July 28, 2018 by coachcarter717
(All images courtesy of WWE.com. Edited by Carter Cotrupi)
By Carter Cotrupi
Recently, WWE have signed 9 new faces to the Performance Center, each with hopes of debuting in NXT and making their climb to the main roster. In this article, Carter Cotrupi and Shawn Eaton divide and conquer to give you readers some further insight into what we can expect from each rookie wrestler.
- Taishan “The Great Wall” Dong
Carter: What makes him stand out (or should I say, stand over) the rest of his new classmates is his size. Standing at 7 feet tall (you can’t teach that) and weighing over 280lbs, Dong can easily fall into Vince “I Love Big Sweaty Men” McMahon’s good graces. But what will perhaps catapault Taishan into the main event picture is his unique skillset, which could lead him to be a new breed of wrestler for the WWE. To compliment his intimidating stature, Dong has an extensive background in various combat sports, including MMA, Muay Thai, and boxing. His strikes are lethal (think Big Show’s knockout punch but faster than 2MPH). He reminds me a lot of what Aleister Black is currently dishing out over in NXT. Sharp, powerful punches and aggressive kicks all wrapped within his long reach means that this guy is more than capable of holding his own when push comes to shove. I think many people will look back at Taishan’s boxing matches and see his slow, almost zombie-like pace and be turned off to the idea of him being anything more than WWE’s next Great Khali. But anyone who watches his kickboxing videos will see that he is much more mobile when the sport allows his stance to open up, allowing for use of his long legs for kicking.
2. Stacey Ervin Jr.
5’8”, 180lbs, 24 years old. Even if Ervin Jr. didn’t have a dominant background in gymnastics, the WWE would still try to throw him into the cruiserweight division. 205 Live is where this 4-time All-American gymnast from the University of Michigan is bound to end up. But looking at just how well he moves around the ring, I can see Ervin Jr. making a splash among the rest of the high-flyers on that roster. If guys like Ricochet and Fabian Aichner are any indication, Ervin Jr. should be welcomed by the NXT universe with open arms. We might have to wait a bit while he sharpens his technical wrestling skills, but I think he’ll be worth it when he debuts. Also, his girlfriend is none other than world-famous gymnast Simone Biles of Team USA Women’s Gymnastics. So, he should have no problem attracting new, excited faces to the black and gold brand.
3. Io Shirai
I know what you’re thinking: Another Japanese wrestler in the women’s division? But hear me out. Io Shirai is an 11-year pro wrestling veteran. She’s competed in World Wonder Ring Stardom (Tokyo-based Women’s promotion) and is a six-time Artist of Stardom title holder. Pro Wrestling Illustrated ranked her as the sixth-best Women’s Wrestler in the world in 2017. Shirai brings high-intensity, dynamic agility, and killer strength to the table. Some might pigeonhole her into the Strong Style movement that McMahon and co have been drooling over in recent years. But make no mistake, Io Shirai puts it all on the line every time she starts a match.
So far Asuka’s debut on the main roster has been less than what we expected from such a dominant superstar coming up from NXT. It is also very apparent that Kairi Sane has been underutilized, what with the women’s division getting more and more crowded with exciting new prospects ready to take the leap into the WWE ring. Unlike the Pirate Princess, Io Shirai has the makings of a superb heel if she were to transition her current moveset into WWE’s ring. I have never seen someone perform a basement dropkick that gave me whiplash just from watching it. There is an exciting road ahead for “The Genius of the Sky”, and it starts at the 2018 Mae Young Classic tournament.
4. Denzel Dejournette
At 6’2”, 260lbs, this former collegiate wrestler for Appalachian State University is looking to make waves as a pro wrestler in the WWE. In 2017, Dejournette finished 8th overall in the NCAA Heavyweight Wrestling Championships. During his career at App State, he received two Southern Conference Wrestler of the Year accolades. So, we know that Dejournette has a solid technical wrestling background. What is yet to be seen is how fluid his transition to sports entertainment will be. He’s not the biggest personality, but given some guidance and training in character development, he could be decent mid-carder on the main roster. Hopefully he won’t fall under the generic “strong man” create-a-character WWE build and get lost in the shuffle of talent.
5. Monique Jenkins
Jenkins, like many others in this class, is a fresh face to the industry. She initially trained under WWE Hall of Famer Johnny Rodz and moved on to the 3D Wrestling Academy under the tutelage of the Dudley Boyz. In the past two years, se has competed in the Shine and Impact Wrestling promotions. Because of her relative inexperience in pro wrestling, she will likely stay in the WWE Performance Center for the foreseeable future.
6. Keith Lee
Shawn: Bask in his glory! Keith Lee has officially signed with NXT and the WWE performance center. Lee, who has wrestled all over the country in Promotion’s like PWG and Progress Wrestling, is known for his incredible strength and athleticism. Lee can deadlift suplex 300+ pounds while also being able to fly over the top rope. Lee is built like a Super heavyweight (6’3”, 330lbs) but can perform like any Cruiserweight. His unique moveset is especially apparent in his match with now co-NXT superstar Donovan Dijak (which was given a 5-star rating by Dave Meltzer). I see Keith Lee being a huge deal in WWE. He could absolutely be a champion in due time.
7. Deonna Purrazzo
The former Ring of Honor (ROH) women’s star has made her way to NXT and the Mae Young Classic. Purrazzo, known as the “Virtuoso”, is an outstanding wrestler with a wide range of moves that makes her very valuable to WWE’s current women’s roster. I’ve seen her wrestle live and she is the real deal. She has wrestled all over the world for ROH and Stardom, so she has the experience and the skill to be a top-level women’s superstar in years to come.
8. Lacey Lane
A fairly new face to the pro wrestling scene, Lacey Lane was a former Crash Lucha Libre Women’s champion and a former basketball player for Shaw University. Lane, who was trained at the 3D academy (Bubba and D-Von Dudley’s Wrestling school), is accomplishing a lot in her early wrestling career. She made a name for herself shortly before making the jump to NXT/PC. I can’t really tell right now what Lanes ceiling is for WWE since she is so new. But with her athletic ability and some help with the coaches at the PC, I don’t doubt we could see Lacey’s NXT debut sometime soon.
9. Luke Menzies
Former Rugby player and trained under Marty Jones in the UK, Menzies is a stocky and athletic guy who doesn’t have a whole lot of experience in ring. If I’m being honest, I feel as though he has the biggest hill to climb to become successful in WWE out of all the newest members of the performance center.
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