Me Gusta Cola
'Effin' with Jeff: 2Spooky or 2Silly - A Look at The Ascension
While they are few and far between on WWE's main roster, gimmicks are plentiful in the development land known as NXT. It seems that, unless you are strictly a jobber and/or your gimmick is not having a gimmick, you've got some wacky personality and characteristics that stand out above the rest. From the serious (Corey Graves' rebellious tattooed street fighter) to the sensational (Aiden English's beatnik artiste), from the bodacious (Xavier Woods as That 90s' Kid) to the boring (Bo Dallas and his refusal to stop Bo-lieving), most everyone has something to set them apart from their comrades. And everyone seems to do their gimmicks well. The way they move in the ring, their entrance mannerisms, the maneuvers they use, everything is pieced together intricately and carefully. Everything makes sense for these guys to do. There's nothing out of place, for instance, when it comes to Tyler Breeze's facially-focused pretty boy model. There's no disconnect between what Enzo Amore, Jersey tough guy, wants you to think about him and what he does. It all matches up.
And then there's the Ascension.
On the surface, they're a scary duo. Conor O'Brian is a big, hulking ferocity of a man, with a permanent snarl on his face. Rick Victor, with his darkened irises and All-Seeing Eye on his attire, compliments his partner well, with his more human evil countering O'Brian's animalistic nature. They come equipped with an awe-inspiring entrance with blacklight and measured, concentrated steps. When they beat their opponents, they slide almost inhumanly out of the ring, slowly heading back to the darkness from whence they came. They have a lot of things going for them, and their gimmicks are superficially well-crafted.
And yet, I find them to be rather lacking. The puzzle of the Ascension is not complete. But it's not because the pieces are simply un-arranged and have to be put together properly. This implies that all the pieces are currently there for O'Brian and Victor. No, it's rather that some pieces are missing entirely, and if they aren't found, the Ascension could quickly descend from the ranks of the NXT greats.
For one thing, while they have an excellent entrance and outstanding attire that gives them a solid visual presence, their names leave a lot to be desired. Conor O'Brian and Rick Victor are not names that strike fear into anyone's heart. Conor O'Brian is that nerdy computer specialist in your high school class who has a hint of a lisp and really wants you to know about the latest Final Fantasy game, no matter how many times you've explained to him in great detail that you don't care. Rick Victor works behind the counter at the gas station, wearing an unamused, bored frown of apathy when you tell him the Snickers you grabbed has been previously opened. It's normal. It's benign. It's unfitting for a team that invokes images of werewolves and the Illuminati.
Imagine if the Undertaker, in any of his darker incarnations, game out to the ring as "Mark Callahan". That's what this is. Or if Kane was "Isaac Jacobs" when he produced fire by bringing down his hands. Sure, it doesn't rid the rest of their look and character of their supernatural specialness, but they become a lot less impactful. Instead of being these deities of darkness, they become guys portraying deities of darkness. And there is a hell of a world of difference with that. So the names have to go, pronto. They don't invoke the image the Ascension are trying to portray in any way, shape, or form. They look like overzealous cosplayers trying to be edgy. And that's not what you want.
They don't even have nicknames to counter the blandness! I could live with the names if they were modified with a nickname or two. Imagine "The Carnivore" Conor O'Brian mowing down people while "Vicious" Rick Victor watched on in ghoulish glee. Or Doctor Rick Viktor prescribing unholy pain to an opponent, and "The One Man Plague" Conor O'Brian is the malicious medicine. Changes the ballgame for them, doesn't it? And it's not like NXT can't some up with some good name or nickname for them. Sami Callihan just got signed and is now going by Solomon Crowe. That's a fantastic name! He'd be a better fit for the Ascension off the bat with just the name alone. It has that dangerous, deceptive edge to it that makes him sound like a murderous maniac from an old wives' tale. If they can come up with something like that, why can't they come up with even a grimdark nickname for O'Brian and Victor? Anything even remotely evil would do wonders for them.
But even if they image they projected was perfect, the two of them still need to work on getting better as wrestlers. Because I have seen these two live, multiple times. And let me tell you, they are two of the most boring, uninspired wrestlers I have ever had the displeasure of watching. And I've seen Davey Richards and Eddie Edwards no-sell a superplex (not live, thankfully, because I would have started a riot). And based on the reactions from the crowd around me, I'm not the only one who thinks that way about them.
