This is the latest in a series of articles looking at the NXT wrestlers who have been ‘promoted’ from NXT to either WWE Raw or Smackdown, and whether those moves were actually a positive thing for the individual or team in question.
For the introduction to this series, including the all important ground rules plus my musings on the deliciousness of cake and the state of the city of Coventry, please go to chopskicksandnearfalls.com/from-nxt-to-the-wwe-main-roster-when-is-a-promotion-not-a-promotion
For the previous entry about Aleister Black, Emma and Lacey Evans pop over to https://chopskicksandnearfalls.com/from-nxt-to-the-wwe-main-roster-when-is-a-promotion-not-a-promotion-aleister-black-emma-lacey-evans
NXT – Do you remember Elias Samson? If you do, then very well done you are officially an NXT nerd (don’t worry…it’s a good thing). If you don’t however you could very easily be forgiven.
As with many who operated in the earlier days of NXT, Elias Samson operated as a jobber. In fact at that stage he had an extra ‘p’ in his name because jobbers do not deserve to be compared to famous biblical figures.
Having successfully dropped the deadweight of that unnecessary letter however, Sam(p)son debuted his ‘Drifter’ gimmick which, as far as I could ever really tell, consisted of him having a guitar and looking a bit scruffy. And indeed this lack of attention to the character told in Samson’s in-ring results. Yes he built up a brief run of wins, but this was against the likes of John Skyler and Corey Hollis who I think would even be surprised themselves to see their names on that list.
In fact, whilst Elias worked in NXT right in the middle of the golden age of NXT TakeOvers, he didn’t actually perform on a single TakeOver event. This was probably for the best though as the Drifter’s record on TV, once he had lost to Johnny Gargano, was 2 wins and 10 degrading and embarrassing defeats.
His tenure with the black and gold brand came to an end almost as soon as it had started, when he lost a ‘loser leaves town’ match to Kassius Ohno, before an amusing, if daft final hurrah as ‘El Vagabondo’…which if course, even under a mask, Samson lost.
If NXT is the developmental brand, with Elias Samson it felt very much as if the only thing they’d developed was the next Barry Horowitz.
Main Roster – Elias Samson’s surprise promotion to the main roster didn’t initially look like it was going to change his fortunes. Whilst he picked up wins, they were often tainted (both impressive sounding wins over Dean Ambrose and Finn Balor came from significant outside interference).
In fact the highlight of these opening few months was when Elias Samson lost his surname in one of WWE’s trademark ‘name-ectomys’ and was then placed in a feud with Jason Jordan which largely revolved around Jordan throwing vegetables at Elias during his performances. There was very little in the ring to suggest that Elias was going to be anything other than mid-card fodder.
However it was during these months that we got to see the side of Elias which we now know and sometimes, if not love, have slightly strange feelings for. For whereas in NXT Elias’ ‘performances’ were pretty much non-existent, at a time when only ‘great wrestling’ mattered, on the main roster WWE embraced his musical talents. Elias showed a great knack for comedy timing and riling up crowds with simple jibes at their sports teams, and in the entertainment centric world of Raw and Smackdown this worked brilliantly.
Whilst in 2017/2018 Elias did challenge for the Intercontinental Title against both Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins, survive over 25 minutes in the Royal Rumble and participate in the Elimination Chamber, it was for his more comedic moments that he was most remembered. His ‘symphony of destruction’ match with Braun Strowman will go down as one of my favourite matches including a double-bass ever, and of course there was the 5 minute ‘boo-fest’ that Elias and Kevin Owens elicited in Seattle when saying something nasty about their basketball team (or lack thereof). He was a perfect comedy heel.
So of course WWE tried to turn him face….because at times they have no idea what they are doing. This, predictably, didn’t work and beforelong Elias was being beaten up by ‘Dr of Thuganomics’ John Cena at Wrestlemania 35, and feuding with Jeff Jarrett and good old heel Elias was back.
Since then Elias has been on somewhat of a character odyssey. For most of 2019 he acted as Shane McMahon’s lackey, although he did find time to win the 24/7 title on a few occasions, at a time when the belt was just about more comedy than dross. 2020 though saw a more friendly, babyface Elias, and with him eventually being pitted against King Corbin, this time the face-turn stuck. As if to cement his love from the audience, WWE had Corbin ‘Lion-King’ Elias by dropping him off a raised stage…comedy side effects and all. When you are comparing someone to Mufasa, you must be treating them as a mega babyface.
Conclusion – Elias Samson was never really cut out for NXT as it was when he was there. At a time when only wrestling mattered, his creative character work was ignored. On the main roster however, Elias has thrived with his ‘annoying pub singer’ gimmick. The ability to be able to make a crowd boo in this day and age should not be ignored, and Elias can do it better than anyone. Whilst he is currently out injured, he’s also shown himself to be adept at being a babyface, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he got a significant push when he returns. In terms of the move from NXT to the main roster, Elias has certainly been one who can say he smashed it.
