Bruisers and brawlers grew more comfortable in their skin on the Nov. 10 episode of WWE NXT.
Alexander Wolfe of Sanity embraced his unhinged side, thrashing wildly in the ring. The Authors of Pain’s Akam is slowly mastering the role of snarling predator. And Ember Moon impressed with another beatdown of a doomed opponent.
Wednesday’s NXT built toward the TakeOver: Toronto special on Nov. 19 by wrapping up the semifinals of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic tournament. Those bouts showcased two prospects, Wolfe and Akam, who haven’t received a bunch of attention to this point.
Both are in factions that play to their strengths, and both delivered their most memorable NXT performances to date.
As for Moon, she has been a top prospect from day one. She remains just below the reigning NXT women’s champion in the developmental brand’s rankings. The wrestlers’ look, gimmick, charisma, mic work and ring skills determined how she and her peers stacked up on the list of NXT’s best.
NXT Male Prospect Rankings (Top 20)
Rank Wrestler Height/Weight Notes 1. Shinsuke Nakamura 6’2", 229 lbs Tremendous showman, elite ring worker, turns banal moments into electric ones. 2. Samoa Joe 6’2", 279 lbs Beastly presence, elite-level heel, excellent talker, strong ring work. 3. Bobby Roode 6’0", 235 lbs Charismatic, flourishing with current gimmick, experience in the ring shows. 4. Scott Dawson 5’10", 224 lbs Has grown into strong talker, great heel, excellent tag team psychology, comes through in big matches. 5. Johnny Gargano 5’10", 190 lbs Exciting offense, speedy, strong babyface, good presence. 6. Hideo Itami 5’9", 182 lbs Could lose momentum after latest injury, skilled striker, excellent in the ring, highly athletic. 7. Eric Young 6’0", 224 lbs Sanity gimmick is perfect fit, excellent storyteller, good showmanship, versatile in the ring. 8. Austin Aries 5’9", 202 lbs One of NXT’s better talkers, strong heel work, skilled in-ring technician. 9. Tommaso Ciampa 5’11", 210 lbs Fiery, strong striker, solid presence, a number of good matches on his NXT resume. 10. Roderick Strong 5’10", 211 lbs Smooth ring work, crisp and versatile offense, unproven on the mic. 11. Tye Dillinger 6’3", 223 lbs Harnesses gimmick well, strong connection with fans, good mat wrestler, has yet to have signature match. 12. Andrade Almas 5’9", 222 lbs Heel turn has boosted him, highly athletic, hasn’t yet delivered great match in NXT. 13. Dash Wilder 5’10", 222 lbs Good brawler, excelling as tag team specialist, improved as a talker. 14. No Way Jose 6’3", 245 lbs Huge potential, unpolished in the ring, OK mic work, better off without comedy gimmick. 15. Shane Thorne 6’1", 200 lbs Smooth offense, athletic, strong showmanship, hasn’t mastered babyface role. 16. Alexander Wolfe 6’2", 231 lbs Finding comfort zone with gimmick, wild energy, good brawler. 17. Rezar 6’4", 308 lbs Improving in the ring, powerful, good acceleration, remains unpolished overall. 18. Tucker Knight 6’2", 282 lbs Impressive power, good acceleration, plenty of intensity. 19. Buddy Murphy 5’11", 227 lbs Powerful, excellent acceleration, underwhelming charisma. 20. Nick Miller 6’1", 230 lbs Solid all-around performer, charisma growing, below-average presence.
Prospects just outside the top 20: Akam, Elias Samson, Wesley Blake
Wolfe on the Rise
Sanity controlled the majority of its bout against TM-61. The heels ultimately lost, but Wolfe stood out more than either his tag team partner or babyface opposition.
Wolfe flew around the ring, pouncing on his opponents. Fueled by a frenzied energy, he hopped onto his opponent’s back. He spun around, he grinned, he issued hammering strikes.
