The Big Experiment
WWE has had a developmental program since around 1996, Mark Henry was the first developmental talent on the main roster. Since then it has used it to groom its wrestlers into WWE Superstars. Notable development camps include Ohio Valley Wrestling and Florida Championship Wrestling; then in 2012 the WWE disbanded the long standing FCW in favor of something new called NXT.
Ohio Valley Wrestling
OVW was WWE’s first notable training ground for a good part of the beginning of the 21st century. WWE put some of wrestling’s greatest bookers in history to the task of training the next generation of superstars including Jim Cornette and Paul Heyman. Cornette actually was part owner of OVW from 2000 to 2007. Originally OVW was under the umbrella of the National Wrestling Alliance who unaffiliated themselves from the promotion in 2000. Later NWA spinoff Total Nonstop Action Wrestling would use the camp as a farm system for their superstars after WWE broke off the relationship with the Kentucky promotion. Since TNA left the promotion both WWE and TNA have scouted talent in the promotion looking for future prospects.
OVW was home to a majority of our current main eventers. Most of them came right from a wrestling school to OVW. WWE likes to do this mainly because they get to work with a clean slate. The wrestling school taught them the basics of the business but OVW taught them the WWE way of creating a match and promos.
Notable superstars who climbed the ladder of success on the main WWE roster from OVW include:
Batista- Debuted in OVW as Leviathan, a demonic demolition machine. Dave wore red and yellow contacts which really sold the character. He held an undefeated streak that was ended by Kane. Batista was the first major WWE Superstar to hold the OVW Heavyweight championship.
Brock Lesnar – Lesnar was possibly the highest paid developmental talent ever. He was making Raw main event money the first day he learned to run the ropes of a professional wrestling ring. He was also a giant pain in Cornette’s ass and was a danger in the ring (what else is new). The Beast teamed with his old college roommate Shelton Benjamin to win the OVW Tag Team titles. Brock wasn’t in developmental for an extended period of time.
Randy Orton – Besides Brock, Randy Orton was considered a diamond in the rough when he was signed on to his developmental contract. He had the lineage, the athleticism and a respect for the business because of his father and grandfather. Orton was the last OVW Hardcore champion.
CM Punk – CM Punk was considered the Indy King when he was brought in to OVW. Looked at with what seems to be utter disdain from the powers-that-be in Connecticut, Punk was almost let go multiple times from his contract. Punk probably could have cared less due to the fact that he was already making a comfortable living wrestling on the indy scene. The only reason it seems that Punk was kept on was because of Paul Heyman. CM Punk captured the OVW Heavyweight title in June 2006.
John Cena – The man, the face of the WWE, was in the same boat as CM Punk. Cena was never considered a future star in the company. There was even talk of him being let go from his development deal, he was almost let go from his WWE contract on the main roster; if it wasn’t for his Thuganomics gimmick he probably would not be around to be booed today. Cena readily admits he wasn’t overly praised or groomed because he was in a class with Lesnar and Orton. Cena did capture and hold the OVW Heavyweight Championship by defeating Batista. Cena did what he had to do to keep his career alive. His story, just as much as CM Punk’s, is an underdog one.
Other notable superstars from OVW:
Damien Sandow – Did two runs in OVW. He was moved up to the main roster on both occasions but was let go in his first run in the WWE. Also one time OVW HW Champion.
Evan Bourne – Probably the smallest OVW HW champion in the promotions history.
Cody Rhodes – Rhodes was OVW HW Champion. Rhodes will be the WWE Heavyweight Champion some day in my opinion.
Ryback – Ryback started in OVW before moving to FCW and NXT. He has one of the longest developmental stints of a main roster superstar.
Miz – Miz was a multiple time OVW Tag champ.
Matt Cappotelli – winner of Tough Enough III. Cappotelli was on a path to become a major player in the WWE eventually. He was forced to leave the business due to a cancerous brain tumor. He now trains new recruits in OVW.
Florida Championship Wrestling
One of the oldest promotions in the United States, FCW (formerly named Championship Wrestling from Florida) was home to Dusty Rhodes and Superstar Billy Graham. FCW is the promotion that Hulk Hogan used to go watch before entering the business.
FCW also holds the distinction of having the most alumni on the active WWE roster at the time of this writing. Most of those alumni did move over to NXT after FCW was dissolved. The promotion was run by Steve Keirn, a gimmick wrestler for WWE in the 90s, Keirn ran the booking and the training of FCW. Most of the mid and undercard superstars we see each week came from FCW.
Alberto Del Rio – Del Rio was never in NXT, he was straight out of FCW, already a major star in Mexico, Del Rio proved to be very adaptable to the WWE style. He, along with a few other alumni, became world champions on the main roster in a very short amount of time after leaving FCW.
[I]Jack Swagger[I] – Another FCW guy who ran straight to the World Heavyweight Championship. Sure Swagger soon fell off the mountain then came back and fell off the mountain again but you can’t deny his skill in the ring.
Sheamus- Sheamus was pushed hard when he debuted on the main roster. Another FCW alum pushed at the title and a fight with John Cena.
