NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia, January 27, 2018.
Candles line the entrance ramp. A driving drum beat echoes through the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. Aleister Black rises from the fog, a roar behind him as fans ready for him to go to war with Adam Cole. A refrain rings through the arenda, with many singing along:
“No man is ever truly good
No man is ever truly evil
I do the things you never could
And we won’t ever be equal”
Commentary makes a point of highlighting Black’s resume as he walks to the ring. 2017 Male Competitor of the Year, Breakout Star of the Year, and Rivalry of the Year against Velveteen Dream. Black is a made man, and one who fans can’t wait to see.
Tables and chairs are broken in the match, but Black emerges victorious. He sets his sights on the NXT Championship and wins it in April. Black has all the makings of a star in the industry.
It is now close to December 2020. Almost three full years have passed, and Black has been wasted on the main roster. This isn’t a new phenomenon – many NXT talents have found themselves in a worse spot on Raw or SmackDown than when on the yellow brand. Black is an exceptional case. It isn’t just that he isn’t at the main event level. It’s that all that made Black interesting has seemingly been stripped away.
Back to Black
In NXT, Black was able to engage in rivalries that had depth and complexity like his battle with Velveteen Dream of course stands out. Dream wanted to be noticed; Black wanted to get rid of another top contender and was unwavering in his dismissal. It took a ferocious effort for Dream to get Black to say his name. We learned about both men – Dream wanted to be taken seriously, and Black could have his respect earned.
We watched Black rationalize why he wanted the NXT Championship – the Devil on his back. Characters with gothic or supernatural edges have always made for strange title contenders. Black gave us reason, and was given layers of character over his time in NXT.
Near the end of his NXT run, Black teamed with Ricochet in the Dusty Rhodes Classic. A common formula for this tournament: two big singles stars working together to win it all. This pairing ended up being a hindrance for both men, since it was how they were brought to the main roster.
Lost in the Shuffle
In February 2019, Black arrived on the main roster with little build. He was part of a panic call-up by Vince McMahon, who hoped to inject life into Raw and SmackDown. To do so, he brought up four of NXT’s best without fanfare – Black, Ricochet, Tommaso Ciampa, and Johnny Gargano. Ciampa and Gargano were spared, returning to NXT and regaining success. Black and Ricochet were added to the main roster and teamed through Wrestlemania 35 without achieving gold. During his first few weeks, Michael Cole even called the man “moody”.
In the Superstar Shakeup, Black found his way to SmackDown. He then waited for someone to knock on his door and fight him. It was intriguing enough, and gave him consistent television time. He even got a quality pay-per-view match against Cesaro out of it. After that, Black was lost in the shuffle or stuck in long feuds without purpose.
He’s feuded with Buddy Murphy and A.J. Styles, with neither feud taking full advantage of his character’s uniqueness. Black has been in Money in the Bank and the Royal Rumble, but is missing the substance that made his time in NXT memorable.
Now, Black finds himself sidelined for even more petty reasons. His real life wife Thea Trinidad (Zelina Vega in WWE) was released for not stopping third party work. With Trinidad released, it seems like Black is being blackballed as well. He was drafted to SmackDown in October but has been held out consistently with nothing to do.
The main thing missing from Black’s main roster run is a dive into his motivations. Each of his feuds in NXT revealed a layer of his backstory and deepened those of his opponent. Dream, Cole, Andrade – all were changed after long feuds with Black.
Can we say that any of his main roster opponents have changed themselves or Black? Murphy was still himself, Styles remains unchanged. The only real development Black had was an eye-patch after being involved in the terrible Seth Rollins-Rey Mysterio eye-for-an-eye debacle.
Why not have Black dive deeper into the symbols in his entrance and on his jacket? Could we see him take out WWE’s sinners? What about those he feel have wrong him in the past? Instead we get nothing. We really get nothing because WWE has apparently “forgotten about him“.
Black’s changed his theme since a heel turn in August, but his old one was so memorable mainly due to the fond memories of his NXT run. Now the lyrics run hollow. He does things just like every other main roster wrestler. Nothing about him is unique, no depth is to be found in his character. It’s another instance of WWE dropping the ball on a potential megastar. Here’s hoping opportunity knocks for him once again.