Gut Check… A new concept introduced into TNA Wrestling. It enables wrestlers to gain an opportunity of gaining a contract at a major organisation. It’s a revolutionary idea in helping wrestlers leapfrogging the difficulty that many wrestlers endure before ever having the prospect of testing themselves at the top. That’s if they even make it, with many unable to grasp the chance. In theory, it helps to portray what TNA is about, giving wrestlers the option of testing themselves at the top. Just like they did with the previous jobbers of the then major organisations WCW and WWF, such as AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels and Super Mex. However, inevitably with the creative management team of TNA, having varying views on matters as revealed by Hulk and Dixie in interviews with WrestleTalk TV, there are conundrums that limit the efficiency of Gut Check, which I will analyse.
To help with this interpretation, lets look at the leading company in the world of wrestling, New Japan Wrestling… Woops typo error, ofcourse I mean, Vince McMahon jr’s WWE. Under similar circumstances, Vince wanted to embark in a new journey. Usually being able to make successful calculated judgement on when to axe the leading star for a new rising star, Vince was facing problems of trying to uncover his next gem. The talent roster didn’t possess a great range of eye catching athletes and in addition the modern PG entertainment that John Cena spearheaded as the untouchable franchise, even made it hard for Randy Orton or Dave Batista to even rival him. Yes Batista was actually the focus but that changed when the world championship and WWE championship swapped shows, leading to the PG era. The longevity of a star at the top, and specially as being seen with no equal, can hinder the product. With this dilemma, Vince McMahon jr needed to revamp the talent pool.
To begin this process, WWE decided to scrap the ECW faction, and replace it with NXT. Although ECW had began to be the feeding ground to nurture future stars, like my personal favourite, CM Punk, ECW is associated with its glorious past and how it’s WWE form started well. The PG programming had effected ECW’s material, causing alot of critics, so Vince needed something new. The new idea, was intended to enable new stars from a wrestling background at smaller companies and the indie scene, to have the prospect of earning a WWE Contract. These wrestlers would compete against each other in wrestling matches, and then be voted off by the viewers. It was an extension of the popular series of Tough Enough, which brought us stars like Matt Morgan and King Kenny. WWE were showing that they themselves, are a company that any wrestler can venture the chance of establishing their career there. At the same time, WWE aimed to show the differentiation between a WWE star and a NXT competitor, by assigning WWE mentors to each NXT wrestler. This including the world heavyweight champion, who headlined Wrestlemania 25, Y2J who mentored our UK favourite star, Wade Barrett. This pairing was repeated with Alberto Del Rio who headed into another Wrestlemania to challenge the World Champion Edge, as the Royal Rumble winner. This enabled the NXT competitors to be used in WWE storylines on Raw and Smackdown, to assist and cheer on their mentors at ring side. In addition the NXT wrestlers were developing unique personalities, which was building the entire set of each wrestler.
By the end of the NXT Season 1, there was the crowning of our Britain’s favourite, Wade Barrett. Wade Barrett won the prestigious WWE contract that eludes many wrestlers. To the ordinary, Wade Barrett would of use this to push on a promising career, such as the courages attempts of past Tough Enough winners, Maven. However instead, Wade Barrett along with the rest of the athletes of NXT Season 1 delivered one of the biggest nights in recent Raw history. On the night of June 10th, Monday Night Raw witnessed the birth of Nexus who obliterated everyone in the immediate vicinity of the ring including the supposed untouchable, the franchise John Cena and the internet fan’s favourite at the time CM Punk. It was so brutal that Daniel Bryan was fired for his hostilities towards Justin Roberts. The entire roster of NXT was infuriated with their treatment, aligning themselves in a common cause. This can be seen as reminiscing perhaps the most thoughtful storyline in TNA history with the Main Event Mafia against the TNA Originals, which was linked to a backstage issue amongst the talent. But the Nexus situation added another level of discrepancy, with the way the NXT stars were treated incomparison to their more illustrious WWE Superstars. The disparity between two groups of wrestlers were far greater. Just by viewing that YouTube clip, Michael Cole’s introduction of Wade Barrett as he walks down the ramp, “That’s Wade Barrett, the winner of NXT Season 1, that rookie competition” highlights the discrepancy point. It helped to re-emphasise the distinction between the higher status WWE wrestlers compared to any other wrestler worldwide, which WWE wanted to portray. Being at one of the NXT shows when they came to The O2 Arena, London, England, as part of the Smackdown show in April 2010, the competitors of NXT were subjected to a host of tasks, including wrestling.
