It’s time to prepare yourself for WWE NXT Champion Kona “The Finest” Reeves. (I'll give you a minute, I know you'll need it.) This may seem like an overreaction on the surface to his last few weeks on NXT where he’s been repackaged as a cocky heel with an I’m An Extremely Attractive And Wealthy Professional Wrestler character, but it’s not. It’s still far too early to tell how this character will fair once he is inserted in a feud with somebody like Ricochet or Kassius Ohno or even Johnny Gargano, but it’s clear, after four, yes, four years in developmental somebody behind-the-scenes really wants Kona Reeves NXT Star to be a real, actual thing.
But his re-debut at Full Sail, fresh with a new jacket, new facial expressions, new Very Hip, Let Me Tell You chain, new entrance music gives those of us watching at home the impression that this is somebody the company wants to be a star. His cringe-worthy promos are not good, his in-ring work still leaves a lot to be desired -- you could make the case that Raul Mendoza, everybody’s favorite NXT jobber, outshined Reeves in their match -- and if he wasn’t a 6’4”, 250-pound behemoth and still, somehow, only 25-years-old, this sort of character rehabilitation probably wouldn’t happen. But this is professional wrestling, and guys with the look and size Reeves was born with will always be intriguing to the Vince McMahon-types. Guys like Daniel Bryan and Johnny Gargano and CM Punk will always have a more difficult path to professional wrestling stardom than guys like Kona Reeves.
But you can see it, right? The comparisons to Roman Reigns haven’t begun, but they’re probably coming. Reeves has a lot on his side, he’s another prototype to the powers that be, like Reigns, like John Cena, like Hulk Hogan, like The Rock, like Batista, and the list goes on and on. As good as Adam Cole is -- and he’s better at literally everything than Reeves in the scope of professional wrestling -- he’s still 6’0”, he’s still an indie darling, and he’s still someone I wouldn’t bet on Vince McMahon wanting to hand the keys to in the next couple of years. Right now, it’s Roman Reigns, it’s Brock Lesnar, it’s John Cena, it’s Braun Strowman with a little AJ Styles, Seth Rollins and Finn Balor mixed in.
But maybe I’m getting a little ahead of myself when it comes to Kona Reeves and his potential trajectory in the WWE. For the last year or so, I’ve been pounding the proverbial table that Tino Sabbatelli was in the perfect position to become the next Vince McMahon Guy on the main roster. Sabbatelli has the look, he’s a former NFL defensive back, he’s gigantic, and, he has the most-undervalued attribute in professional wrestling today: He’s young, and, I’m very sorry about this, actually would qualify as “NXT.” Tino hasn’t panned out in central Florida, though, and he’s flirting with Guy Who Gets Quietly Released Only To Be Never Heard From Again territory. Because, like Reeves and Reigns and Cena, it’s hard to envision guys who just have the WWE Superstar look bounce around in Impact Wrestling and Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling. Tino and Reeves are in the perfect place for the kind of professional wrestlers they are and could be, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to work. (I'm not interested in selling any property on Tino Sabbatelli Island, yet. YET.)
One of the biggest problems with the Roman Reigns character, and, yes, there are many, has been the cringe-worthy idea of the decision-makers in the company not wanting him to be The Guy. He's *just* like Bryan and Punk, don't you know? It’s insulting to anyone who has clicked on a pro wrestling news article in the last five years, it’s insulting to people subjugate themselves to three-hour episodes of Monday Night Raw week-after-week, and it’s insulting to anyone dying to have a good reason to cheer for The Big Dog. With Reeves, they’re not trying to present him as a babyface, which is the smart way to go. Fans know too much now. They know, ostensibly, how much the company wants the Roman Reigns Superstar Babyface plan to eventually work out. With Reeves, the slate is clean. His push is coming, he’s going to feud with guys pro-wrestling diehards love, and he’ll probably win them. (Yes, I’m sorry to report that I *can* definitely see Reeves defeating Ricochet or Gargano at an NXT TakeOver in 2018 or 2019.) And it will be fine because he’s a heel who calls himself “The Finest”, while Roman Reigns will never be fine because he’s a babyface who thinks calling a wrestling ring “His yard” is a likable catchphrase.
Did I mention Kona Reeves has been in developmental for four years and is still, somehow, just 25-years-old? I can’t get over that, and it can’t be understated. NXT may have started as a show to showcase young talent, but that is no longer the case. The biggest stars to come out of the brand include the following: Balor (36), Samoa Joe (39), Shinsuke Nakamura (38), and Kevin Owens (34). Reeves is 25, and, he, along with the Velveteen Dream (22), Gargano (30), Sullivan (29) and Ricochet (29), may signal a shift in direction for the brand. The majority of the older, more-established wrestlers have been promoted or released, and, for the first time in years, the yellow brand is starting to feel and look like a show that is preparing professional wrestling fans for what’s next.
Reeves has only been back on the scene for a few weeks, but he’s already doing the interviews, getting the publicity, and raising the eyebrows of professional wrestling fans everywhere with the way he’s being positioned and booked on NXT. Reeves has a lot of work to do -- he’s not a natural promo, he’s not a natural in-ring specialist, but he’s got the look and he’s got the size. Sometimes, especially in professional wrestling, that’s all you need to get a real shot. Guys can improve their in-ring skill -- Cena, John -- and they can improve their mic skills -- Bryan, Daniel -- but what you can’t change are the things that Reeves was born with thanks to good genetics. Guys like Reeves stick out like a sore thumb in today’s WWE, almost like he doesn’t fit, and somebody you could see other guys becoming envious of due to the opportunities he’ll inevitably be given -- like his character now is struggling to project in a way that almost makes you want to watch a Charlotte Flair promo just to see which will make you cringe more. Who knows if Reeves will ever put it all together, but he’s the ultimate boom-or-bust guy in professional wrestling, and these guys just don’t pop up that often. Something tells me Vince McMahon and company know that.