With the recent trend of importing independent megastars becoming the norm, NXT enthusiasts have lost sight of what the brand was initially meant to be. That vision was a developmental system in place to mold the WWE superstars of tomorrow.
Since the influx of wrestlers such as Kevin Owens, Finn Balor, Samoa Joe, and Shinsuke Nakamura, fans have certainly been treated to arguably the best wrestling on the planet. Each event feels like a wrestling purist’s temple.
NXT has produced the best match of the year for the past two years. In all actuality, they’ve probably presented several bouts that were in the conversation for those honors.
Still, NXT’s home base, the Performance Center is Orlando, Florida, is a place where wrestlers learn as much as they perform.
The most criminally underrated aspect of the brand is watching a wrestler come into his/her own. To see someone come to the WWE without the fanfare of an established independent wrestler and win the crowd over is one of the most gratifying experiences a fan can have.
Names like Baron Corbin, Tyler Breeze, Enzo Amore, and Big Cass came to NXT without the cult following that came with Sami Zayn and the like. Yet, they were able to find their way organically.
Elias Samson was well on his way to becoming that next homegrown talent. That is, until he suffered a fractured left ankle at NXT’s show in Nashville, Tennessee on June 3, 2016.
Though he’s expected to make a full recovery, the injury could not have come at a worse time. Samson was just beginning to hit his stride as The Drifter.
The brooding musician/vagabond character was introduced late into 2015. After defeating a myriad of enhancement talent (do they call it ‘enhancement talent’ in NXT? Or, is it developmental development talent?), Samson started to get a crack at some of NXT’s top wrestlers.
His first real showcase program came against Apollo Crews, who he wrestled at Takeover: Dallas back in April. Samson has since had quality bouts against Nakamura on April 27, 2016 and Austin Aries on June 1, 2016. Each of these matches showed he has developed to the point where he can hold his own with anyone in the ring.
The Drifter has shown a little more aggression in the ring during the expansion of his role in NXT. He’s also starting to talk a more outside of the ring. In a day and age when big personalities are rewarded and encouraged, Samson’s approach seems to be ‘less is more.’
It works. He has great eyes and does a superb job of storytelling with them. The Drifter is mysterious, contains depth, and exudes malice all without saying a word. Simply put, his eyes are pretty haunting.
The other side of that sword is that it makes him harder to relate to. He doesn’t have the brazen charisma many come to expect out of today’s wrestler. Samson strums a guitar and sings bizarre songs. That’s weird – not popular.
Is the singing too hokey? Maybe.
Isn’t that kind of the point, though? Aren’t we supposed to dislike him? If so, sparking “drift away” chants seems to indicate he’s doing his job just fine.
He has the WWE build. He has a solid gimmick. He has time to develop even further. Judging by his ascent to becoming one of NXT’s top heels, something has already clicked.
Here’s to hoping for a full, speedy recovery for The Drifter.
Stoney Keeley covers the WWE for WrestlingNews.co, covers the NFL’s Tennessee Titans for Pro Football Spot, and is the Editor of The SoBros Network. You can follow him on Twitter at @StoneyKeeley and the SPOT’s Tennessee Titans Twitter feed at @spot_titans.