O'Brian is a powerhouse worker, who has the bulk to back it up, and should be throwing guys around. Victor is a student of Lance Storm and is armed with decent brawling skills and a nice European uppercut. You'd think the two of them could come up with sequences that would better suit their gimmicks, but no. Instead, O'Brian throws some shoulder blocks and finishes guys off with a flapjack facebuster and a running leg drop. His big "power" spot is rolling headlock takeovers. I wish I were kidding. Meanwhile, Victor had to have been taught that rest holds are a man's best friend, because he utilizes them the same way the Miami Marlins utilize losing: full stop, all the time. They are full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Actually, that's not true, or if it is, the sound is all the way down and the fury is only starting to build.
They're not "bad" wrestlers, per se, though O'Brian is still rather green. They're just boring. They can do stuff, but none of what they do elicits a response from anyone. They have a cool tag finisher, a take on the Total Elimination with Victor throwing a running European uppercut, but that's it. Outside of that, it's all pseudo-strong stuff and rear chinlocks. I understand that they're heels, and doing impressive moves would illicit a positive response, but A) it's NXT and almost everyone gets a positive reaction for good work, and B) a positive if unwanted reaction is still better than no reaction. You don't want people sitting on their hands, completely apathetic to you and your match. You want them into it! You want them booing you and cheering your opponent, if you're the heel. That's what you should strive for. Not boredom and meta-loathing and wishing you had gone to the food trucks after Sami Zayn's match. If guys like Big E. Langston and Luke Harper can have simple but vicious movesets that get the audience interested, the Ascension can do the same.
Outside of their moves, they know what they're doing. O'Brian's good at snarling and growling and yelling and seeming dangerous as a character, and Victor plays a good, conniving schemer trying to outwit his opponents. In that regard, their character work is sound. It's just all the other things they do are pretty lackluster. However, it does mean that improvements can be made before it's too late. They know what to do as characters, they now just need to figure out what to do as wrestlers.
Give O'Brian a good, powerful finisher. The Chokebomb has been overdone, but it would do O'Brian a lot of good here. Or maybe something akin to Yujiro Takahashi's Tokyo PIMPS, a sitout Dominator. Something strong and fierce that'll leave opponents dead on arrival. Let him use his strength for more than just shoulder tackles and minor takeovers. Hell, just completely reformat his moveset to be more legitimately power-based. More slams, less silliness. For Victor, just have him stay away from rest holds. At the taping I was at, he and Adrian Neville seemed to be lost in a never-ending hope spot. For at least five minutes, Neville struggled to escape Victor's headlock. When he finally made the tag, no one cared, because by that time, everyone was asleep or being entertained by their phone. Let Victor prove why he's a former FCW Heavyweight Champion. Let him actually use those skills he has instead of being "the guy who gets hot-tagged on". As it stands, what they do is a snoozefest of epic proportions, especially when surrounded by the amount of talent down in NXT.
Right now, the two are simply off, and a little off-putting. They have great outfits, attires, and presentation, but once you get to the meat that is their matches, they fail to deliver. They're a movie with a fantastic set of trailers and nice aesthetics that suddenly goes soft in the plot and action, trudging so slow that it seems to stretch time. O'Brian and Victor are trying so hard to make the gimmick work, and it shows. But trying harder is not the same as trying smarter, and that's where they fall flat. It's not completely hopeless for the two of them, but it's not a good thing, either.
Get these guys some new names and some new moves, and I honestly think they'd be set. It's not a lot of work that needs to be done. But even if it's just a few pieces of the puzzle that are missing, it still means it's incomplete. With NXT's talent being what it is, and the WWE moving to apparently snatch up every major name on the independent scene, the puzzle of the Ascension needs to find completion, pronto. Because, if they don't step their game up, I don't see them ever moving up, not with the Wyatt Family entrenched on Raw. Victor's All-Seeing Eye needs to see some improvement, or else they could be on the chopping block once the NXT fans get completely tired of them.
Last edited by Jeff; 10-02-2013 at 06:49 PM.
Reason: I FOUND ANOTHER TYPO I'M GONNA RIP MY HAIR OUT
Oh yes, now this I can get on board with!
