“You’re either Nexus, or you’re against us.” – Wade Barrett
When you speak to wrestling fans about the WWE faction The Nexus most would be against them (or at least against what they ultimately became or how they were handled), but they made a major impact in a short time and led to one of the greatest moments in WWE. Nexus began during a match on RAW between Champion John Cena and CM Punk with Luke Gallows at ringside on June 7, 2010. The winner of NXT Season One, Wade Barrett started down the ramp to the surprise of Cena, but then several more wrestlers hopped the barricade and attacked Gallows and Punk who was pitched out of the ring without hustle, loyalty or respect. It was revealed on commentary that the attackers were all rookies from NXT Season One and had surrounded the ring with Barrett.
One of the attackers, David Otunga, forcibly removed the official and Barrett, Darren Young, Daniel Bryan, Heath Slater, Skip Sheffield, Justin Gabriel, and Michael Tarver surrounded the Champion. After a vicious assault on Cena, Skip Sheffield took out Matt Striker while Gabriel and Slater assaulted Jerry “The King” Lawler. They proceeded to destroy the ring in what could be argued as one of the best debuts ever on RAW. Cena was carted out on a stretcher and a statement was made. The Nexus was established as the main heel stable in Raw, attacking several wrestlers and legends over the next several weeks including Hall of Famers Ricky Steamboat, Dusty Rhodes, RAW General Manager Bret Hart, and Chairman Mr. McMahon. After Hart’s attack, McMahon removed him “due to his injuries.”
After weeks of beat downs, the WWE got a win in a 7-Man Elimination match at SummerSlam after Cena pinned Barrett and Gabriel. Then Cena got his one on one match with Barrett but the stipulation was that if he lost he would have to join or Nexus was disbanded. Cena lost to Barrett in October at Hell in a Cell thanks to Husky Harris and Michael McGillicutty who arrived and became members a few weeks later on RAW. Cena may now have been a part of Nexus, but he worked against them constantly which led to his “firing” even though he still returned each week on RAW. Finally, Cena defeated Barrett in a Chairs Match on December 19th at TLC which summarily ended their feud. On January 3, 2011, we learned that Barrett was out and CM Punk became the leader of The New Nexus with McGillicutty, Otunga, and Harris. After an odd initiation Justin Gabriel and Heath Slater left The New Nexus for Smackdown with Barrett forming The Corre. They continued to feud with Cena leading to one of the most anticipated matches in WWE history on July 17, 2011, at Money in The Bank in Chicago. That’s the night Punk’s reign as Champion would begin and Nexus would end.
Nexus: The Greatest Faction That Nearly Was
Nexus ran as top heels on RAW for a year against the WWE’s biggest stars despite being a young faction. They were early as a group and have little hardware to show for it but every Nexus member has gone on to have successful careers in their own right. Here’s a look at the alumni from Nexus:
Michael Tarver came on the scene with the black bandana over his face with a T and was an imposing force. Injuries curtailed his WWE career, but he is still booked on the Indie Circuit and had a solid career since leaving New York. Recently he competed with Justin Gabriel/PJ Black and Darren Young in a Six-Man Tag match as The Nexus Experience.
Justin Gabriel is better known as PJ Black who’s had a long successful career and remained with WWE until 2015. The South African has been a fixture with Ring of Honor since 2018 and has also seen time with TNA and Lucha Underground. “The Darewolf” has wrestled all over the Independent scene including The Crash, Future Stars of Wrestling (FSW), Blackcraft Wrestling, and Bar Wrestling.
The third member of the team Darren Young was the first one removed from the Nexus. Young would remain with WWE until 2017 and had moderate success with Titus O’Neill as The Prime Time Players including a 70 day WWE Tag Title reign. He finished up his time with WWE after an odd pairing with WWE Hall of Famer Bob Backlund.
John Cena was the least committed of the Nexus members and his time with the group was tumultuous at best. Cena is 16x Champion and one of the best to ever step in the ring.
Daniel Bryan had the shortest tenure and was summarily fired after spitting in Cena’s face during the initial attack on RAW. He only made one appearance with the group and fought against them at Bragging Rights. Bryan’s also one of the best ever as 4x WWE Champ, 2x Tag Champ, Intercontinental and United States Champion. Since returning from what many thought was a career-ending neck injury is putting together one of the best heel runs in a decade proving just how great he really is.
Skip Sheffield also known as Ryback had a good feud with Cena and eventually won the Intercontinental Title at Elimination Chamber in May 2015. He would defend the crown multiple times before finally dropping it after 112 days to Kevin Owens. After an ugly departure from WWE “The Big Guy” has returned to the Independent scene and become a popular podcast host.
David Otunga was the only tenured member of the faction remaining in the group the entire 14 months becoming a Two-Time Tag Champion. Nexus was the pinnacle for Jennifer Hudson’s ex-husband and now we get to listen to him on the WWE pre-show. Lucky us.
Heath Slater left Nexus after CM Punk took over and won two more Tag Titles with Justin Gabriel as The Corre on Smackdown. After being a jobber and plugged into multiple weak factions he teamed with Rhyno to win another Tag Title giving him four in a very steady career. “I got kids” is still one of the best promo lines of the last five years.
Michael McGillicutty is third generation star, Curtis Axel. He has never left WWE and has performed more in a comedy role in recent years despite winning his second Tag Title this time with Bo Dallas. Axel, like his Father, is a former Intercontinental Champion.
Husky Harris is someone many forget about with Nexus, but we will never forget Bray Wyatt. Whether he leads the Wyatt Family or the Firefly Fun House we didn’t realize how much we missed him until he returned. He is one of the best promos in the game and can compete with anyone in the ring and is a former WWE Champion, Tag Champion and has faced John Cena, The Undertaker, and Randy Orton at WrestleMania.
One of the members of the New Nexus, the big Welshman was brought in by CM Punk. His tenure was short, however, as he was injured (and written off by a punt from Punk’s rival at the time Randy Orton). By the time he’d returned, Nexus over, as Punk’s Pipebomb has set up Punk as a singles star that didn’t need anymore back-up.
Wade Barrett jumped right into the WWE Championship picture with Nexus but was never able to secure it. Despite the setback, he would go on to become 5x Intercontinental Champion and win the 2015 King of the Ring before leaving in 2016. Injuries hurt Barrett’s time in WWE as much as anything but he still made his mark in a nearly six-year WWE career.
CM Punk & The New Nexus
CM Punk took over The New Nexus but it had lost its sizzle. However, we ended up getting the “Pipe Bomb” and his match with Cena on July 17, 2011 at Money in the Bank for the WWE Title. If that match isn’t in your Top Ten WWE matches it’s because you haven’t seen it. No matter what you think of Nexus as a whole it ultimately led to that match which was storytelling at its best in the lead-up and in the ring with an incredible Chicago crowd. Punk won that night in his hometown and would go on to become WWE and World Heavyweight Champion 5x combined and included runs as Tag Champ (Kofi Kingston) and Intercontinental before he left WWE. Rumors of his return circulate like D.B. Cooper sightings in the Seventies, so who knows what’s next for the final leader of Nexus.
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