was horrendous thanks to a combination of bad booking and awful trainers.
11. Mistake: Hugo Knox
The WWE still has this weird inferiority complex wherein they think hiring pro athletes from other sports will somehow give them credibility. It rarely ever works out. Case in point: former English goalkeeper Stuart Tomlinson.
Tomlinson, who wrestled as Hugo Knox in NXT, played for numerous clubs, including Barrow, Crewe Alexandra, and others, before signing with the WWE in late 2013. Although a physical specimen, Knox was never much to look at inside the ring. The most noteworthy thing about him was the fact that he wore polka dot tights.
10. Missed Opportunity: Jay Lethal
Jay Lethal has never shied away from the fact that he would love the opportunity to work for the WWE. This former ROH World Champion could legitimately claim to be the best wrestler in the world between 2015 and 2016. Lethal’s impressive 427-day reign as world champion (to say nothing of his record-breaking 567-day reign as ROH World Television Champion) helped to bring back prestige to a title that was already synonymous with pro wrestling excellence.
Lethal’s name comes up every once and a while when people talk about potential NXT signings. Lethal now seems locked into an ROH contract. However, after leaving TNA in 2011 and during the summer of 2016, Lethal was up for grabs. The fact that WWE did not try to snatch him up at either one of those points is truly mystifying.
9. Mistake: Tino Sabbatelli
It would not be fair to judge Tino Sabbatelli as a failure already. This former NFL safety obviously did something right in order to catch WWE’s eyes back in 2014. Sure, the guy looks good and is well-spoken. Furthermore, Sabbatelli made for a dramatic character on Breaking Ground.
That being said, the few times when Sabbatelli has been on NXT television, he has not been overly impressive. Again, you could chalk these underwhelming performances up to the thankless role of being a jobber. Then again, the fact that Sabbatelli has been with the company for almost four years and has barely appeared on NXT TV tapings should tell you that Triple H does not have deep faith in this wrestler.
8. Missed Opportunity: The Briscoe Brothers
“Not cosmetically pleasing.” That’s what WWE officials told The Briscoe Brothers following a tryout match in 2009. Jay and Mark Briscoe apparently felt so insulted by the remark that they made an entire promo based around the experience.
Granted, one has to concede that the WWE had a point. Vince McMahon’s company is full of beautiful people who look good semi-nude. The Briscoe Brothers, by comparison, look like backwoods meth addicts. However, in pro wrestling, what should matter the most are work rate and charisma. The Briscoe Brothers have both of these in spades. The greatest tag team in the history of ROH have won gold everywhere they’ve gone, from CZW to the Japanese promotions of NJPW and Pro Wrestling NOAH.
Given that the WWE’s tag team scene is currently stinking up the joint, Triple H would be wise to reconsider giving The Briscoe Brothers another look. These days, “Dem Boys” look available for a move given their reduced appearances in ROH and NJPW.
7. Mistake: Eva Marie
It is very likely that Eva Marie is more of a Vince McMahon signing than a Triple H signing. Still, between 2015 and 2016, the “Red Queen” wrestled exclusively in NXT, which therefore means her booking was ultimately in Triple H’s hands. We can now say with all certainty that Triple H failed to make much out of Eva Marie.
Widely loathed by NXT’s passionate fanbase for her sloppy ring work and her atrocious promos, Marie was still shoved down everyone’s throats, especially during her brief partnership with Nia Jax. Believe it or not, Marie even got a shot at the NXT Women’s Championship. Fortunately for all parties concerned, Bayley retained her title.
The best thing that the WWE has ever done is make a gimmick out of Marie’s horrible ring work. Before being suspended due to a Wellness Policy violation, SmackDown actually had a good thing going when they routinely had Marie walk out on her competition. Whenever she returns, let’s hope Marie continues this gimmick.
6. Missed Opportunity: Zack Sabre Jr.
The WWE came very close to acquiring the British submission specialist Zack Sabre, Jr. in the fall of 2016. At that time, ZBJ was one of the final four of the brilliant Cruiserweight Classic. Not only was ZBJ beloved by the fans, but he looked like he had a legitimate shot at winning the entire competition. Unfortunately, ZBJ lost to Gran Metalik because he and the WWE could not come to a contractual agreement.