NXT – Considering how great they were to become in NXT, it is very easy (and perhaps very necessary) to forget that Dash and Dawson were once called The Mechanics, and used to job to the likes of Bull Dempsey and Mojo Rawley, and most upsettingly, Enzo and Cass *shudder*.
Indeed it wasn’t really until they became ‘The Revival’ that we really saw the best of Dash and Dawson, and they’d actually already won the NXT Tag Title before that particular transformation. Having won the titles from the Vaudevillains and then defended them against the aforementioned Enzo and Cass, The Revival were born, and so began a short but glorious period that would see them have some of the best matches in the history of the promotion.
Now completely comfortable with their ‘no flips, just fists’ gimmicks, Wilder and Dawson began their first great NXT feud with American Alpha. The two takeover matches between these two teams (TakeOver: Dallas and TakeOver: The End) were some of the purest wrestling seen in America since the early 90s, and in both losing and then regaining the titles, The Revival became the first two time winners of the NXT tag belts.
From here they went on to probably their most memorable feud with DIY, and are perhaps unfortunate that their contributions in those matches are slightly underestimated, being overshadowed by the excellent Gargano and Ciampa story. But do not let Dash and Dawsons work in these matches go unnoticed.
For a team that was storyline built around simple old-school wrestling, their work and selling in the victory over DIY at TakeOver Brooklyn II, and in particular in losing the belts at TakeOver Toronto would make even flamboyant specialists like Shawn Michaels beam from ear to ear. The ending of that Toronto match in particular, will go down as one of the most memorable scenes in NXT history (in my humble opinion).
In their last few months on NXT The Revival weren’t quite able to reach those impressive heights, but they were still able to go out with a bang, playing a big part in a superb triple threat with DIY and Authors of Pain in their last TakeOver in Orlando. As they left that night they could be confident that they had been a huge part of NXT history, leaving behind not just titles and superb matches, but having introduced a new wrestling audience to the joys of old school tag wrestling.
Main Roster – A brief look at The Revival’s time on the main roster in WWE suggests that they were certainly able to make a successful transition from NXT. Two time Raw Tag Team Champions, and also winners of the Smackdown Tag Team Championship, from a pure achievement perspective it’s hard to say Dash and Dawson weren’t a main roster hit.
But you really don’t have to dig much below that surface to see that The Revival were never given the respect that they deserved during their time under Vince McMahon’s terrifying old iron fist.
Perhaps that lack of trust from the chairman can be put down to the fact that the first year of their WWE Raw run was marred by injuries, and we know that Vince is very slow to forget such ‘indiscretions’. And indeed when Dash and Dawson were fit to wrestle in those opening 12 months, they largely found themselves going 50-50 with Gallows and Anderson or losing repeatedly to the odd, and largely tedious tag team of Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt.
Such was The Revival’s plight on the main roster, that they didn’t actually appear on the main card of a PPV until 23 months after debuting, an absolutely damning indictment of the booking of a previously superb tag-team. They’d gone from Brainbusters to Beverley Brothers in just two years.
During that time they had an incredibly daft feud with Lucha House Party but still found time to repeatedly lose title matches against the cobbled together team of Chad Gable and Bobby Roode. It is perhaps not surprising then that the end of 2018 saw Dash and Dawson make their first request to be released from WWE.
Vince and co reacted swiftly to deal with this by quickly putting the belts on the pair, and then set about seemingly punishing them for ever speaking up by having them lose to DIY and Ricochet/Aleister Black who were still on NXT at the time. This insanely negative booking was completed when they lost the belts to Zack Ryder and Curt Hawkins at Wrestlemania 35, ending Hawkins’ run of about 3,729 defeats in a row.
It didn’t look like it could get much worse from there, but WWE made us feel daft for thinking that as The Revival entered a feud with the Usos which should have given us superb matches between two contrasting teams, but instead gave us jokes about Dash and Dawson shaving each others’ backs and having hot sauce in their trunks. Oh yes…it was funny stuff. Admittedly, they did manage to pick up the Raw titles again during this time, but any chance of taking the once formidable pair seriously had now gone up in puerile childish nonsense.
Having lost those titles predictably quickly, their position on the card was confirmed as they won the 24/7 title before losing that as well and quickly being shipped off to Smackdown, where WWE tried to make us forget that this was now a broken joke of a team by having them pick up the Smackdown Tag Team titles from the New Day.
Nobody was fooled by this however and once the New Day won the titles back, Dash and Dawson spent months randomly being assigned to other ‘bad guys’ like Randy Orton and Baron Corbin, each time with little impact, little success, and absolutely no pay-off.
