NXT Recap: Rhyno's Return and the End of an Era

The former ECW champ (and WWE crusher) shows up and shifts the focus from wrestling's future to its past

Rhyno returns to the WWE Universe on NXT. Credit: WWE

When most people think of NXT, they think of WWE's future. However, the return of Rhyno on Wednesday night may indicate a change in that philosophy.

For those who don't remember, or may be too young to know, Rhyno first made noise in the wrestling world in ECW in the late '90s – back then, he spelled his name with an "I" – even winning the company's world title. He made his way to WWE after ECW folded in 2001, joining Edge and Christian in their feud with the Hardys and the Dudleys. Later that year, he joined the Alliance in the ill-fated "Invasion" angle. After an injury, he toiled in the midcard until 2005, when he was released. Since then he has spent time in TNA, where he became the NWA Heavyweight Champion, and ROH, amongst other companies. In the decade since he was released, at no point did it seem likely that he would return to the WWE.

That all changed on Wednesday, when he made a surprise return to NXT. His entrance alone proved to be fantastic entertainment, as there was a moment of silence from the Full Sail crowd when his music hit before they absolutely erupted when they realized he was actually in the building. He quickly dispatched his opponent, Elias Sampson, with a suplex and a Gore. He then went backstage, where he had a short stare down with Finn Bálor.

So why is the 39 year old in NXT? Sure, we've seen some current main-roster wrestlers show up, like Tyson Kidd or Titus O'Neil. Cesaro even dropped in to feud (and put on some excellent matches) with Sami Zayn. Rhyno is different though. Due to his age, he's most likely not showing up on the main roster at any point. He also doesn't need to learn the WWE style, as he was in the WWE for long enough. Even if, as rumored, he may end up as a trainer down there, that doesn't necessarily mean he would be on-screen, especially for a televised match. So his existence on-screen seems like an anomaly for the developmental organization. Unless that "developmental" label is misguided.

Once upon a time, NXT was Florida Championship Wrestling – so it only seemed natural to apply the "developmental" label. Since the move to the WWE Network though, it's become something more. With the increased exposure, it became a place for wrestlers to gain a foothold in the WWE Universe. In this way, NXT is far closer to the WWE version of ECW than it is to FCW (or Ohio Valley Wrestling, the prior developmental organization). ECW was where wrestlers could get their first mass exposure, and work out their gimmicks, before moving to bigger things.

If this is what NXT is becoming, then Rhyno – and whomever else they may have waiting in the wings – makes perfect sense. If they want to get Finn Bálor over with the casual crowd, what is a better way to make him look strong: defeating Tyler Breeze or Bull Dempsey, or beating Rhyno?

For those concerned that Rhyno wouldn't fit in NXT with the likes of Bálor, while he's older, he can still certainly wrestle. At times in the past, he was misused as a simple monster. This always seemed wrong, since his body was atypical for a mauler and because he was, and still is, a great wrestler. If I had to guess, any former wrestlers who are brought back will be those who can hang with the newer guys, as well as teach them about aspects of the WWE. In a sense, they will be player-coaches.

William Regal started the show by saying it was the start of a new era in NXT. Who would have thought part of that new era would be heralded by someone who left the company a decade ago?

  • The way Kevin Owens is going about being a heel is fascinating. Most wrestlers need to do something outside the ring to truly be a heel – a promo, a dastardly deed, etc. Owens, on the other hand, is doing his work during the match. His motives are pure for the most part (he wants to prove himself and make money for his family), but the way he wrestles is pure heel. He rolls out of the ring constantly, and the brutality of his moves makes him a monster by default. Adrian Neville was also the perfect opponent to feed into that, as fans wanted to see him hit more big moves, but Owens kept rolling out (or locking in chokes) to stop him. He dictates the pace of a match, much to the disgust of some fans. It's a unique way to go about it, but it's certainly working.
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  • The long-awaited debut of Solomon Crowe finally happened, as he interrupted a CJ Parker segment. To be honest, the debut was rather underwhelming, especially considering how long we've been hearing about his gimmick, and the weeks of broadcast "hijacks" it inspired. For one, if someone didn't already know he was a "hacker", there was almost no way of really establishing that. They need to do more to establish who he is, rather than rely on a static screen and color bars.
  • One of the funniest things in wrestling is when a jobber randomly gets over with the crowd. Since her first match against Carmella a few weeks ago, "Blue Pants" has been absolutely loved by the fans at Full Sail. Good for NXT to roll with it and bring her back to see what they could get out of her, even if it's just to job, instead of just ignoring the crowd's reactions.