Since then, ZBJ has continued his domination of the independent scene by wrestling all around the world. He is the current PWG World champion, plus he has had notable matches with Colt Cabana and Katsuyori Shibata. Triple H must lay awake at night thinking about all the things he could have done if the WWE had signed ZBJ before the creation of both 205 Live and the WWE United Kingdom Championship.
5. Mistake: Bo Dallas
Bo-lieve it or not, but the man who once held the NXT Championship for 280 days has been nothing but a disaster for the WWE. Always technically limited, Dallas at least had a natural charisma that appealed to some in the audience. His “Bo-lieve” gimmick was very hot for a few minutes until Vince McMahon decided that he did not get it. Since then, Dallas flailed around in the Social Outcasts and is now a pitiable heel who carries a quasi-MAGA sign around reading: “Bo-lieving in Bo.” The fact that TMZ leaked footage of a heavily intoxicated Dallas getting arrested in a Texas airport has not helped his career at all.
In hindsight, Dallas should have never won the NXT title. But, since that is what happened, Triple H and the rest of the NXT team should have done more to get Dallas over in developmental, which would have in turn helped his run on the main roster.
4. Missed Opportunity: The American Wolves
In November 2013, Eddie Edwards and Davey Richards, known collectively as The American Wolves, had a tryout match for the WWE. Apparently the duo impressed the brass enough that the pair actually appeared on NXT television. Renamed The American Pitbulls, Eric Philbin (Edwards) and John Cahill (Richards) wrestled the then NXT Tag Champions The Ascension. Not only did Edwards and Richards lose, but a bad botch during the match apparently sunk their chances for appearing again on WWE programming.
Since this great miscarriage of justice, The American Wolves have cemented themselves as the most dominant tag team in TNA since Beer Money, Inc. The team’s five title reigns ties them with Beer Money, plus, at a combined 413-day reign, The American Wolves are right behind Beer Money’s combined reign of 514 days. As a singles wrestler, Edwards even managed to capture the TNA World Heavyweight Championship.
3. Mistake: James Storm
Speaking of TNA, NXT once had one of the greatest tag team wrestlers in TNA’s history. “Cowboy” James Storm was one half of the legendary team of Beer Money, Inc. His former tag team partner just so happens to be Bobby Roode, the current NXT champion. During his brief tenure in NXT during October 2015, Storm won both of his matches. More importantly, the crowd in Winter Park went nuts for Storm during both occasions.
Storm’s reason for not signing with NXT was simple: the WWE developmental territory would not pay him enough. Somehow, despite the fact that the company is notorious for not paying their wrestlers a living wage, TNA managed to entice Storm back with a lucrative enough contract that “Cowboy” said “Adios” to Triple H and NXT. If given the chance, you can bet your bottom dollar that “The Game” would love to feed Storm to Roode for a long NXT feud.
2. Missed Opportunity: Kota Ibushi
All throughout the Cruiserweight Classic last year, it seemed that Zack Sabre, Jr. and Kota Ibushi were destined to meet each other in the finals. Both were considered favorites going into the competition, plus both men were clearly backed by the fans in Florida. But, since neither man actually signed with the company, both lost in the semi-finals. Another opportunity presented itself during the second installment of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. Ibushi was paired with fellow Japanese striker Hideo Itami. Sadly, Itami’s injury forced Ibushi to tag with T.J. Perkins. This team only managed to reach the second round.
Ibushi’s current status with the WWE is unknown. While he has not officially signed with the company, there seem to be indications that he might be a permanent fixture in NXT very soon. Then again, Ibushi is known for being a freelancer in Japan, so it is just as likely that he will not settle down to one company in North America either. Millions of WWE fans would love to see Triple H announcing on Twitter Ibushi’s signing, though.
1. Mistake: Percy Watson
Talk about bad announcers. Granted, Percy Watson has only recently started on NXT, and should therefore be given a chance. Then again, Watson, who wrestled during NXT’s earliest days between 2010 and 2013, was never much of a wrestler either. Now, after a brief sojourn on the indies, the WWE has brought Watson back to take over color commentary duties from Corey Graves.
While his announcing partner, Nigel McGuinness, is rightly recognized as one of the best men on the mic in the world, Watson gets justifiable criticism for his over-the-top delivery and his penchant for interrupting his co-hosts with inane points. Again, we should be nice and let Watson develop. He has got a great partner in McGuinness, but not every rock is a precious gem.
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