NXT had an in-depth story built up for Mustafa Ali’s North American title shot at Sept. 30’s No Mercy. But it was all for naught when Ali was the first name revealed on WWE’s latest list of talent releases last Thursday (Sept. 21).
Shawn Michaels, who runs the company’s third/developmental brand, revealed on his pre-No Mercy conference call that he found out Dominik Mysterio’s planned premium live event challenger was getting cut just before Ali did:
“I found out right before he did. I will say this — I’d be lying to you if it didn’t take us by surprise.”
HBK’s been around WWE for a long time though, so nothing really surprises him. He discussed that while heaping praise on the departing Ali:
“I think the world of Mustafa — had a great working relationship with him in the time that he was here. I will miss him. But one of the things, again, that’s what we do here in NXT. We adjust. We are, again — as I’ve mentioned to you guys before, the fire drill is something that is a regular thing here in the WWE and certainly here in NXT.
“So I feel like we’ve made a great pivot, we adjusted. And again, Mustafa is an unbelievably creative and talented young man. I have no doubt that his future looks incredibly bright, and he’ll be successful. I’m gonna miss him. I enjoyed working with him for the time that I did have him here.”
Ali’s name wasn’t the only one Michaels & team were surprised to see on the cut list. It didn’t directly lead to a PLE match change, so it wasn’t the same level of “fire drill”. But NXT had been telling a story in the mid-card involving Dana Brooke and Kelani Jordan for months. Brooke’s release meant they’d need a “Plan B” there as well:
“Dana Brooke, obviously, is something that caught us by surprise a little bit because we had kind of a nice story going on there.
“And I’ll say this, and I hope, I hope to God it doesn’t sound insensitive. It’s just that this is not the first time that we’ve gone through this, and it is something that, I’ll say this, in my world now, I guess maybe I’ve grown a little bit that these things don’t throw me into chaos. I don’t get too nervous. I don’t get too upset. We try not to allow the highs it take us too high and the lows to take us down too low. So yeah, we’ve made adjustments.”
Communication between NXT and the main roster shows has been an issue for almost as long as NXT’s been around. Things had seemed to be more well-coordinates of late with Raw & SmackDown talent appearing on Tuesday nights and fewer wrestlers being called up to the main roster without something in place for them.
We’ll see if these latest releases were an exception, or if Michaels will be surprised on regular basis for a while.