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Karrion Kross is a different kind of champion for NXT. Typically, being different is a good thing in wrestling as nothing is quite as damaging to public interest as monotony. NXT built its popularity in a certain way, one that focused on fast-paced, intricate matches mainly using wrestlers who became stars on the indies or in other major promotions like New Japan Pro Wrestling. Kross, while having experience outside of WWE, is not like those previous stars, and his status as not only the champion, but the dominant, unbeatable force in NXT, has ushered in a new identity to the brand.
Kross’ match at NXT: In Your House was particularly divisive among wrestling fans because to some fans, it exposed Kross’ weaknesses as a performer, while to others it highlighted his appeal as a unique attraction within NXT. The match consisted of Kross disappearing at certain times, while smaller, athletic wrestlers in Johnny Gargano, Adam Cole, Kyle O’Reilly and Pete Dunne did most of the action in the ring, with Kross emerging once and a while to play the role of monster heel.
For critics of Kross, it was easy to point out that he was hidden for long stretches of the match while NXT veterans carried the load. For fans of Kross, it was easy to point out how physically dominant Kross looked when matched with smaller competitors, and he has been presented as perhaps the most dominant force in the history of NXT.
A huge part of NXT’s original appeal was that the brand differed greatly from the main roster. NXT tended to push a more serious and less theatrical version of wrestling that mirrored the action on US indies as well as old territory-style wrestling, and often put in-ring work at a premium. This led to the roster featuring smaller wrestlers than the main roster, but even when a larger wrestler, such as Drew McIntyre, was pushed as a top name, he was a very capable in-ring worker that could keep up with the smaller wrestlers like Cole and Gargano.
Kross is more like the kind of wrestler who would be pushed on the main roster. Not only is he tall with a good body, but he is very theatrical in his presentation, particularly with his relationship with his valet, Scarlett Bordeaux. Things such as shooting fireballs out of envelopes are something that you would historically see on the main roster and not in NXT. The presentation of Kross is almost novel when compared to the more serious approach NXT typically has.
Those differences do not necessarily make Kross a bad fit for NXT; it’s good to have different things and as a performer, Kross has been good in the role. He looks the part and has great intensity, and believably gives off an aura that he is an unstoppable killing machine. A guy like that cleaning out the NXT roster may be a new concept to NXT, but historically it has been a money-drawing angle in wrestling.
Kross has been in NXT for a year and the jury is still out on whether or not he can be considered a success for the brand or not. Television viewership has not been particularly strong under his push, but that comes with a number of factors, including facing direct competition with AEW, going head-to-head with the NBA Playoffs, and other factors in NXT beyond his control perhaps hurting interest in the product.
In Your House was the first NXT event Kross has appeared on that has had a sizable audience, and the results were not particularly encouraging, as the audience didn’t appear to react well to Kross and were fairly quiet when he retained the NXT Championship. That audience though is a small sample, and was compromised of hardcore NXT fans, who are going to be more into the Cole/Gargano types than perhaps more casual fans who normally watch main roster programming.
There has always been talent in NXT that have clearly been “projects for Vince” but none of them have been pushed to the degree of Kross. Lars Sullivan was obviously someone who was in NXT because he was someone Vince McMahon would enjoy, but he was kept in the mid-card in NXT before going up to the main roster. Kross is someone who would likely catch McMahon’s attention, but he is being pushed to the moon in NXT and is clearly being groomed as a guy who will go up to the main roster and get a chance to be an instant main event star.
However, for all the talk about Kross being more of a star on RAW or SmackDown than he is in NXT, there are some real question marks about his viability on the main roster. Kross’ size stands out in NXT, which features a lot of wrestlers under six feet tall and under 200lbs. Kross has good size, probably about 6’3” and 250 lbs, but he isn’t a giant. Will Kross come across as an unstoppable killer when he is sharing the ring with guys like Drew McIntyre, Bobby Lashley, Roman Reigns, etc.? If Kross isn’t presented as a complete killer, his viability as a top guy will suffer. It’s easy for him to play that role when he is working with smaller talent that he can suplex around and look like Godzilla; but it will be more difficult for him to play that role while feuding with the true biggest names in the company.
The booking of Kross in NXT has been very strong; he is clearly the focus of the brand at this point in time and it’s always good to have someone who is protected and presented as a real asskicker. If Kross does eventually get beaten cleanly to lose the NXT title, it will be a significant moment for whoever beats him because Kross has been established at a very high level. That ultimately might be the best use of Kross in NXT; he might not be what fans typically expect from an NXT Champion but those differences can be utilized to help make another star look great by beating the dominant, bully heel.
In the latest edition of the Gentlemen’s Wrestling Podcast,, Jesse Collings (@Jesse Collings) and Jason Ounpraseuth (@JasonOun95) discuss wrestling returning to full crowds at Double or Nothing, the return of touring, the end of the WWE Thunderdome, what promotions did well during the pandemic era and which ones did not, and more.