Love the opening paragraph - so many characters in NXT, and almost all of them are nailing them. Interesting that you mention Graves as a 'rebellious tattoed street fighter' - I've not really connected with him as a face, although I did prefer him in his slightly more natural heel role that I felt he had going on when NXT first started airing. He's just got a naturally punchable face, I guess. And some hatred for Bo's new character - have to say I think he's absolutely knocking it out of the park since he turned heel and his self-involved, over the top face character is absolutely working. Someone who's begun to believe their own hype, if you like, and thinks they're the bees knees but they're not. It's not something that I could ever have imagined me saying, but Bo is getting really, really good outside of the ring.
Now, The Ascension. I like O'Brian, although I liked him a lot more during his singles run. I think he has way more to offer than he puts forth in The Ascension - he's naturally quite quick, he's got a bit of agility on his side, and is seriously imposing. For me, he's the new Kane in terms of what he has as a performer. Victor was recently described as the scalpel of The Ascension, while O'Brian is the bludgeon. I thought that was a really good quote from commentary, as it immediately demonstrates the two have their separate roles within the team. I'm hopeful that they get some longer matches to really demonstrate that difference, as I think I've only really seen it once in their matches.
Good point on the names - I've never really thought about it at length, but some kind of regular nickname in there would be really good to add to their mystique overall and keep that air of being superbly intimidating. Something there would be really useful, and I quite like 'Vicious' Rick Victor. Would Rick Vicious work? I don't know if there was a deliberate choice to not change their names, but it would have been good.
And my God do they need to improve as wrestlers. As I've said above, I think O'Brian has more to offer than he lets on, and really I've not seen enough of Victor to pass comment - I remember him being OK in FCW, but not really setting the world alight. But that's what NXT is for I guess, and maybe we'lls ee them bring more to the table in a longer match. Part of my problem is that they operate a lot of quick tags, which doesn't really allow either man to show how good they are - it's all tag-cornerbeatdown-tag-cornerbeatdown etc etc when they're in the ring. Their finishers bug me - I don't even know what Victor's is, O'Brian's is legit terrible and the Fall Of Man is absolutely appalling. I'd far rather see the O'Brian flapjack into a cutter from Victor as their tag team finisher as it would look really impactful.
I think the overriding message here is bang on - these two are connecting with their character side, but absolutely not working on their wrestling side. They don't give me much to review when they hit the ring, which is probably a sign that they are lacking a little between the ropes. Disappointed to here that they don't seem to have done anything interesting against Neville and Graves in their upcoming tag title match (I think that airs this week - I'll have to keep an eye out for you!) - I thought giving them two smaller guys might allow them to do some more diverse power moves, especially as Neville can probable take things in a really interesting way.
Really enjoyed this, Jeff!
Great read here. Really liked the argument about names, as it applies to a lot of guys. WWE has, barring probably a teaspoon of trademarked no-nos, an ocean of names to think up for these guys, and it seems recently they've developed some sort of weird aptitude for stock, generic first-and-surname tags. I suppose that harkens to their transition from "gimmick" to "personality", but for guys like you've described here, I'm sure that an exception not only could be made, but should be made. And it's not as if WWE has been afraid of changing names in the past - I don't encourage the changing of a guy's name every six months on a whim, but if they can see these two guys remaining in the current gimmick for the foreseeable future, I don't see why they can't come up with names that more properly fit the gimmick.
Also loved the "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing" line - nice homage to...Macbeth, I think? Or...is it Hamlet? (Been too long since I've read those! Had to Google it; it is Macbeth). Anyways, loved the Shakespearean reference nonetheless, particularly because it was appropriate.
And here my mind went right to Venture Bros...
Jeff! This was an awesome read. Funny how different NXT feels compared to the WWE proper these days, isn't it? Feels like a promotion all it's own, a real separate territory with different goals and philosophies and everything. Makes me worry a little for when some of these guys get called up, WWE isn't doing much to prepare the audience for the kind of change in style that the NXT crop promises.
But we're not here to talk about that, we're here to talk about the Ascension. Now I'll admit I haven't seen a ton of their work, and I'll also say what I have seen I've liked a lot, but I know I'm the kind of guy who can be blinded by a good gimmick. I love the whole dark character thing, it's criminally underused in the modern times especially since Taker reduced his schedule to once a year. The Wyatts are a good start, but hillbilly crazy is just an offshoot of proper horror, and that's what I'm seeing from the Ascension.
