THE CLASS OF 2002
All around the world the Class of 2002 is kicking back and relaxing after seemingly endless years of high school or college. Not so in World Wrestling Entertainment. The WWE Class of 2002 is kicking things into high gear in order to secure their spots as true superstars, and not flashes in the pan.
This is one of the biggest classes of new talent in WWE since 1998- outside of last year's influx of established talent from WCW. So who in WWE's class of 2002 will rise above the rest, and become the hottest rookie since Kurt Angle? And who amongst them will fade faster than Beaver Cleavage? Here's a look at WWE's hottest young stars appearing on both Smackdown! and Raw.
Brock Lesnar- Lesnar is getting one of the biggest monster pushes since Goldberg. Unfortunately, he is not getting the monster responses yet. Hopefully that will come in time. Brock has been looking good, and is already the King of the Ring after only three months or so of being on TV, but he needs to take some more steps forward before he can really be seen a legitimate main eventer that WWE desperately wants, and needs, him to be. This week's Raw helped somewhat. Lesnar got a little bit more mic time, and he got a much-needed win over an established main eventer in sixteen time World Champion Ric Flair. If he continues to improve on the mic, and picks up more big wins on his way to his guaranteed Summerslam title shot, then we may just have the fastest acceptable rookie world champion- beating out Kurt Angle's eleven month road to the gold. The future is bright for King Lesnar.
Christopher Nowinski- Nowinski is undoubtedly my favorite of the bunch so far. I never watched much Tough Enough, and Chris didn't really catch my eye when I saw him on that show, but ever since his run in to help Regal a few weeks back I've been high on his character, and his chances. He has got a great look to him, and plays a wonderful heel. I have always been partial to the snobby heel, and Nowinski has been playing it masterfully for such a young guy. And he will only get better in time. I sense a bit of Kurt Angle in him, if only for the fact that both of their character's play off of real life accomplishments. So far WWE seems to be firmly behind him, giving him several wins. He has even pinned Bradshaw, who was getting a main event push a few weeks back, on two consecutive shows. We will have to wait and see if WWE decides to put him through the humbling process, and how he will be able to handle it. Nowinski should be a strong Intercontinental Title contender and champion within six months to a year.
Randy Orton- The son of Cowboy Bob Orton looked quite impressive upon his arrival to the Smackdown! roster a couple months back. Besides seeming rather vanilla, I didn't see any real problems with him. He has had some outings on the b-level shows that I have missed. With a good character he has the potential to be a solid mid-carder. I don't see him getting too much higher than Bob Holly or Val Venis level, though. He seems like the type that could always is on the fringe, but does not quite get over the hump.
Johnny the Bull- Johnny the Bull debuted on Heat this week with a DQ loss to Tommy Dreamer, in case you missed it. He looked all right in the match, but I see the gimmick holding him back. For some reason I got a Val Venis vibe from him. He has the talent, but the gimmick makes him seem like a midcarder at best. I could be wrong on this one, but I do not see him contributing a lot to WWE. I give him some extra points for being impressive in his backstage interview with Terri.
Sean O'Haire- O'Haire, of course, was on WWE TV previously as one half of the WCW Tag Team Champions, but with his re-debut on Heat this past weekend, they look to be treating him as a new, fresh superstar. O'Haire was one of the WCW guys I really liked. I was disappointed to hear that he had been sent down to OVW last year, but after his victory over Justin Credible, I see that it did him some good. The jury is still out on his mic skills since he didn't get any mic time, but we shall see in the near future. I will go out on a limb, and say that I see O'Haire sticking around WWE for quite some time, and being pretty successful. He has that 'it' potential.
Jamie Noble- Noble's redneck character has been a highlight of Smackdown! for me recently. His angle with Nidia has become a guilty pleasure of mine. He will obviously never reach the upper echelons of WWE, but I think he is a great addition to the cruiser division. With Rey Misterio's arrival things could get very interesting with Noble as champ. I think we are in for a treat.
John Cena- Cena is, unfortunately, the one guy I cannot comment on from personal experience since I missed Smackdown! while out of town last week. From what I heard, though, the former Prototype looks very impressive. I even heard one recapper state that he reminded him of a very young Sting. Could be interesting, and I look forward to checking out his next outing. Having a rub with the big boys upon his debut cannot hurt either. We may have another potential main eventer if he has the character to make him stand out.
Rico & Deacon Batista- I'm lumping these two guys into one catgory for now, as they have both been put into primarily managerial roles. Rico, has shown awesome presence on the mic, and has done wonders with a somewhat weak gimmick. He has gotten in the ring on occasion, and has looked decent. From what I understand, the former American Gladiators contestant is getting up there in age. Hopefully he gets a decent run before he's through. I could see a nice run with the Euro title for him. On the other hand, Batista is in with the younger crowd. I have yet to hear him speak, and I missed him wrestling on Smackdown! last week. I do know that he has an intimidating look, which helps him stand out from the other young guys that look somewhat similar to each other. Hopefully, he will not be lost amongst the other big men who are, well, bigger. He may have been a monster in OVW, but he is going to look considerably smaller standing toe to toe with some of WWE's bigger guys like Nash, Show, Kane and Undertaker.
All in all, 2002 is shaping up to be a great year for new talent. The Internet Wrestling Community complains up and down about the staleness of the product, and the redundancy of the main event scene, but I think WWE are really showing us now that they are serious about addressing the problems. Things can not always be fixed over night. They are in a rebuilding period, and it will take time. And it is good to see that they are not just throwing new guys out to get eaten up. Already the class of 2002 holds victories over Ric Flair, Bradshaw, Rob Van Dam, among others. I am finally getting excited about tuning into WWE again, and one of the main reasons is too see these up and comers battle it out for TV time, fan reaction, and respect. They each have good chances of succeeding, or else they would not have been put out there in the first place. But so far I'm looking in the direction of Nowinski and Lesnar as the standouts of the group. Let's just hope that they have some of that "Ruthless Aggression" that Vince McMahon seems to get off on lately.
(Hey, you forgot Rob Conway. ;-) - CRZ)
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