A point of full disclosure: I originally wrote this for another site last year, but it barely got any reads. So I write it here in the hopes that at least two more people will read it. Plus I updated it a little. (Editor's Note: It's worth it.)
"You're either Nexus, or you're against us." Those were the words spoken by Wade Barrett on June 14, 2010. But this story begins two weeks earlier. On June 2, Wade won the original NXT competition, a reality series featuring eight wrestlers looking to become the next WWE superstar. Barrett's win gave him a WWE contract and a championship match on PPV. Wade was assigned to the RAW brand.
The following Monday, Wade showed up during the main event of RAW with a black and yellow N armband. Curious. Maybe he's scouting his competition, said you the viewer. Then Michael Tarver comes through the crowd with a black and yellow N armband (and a bandana over his mouth that makes him look like he's gonna start some serious trouble-it's all in the details, kids). Then six more men show up. And they all have black and yellow N armbands...they look awful familiar. They were the rest of the NXT Volume 1 class. CM Punk and Luke Gallows get taken out. Soon, they would surround the ring. Wade nods, the men hop on the apron, and then... all hell breaks loose. John Cena, Matt Striker, Jerry "The King" Lawler, Justin Roberts, production assistants, even the ring and the equipment around it, all get murderdeathkilled. Fans at home and in attendance watch in horror and disbelief. These eight people, virtual unknowns to much of the wrestling world, put themselves on the map overnight by carving a path of destruction reminiscent of the original New World Order in WCW.
After perceived--and actual--stagnation in the previous few months and years, eight "rookies" made WWE was interesting again. It seemed they were destined to become key players in the company for at least the foreseeable future.
But to paraphrase Beatrix Kiddo in Kill Bill: Volume 2, they didn't have a future. What could have been the premiere storyline of the "PG Era" turned out to be one of the biggest disappointments in recent memory--maybe ever. How could a potential all-time wrestling angle fail? Well, I have ten reasons why, in order of occurrence.
- Daniel Bryan got fired. The seeds for failure were planted just days after Nexus' debut. One of the more memorable images from "Hurricane Nexus" (that's what I called their destruction stunt) was Daniel Bryan choking Justin Roberts with a necktie. Apparently, WWE thought that was a wee bit violent for PG programming, and D-Bry got fired. Though Bryan was eliminated early on in the NXT competition, he was easily the most recognizable face of the group, thanks to his pedigree in the independent circuit. Bryan, in TV trope-speak, was the "dragon" of the group (both figuratively and literally as he was nicknamed "The American Dragon"). Without him, it's Wade Barrett and a bunch of lackeys.
- There was no clear idea of what the big picture was. Wade Barrett right from the beginning made mention that anything they did was for the benefit of the bigger picture. What was the bigger picture? Well, that was never really explained. Did they want jobs? Well, a week after attacking then-RAW GM Bret Hart, the replacement GM gave them contracts. Did they want titles? Did they want to take over? Did they just want to cause chaos and disorder? If you're the leader of a project, have a mission statement and stick to it. This stable...didn't even have a mission statement to stick to.
- They were "rookies" that were thrust into the main event spotlight. As it was originally sold to the masses, the men that made up Nexus were originally eight men plucked from obscurity (in reality, from Florida Championship Wrestling, their "farm system") looking for a shot at the big time in the WWE. Three months after they first appeared on WWE programming, they were in the main event feud of their signature brand. That's a big ask of the performers themselves. Some excel under pressure. Most don't. Speaking of the main event...
- The Summerslam 2010 main event essentially cut their legs out. Many wrestling fans in the IWC had an issue with the veteran team going over Nexus in the 7-on-7 main event. I don't...to a point. As evidenced by Wrestlemania XXVIII's opening match fourteen months ago, it's not who wins necessarily, but how. Many would have been okay with Sheamus winning, probably if it was a competitive match. But it was over in 18 seconds, and a lot of people weren't okay with it (full disclosure: I like Sheamus. I like Daniel Bryan. I hated the 18-second match. It did seem to work out for everyone though.) Apparently, someone at WWE didn't do a good job of clock management. After a DDT on concrete late in the match, John Cena came back down from down 5-6 for team WWE and scored quick eliminations over Justin Gabriel and Wade Barrett to defeat the Nexus. Supercena struck again, and many weren't happy. The next night on RAW, every member of Nexus except Darren Young won a singles match against a member of the winning team, but the damage was done.
- The injury bug came for Nexus. The one thing that can kill any wrestling angle, no matter how good or bad, is injury (See 2000, nWo). The same was true for Nexus, who would lose Skip Sheffield to an ankle injury, and later Michael Tarver to a groin injury. That's three of the original eight lost just two months after forming, four if you count the exiled Darren Young.
- A Nexus of five was no threat at all. Heath Slater, Justin Gabriel, Michael McGillicutty, Husky Harris, David Otunga. Hardly a threatening group, right? Even with leader Wade Barrett and forced addition John Cena (via Barrett's victory at Hell in a Cell) threatening to destroy the group from within, this once fearsome group was already castrated of their pride.
- WWE Creative didn't follow up. I put this one squarely on the writers. Twice in a two month span, Nexus attacked the legendary Undertaker. Cool story, right? After all, what better way to get noticed than by jumping on the biggest dog in the yard? That's how they got on the map in the first place: by murderdeathkilling John Cena. In fact, it was Nexus that was responsible for Undertaker losing the Buried Alive match to Kane at Bragging Rights. Why did Nexus do it? Here we are, three years later. We still don't know. In fact, it might as well have never happened, as Undertaker returned the following February to answer a challenge to Triple H for Wrestlemania XXVII.
