Neville made his return to Raw this week with a win over Curtis Axel, and though “The Man That Gravity Forgot” looked in top form as he took to the air for the first time since before WrestleMania, any fans of Neville should be careful not to get their hopes too high for his next run in the mid-card.
If you think back to last year when he made his debut, at a glance it would seem that Neville’s first run on the main roster was a successful one. He put on a number of commendable performances against the roster’s top stars, and was very popular due to his immense athleticism and ability to inspire awe in the crowd, but in terms of development, that’s where Neville misses the mark.
When Neville won the NXT Championship in early 2014, the man quickly became the most well-known face on the roster. The reason he was able to maintain such a lengthy reign as champion, however, was due to his ability to connect with the audience, whether it was as an underdog babyface in the beginning, or a cocky champion with slightly heelish tendencies towards the end.
Neville always had a clear-cut character to reinforce the stories he was telling inside the ring. We saw him evolve as a wrestler, transitioning from the underdog into the main attraction in the span of a year. His time on Raw and SmackDown has been a completely different story, however.
Instead of using interviews and in-ring promos, or having Neville compete in meaningful rivalries, WWE relied on his ability inside the ring to get him over. It worked to an extent, but Neville still spent the majority of 2015 as glorified enhancement talent at best. Sure, he had some great matches, even winning a Slammy for his efforts, but he emerged from those moments without direction.
Every time it looked like he was on the verge of a major push, the rug was pulled out from under him and he had to start from scratch. It may just be that WWE doesn’t think Neville’s Geordie accent will translate well on American television, but since he ticked all the boxes down in NXT, that shouldn’t have been a problem on the larger stage of live television.
Whatever the reason, Neville is back in action now and there is a real opportunity here to right the wrong from last year. With a much more condensed roster on Monday nights, there is no reason not to give Neville the platform he needs in order to make an impact both as an athlete and a character.
The oncoming cruiserweight division should be a great start, and potentially reintroducing the Cruiserweight Championship would be even better for Neville to make his mark. But beyond that, there is a lot of talent on Raw that Neville could easily jump into a program with.
Cesaro, Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens are all going to be looking for a good story to hold them over until a spot in the title picture opens up, and we know Neville has impeccable history with Finn Bálor, as the two put on one of last year’s most underrated matches at NXT TakeOver: Rival.
If what Mick Foley has been saying is true, and Raw is going to be focusing on the talent as opposed to the authority figures, then Neville should be in with a chance to be an important fixture every week. I wouldn’t expect him to be main-eventing pay-per-views any time soon, but if Dolph Ziggler can find himself in the SmackDown Live main event at SummerSlam, then there’s hope for anybody.
A good start is the best thing we could hope for right now. We’re not going to get a good notion of where his career is headed from just one match, so hopefully the weeks heading into SummerSlam and beyond will be a telling tale of what we can expect from “The New Sensation” in the new era.