There is not a professional wrestler in the WWE with a higher ceiling than the Velveteen Dream. At 23-years-old, Dream is so young compared to his contemporaries on NXT that he is at least 20 years away from being old enough to hold the NXT championship. Aleister Black turns 34-years-old in a few months, Johnny Gargano is 31-years-old, the NXT champion Tommaso Ciampa also turns 34-years-old in a few months, and if you check the birthdates of past NXT champions -- Finn Balor, Samoa Joe, Bobby Roode, Shinsuke Nakamura, etc. -- the Dream’s age stands out even more. The Dream, at 23, has put together one of the best WWE feuds in the last five years with Black, headlined an NXT: TakeOver for the prized championship, defeated the biggest babyface in the company, clean, and did I mention this guy is only 23? Twenty-three!
If you were to make the case against Dream, you would mention Adam Cole. The Bay Bay Boy is over, leads the hottest stable in the company, possesses the charisma necessary to be a top guy in the company, and it’s hard to envision a scenario where a city doesn’t scream “Adam Cole Bay Bay” at the top of their lungs whenever hits his pose in the center of the ring. However, Cole turns 30 next year; Cole does not possess the freakish frame of the Dream; Cole can be Shawn Michaels, while the Dream can be Hulk Hogan. Cole will be a star on the main roster for years to come, but Dream will be a superstar for the general public for years to come. Both can be stars with high-upside, but there is a difference between the stardom of Michaels, Cole (tbd), Daniel Bryan, AJ Styles etc. and the superstardom of John Cena, The Rock, Hogan, and The Dream (tbd).
Another key difference between Cole and Dream is the dramatic and terrifying difference between their floors. Eventually, Vince McMahon will get his hands on the creative direction for of these characters. As we’ve seen time and time again -- the hesitance to push Daniel Bryan to the freaking moon being the most glaring example -- Mr. McMahon matters. Mr. McMahon will continue to matter, to an exuberant degree, as to which pro wrestlers become stars and which you wonder whether or not they’re still on Smackdown Live. Yes, Triple H’s vanity project at Full Sail is a delightful escape from the horror most professional wrestling fans subjugate themselves to on Monday nights week after week, but it is important to remember that none of it actually matters. No matter how many five-star matches you put on, no matter how many NXT: TakeOver specials you main-event, no matter how hot you are in that tiny incubator, you will start from scratch on Raw or Smackdown Live.
If McMahon gets his hands on the creative direction of Cole for the next five years, the worst-case scenario is a modern-day Christian situation. What do I mean by that? Well, Captain Charisma had the look, had the respect from pro wrestling fans, but never had the full approval from Vince McMahon. In TNA, Christian was king. In WWE, Christian was a guy. Cole could very well just be a guy if the WWE CEO strips enough interesting things about him from his character, but he would still hold the Intercontinental title 57 times, he would still have a tasty blood feud with another indy darling every now and again, and he would probably still sneak in to the WWE HOF one day.
If McMahon gets his hands on the creative direction of the Dream for the next five years, the worst-case scenario is gone from the company in less than a year. The Dream knows he is very good at his job as a professional wrestler, he knows his character through and through, and he knows, at his age, to be as polished as he is just insane. So he requests his fans hound his bosses to get him called up to the main roster. You could see a scenario where he rubs the locker room the wrong way, not just his bosses, and it starts to feel like an Enzo Amore situation -- yes, this guy is insanely over and one of the few guys we can actually trust on the microphone, but do we really want to hitch our wagon to this guy for the next 10-plus years. Just this week, there are already rumors the Dream has some heat on him for his social-media antics, but the Dream is a 23-year-old pro wrestling phenom who thrives off making people uncomfortable. If you want the Dream to work especially at his age, you have to live with these kind of quirks because you know in 10 years, if handled correctly, this guy could be headlining a 3 Ninjas at High Noon reboot. You know he could be on the TODAY Show, you know he could be attracting all kinds of attention at a Laker game.
But there is a difference between the ceiling of the Dream and the Velveteen Dream. The Velveteen Dream is a midcard-sounding name, like No Way Jose, Mojo Rawley, Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake or even the Honky Tonk Man. There is a staggering difference between Hunter Hearst Helmsley and Triple H. There is even more of a staggering difference between Becky Balboa and The Man. Before the Dream is called up to the main roster, Velveteen must go. It was a fine way to introduce a character, but like Hunter Hearst Helmsley, if you want the Dream to awake from a midcard slumber, the goofy, Prince-y vibes have to remain in Orlando. If not, the chances of the Dream becoming a 2018-version of Orlando Jordan doesn’t seem all that farfetched. The Dream needs McMahon’s protection, his attention, and his approval to become the Next Guy the company is always looking for. Without it, the chances of success are slim to none.
No pressure, though.