Question: How do you take a group of young, talented guys with loads of potential, and make it so that they do not have much of a future in the company?
Answer: Make them cheerleaders.
The recent actions of The Nexus, a group of people who were just recently in WWE’s developmental territory (FCW), got me thinking about the last time the WWE tried to bring up a group of young guys and get them over as a heel team, The Spirit Squad. Now, The Spirit Squad is a tricky subject, because as far as a storyline goes, they did have a successful run. However, they find themselves in this column because of the impact this gimmick had on the members.
The Spirit Squad debuted on the January 23, 2006 episode of Raw, by coming to the aide of Coach, helping him defeat Jerry Lawler to earn a spot in the Royal Rumble. The team consisted of Kenny (Ken Doane), Johnny (Johnny Jeter), Nicky (Nick Nemeth), Mickey (Michael Brendli), and Mitch (Nick Mitchell). They later found themselves in the middle of the Vince McMahon – Shawn Michaels feud, with their actions contributing to the reformation of DX. Their feud with DX was mainly a losing effort, most notably losing handicap matches at Vengeance and Saturday Night’s Main Event (7/15/06). During their feud with DX, they also competed in the tag team division, winning the titles from The Big Show and Kane on the April 3, 2006 episode of Raw, and able to defend the titles under the Freebird rule, meaning any two members could defend the titles. They eventually lost titles at Cyber Sunday to Ric Flair and Roddy Piper, ending the longest reign since Owen Hart and The British Bulldog held the titles in 96-97. On the November 27,2006 episode of Raw, the group lost a handicap tag match against DX and Ric Flair. DX then loaded The Spirit Squad into a crate, and shipped them back to OVW.
Kenny was the only member to stay active in Raw, but was released on November 10, 2008. Mitch was released on May 18, 2007, Johnny in early 2008, and Mickey on June 13, 2008. Nicky was able to re-debut as Dolph Ziggler in September 2008.
So, why should you not do this, even though the Spirit Squad had a successful run? Because it was a gimmick that none of the members could overcome to be taken seriously again. Yes, they were successful at drawing heat, and they made easy targets for DX to pull their shenanigans on, but that’s the problem. DX was able to defeat them too easily. There was never the possibility that the Spirit Squad would come out on top in any of their confrontations.
Having seen all but Mitch competing at OVW, from a talent standpoint, there’s no reason that Kenny and Johnny are not on the same level as John Morrison, The Miz, or CM Punk. That is the potential I saw in those two guys while they were competing in OVW, and that potential was wasted in a silly gimmick and a one-sided feud with DX. There were enough people in OVW that they could have brought up other wrestlers, with less potential, and let them be cannon fodder. Guys like Seth Skyfire or Chet the Jet should have been used, because their long-term potential in the WWE were much less than the guys they saddled with the stigma of being a cheerleader.
So, what lessons should we take away from this? If you want a chance to be taken seriously, cheerleader is not the gimmick that should be used. Annoying? Yes. Threatening? Not a bit. If you want a group to be taken seriously, then they need to actually come out on top sometime. Beating Big Show and Kane is good. Continuously getting bested by DX in matches and with pranks is bad. The break up of the group should push one or two of the members above the rest, so that they may progress with their careers. Shipping them all back to the developmental territory is bad.
My hope is that WWE will handle the rise and eventual downfall of The Nexus better than they did with The Spirit Squad. But, I suspect the goal of the Spirit Squad was never to actually build any of them up, and instead, simply provide harmless competition and goofy entertainment.