The last time that NXT hit Milwaukee, the show opened with everyone in the crowd enthusiastically singing/speaking along with every word out of Enzo Amore’s mouth. He introduced himself and his partner Big Cass, and the crowd knew, word for word, that he was a certified G and a bonafide stud. They knew that Big Cass was seven-feet tall (and you can’t teach that), and they knew that Dash & Dawson were S-A-W-F-T. SAWWWWWWWFT! The entrance received some of the loudest cheers of the night, and NXT’s Milwaukee debut was an immediate success.
Three months later, Enzo and Big Cass would take that routine to 2016’s biggest episode of Raw, the one after Wrestlemania, in a star-making debut. They broke up a couple of weeks ago and started fighting each other—the pro wrestling way of moving on to the next chapter of their careers.
That show was 18 months ago, but in WWE time, it feels like a lifetime. Of the 18 wrestlers that appeared at Turner Hall in 2016 (including the surprise Kevin Owens appearance that brought the house down), one is no longer with the company, just two are still in NXT, and a whopping 14 wrestlers have been moved to the main roster and are regulars on Raw and Smackdown. Kevin Owens is a bonafide superstar, Baron Corbin won the Money In The Bank Briefcase, Bayley and Alexa Bliss have both won the Raw Women’s championship, and Apollo Crews is also a wrestler. That NXT show wasn’t just a house show, it was a preview of WWE’s not-so-distant future.
So what does the future look like now? Different, but just as encouraging as ever. Despite none of those names still residing in the lower ranks of WWE, they still manage to put on a hell of a show. Here’s a few stars of NXT that you should look out for this Thursday, when NXT returns to Turner Hall.
Drew McIntyre: McIntyre’s tale is a true success story of where leaving WWE can get you in wrestling. McIntyre was a part of the 3 Man Band with Heath Slater and Jinder Mahal, a fun group that was mostly around to joke and lose. He left the company and reinvented himself as a top-tier independent wrestler. Now, he has an NXT title shot at the Brooklyn TakeOver and a clear path back to the main roster.
Kassius Ohno: Known as “Chris Hero” to fans of independent wrestling, the reinvented Kassius Ohno is one of the best pro wrestlers in the world, and one has had great matches with just about every major name out there.
He is perhaps best know for his series of classic matches against CM Punk in the early 2000s. That, or his later run as one half of the Kings Of Wrestling (with current WWE star and former NXT standout, Cesaro), a tag team that won titles and garnered fanfare in just about every independent and overseas promotion there is.
If there was anything right or fair in this world, Ohno would’ve been on WWE TV as major star. He’ll make it there one day. For now, he’ll gladly steal the show at Turner Hall for our enjoyment. Plus, there’s a good chance he wears some sort of Bucks-themed ring gear, which makes him an instant Milwaukee favorite.
Eric Young: He spent years in TNA (the WWE equivalent of the Transmorphers DVD that comes out at Wal-Mart a week before the new Transformers) and was one of the best comedy wrestlers in the world at that time. Young plays it a bit more serious in NXT as a member of the group SAnitY, but that doesn’t really matter.
The reason you should be excited to see Eric Young isn’t for his comedy or his wrestling, but because he’s the former host of the best fishing show ever, Off The Hook! During its run on Animal Planet, Young did some of the most extreme (and most awesome) fishing stunts in television history. While the show never took him to southeastern Wisconsin, he could gain a new moniker as the “Toxic Avenger” by taking a dip in the Milwaukee River.
Ember Moon: Over the past couple of years, WWE has made the long-overdue decision to treat women’s wrestling seriously and not as an excuse for cat fights on basic cable. Sasha Banks, Bayley, Charlotte Flair, and Becky Lynch were the first generation of NXT stars who came to the main roster and changed what women’s wrestling means in WWE. Ember Moon is the next generation and she has the talent to take the division up a level.
Moon is a great athlete with a pedigree on the independents that matches any of the top male stars. She’s dominated her competition in SHIMMER, Shine and WSU and at NXT: TakeOver before SummerSlam, she’ll be in one of the top matches of the night against Asuka. That match is a real make-or-break moment for Moon’s career (we’d bet on “make”), and this may be one of her last appearances before becoming a huge star in mainstream wrestling.
Bobby Roode: This is a guy who should’ve been in WWE a long time ago. He’s a great wrestler and blah, blah, blah. He’s good, okay?
He’s the NXT champion, but that’s not why you should go to see Bobby Roode. His matches at this point are secondary to his entrance. The music that accompanies him to the ring is the greatest music in the history of professional wrestling and there is no hyperbole in that statement. The music is glorious and Roode eats up every moment of it.
There will be wrestling and that wrestling will be highly entertaining. There will also be this song. So watch this video a few times, learn the lyrics, and sing along with what’s certain to be a sellout crowd this Thursday. We repeat: it will be glorious.