- Free and/or Fired didn't matter because John Cena was getting his revenge anyway. You remember that match at Survivor Series in 2010, right? By the way, I got the event on DVD for Christmas two years ago. I still haven't opened it. I never did. I sold it. Sorry, bro. But here was the premise: John Cena, Nexus member by force, tried to kill Nexus from within, but the anonymous RAW GM put a kibosh on that plan when he or she forced John to comply with Wade Barrett's orders or be fired. One of those orders was to lose a #1 contender's battle royal to Wade Barrett. Fast forward to Survivor Series, where WWE Champion Randy Orton would face Wade, with John Cena as guest referee. Wade made a sweetheart deal for himself: if he won the match and the title, Cena would no longer be a Nexus member. If Orton won, Cena would be fired. In the end, it looked like Wade would get what he wanted either way. Randy won, forcing Cena out of work. In seemingly his last act in the WWE, Cena cost Barrett the title again the next night (The Miz would win the title a few minutes later). Then John Cena would show up on RAW week after week, systematically destroying Nexus, including Wade Barrett at TLC, capping off with Cena dropping some two dozen chairs on Barrett post-match.
- Even divided amongst itself, Nexus sucked. It was intriguing at first. CM Punk would usurp leadership of the group from Wade Barrett, then almost immediately thereafter, Barrett would form The Corre with original Nexus members Heath Slater and Justin Gabriel, along with Ezekiel Jackson, while Punk's New Nexus would include original member David Otunga, and newer recruits McGillicutty, Harris, and newcomer Mason Ryan. They even fought one another before the start of the 2011 Royal Rumble match. But ultimately, nothing would become of the gang warfare. Randy Orton would run through the New Nexus up to and including Wrestlemania XXVII, and The Corre would be soundly defeated on the same night in 95 seconds, ending any hope of either group being a threat.
- CM Punk was-and is-better off alone. In both 2010 and 2011, CM Punk led stables; neither succeeded. But as we have learned in the year since Nexus disbanded, CM Punk is better off when he's solo. When he sat Indian style on the RAW stage at the conclusion of the June 27, 2011 show, his six-minute diatribe shook the wrestling world and made Punk the superstar he was long capable of being. He's been a solo act ever since with two WWE Championship runs (his most recent was the longest of the modern era) and a WWE '13 cover. That promo also rendered the rest of his New Nexus irrelevant, and they've floundered until officially disbanding just before Summerslam 2011. The Corre disbanded two weeks before the shoot promo.
The Nexus could have been something special: the storyline got people talking about WWE for the first time in years, and new stars were going to be created. While it did produce a world champion (Daniel Bryan) and a couple of modest stars (Wade Barrett, Justin Gabriel, and to some extent Skip Sheffield), it could have been, to quote Barrett, something much bigger. But it's that lack of clear focus that ultimately made Nexus a failure.
UPDATE: So what became of Nexus? Here's an update.
- Mason Ryan is in NXT, where he has lost just once since returning to the territory in January 2013, a battle royal match where he eliminated 11 men before being tossed by Adrian Neville.
- Justin Gabriel is one half of International Airstrike along with Tyson Kidd. Kidd is out with an injury, and is not expected to return until later this year. Gabriel has floundered in singles competition.
- Darren Young is one half of the Primetime Players along with NXT season two contestant Titus O' Neil.
- Michael Tarver was released from WWE in June 2011 and now wrestles on the independent circuit. He is the current NWA Florida Heavyweight Champion wrestling under his real name, Tyrone Evans.
- Heath Slater has also floundered both in singles and tag team competition and has more or less become a jobber to the stars. Slater is the leader of the Three Man Band stable, also known as 3MB.
- After three surgeries on his injured ankle, Skip Sheffield returned to action in dark matches in December 2011. The following April, he returned to WWE as Ryback, his gimmick from his OVW days. He went unbeaten for six months before losing in the WWE Championship match to CM Punk in a Hell in a Cell match. Later this month, he will challenge John Cena for the WWE Championship in a three stages of hell match. Interestingly enough, Ryback has not won on PPV since last September.
- David Otunga has floundered in the undercard post-Nexus, but has a WWE film to his credit, starring in The Call earlier this year.
- Husky Harris (real name Windham Rotunda) has found success in NXT as Bray Wyatt. He and his family have wreaked havoc on NXT, and are set to do so soon in WWE. A vignette promo was aired of the Wyatt Family on the Memorial Day episode of RAW.
- Michael McGillicutty (real name Joe Hennig), after floundering in the undercard post-Nexus, has found himself back in the spotlight as Curtis Axel, his name being a take on his lineage (his grandfather Larry "The Ax" Hennig and father Curt "Mr. Perfect" Hennig were both wrestlers). Hennig is unbeaten under the Curtis Axel gimmick.
- Wade Barrett is the current WWE Intercontinental Champion, currently on his third reign. Later this month, he'll challenge former WWE Champion The Miz and NXT season 4 winner Johnny Curtis, currently known as Fandango.
- Daniel Bryan (real name: Bryan Danielson) may have been with the Nexus for exactly one episode, but he has far surpassed the group in terms of in-ring success. His firing didn't last long: he returned as the mysterious seventh man in the Summerslam 2011 main event, won the United States Championship from his NXT pro The Miz a month later, and in July won the Smackdown Money in the Bank ladder match, which he used to win the world heavyweight championship at TLC that December. He was champion until his quick defeat at Wrestlemania XXVIII at the hands of Sheamus, but the loss both enraged and galvanized fans, and has lost little of his momentum. In September 2012, he and his rival-turned-partner Kane (collectively named Team Hell No via fan vote) won the WWE Tag Team Championship and held it for 245 days, the longest since John Morrison and The Miz held the titles back in 2007-08. And if speculation is to be believed, Bryan's the next man up for the WWE Championship this summer.