Devotees of WWE's developmental flagship program NXT were surprised to see vignettes for Adam Rose begin airing last month on the Raw after WrestleMania 30. Not because Ray Leppan, the 34 year old man who has been under contract to the company for more than four years isn't a talented professional wrestler. But because his repackaging in a comedic gimmick intended to riff off of Russell Brand's character from Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to The Greek had just debuted on television a short-time earlier.
There were men and women who had been working a consistent gimmick from NXT who were primed for a promotion, but Rose wasn't at the front of the list.
A big reason for that was because the character was so clearly a work in progress. There was a theme song, and the idea of an entrance with an entourage, but little else. In the ring, the man was still clearly working as his previous character, Leo Kruger. He had incorporated some fun antics into his performance, but when the time came to work the match, he was performing the same moves in the same way he had done them as the unhinged former mercenary/poacher character he had been portraying for the past couple of year in developmental.
In the most recent set of tapings, he'd begun to show off a different finisher and more fully synthesize character and moveset. But he hasn't even really started his first feud in developmental, and is simultaneously trying to start his first feud on Raw.
Speaking of that main show feud, they haven't done him any favors there, either. Jack Swagger has developed into a solid hand, and Dutch Mantell is a legend, but from Alberto Del Rio to Dolph Ziggler, a program with The Real American has never done any of his opponents any good in the long run. And crowds want nothing more than to cheer and chant along with Mantell's Zeb Colter character, despite the character's offensive views and Colter's best efforts to draw heat.
The Rose character already exhibits traits that most wrestling fans interpret as meaning "bad guy". He's apparently rich enough to live life like one long party without any other cares in the world. He interupts other people's matches without provocation, and then is arrogantly dismissive of them when they complain. And while I might wish we lived in a world where a male character doing stereotypically effeminate things like dancing to the ring and prancing around the squared circle wasn't seen as a sign that he shouldn't be taken seriously, we don't. Wrestling fans have been conditioned that those are, at best, cowardly or flamboyant behaviors that should be associated with heels.
When a guy you have no connection to suddenly presents in that fashion to interupt a promo you were just laughing at and chanting along with, it's understandable when fans are unsure of how to react.
In addition to being rushed onto the main stage against the wrong opponent, the Rose launch points out a couple of flaws with the developmental incubator and how the main Creative team interprets what they see happening there.
Full Sail Live, the venue on the campus of Full Sail University where NXT tapes, holds somewhere in the range of 500 - 1200 people when configured for wrestling. It is a small fraction of the 10,000 - 15,000 that make up your average WWE event. In addition, many in the NXT crowd are regulars who routinely make a monthly trip for a four hour taping of several shows in one sitting. These are hardcore fans, "smarks" if you will. While you will find their like in every Raw and Smackdown audience, they are only the majority at shows in large cities or right after major events like WrestleMania.
The smaller crowd at Full Sail Live, in their seats for a long time and friendly with the folks they know who sit around them, are much more likely to engage to crowd participation activities like chanting and singing along with theme songs for no other reason that it's fun. The NXT audience quickly embraced the Adam Rose character because his entrance and music gave them a reason to sing and dance. Parents bringing their kids to see John Cena aren't as likely to do the same, especially when no one around them is doing it either.
Much of the fun of Rose, and more importantly, his Exotic Express entourage, for the live and television audiences of NXT was seeing how many other contracted wrestlers you could spot in costume. There was a novelty to seeing Kruger doing something different, and excitement at seeing Kalisto or Alexa Bliss on screens for the first time. All of that appeal is completely absent with a mainstream audience who doesn't have the time or the inclination to follow every signing and rumor about the independent scene and WWE developmental.
Creative for the main shows sees the reactions those acts get in Florida and believes that they'll translate directly to WWE proper. Worse, they ignore the fact that underneath the chanting and dancing, the acts earned that goodwill because the performers underneath all of that are good wrestlers. The NXT crowd was willing to give Rose the benefit of the doubt because they had watched Kruger kick ass for years. Similarly, a character like Emma is beloved at Full Sail because she's tremendously fun AND she can wrestle.
With Emma, and now Adam Rose, WWE Creative has jettisoned the professional wrestling portions of the acts in favor of solely presenting their comedy schtick. Unsurprisingly, audiences that pay to see professional wrestling have not been receptive to those antics.
All of this is without even going into the asinine catchphrases they've saddled the character with, or that the performer hasn't even had time to hone his delivery. And that WWE is so obssessed with being an entertainment company that gets its mini-movies over on social media that they'll use Jerry Lawler to shove the new gimmicks down the throats of the television audience, ignoring how that was the death knell of Fandango when he actually started to get over as a comedic act with a crowd participation element - after audiences had had time to understand the gimmick and to see that the guy could actually wrestle thanks to his WrestleMania 29 match with Chris Jericho.
There's a lot of blame to go around for the thud with which Adam Rose has landed on Raw. I don't know that the character is particularly worth salvaging, but I hope something can be done for the skilled pro wrestler who was handed the gimmick.
And I hope that WWE is learning from the mistakes of the Emma, Rose and Big E promotions - as well as the successes of The Shield, Wyatt Family and Paige launches - to fine tune how they debut characters from NXT in the future.