New SmackDown Superstar Tye Dillinger is a curious case.
Even if you’ve never watched NXT, you’re heard the “TEN” chants on wrestling shows around the globe. Those started with Dillinger’s “Perfect Ten” character on WWE Network, but they’re not always for him per se. Often times, they happen because wrestling fans like to chant, and there aren’t many matches without a 10 count to set this one off.
That’s not to say Tye isn’t popular, especially with the type of fans who carry chants from show-to-show and promotion-to-promotion. But his popularity stems from character attributes which have little to do with, and are in fact antithetical to, a guy who would call himself “perfect” and taunt his opponents by rating himself above them before, during and after matches.
Dillinger is “over” for the same reasons Daniel Bryan is. He’s one of us - if one of us turned our love of pro wrestling into a lifelong quest to perform, found out we were really good at it, and Vince McMahon’s empire didn’t appreciate our talents but we kept churning anyway.
He’s on his second stint with the company. You probably don’t remember him as Gavin Spears from the WWE-produced ECW of 2008 - 2009, but that was him. He’s been with NXT since its inception as a third brand, and had stars like Kevin Owens proclaim him the best and most unappreciated worker in Developmental. The “Perfect Ten” schtick was a last ditch of sorts after his tag team partner, Jason Jordan, was moved over to a guy the company was higher on in Chad Gable. It’s a heel gimmick, but fan support for Tye’s journey from training in Ontario at the start of the 21st century to here - and that “TEN” chant - forced a turn that left him one of the biggest babyfaces in NXT, all without ever winning a match on one of their TakeOver live specials.
You can hear all that in his quivering voice, and see it in his watery eyes, in the above Fallout video from after his official main roster debut on the April 4 SmackDown:
Sorry, I’m still at a loss for words here. It’s just... 15 years. And, you know, 15 years for a few minutes out there, in front of that kind of a crowd, in front of my home crowd - technically, I can’t think of any better moment. I thought that I had the greatest moment of my life at the Royal Rumble this year, and that turns out to be the second. It was all worth it. I don’t care if you add up all the hours, months, years, 15, whatever it may be, but those few minutes for these 15 years are absolutely worth it.
For them to, the WWE Superstars who were standing there when I came back through the curtain and for them to clap... that’s probably the greatest compliment they can give me. To have guys like Road Dogg, and Tyler Breeze & those guys that I came up with and have known for a very long time, and to have them say, “you know, you did a good job... you did alright” - it doesn’t get much better than that. I’m probably repeating myself a million times, this eye keeps watering - it’s just sweat, but I’m having a very hard time finding the proper words to describe this moment. It’s very tough, but to have them back there, to have those guys - I couldn’t imagine it any other way.
Who knows what the future holds for Dillinger. The main roster isn’t always kind to “curious case” mid-carders... ask Adam Rose, Tyler Breeze or even an act that seemed like a sure-fire hit, Tye’s old tag partner’s new unit, American Alpha, who still likely have a bright future, but who’ve struggled enough to connect to the greater WWE Universe that there’s now a discussion to be had about if or how big they’ll eventually be.
And Tye’s been around long enough to have a realistic outlook on his prospects. Which is why he’s soaking in the moment during this interview, even as the music of a bigger debut than his drowns out some of his answers.
I wouldn’t write off the Perfect Ten, though. A good chant can take a wrestler a long way. And when he’s as talented and tenacious as Dillinger?
He’s probably got at least a few more moments in him.