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Why Velveteen Dream’s release hits different

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This isn’t the usual fall from the top we’re used to

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There is a moment from 2019’s Halftime Heat tattooed so profoundly in my brain, I can replay it at a moment’s notice. Vic Joseph and Shawn Michaels, the commentators for the six-man tag match, introduce the NXT wrestlers to the world. Velveteen Dream enters last, and while giving Velveteen all of the flowers, Joseph tells Shawn that people are already comparing the young kid to the WWE legend. Michaels, sounding honest as ever, says those comparisons limit Dream’s ceiling, and the young kid from D.C. really is that good.

Fast forward just two years later, and Velveteen Dream is officially a former WWE employee. The “dream,” it seems, is finally over. To call it a meteoric fall from grace is an understatement. It’s only notable because Dream’s downfall didn’t come from injury or that brutal game of wrestling politics but rather from self-inflicted wounds. His own transgressions, which he denies, possibly became too much for even WWE to act as if they aren’t a thing. Patrick Clark, the man behind the Dream, isn’t the first young famous person to lose their career over allegations of bad behavior or, ya know, legitimate foul behavior.

But what puts Clark in rare air is guys like Shawn Michaels and John Cena seemingly handpicked him to be the next big thing. “Got next” is a term in Hip-Hop thrown at people the industry crowns the next big stars. Dream had next in every sense of the word.

Summarizing a career defined by “potential” is pretty damn hard. I can think of countless rappers who never quite got off the launching pad the way people paid to predict those types of things assumed. Shyne, Charles Hamilton, AZ, Memphis Bleek, Desiigner, and Trinidad James are just a few examples of artists whose yearbook superlatives are “most likely to succeed.” For some, industry rule 4,080 was their undoing, while others fell victim to their own demons or life’s unexpected twists. What they all share is curiosity from fans wondering what we missed out on.

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The same goes for wrestlers who don’t fulfill the promise their talents foretold. The list of men and women who left this plane of existence way too early is longer than it should be. It’s tragic when someone dies in the ring or succumbs to addiction. It’s even worse when we hear how much they affected those around them. On the other end of that spectrum are people like Magnum T.A., who was forced to retire just as he started to reach the mountaintop. We mourn their lives and celebrate what they gave us while ensuring history never forgets their names.

Dream is a different case, though. Most are probably shaking their heads today, still stunned by the fact this guy had the pro wrestling world in a chokehold by the age of 25 and couldn’t hang on to it. Velveteen didn’t die of a drug overdose or decide it was time to move on with his life; there is no cult status he can ever achieve. No tears will shed over a departure from WWE even Ray Charles saw coming. And with his baggage, it’s hard to envision him showing up in any other wrestling company on this planet. Clark was on the cusp of greatness but is now relegated to cautionary tale status.

Velveteen Dream opened the eyes of many wrestling fans during his beef with Aleister Black. All Dream wanted was for Black, and the rest of the world, to say his name. Unfortunately, we’ll probably never say his name ever again. And if we do, it will be for all the wrong reasons.