You've raised a lot of good points here though, it's not hard to see that they need some work. I agree especially on the name thing, you put your finger on something that had been on the tip of my tongue for quite a while. Rick Victor almost works, I wonder if they might do well just to shorten it to "Victor" as a standalone. Plenty of horror connotations with that though. O'Brien needs something totally new. Make a story of it, have him destroy his own name or something. He can "place" his old moniker on a jobber then beat the stuffings out of him, then be rechristened as something new. Or perhaps a timely manager could do the story work, god knows it's a time tested formula for this kind of character. Damn shame yet again that Paul Bearer has passed.
As to their ring work I'll take your word, I haven't seen enough matches to say but I don't recall O'Brien having much to offer in his initial NXT run, so hopefully he is working hard. Same for Victor, there's only one way to get better and that's to put the hard work in.
Awesome stuff Jeff, looking forward to whatever you've got up your sleeve next.
LOVE that idea. That sounds like it could come straight from a Criminal Minds episode or something. Transferrance and then psychological destruction of the transferee. That's seriously brilliant, mizfan.
Originally Posted by mizfan
King of Stats
Regretably I don't watch too much NXT as threr only so many hours a week I can dedicate to wrestling and it always seems like NXT is one of the shows I have to sacrifice. However the Ascension are a name I am quite aware of even though I have never seen them as a team. For me this column is more about how great you write compared to it's content. I was able to read this column through from beginning to end without having to skim even though it isn't something I am overly knowledgeable about and was still entertained enough and feel like I understand what you are talking about. Well done.
The Underage Pessimist
Nice points throughout. I am really not a fan of their in-ring work, I haven't seen anything of note. Their characters, though loaded with potential, lack that intangible value. I think maybe adding a few more members might help. And on the argument about their names, I definitely agree. Their names are stupid for such a dark gimmick and definitely need the added viciousness. Nicknames won't help much.
Solid column. And you style of writing is easily understandable and enjoyable, too. Well done!
Me Gusta Cola
Hey hey, actual feedback to get to! I can dig this.
@Oliver - Glad you agree and liked it! I have to agree, the quick-tags, while great for showing teamwork, just aren't helpful for letting either man shine. It's also not like they do a lot of double-team moves. Usually, O'Brian comes in, stomps the guy, then tags out to Victor, who stomps some more, and then tags O'Brian in again. Decent if unspectacular teamwork, but doesn't give either guy anything to show off. I like their current tag finisher, but it's the only thing in the ring they do that I like. And be careful when watching that match! You don't want to fall asleep LOL.
@Skul - Yeah, the name conventions they have nowadays strange, and it seems to be something that's really hit-or-miss. I don't know exactly why they want stock names for a business that sells itself on being larger than life. To make guys easier to identify with? I'unno. And yes indeed, it is Macbeth, aha. Thanks for the read and the feed.
@mizfan - Yeah, NXT might as well be considered its own universe when it comes to wrestling, which is really part of the appeal. When every main show tends to revolve around the same characters week in and week out, it's nice to see something with the WWE production values that avoids all of it. While I love horror and horror-theme things, for them it seems to be all style and no substance. The style is good, no doubt, but without the meat to back it up in the ring, it just falls on its face. I love that idea for O'Brian, though! Wish I had thought of it. It could be like when Eddie Guerrero would put Rey Mysterio's mask on people and then blast them during their feud, except it's himself instead of a rival. I'd book it and make money off it!
@zzz - You should! You could be like me and skip over things like Smackdown and Superstars and watch NXT instead. It's only an hour and tends to offer a lot more original content, no filler and recaps. I think you'd like it if you're into wrestling and character-heavy shows. And that's probably one of the best pieces of positive feedback I've gotten, truthfully. I'm glad I can get you through an entire column on writing alone, even if you don't know squat about it. Thanks for the read and feed, my man.
@Subho - More members might help. They originally started back in FCW with a whole bunch of people, including (if I'm recalling properly) Primo, Epico, Ricardo, and Rosa Mendez (or Shaul Guerrero, can't remember). I think more guys with varied supernatural gimmicks and in-ring stylings could help them out a bunch. Hell, I wouldn't be adverse to Solomon Crowe and KALISTO making their NXT debuts as part of the group. Thank you kindly for the feedback!