These wrestlers needed something to propel them into becoming serious contenders, or continue to be undermined. Nexus would then address the world that they were united, in a common cause of gaining justice. The wrath of Nexus had only begun, with the group of bandits annihilating anyone within their vicinity. Suddenly the tide of the entire company had changed, with the supposed inferior competitors now running rampant. Never has a group before caused such disharmony to the entire company at the same time since NWO, or the WWE vs the Alliance. No wrestler was safe, and due to the egos of each established star, they were quickly dispensed by Nexus. Even Vince was dispensed of by Nexus. It’s funny to think that the modern Sheamus was a coward who would run at the sight of Wade Barrett. Unfortunately events had caused for that to be funny, but back then, I assure you, it was no laughing matter. The unity amongst Nexus, with the competitors not blinded by self ambition made them formidable. Eventually, the WWE established stars of Brett Hart, Edge, John Cena, Y2J, John Morrison, R Truth & Daniel Bryan replacing The Great Khali would have to regroup in a fragile team with many internal friction, against the united Nexus. Nexus had beaten a weaker WWE team, Team Raw featuring stars of Jerry Lawler, Goldust, Yoshi Tatsu, Evan Bourne The Hart Dynasty of Tyson Kidd DH Smith, and the World’s Strongest Man, Mark Henry (how his ability has been truly acknowledged nowadays rather than back then). Just like the Alliance, WWE were able to prevail against the odds.
But Nexus didn’t end there. They regrouped and became stronger. This time, the focus became between Wade Barrett and the franchise, John Cena. Not many stars can claim they have challenged John Cena to such a state. It was clear that Vince was earmarking the push of Nexus, most notably Wade Barrett. Just like how stars like JBL had done so for John Cena. In a personal feud, Wade Barrett did what many thought was the impossible, and defeat John Cena, to make him a Nexus member, or risk being fired. Although with the assistance of Michael McGillicutty and Husky Harris, it was a spectacular victory, sending shockwaves across the wrestling world. John Cena being forced to abandon his Never Give Up wrist band to embrace Nexus. This helped to push the Nexus storyline further, with a mixed emotion John Cena being used to assist Wade Barrett to target the richest prize in the world of wrestling, the WWE championship. This included John Cena assisting Wade Barrett in winning a battle royal on Monday night Raw at 04/10/10. This lead on to a title match between Randy Orton, the WWE Champion who was undergoing a heavy push, against the Nexus leader, Wade Barrett. The added stipulation with John Cena being the guest referee. This added alot of hype, not only for John Cena, but that a wrestler who was dubbed a rookie not so long ago, would then be crowned the champion of that company. This caught the attention of the wrestling world. John Cena who had to go against his beliefs so often prior, disappointing his undeniable humongous fanbase, would do the ethical act in denying Wade Barrett the title which would ‘cost him his job’ (the family based audience would fall for that ofcourse, but still a big step regardless). Then the following night, after a Nexus beatdown, Wade Barrett would have another opportunity to capture the WWE Title from the courageous Randy Orton. But he was once again denied, by John Cena who stopped the referee from delivering the final third count, ultimately costing Wade Barrett the WWE Championship Randy Orton would be able to win. Even worse, it would lead to the obnoxious Miz cashing in his money in the bank briefcase, to become the new WWE champion. Fortunately, Daniel Bryan is a far more highly respected wrestler than his former mentor Miz nowadays. Wade Barrett had become a major player almost immediately, displacing others such as R Truth and John Morrison who were considered the elite stars just a few months back. John Cena and Wade Barrett would resume their intense rivalry, which their feud would end at WWE TLC 2010 in a Chairs Match with everything on the line. John Cena would go on to effectively end the reign of the original Nexus, but it was a period in wrestling that certainly began the process of re-inserting some attitude back into PG era WWE.
