WrestleMania 32 is finally over. WWE fans have to wait a full year for wrestling’s next Super Bowl in Orlando, where feuds, storylines, and possibly even careers will come to an end.
Yet if WrestleMania is WWE’s season finale, then the next night’s Raw is their season premiere, where surprise returns and new superstars are added to the WWE canon. Over the years, wrestlers like Brock Lesnar, Mankind, and Goldberg have all debuted on WWE programming the night after Mania, starting programs with existing superstars and often working a match on the next PPV event.
This week, six wrestlers, including two tag teams, were called up from WWE’s developmental system and made full-fledged WWE superstars. While some WWE Network subscribers and the more hardcore fans might already be familiar with these men through NXT, many fans are seeing them for the first time. So before they become deeply entrenched in WWE programming, take a second to get to know the latest additions to the WWE main roster.
Baron CorbinBaron Corbin is 31-year-old Thomas Pestock, former offensive lineman for the Indianapolis Colts and the Arizona Cardinals. He’s also a former amateur boxer, having performed at both regional and national Golden Gloves championship tournaments. Corbin started wrestling in WWE’s NXT around 2012, gradually developing his character into the “lone wolf” you see today.
For a while, Corbin wasn’t particularly taken to by fans, and his gimmick of having super-short matches didn’t help. But after extensive character development on the weekly NXT show, as well as several high-profile matches — most recently with a loss against a debuting Austin Aries — Corbin improved immensely with in-ring and mic skills. Essentially, he’s a more refined “evil” Roman Reigns, but his ability to draw heat from a crowd stems not from their inherent dislike, but his success as a heel.
Corbin debuted at WrestleMania 32, winning the third annual Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. On Raw the night after, he fought to a draw in a double count-out with Dolph Ziggler, but established himself as a true powerhouse by continuing his assault. There’s no doubt he’ll be in the title picture within the next year.
Apollo CrewsSesugh Uhaa wrestled on the independent scene as Uhaa Nation from 2009 to 2015, before officially coming to the WWE Performance Center in April 2015. After wrestling numerous NXT house shows in Florida, Uhaa — now Apollo Crews — debuted on NXT programming during NXT Takeover: Brooklyn in a win against Tye Dillinger.
Since his first appearance, Crews fought matches against the likes of Tyler Breeze, Finn Balor, and Baron Corbin. His last NXT fight was against “The Drifter” Elias Samson, which was originally scheduled for the NXT Takeover: Dallas broadcast, but cut for time and broadcast the following Wednesday. Unlike Corbin, there hasn’t been much character development with Crews, other than he smiles a lot, is incredibly athletic (one of his finishing moves involves a standing moonsault!), and is relatively new on a mic.
Which makes it all the more surprising that he’s now on WWE television. Sure, there’s not much for him left to do on NXT other than fight for the title again, but his call-up was more surprising than Corbin’s, given the fact that he’s been in the ‘E for only a year and still seemed a bit green.
Regardless, Crews is incredibly entertaining to watch. He’ll no doubt win one of the mid-card titles in the coming months, hopefully refining his persona as more than a happy, flippy guy in the process, and not meet the same creative fate as his first WWE opponent, Tyler Breeze.
Aiden English and Simon Gotch (or Matthew Rehwoldt and John Smith) make up the tag-team of the Vaudevillains. English started wrestling in Chicago before moving to WWE’s FCW and subsequent NXT development brands as a singles wrestler. His gimmick was that of an “artiste,” who would wear a scarf, sing his own theme song to the ring, and generally have an air of superiority.
After repeated singles losses, English joined Gotch, an 11-year indie circuit veteran with an early-20th century wrestler throwback gimmick. A year after joining the WWE in 2013, Gotch and English created the Vaudevillains, a team that comes out to a black-and-white, low-framerate entrance, uses moves and taunts from the early history of professional wrestling, and are generally well-to-do, upstanding chaps. They wrestled numerous tag-team matches as faces, and eventually won the NXT Tag Team championships at last summer’s NXT Takeover: Brooklyn.
After 61 days as champions, the ‘Villains dropped the titles and appeared sporadically on NXT programming, establishing the group as manly heels. Now, they’re suddenly on Smackdown immediately after WrestleMania. Though the debut on what many perceive to be WWE’s “B” show might seem worrisome, announcer Mauro Ranallo does a bang-up job selling their gimmick and unique style of grappling to a mainstream WWE audience that might otherwise not be as receptive. With yet another tag team entering the already-crowded division, it would be interesting to see what the Vaudevillains accomplish over the next few months, and how their first appearance on Raw will sit with the often-surly Monday crowd.
It’s worth nothing here that English is married to Shaul Guerrero, former NXT developmental wrestler and daughter of the late, great Eddie Guerrero. Gotch is also a major sci-fi and comics fan, and his Instagram feed is a delight to follow.
Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady
Enzo and Cass made quite a name for themselves on NXT to the point where crowds at Raw have chanted their names for months. With charisma that could rival that of Shinsuke Nakamura and Enzo’s unrivaled mic skills, these two tough guys from the Tri-State Area are like a tougher, better New Age Outlaws, complete with a more-than-memorable entrance and oodles of fan support.
Cassidy, born William Morrissey of Queens, trained under Johnny Rodz in Brooklyn before moving to WWE’s FCW in Tampa. Amore, born Eric Arndt, frequented DeFranco’s Training Systems gym in Wyckoff, New Jersey for years before realizing the gym’s owner also trained Triple H. After submitting a video to Joe DeFranco, who passed it on to Triple H, Enzo also found his way to FCW. Enzo and Cass realized upon their arrival in Tampa that they had met before at a basketball game in New York, and have been together ever since. (You can hear more about their background on a recent episode of the Steve Austin Show.)
Enzo and Cass were in numerous high-profile matches on NXT and NXT Takeover events, yet never won a title. Nonetheless, they’re undoubtedly one of the most popular tag-teams in the entire company, relying on tension-filled hot tag spots, extensive in-ring promos, their iconic SAWFT chant and a well-developed dynamic between the two distinctly different wrestlers to get over with the crowd. Their debut on this past Raw is not only a welcome addition to the roster, but something that will reinvigorate the current tag-team division (along with the Vaudevillains, of course).
Starting in 2014, they were joined by Carmella, the “princess of Staten Island,” a female wrestler integral to their feud with Blake & Murphy (and Alexa Bliss), as well as various in-ring segments and WWE Network behind-the-scenes specials. (Cassidy and Carmella are an item outside the ring.) Though Carmella apparently has not joined Enzo and Cass’ call-up to the main roster, she can’t be too far off. Until then, this tag-team will likely debut their first match on the coming Raw, and one would assume a title shot isn’t too far out of the picture.
There’s no telling who will make their move to Raw and Smackdown in the near future. One would assume that former NXT Women’s Champion Bayley will make an appearance sometime before Summerslam, given the recent loss of her championship. Also, with the hiring of former Bullet Club members Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson, Finn Balor’s debut on the main roster seems imminent.
In the meantime, we have six new contenders to learn about, and with less than a week removed from Wrestlemania, plenty more can happen before Payback on May 1. So until then, stay tuned…but don’t stay S-A-W-F-T.