By Chuck Carroll
(CBS NY/CBS Local) — WWE is in the midst of a major roster shakeup, the likes of which are typically only seen during the period shortly after WrestleMania. But in this new era of sports entertainment, Vince McMahon and company have pulled the trigger nearly two months early.
Viewers of Monday Night RAW this week were surprised to see four of NXT’s biggest names hit the ring, including current NXT Champion, Tommaso Ciampa, and North American Champion, Johnny Gargano. In a departure from current NXT storylines, the duo reunited as the dominant tag team DIY and made no mention of the bad blood between them that has been a major angle for some time. They did indeed dominate, with clean victories over RAW Tag Team Champions The Revival in a non-title match on Monday and Sheamus and Cesaro the following night on SmackDown.
The high-flying Ricochet also made a strong first impression by teaming with Finn Balor to defeat Bobby Lashley and Lio Rush on RAW and doubled down with a singles victory over Eric Young on SmackDown.
And former NXT champ Aleister Black also picked up back-to-back wins over Elias and Andrade in successive nights.
The impressive additions come at a potential cost for the third brand, as their main roster presence may throw a wrinkle into plans for TakeOver: New York. It led to confusion among fans and likely some rewrites for this week’s NXT TV tapings. Despite a bitter feud in NXT, Ciampa and Gargano were suddenly teammates again on RAW, as DIY was resurrected with no explanation given.
Then, on this week’s episode of NXT, that was taped prior to Monday’s appearance, Ciampa planted seeds for a reunion there as well. But instead of shaking his hand, Gargano cut the idea off at the pass. Shortly thereafter, Gargano lost the North American Championship to Velveteen Dream. Some reports have suggested that the group was called up as a spur-of-the-moment decision, but the show seems to contradict that theory.
Then, at this week’s NXT TV tapings in Florida, it appeared that DIY would reunite there as well. But it wasn’t meant to be, and their rekindled bond was broken by the end of the night. Those shows won’t air until after next week’s RAW and SmackDown, so don’t be surprised if they’re back to being chums on the main roster before things go south again in NXT.
If you’re confused, you’re not alone.
The combination of fresh faces and post-Elimination Chamber curiosity helped buoy WWE’s sinking ratings, as Monday’s RAW scored its highest viewership in months, while finishing atop the cable ratings.
This is the second such infusion of NXT talents in recent months. Time will tell how the newest crop will fair, but they’re already off to a far better start than their predecessors.
Heavy Machinery’s Tucker and Otis have been stripped of their last names and appear destined for tag team mid-card purgatory. EC3, who has perhaps the most potential and best resume of the group, split a series with Dean Ambrose but was absent from TV this week. Meanwhile, Nikki Cross’s lone victory on the main roster came more than a month ago in a six-woman tag match with Bayley and Natalya. And Lars Sullivan is yet to debut after taking time away from the company for personal reasons. WWE reportedly has been very understanding of the situation and is not pressuring the 6-foot-3 Superstar to rush back.
Of the initial group, Lacey Evans seems to be the only one whose stock has not taken a hit. The company continues investing screen time, in an effort to boost her familiarity with the audience before getting her active in the ring. After cracking the main roster at the Royal Rumble last month, she has frequently paraded down the entrance ramp, only to turn around and go back behind the curtain without entering the ring. The gimmick initially was a bit of a head-scratcher for the WWE Universe, but they appear to be catching on and getting behind it a little more. It’s unclear when Evans will get back in the ring, but Dave Meltzer of The Wrestling Observer reports that company executives view her as the next big female Superstar.
Does this roster shakeup mean that we’ll see some talent from the main roster pop up in NXT? Quite possibly. After becoming the inaugural WWE Women’s Tag Tam Champions on Sunday, Sasha Banks and Bayley made a surprise appearance at Wednesday’s NXT TV tapings and reiterated a promise to defend their titles there.
>>MORE: From the world of Pro Wrestling
NEWS & NOTES
Actor Chris Hemsworth is set to play Hulk Hogan on the big screen, brother! The biopic, which is likely to land on Netflix, will focus on Hogan’s early career and rise to super-stardom, but will not chronicle the wrestling legend’s most recent tumultuous years. Bradley Cooper has signed on as a producer for the project, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
With his status for WrestleMania in doubt, The Undertaker will appear at Starrcast in Las Vegas. The wrestling convention is tied to WWE rival All Elite Wrestling’s Double or Nothing event, but not officially part of the upstart company.
It is also unclear what role John Cena will have at this year’s WrestleMania. Much of the card remains in flux, according to Dave Meltzer, who also notes that uncertainty this close to the biggest show of the year is uncharacteristic for WWE.
NXT is bringing back the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, with the tournament winners getting a title shot against current champions, The War Raiders, at TakeOver: New York in April. The tournament begins airing on March 6.
Tommaso Ciampa and Sheamus have escaped serious injury after a nasty-looking spot Tuesday night, according to Sean Ross of Fightful.com. The pair crashed awkwardly to the mat after Ciampa attempted a sunset flip off the top rope. Instead of landing cleanly, the NXT champion’s knee bent inelegantly behind him while the small of Sheamus’ back crashed directly onto the clunky metal brace strapped to Ciampa’s leg.
Ring of Honor announced that ‘The Villain’ Marty Scurll will challenge Kenny King at the ROH 17th Anniversary pay-per-view on March 15.
ROH and New Japan Pro Wrestling will hold the G1 Supercard Festival of Honor in New York City on April 5. The event, at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, will feature meet-and-greet opportunities, live Q&A sessions and the official G1 Supercard press conference. The big pay-per-view is the following night.
Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.