It seems as if Dean Ambrose undeniably has the “IT” factor. It’s the number one thing people mention when discussing him. From the way he cuts promos, his ring work, and even the way he walks to the ring, you can feel that special thing that makes a superstar stand out from the rest of the crop of talent. And while a lot of fans and journalist who follow wrestling are happy to see a superstar like Ambrose rise, we’ve forgot to ask one question. What ever happened to the “IT” factor? What happened to wrestlers like Shawn Michaels, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, The Undertaker, and Bret Hart? Even midcard acts like Hardcore Holly, D-Lo Brown, The Godfather, Val Venis, and Too Cool have disappeared. Titles, other than the heavyweight championship, seem meaningless as if they only exist to validate the wrestler instead of the other way around. Dolph Ziggler, in my opinion, is the closest we’ve come to a performer bringing prestige back to the Intercontinental Championship. And he still has to job to higher talent being pushed as if the strap doesn’t matter. What happened to that “IT” factor? And why can’t the WWE make new stars?
First, let’s look at the past of WWE and compare it to its future. Before there was a developmental program and NXT for developing new talent, there was The Dungeon. The Hart Family Dungeon was the training facility within the basement of the Hart family’s home formerly run by Stu Hart. Aside from the obvious stars to emerge from it, the Hart family, the Dungeon has given us the talents of “The Superstar” Billy Graham, Greg The “Hammer” Valentine, Davey Boy Smith, Brian Pillman, Chris Jericho, Justin Credible, Edge, Christian, Mark Henry, Natalya, and many more. The Dungeon was the place greatness emerged from. Stars were made not only because of just having that “IT” factor naturally, but because they were trained to be the best as well. Other schools run by wrestling greats also contributed to training some of the biggest stars in the business. From opening up schools for profit, or taking a young talent under their wing, there were many ways for older experienced wrestlers to share their knowledge with young and hungry talent.
So with so many ways to learn and grow as a performer, what happens when a talent is only forced to perform a certain way? Or if the talent is trained and developed by the same facility as all new wrestlers are? What happens to the individuality of that talent? NXT has had success with pushing out new talent, but it seems like the talent that are making a serious buzz are the ones who were already established as independent wrestlers. The fact that Adrian Neville had already earned the name “The man that gravity forgot” before entering WWE developmental says a lot about the rise of stars who actually have that “IT” factor. NXT has signed a wave of well known independent wrestlers who are already well known by other names like Pac, Jon Moxley, Tyler Black, and Brian Danielson, and repackaged them as Adrian Neville, Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, and Daniel Bryan. With the exception of a few such as Bray Wyatt, WWE hasn’t had as much luck with their NXT developed stars transitioning in to the main roster smoothly enough to become huge stars. The fact that the most exciting news about NXT in recent months was the signing of some of the biggest names in independent wresting should say a lot about WWE’s intentions to only produce stars within the company.
So what happened to the “IT” factor? My answer is the WWE inadvertently killed it themselves. CM Punk was a known name in wrestling before the WWE, and could have been a top name when he walked in the door. The same can be said for Daniel Bryan. It’s why fans are pulled towards Dean Ambrose even if they’re unaware of his work as Jon Moxley. But the WWE can’t train new talent to wrestle the way that they want them to and expect talent to stand out on their own. And I’ve heard stories from independent wrestlers stating that the WWE has their own style of wrestling that they’ve had to conform to. So the less experienced wrestlers who will receive their essential training from WWE are expected to have that “IT” factor from the rest. In fact, WWE has pushed so many wrestlers who weren’t ready to the point that I think they’ve given up on finding someone who has that “IT” factor. You can see potential in TNA who could easily become top stars in WWE, but will never be signed due to Triple H’s dislike for the company. If this way of thinking existed during the Monday night wars against WCW, imagine how much talent the WWE would not have signed. WWE has produced some really good performers through NXT, but the bottom line is we will never have another Shawn Michaels if new talent are forced to wrestle one way only. And although I love NXT as a product, I’m predicting that the new group of independent wrestlers recently signed and dubbed the future by Triple H are in fact just that. Because you can’t teach natural talent, but you can sure as hell sign it.