Other notable alumni that got to skip out before NXT are Kofi Kingston, Primo, Ted DiBiase Jr., Alex Riley and Hunico (Sin Cara).
Alicia Fox- Alicia Fox was a FCW Women’s Champion before being called up to the main roster. Alicia went on to become Diva’s Champion and remained a main stay in WWE. Recently she has been blessing our TV screens on Monday nights in a feud with Paige. It remains to be seen whether this will continue after AJ returns.
Bella’s – Both Nikki and Brie started out in FCW before coming up to work their twin magic on the WWE universe. The Bella’s captured the Diva’s title near the end of their first run with WWE. Their comeback has been hugely successful thanks to Total Diva’s and the evolution of their in ring work.
Natalya – Natalya was one of the last graduates of the Hart Dungeon and a Diva’s Champion. She originally teamed with her now husband Tyson Kidd and cousin Harry Smith in the new Hart Foundation. For a while there it looked like she was lost in the shuffle but Total Diva’s has also helped rejuvenate her career.
In 2012 Triple H announced that FCW would transition into a new promotion directly under the WWE banner called NXT. Now WWE could recruit and train their future superstars in their own house. The other part of NXT that was vital to WWE was that they could expose these WWE rookies whole WWE universe on TV or Hulu Plus at first, now the show is broadcast every Thursday night on the WWE Network.
At first NXT’s weekly television show replaced ECW and was more or less a rehashed Tough Enough concept. Rookies like Wade Barrett and Daniel Bryan were assigned a veteran superstar to help guide them on their path to winning the NXT competition and moving on to the main roster. NXT didn’t have a championship of their own until after they we’re moved into the Full Sail University training facility and arena. Some of the rookies were aided greatly by their mentors while others, like DB, we’re berated and tortured by theirs.
In the end Wade Barrett won a main roster spot which lead to one of the best faction angles in a long time that John Cena managed to screw up. After Barrett won the NXT competition, he showed up on Raw with all the NXT rookies who went on a full scale assault of superstars, crew and officials. Daniel Bryan infamously choked out Justin Roberts with his own tie leading to Bryan being released from his WWE contract due to the new PG era policies put down. Bryan returned to team with Cena and team WWE at SummerSlam.
After the Nexus storyline died, CM Punk took over the crew as the New Nexus and kicked the rookies out who couldn’t cut it. Some of the rookies were given a mid or undercard spot on the main roster or sent back to be reworked after the storyline ended. Some of the rookies who got reworked were Husky Harris, Michael McGillicutty and some giant hayseed name Skip Shefield (who legit broke his ankle.) None of those names sound familiar now because they are now Bray Wyatt, Curtis Axel and Ryback.
On a following season of NXT the company had the same competition but it was with the NXT’s Divas. Out of the group only AJ Lee, Naomi and Aksana remain part of the company. Naomi was sent back to NXT after the end of the show while winner Kaitlyn went to the main roster followed closely by AJ and Aksana. In the end AJ has come out as the true winner, even as a heel or as Daniel Bryan’s mentally abused girlfriend.
After a few seasons no one seemed to really care all that much anymore. There wasn’t anything new. Than Triple H really got a hold of the developmental system and reworked it to run as a true promotion would run. WWE opened up a training center in Full Sail University and built a small arena for live and taped shows on the campus. WWE still has main roster superstars make appearances and wrestle on NXT but now it is more about the rookies building a fan base before moving on to RAW or Smackdown.
Since NXT has become its own entity in the company it has produced overnight stars. Bray Wyatt was over the minute he did his first live promo on Raw. He has been in the mix of the main event scenes almost since his arrival with rivalries against Kane, Daniel Bryan, The Shield and John Cena. Paige was over quicker than a hiccup when she debuted on RAW. It wasn’t so much because of exposure on NXT, the show was only available on Hulu Plus and a few weeks on the WWE Network but she had so much buzz online it would have been hard to fail. Paige’s NXT following lead her straight to the top in less than 5 minutes.
The most successful NXT alumni are in my opinion The Shield. The world of professional wrestling has always had exciting factions, including the Nexus, but how many of those factions made all the members stars? Dean, Seth and Roman’s charisma and in ring work made them the heels you love to hate which made it even easier to put the team over as babyfaces. Reportedly the Shield was supposed to break up after Elimination Chamber but they were so over that WWE decided to take a right rather than a left. No rookies have come out this strong in a faction since The Rock joined and took over the Nation of Domination.
In the grand scheme of things the WWE’s experiment of running their own indy promotion to build their stars has worked. They can hand pick their entertainers before they even have their first match in some high school gym in West Scranton. Sure WWE still does pick up some indy superstars like Ambrose and Rollins, they would be fools not too, but I am pretty sure some of the green rookies with no previous experience will be able to keep up. As of this writing I would say that Triple H sits back in his office where he can watch the training facility remotely and pats himself on the back and this time no one can blame his success on the boss’s daughter.
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Blog Written and Posted by: PBI Pennsylvania Wrestling Guy Curtis Rosler
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