It was a brilliant piece of storytelling. A story as old as time, but this time with a twist. The passing of the torch in pro wrestling has always been something that has worked in the creation of superstars – Buddy Rogers to Bruno Sammartino, Harley Race to Ric Flair, Andre the Giant to Hulk Hogan. But one of the most iconic moments in WWE history was the energy of the opening moments of The Rock vs. “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan from WrestleMania X8 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, when a mega popular Rock faced an nWo heel Hogan in an icon vs. icon match. Leading up to this event, Hogan was being booed out of buildings, but when Hogan came out at the SkyDome, the Canadian audience gave him a rousing 80s-esque welcome to a man who was finally back home. The Rock became the villain for beating on a real American hero, and Hogan was given his third lease on life in the wrestling world. Tonight at NXT Takeover: Chicago II, we saw a similar angle – almost pace for pace, in the opening moments of the heavily anticipated Ricochet vs. Velveteen Dream match.
With Hogan vs. The Rock, the match leading up was symbolic of more than the nWo/WCW wars versus the WWF’s Attitude Era. It was the new school charisma of The Rock versus an antiquated business model in Hulk Hogan, sports entertainment vs. Rock N’ Wrestling, territories versus dominance. And the past few months have set up a modern day parallel with Ricochet vs. Velveteen Dream. Months ago, in March of this year, Velveteen Dream began an angle on Twitter, where he aired his public loathing for independent wrestling. It fed into a very believed notion that Dream was a simple WWE product, bashing indie wrestling on a Vince McMahondate. All the while, the ones most offended missed the inside joke that Dream was a former indie star himself, Rick Powers, in Maryland Championship Wrestling (MCW), where he was a tag team champion alongside Lio Rush in Sudden Impact. But unless you followed MCW or northeastern US indies, you probably thought he was just “the dude from Tough Enough” (ironically enough, it’s similar to people assuming because Hulk Hogan fought like an elephant big man with no training he was therefore inept in the ring, oblivious to the fact Hogan was trained by Japan’s Hiro Matsuda and when he worked in Japan, he had the freedom to use more of his trained arsenal than the WWF would allow).
So while Rock vs. Hogan at WrestleMania X8 was more about the old vs. the new, tonight’s Ricochet vs. Dream was more about indie wrestling vs. sports entertainment. Ricochet answered Dream’s insults on Social Media, and the feud began through dialogue on Twitter. It soon spilled onto NXT television, culiminating in that ridiculous Spider-Man leap a few weeks ago. And finally leading up to tonight’s epic showdown.
— TDE Wrestling (@totaldivaseps) May 31, 2018
The match began with Velveteen Dream’s entrance. After declaring that Ricochet should “say his prayers and eat his vitamins” on Twitter prior to the match, Dream came down in an entrance almost note for note Hulk Hogan’s. From the feather boa, to the yellow and red, to the bandana, and complete with the posedown in the middle of the ring. If Dream was going to champion sports entertainment, he was going to do it armoured like it’s most popular champion of the past 30 years (and in a cheeky nod to his anti-indie sentiment, his tights were a painted caricature of Ricochet’s pants from Lucha Underground, when he performed as Prince Puma).
Whatcha gonna do when @VelveteenWWE declares your dream over?
— TDE Wrestling (@totaldivaseps) June 17, 2018
When Ricochet entered the ring, the crowd was already starting to chant for Velveteen Dream, much like when The Rock entered to Hogan’s cheers. While the Toronto fans were cheering for the appreciation for a legend who was clearly on his way out of the industry, the fans tonight in Chicago were cheering their appreciation for a young Superstar who won their respect in Houston last year, following his match against Aleister Black at NXT Takeover: War Games. When Ricochet entered the ring, the two locked in a stare that shifted to the crowd and the surging Dream chants, like how Rock and Hogan assessed the crowd at the SkyDome.
The match began with rest holds and head locks, akin to Rock vs. Hogan, before it became an absolute clinic on how to perfectly mix old school “sports entertainment” storytelling with indie style athleticism. Big moves and spots, combined with classic facial expressions from days of yore (people often forget that one of Ricochet’s biggest mentors is Chuck Taylor, a master of the charismatic performance). The match ended with Ricochet defeating The Velveteen Dream, much like the Rock defeated Hogan, but in the end, the one no one expected to care for, suddenly became someone worth taking notice of.
STOP THE MATCH!
(please don't ever stop this match)
— TDE Wrestling (@totaldivaseps) June 17, 2018
It was also fitting, as both Superstars were endorsed by their WMX8 counterparts. For Velveteen Dream, his came in 2015 when he was ousted from Tough Enough and Hulk Hogan – who was a judge that season – tweeted the following after his dismissal:
@WWEToughEnough last night was a bummer,Patrick like the Miz didn't win but I know he will become a great WWE SUPERSTAR, it's in his dna. HH
— Hulk Hogan (@HulkHogan) July 22, 2015
Meanwhile, this past April, The Rock weighed in on his counterpart for this match, Ricochet, when he was asked about the new NXT Superstar.
He’s the man! Love the stuff King is doing and will no doubt be the leader in ushering in a new era of our wrestling business. Future champ.
— Dwayne Johnson (@TheRock) April 20, 2018
Except unlike the Rock and Hogan encounter, it wasn’t two Superstars who were on the verge of leaving the company or in the twilight of their careers. It was between two of the most electrifying specimens in NXT right now and in front of one of wrestling’s most fickle and elitist crowds. And they won them over.
Sometimes history is doomed to repeat itself, but in many cases, the moments can create similar feelings of inspiration, and actually do more good than the moments they’re repeating.