I could have reviewed Nexus in greater detail, one of my favourite periods of wrestling. One of the reasons why Steve Austin is statistically the most successful wrestler of all time, with the 3rd most sold t-shirts of any kind, in history, is because he represented how with determination and hard work, you can achieve anything you aspire to, no matter what the odds were. Put that together with a brilliant character, the brawling style of Steve Austin and how Vince capitalised on his immoral image from the Bret Hart screw job. Nexus were able to harness some of these appeals for themselves. But Nexus possessed a lot of weaknesses that hindered the storyline. The main form of weakness was the limited wrestling skill set that the performers possessed. These were no amateurs, with many like Keith Shelfield being part of the developmental program at the developmental organisation of Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW), for a number of years. Unlike their predecessors, like Batista who was able to cultivate his wrestling skills in the developmental scene, including providing us a potential dream match that many want, with the Leviathan (Batista) facing Brock Lesnar, Batista, John Cena, Randy Orton and etc were eased into the main stream. Yes, John Cena utilised a ruthless aggression persona almost immediately, but he wasn’t the centre stage of the main event like the Nexus members. The Nexus stars were suddenly performing for an attendance of thousands instead of dozens. At the same time, these wrestlers would have to exert a specific wrestling style to correlate to their persona as a rebellious group. They were tussling when their performances will be scrutinised by critics to a greater extent. It’s difficult for new relatively inexperienced wrestlers of the big stage, to exhibit a first class performance constantly. At the same time, these wrestlers had to continuously emphasise an aggressive approach that wasn’t familiar for all of them throughout their career previous to WWE. This was evident with the limited move set amongst the wrestlers, with quick pins necessary at times. This was covered up by their more experienced competitors and by the commentators however.
Another limitation was the heavy reliance the Nexus had on Wade Barrett. Perhaps the creative management wanted Wade Barrett to stand out, being the leader of Nexus, but he was the only wrestler who was capable of executing a decent wrestling match. Maybe with Wade Barret’s background of being a bare knuckle fighter, he was able to adapt the most to the aggressive approach of Nexus. This was perhaps why most of Nexus wouldn’t have many significant matches, while Wade Barrett would be challenging John Cena and Randy Orton. Tarver, Otunga, Slater and Gabriel would challenge for the tag team titles, but that division was hardly vindicated as possessing any serious competition besides the one off involvement with John Cena. Wade Barett was operating as if he was an experienced veteran of WWE and not in Britain, with fantastic mic skills that surpassed the vast majority. His history of being a part time commentator during his developmental stage helped him, but with a group preaching to be united, he was far too superior. It’s a well shame WWE pushed him back severely.
Another limitation was the relative inexperience of the wrestlers. Having relatively little experience of competing in front of large crowds, besides NXT, can be detrimental. Just like the WWE adverts ‘Be safe, don’t try this’ adverts indicate, years of training are required before being able to become a professional wrestler. The Nexus members have had most of their ‘large crowd’ experience fighting each other, so they had become relatively accustomed to each other. But in the main WWE roster, there’s a greater variety of wrestlers who perform differently. For each wrestler, they will have a different style of wrestling affiliating with their character, so the approach to the brawl has to adjust. Despite many assuming it’s a fake sport, wrestling is in fact a dangerous predetermined sport, and as those safety WWE adverts like to mention, injuries can happen to any wrestler. Yet too often, the Nexus members would suffer serious injuries, which would effectively end their association with Nexus and aid the derailing of the storyline. A lot of members were written off due to an injury, and then replaced by members of NXT season 2 members. This weakened the storyline and what Nexus was about, a group of people aiming to vindicate righteousness from their shared experience. One example of this is Ryback, when Keith Shelffield injured his knee and was out for six months. He was out without being written off, and had to restart. Fortunately, he was able to successfully rebuild himself, in becoming one of the major performers of WWE, with a huge fan base. Some people forget that he even was part of Nexus, and have mixed interpretations regarding Ryback. He’s certainly grown alot compared to before.
The other limitation was that the storyline had become repetitive. Raw would often start with Nexus giving a promo, which was reminiscing how Raw used to start with the detestable John Cena promos. They were lacking variation, and Nexus would do the similar acts of destroying their targets by outnumbering them. This was partly due to the limited ability of many Nexus wrestlers.