This was the most compelling Wolfe has been since his arrival at NXT.
It’s clear that he has found a fitting home with this gimmick and the Sanity faction. His partner Sawyer Fulton hasn’t been nearly as convincingly crazy. Wolfe, on the other hand, has been quite comfy playing the wild man.
And he looks to be having a blast.
Power and size have been The Authors of Pain’s hallmarks to this point. The tag team, though, has needed to work on filling in the gaps in between the high-impact moves, learning the nuances of the mat game.
Akam is improving on that front.
He and Rezar battled Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa on Wednesday’s NXT in an engaging contest. Zack Zimmerman of ProWrestling.net called it "far and away the best match the Authors have ever had."
A part of that has to be attributed to Akam, who has mostly been overshadowed by Rezar in the past.
Against Gargano and Ciampa, Akam sneered and stared down his foes. On the ring apron waiting for his turn to fight, he looked to be chomping at the bit. He was a caged animal banging on the bars, something we haven’t seen enough of to this point.
There is still work to be done. Akam looked awkward at a few points and hasn’t perfected the art of striking yet.
Even so, WWE has to be happy to see him progress, as he has done so just in time for a huge showing in the finals of the Dusty Classic.
NXT Female Prospect Rankings (Top 10)
Rank Wrestler Height Notes 1. Asuka 5’3" Plenty of flair, strong showmanship, elite ring worker, limited English-language skills. 2. Ember Moon 5’2" Ferocious, top-notch ring worker, athletic, strong presence. 3. Nikki Cross 5’1" New gimmick ups her ceiling, frenetic energy, intimidating presence. 4. Peyton Royce 5’7" Solid heel work, not electric in the ring, average mic skills. 5. Aliyah 5’2" Unrefined in the ring, huge potential, great energy, strong presence. 6. Billie Kay 5’8" Growing as a heel, good viciousness, sometimes awkward in the ring. 7. Mandy Rose 5’4" Progressing in the ring, strong presence, has star quality. 8. Liv Morgan 5’3" Remains raw overall, good energy, high ceiling. 9. Daria Berenato 5’7" Unique gimmick, strong strikes, good intensity. 10. Danielle Kamela Not listed Unproven, raw, solid selling.
Moon on a Collision Course
The women’s division is comprised of two tiers. Asuka and Moon reside on the top one. Everyone else sits below them.
Moon again showed herself to be a strong overall performer in her win against Rachael Evers.
As usual, Moon was compelling. She was intimidating and fierce, punctuating the match with bursts of energy. Her technical skill was on display, too, as she smoothly rolled up Evers on the canvas several times.
Total Wrestling magazine wondered if she is poised to supplant Asuka as champ:
Is Ember Moon the natural successor to Asuka? Or Mickie James, if she wins at #TakeoverToronto? #WWENXT
— Total Wrestling (@TWrestlingmag) November 10, 2016
The answer is yes. Moon has looked like championship material since her debut. She has only grown more comfortable in her new home and upped her stock.
When she and Asuka finally collide, it is going to be something special.
NXT general manager William Regal added quite the twist to the Dusty Classic finals. When TM-61 and The Authors of Pain clash, the heels won’t have their manager in their corner.
Instead, Paul Ellering will be suspended in a cage.
This won’t prevent Ellering from interfering, however. The crafty veteran will find a way to slip out of his confinement and impact the match. That’s simply a better story.
That match will be a big chance for two rising teams to make their marks. But it won’t be the most talked-about tag team contest of the night.
On Wednesday’s NXT, WWE revealed that The Revival will defend their tag titles against Gargano and Ciampa in a 2-out-of-3 Falls match at TakeOver: Toronto.
Great chemistry and stellar performances will allow this clash to steal the show. Gargano and Ciampa must have giant chips on their shoulders after WWE chose to stash them in NXT rather than make them part of the Raw cruiserweight division.
Count on them to produce something that shows off just what the main roster is missing.