In April 2019 The Revival were, mercifully, put out of their WWE misery and given their release, but not before Vince McMahon apparently tried to convince them to stay with the company with a new gimmick that would have left Dash and Dawson looking like two rejects from an early 90s rave somewhere near Norwich. Unsurprisingly they decided to look elsewhere.
Conclusion – Probably one of the saddest tales of how talent has been treated on their journey from ‘developmental’ to ‘the big time’, The Revival were never given any time on the main roster to impose the gimmick that they had stoically and brilliantly crafted whilst in NXT. Vince McMahon famously doesn’t give much of a toss about tag-team wrestling, and apparently cared even less about a team that wanted to bring back the good old days. The clamour for The Revival, now FTR, to join AEW and the impact they have had in such an impressive tag division in Jacksonville shows how much WWE dropped the ball with Dash and Dawson. In just two months in AEW, FTR have done more than The Revival did in three years in WWE. And not once have they had to put hot sauce on their junk. Thank christ they were eventually able to escape!
NXT – Ember Moon’s time on NXT was actually fairly short considering the impact she left on the brand. Already holding a big reputation from her time in Shimmer and other indie promotions, Ember was given the big vignette build up before debuting on NXT which suggested that she was going to be given the black and gold ball to run with.
And run with it she did, following her debut win at TakeOver Brooklyn II by clocking up win after win after win on NXT leading to an early clash with then NXT Women’s champion Asuka. Whilst Moon lost this first tussle, it was an excellent match and seemed to be the first chapter in the story of Ember’s climb to the top of the NXT ladder.
A shoulder injury at the hands of Asuka derailed this push initially, but Ember was soon back on the title trail, challenging Asuka again at TakeOver Brooklyn 3. This fight was even better than the first, and I think most people believed Ember had won the title when she hit her superb ‘Eclipse’ finisher only to see Asuka kick-out and eventually, and heartbreakingly, force Moon to tap-out.
Whilst it would have been fantastic to see Ember be the one to de-throne Asuka, once the Empress of Tomorrow left for the main roster, Moon was not to be denied as she won the vacant title against Kairi Sane, Nikki Cross and Peyton Royce at TakeOver WarGames.
This looked to be the moment that Ember Moon would begin her domination of NXT, but sadly she hadn’t reckoned with the rise of the terrifying Shayna Baszler. Whilst Ember technically defeated Shayna at TakeOver Philadelphia, the aftermath of the match saw Baszler destroy the champion leaving her unconscious in the Kirifuda Clutch.
This was to foreshadow events at TakeOver New Orleans where Baszler would take the title from Ember as she once again passed out in the Kirifuda Clutch ending her title reign and her time on NXT.
Main Roster – Analysis of Ember Moon’s time on the main roster is tricky as, having been injured in September 2019, she is yet to return prompting fears that we may not see her in a WWE ring again.
Even prior to that injury however, Ember’s time on the main roster was very up and down, with a definite edge for ‘down’. Whilst she did debut on the Raw after Wrestlemania 34, normally a sign of big things to come, almost all of 2018 for Moon was spent in a series of short and largely pointless matches on Raw, none of which served to give us much insight into either her character or in-ring work.
Ember’s first match on Raw in 2019 was in a mixed tag with Apollo Crews against Jinder Mahal and Alicia Fox, which certainly didn’t inspire confidence, however a 50+ minute run in that year’s Royal Rumble gave Ember Moon fans a glimmer of hope that 2019 might be her year.
Sadly an injury in that very Rumble match set her back, and whilst she returned at Wrestlemania 35, it was only to be eliminated by Lana on the pre-show battle royal. From here, Ember was then forced into an atrociously written feud with Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville which saw the team bully the now apparently nerdy Ember who was scripted to have little to no comeback.
The feud did at least culminate in Ember teaming with Bayley to beat the bullies, and led to Ember getting her first main roster title shot against Bayley at Summerslam 2019. Again many hoped this could be the catalyst for Ember, but again she was defeated and only a month later suffered the ankle injury that still keeps her out currently.
Conclusion – At the time of writing the only thing that matters for Ember Moon is getting back in the ring, and I hope that someone is reading this after a triumphant return from injury for the former NXT champ. But injury aside, Ember Moon has certainly not been utilised well on the main roster considering her immense talent. Whilst lesser talents have been given the chance to show what they can do, Ember wasn’t given this opportunity and then seemingly relegated down the card for not having done enough. At time of writing, Ember Moon is only 31 so the hope has to be that she returns from injury and, following a long lay off, gets a hero’s reaction when she appears. She certainly has the talent to deserve that pop, and WWE would be extremely daft not to try and elevate such a great wrestler.