Nevertheless it wasn’t doom and gloom for Vince. As noted just above, WWE were still able to build new stars like Ryback. This is because after Nexus, WWE were able to re-evaluate the pros and cons. No matter how successful a storyline is, a company must always strive to progress further with more advanced stories. WWE realised that the NXT season shows weren’t enough to serve a platform for the wrestlers to bestow the WWE universe a new star, with the high demands that come with it. The NXT seasons which went on for a while reached a steady halt of being the pre show to WWE Smackdown, and instead became an entire new entity. With much of the talent having a background of being in the indies, where the importance of having a character doesn’t prohibit the freedom of the wrestler’s arsenal, these stars needed a balance. The approach of NXT wasn’t ailing WWE to the level it wanted. WWE chose to refocus on their developmental territory of FCW, renaming it NXT. To help them learn the trade of the major wrestling organisations of developing a character in addition to delivering respectable wrestling matches, a cohort of similar wrestlers were assembled to headline NXT, a new brand shown at a separate event. WWE intended to give them a more mainstream audience with weekly TV shows, and using more established wrestling associates such as Jim Ross to aid their cause. To compensate the timeline, WWE were able to exhibit their financial muscle and links in luring back the mega stars of the better period of wrestling, with The Rock and Brock Lesnar. No doubt the new NXT has assisted WWE. Johnny Curtis won NXT season 4, but after months of promos, he finally made a debut which ended abruptly and he was then shipped back to FCW. Then not so long after, he is the instigator of one of the most vibrant WWE Raw crowds in modern history, which I was apart of, the night after Wrestlemania 29. We sang Fandango’s name and theme song continuously at Raw and after Raw around the Izod Centre and heading back to New York City. Oh and all over Time Square there were many fans singing his name.
There is Michael McGillicutty who was a casualty of the latter stages of the original Nexus and new Nexus. Carrying the weight of being the son of Mr Perfect who is highly regarded as an elite performer, and Dolph Ziggler gaining more similiarities, Michael McGillicutty needed something new. Thanks to creative management and to hard work, Michael was able to redevelop himself and become managed by the illustrious Paul Heyman, becoming the new Intercontinental champion a WWE Payback 2013, on Father’s day. Michael was transformed into Curtis Axel, being able to defeat HHH and John Cena.
Husky Harris, whose only credit was being the son of IRS, was another casualty of the latter stages of the original Nexus and the new Nexus. A severely limited move set who was deemed as being surprisingly fast considering his physical size, needed to redevelop. Now Husky is now Bray Wyatt of the Wyatt Family. A group that has sent shockwaves in NXT and throughout the WWE Universe, with their long awaited debut set to happen next Monday night Raw.
Of course the list continues of NXT stars being able to successfully jump a level from NXT, with Ryback, Big E Langston, Antonio Cessaro and The Shield. For the sake of the trend of the article, The Shield are particularly interesting to note down. The Shield are like the birth child of Nexus, being new stars who continually slaughtered established WWE stars, as noted in a previous article NWO8937983983 (like I’m not going to do a reference! ). WWE have learnt from the mistakes of Nexus, and were able to put together a more promising set of talented wrestlers that correlate to their characters of aiming to restore justice. Seth Rollins mic skills improved rapidly when it seemed only satisfactory in comparison to the others, Roman Reigns started to wrestle more after seemingly being not as talented as the others, while Dean Ambrose would develop well himself. The Shield have been around for over 6 months, and despite it being testing times with their invicibility all but gone, they still have that aura of being vital to WWE.
Then we can go back to TNA. A company that has a mix of squabbles within their management team. I am critical of all of them, but no doubt that Hulk Hogan has helped TNA to develop thoughtful storylines that wasn’t very common before his arrival. No doubt that Gut Check is a fresh idea of providing athletes the platform to prove their credentials. But lets be honest, the vast majority of the selected contestants for the Gut Check haven’t been impressive. I guess the only one excluded from the list is the veteran Christian Yorke, who himself has recently plummeted down the roster with the returning X Division stars like Chris Sabin and Sonjay Dhutt. That could be interpreted as TNA just gave Christian Yorke the chance until more reliable stars would be available for the X Division undergoing a new push. This highlights that TNA haven’t been able to gain the wrestlers that they’ve wanted.
