Do yourself a favour. Go onto YouTube and re-watch the moment that Karrion Kross made his in-ring debut in NXT. I’ll make it easy for you; the link is here.
The clip is only 187 seconds long, but everything you should know about Kross - the debuting killer on the roster (pun intended) - is right in front of your eyes. Even now, just shy of ten months after that moment, the presentation of the then-newest acquisition to the NXT division still has the hairs on my arm standing on end.
There is so much to unpick about why it works. The entrance alone, which accounts for about half of the entire video, is mesmerising and unlike anything we’ve seen in WWE before. In an era where fans cannot be there, it brings the viewer into the world. Karrion Kross’ world.
Then there’s Scarlett. Each of her moments are deliberate and calculated. From her subtle gestures at ringside, to her extravagant dancing around Kross, the entire display is designed to keep the focus purely on the man she manages.
Leon Ruff’s selling. The cautious steps by referee Aja Smith. Tom Phillips’ outstanding utterance at the end of the match: “Karrion Kross is the damn devil. What the hell did NXT just let in its doors?” All of it was crafted to present Kross as one of the biggest threats not just in NXT, but in the entire WWE.
Nine months later, on the February 24, 2021 episode of NXT, Kross bravely and heroically overcame the odds of a three-on-one beatdown by Legado del Fantasma to pin the Cruiserweight champion, Santos Escobar.
Okay, cool. So I guess Kross is a babyface now?
A lot has happened to the 35-year-old in a very short period in WWE. Feuds with two of NXT’s top stars in Tommaso Ciampa and Keith Lee. An NXT Championship win. An injury forcing him to vacate the title. A return in record time. Kross only signed with WWE last February but the man has arguably had an entire NXT run’s worth of occurrences in less than a year.
The argument could certainly be made that, having been made to look like a million dollars by Ciampa in his first TakeOver match and beating Lee for the title only his second, that NXT creative is not quite sure which way to take Kross. One can only assume that plans were in place for a lengthy reign with the championship, but an injury sustained on the night he claimed the gold put an end to that before it could really begin.
So, of course, having reminded the world just what Kross can do with a win against Damian Priest on his return, the next logical step is the quest to regain the title he never lost. If social media sentiment is taken into consideration then Kross vs. Balor for the NXT Championship at WrestleMania 37 is the direction WWE should go.
Recent booking doesn’t make that look quite so black and white. Finn Balor may hold the belt, but the Prince is currently embroiled in the dissolution of the Undisputed Era. Balor has problems with Adam Cole, Kyle O’Reilly and Roderick Strong to solve. Where does Kross fit in?
A recent trend in NXT has seen the lines between babyface and heel blurred into a grey area never before seen on WWE television. Where does Balor sit on the scale, having turned on Johnny Gargano on his own return to NXT before slowly sliding back the other way? What about Timothy Thatcher and Ciampa? Again, where does Kross fit in?
In today’s world, those blurred lines between heel and face add some interesting layers. They’re an exaggerated representation of the society we occupy. Good people sometimes do bad things, and vice versa. The actions of an individual might not perfectly sit within the bracket of good or bad - face or heel - but the presentation of those actions tell the story.
Which brings us back to Karrion Kross.
The very essence of the Karrion Kross character is down to the presentation. It is why that debut in-ring outing that we dissected in the opening paragraphs worked so well. It is why his first major feud, with Ciampa, established Kross as a credible threat. It is why, in beating the previously unbeatable Keith Lee for the NXT title, Kross was established as NXT’s top star less than three months after his first match.
Almost every other NXT stars’ presentation is down to their own in-ring ability. Whether Adam Cole, Finn Balor or Johnny Gargano are cheered or booed, their reputation inside the ring comes first. Kross is something different entirely. There’s a reliance on factors outside of Kross’ personal control. But that is not a bad thing, because when the brush strokes of those individual factors paint in the same direction, they can collectively create a masterpiece.
When the individual strands all come together in the Karrion Kross presentation, it ultimately does not matter if he is working against a babyface or a heel and, subsequently, the label WWE wishes to put on Kross himself. After all, if we want to take Tom Phillips’ earlier analogy deeper, The Devil could be the angel who rules Hell, the protector against those who did wrong. Or it could be the entity that seduces humanity to sin. Or the personification of evil.
The appeal and, ultimately, the money when it comes to Kross is that the character can slot into any of these, so long as WWE commits to that very presentation. Perhaps why the Santos Escobar feud didn’t hit home in the same way, even though their No Disqualification Match was enjoyable, was because that very presentation felt muddled.
NXT hasn’t had a superstar like Kross in a very long time. Like Bray Wyatt or The Undertaker, Kross does not need championship gold to legitimise his threat, highlight his talent or accentuate his character. Instead, Kross simply needs pointing in a direction and a commitment to the presentation from those around him. WWE got that right with Undertaker but, perhaps more important to consider, the damage was almost irreparable when they didn't get it right with Wyatt.
NXT got it right in May and they can do so again. If they do, the audience can expect many goosebump-creating moments from Karrion Kross.