Furthermore this can be detrimental for the longterm project of TNA. The creative management introduced some thoughtful storylines that have gathered interest amongst the wrestling crowd. But the severe limitation is the choice of the performers. Bully Ray is starring at the end of his career but has been catapulted to such a level that he may be set to face Hulk Hogan at Bound For Glory 2013 to settle the score between TNA and Aces & Eights. No doubt that Brooke Hogan will have something to do with the brawl, perhaps the same outcome of how Stephanie McMahon supported HHH against all of the odds. But like i said in a previous article examining Bully Ray, he’s old enough to be Brooke’s father. I went on to suggest that they could of trailed a new upcoming wrestler to get involved in the love saga, such as a wrestler I highly regard, King Kenny. He had the chance to do so by using the X Division championship, which with his age being still young, he could promise a long term star. But nevertheless, the actual outcome still worked well and was unexpected, with Austin Aries fooling the world by disguising himself as Suicide. That no doubt has helped to heal the damage CM Punk jr, woops I mean Austin Aries experienced during his rivalry with Jeff Hardy. Also setting up two potential big matches at Bound For Glory 2013 with Hulk Hogan vs Bully Ray and Austin Aries vs AJ Styles. I love AJ Styles but his career will not deliver many more years to TNA either. Atleast Magnus is getting a push in the Bound For Glory 2013 series, but he won’t display Wade Barrett as the number 1 wrestler for us Brits.
TNA like WWE need to radically change their approach. The most recent Gut Check contestants were horrendous in the ring. The rockstar who does have a good character against the Batista & Mason Ryan twin. But nothing good came out of it. TNA need to revamp their approach. As noted recently, TNA have been introducing their developmental program, OVW into some storylines. Sigh… The attempts thus far have been dreadful. To name Joseph Park a graduate of OVW does more harm than any good, like an atomic bomb to the talent available there. Then for the head of OVW to preach during a Gut Check judgemental call, that he played a major role in the development of John Cena doesn’t help either. Fair enough John Cena was quite good in his tag team with Randy Orton during their developmental stage, and has been forced to have a limited wrestling set once he arrived in WWE, but that’s not a well known fact.
As of 31st May 2013, TNA had released Doug Williams. He was part of the OVW set up in trying to build wrestlers. In a recent interview with WrestleTalk TV, Doug revealed how he decided to end his contract a month early due to a lack of creative options availale to him. From being the wrestler who defeated AJ Styles with his own special to win the X Division title, and who helped Magnus’ development immensely, to being allowed to wash away in OVW. In addition, being associated with OVW, Doug’s insight to TNA and OVW is more valuable than most without being bias. Doug had left on good terms, and so he wasn’t malice. He was able to vindicate that TNA are not giving OVW any serious consideration, which is harmful to the future of TNA. This supports alot of what I have been discussing. It may seem to be a minor issue, but its the little things that can be magnified in determining the pathway of a company. TNA have a talented roster even consisting of athletes who some argue are the best available although I disagree and prefer CM Punk, Kane and The Undertaker. Yet WWE are still miles ahead of TNA, and with the NXT approach, WWE can go furthermore.
Us wrestling fans will always examine the pros and cons and scrutinise the wrestling stories. Nothing is perfect and wrestling companies need to continually strive to improve. Hulk Hogan goes through the familiar trend on the internet to be ridiculed, but Il rather have him around than not, which his determination to stay in wrestling commands respect. He could of signed a 25 year contract a few years back with WWE, to allow Vince to sell merchandise of the Hogan brand. Regardless, Hulk and the rest of TNA have a vital duty in looking to reinforce TNA, and that includes OVW. If you dn’t take my words into account, then atleast consult your Knockout champion Mickie James, with her front row seat at this week’s Monday Night Raw, caught while admiring her Romeo, John Cena. I don’t think the Bellas will like that.
If you want TNA, I have presented some hyperlinks of youtube clips, so you can see Nexus…
Austin Aries, that was a brilliant move, of how he disguised himself. I am impressed with him, and I’m sure impressed a lot of us internet fans.
CM Punk and Curtis, teamimg up, as if two generations of the top stars collided together, brilliant idea. As the impending bout of Summerslam 2013 will headline Brock Lesnar vs CM Punk, this no doubt helps to build an intriguing storyline. At the same time, it helped to build the Prime Time Players, who are out of the tag team title picture. Keeps them relevant
Del RIIIIIIIIIIOOOO! He has a valid point that what he did to Ziggler was no different to what Ziggler did to him, the ight after Wrestelmania 29, when I along with the rest cheered on Dolph. Atleast Del Rio is adapting to the crowd responses
Finally, I have to give credit to JBL’s brilliant commentary. At this week’s smackdown in particular, with his reference to Sir Alex Ferguson, of his joy of being joined by Paul Heyman at commentary.
By Sean Prem