NXT’s next breakout stars?: Meet the 5 EVOLVE wrestlers you need to know
WWE NXT has established itself as the proving ground for up-and-coming WWE Superstars, but where do prospects polish their skills before entering into WWE’s farm system? NXT talent scouts have discovered future stars everywhere from Olympic wrestling teams to Brazilian Sambo tournaments, but no area has produced brighter stars than the American independent wrestling scene.
In particular, the EVOLVE promotion, based out of New York and Florida, has emerged as a prime spot to catch future Superstars honing their craft before making the big time. Gabe Sapolsky, WWN Vice President of Talent Relations, knows that EVOLVE is more than capable of cranking out talent ready for the high-octane style of NXT, while providing fans with a guaranteed adrenaline rush.
“You’re going to see a lot of action, high-flying, mat work and even some brawling. You’re going to see everything,” Sapolsky told WWE.com. “The biggest thing is, you’re going see the new wave of Superstars. If you look at the WWE roster, a lot of them came from EVOLVE and WWN. You’ll see the next wave of Superstars and be able to follow them from the start.”
EVOLVE’s track record on that front speaks for itself, as competitors like Daniel Bryan, Dean Ambrose, Kalisto, Solomon Crowe and Apollo Crews have all made their way through the promotion. In hopes of finding out who the next breakout star to make his way to NXT might be, WWE.com spoke with Sapolsky to get the scouting reports on EVOLVE’s hottest prospects — including one young star who may have already blown you away.
EVOLVE comes to Queens, N.Y. this Saturday and Long Island, N.Y. this Sunday. Both shows will feature a special autograph signing and appearance from NXT Superstar Sami Zayn. For more information on the shows, including tickets, visit DGUSA.tv.
*All photos courtesy of Scott Finkelstein.
“Timothy Thatcher’s been in EVOLVE for just over a year now. In that time, he’s established himself as one of the best wrestlers on the planet. He reminds me of Daniel Bryan, who I worked with for about 10 years. He’s an extremely gifted technical wrestler and a hard worker. I’d put him up there with Daniel Bryan as one of the hardest workers I’ve ever had.
“He’s a tough guy, very, very tough. He knows how to twist the body into submissions and outwrestle people on a different level than most. He’s on a different plane than most other wrestlers. You take one look at him and know he’s not a guy you’d want to get in a fight with.”
“Johnny Gargano is the face of our company. He’s been with us since 2009, and we’ve seen him go from the pre-show matches to a two-time champion, including an 873-day reign. He’s the epitome of what we represent. He calls himself ‘All Heart,’ which represents who he is.
“He’s an exciting competitor, as people have seen on NXT. Not only is he a gifted wrestler, but he’s an outstanding person, the kind of guy that kids can look up to.
“On Saturday, Oct. 17, he’s facing Ethan Page in an ‘I Quit’ Match. Johnny actually got Ethan his job in EVOLVE. He chose Ethan, but Page is a despicable person who took advantage of the situation and turned on him to make his name at Johnny’s expense. He’s done everything he can to hurt Johnny physically and emotionally since then. Johnny asked for this match. One thing he has never done is say ‘I Quit,’ but he said if Page can make him say those words, he’ll walk away from EVOLVE and the WWN family.”
"Hot Sauce" Tracy Williams
“Tracy Williams is a guy that’s really just getting started in EVOLVE. He’s a guy that has all the tools to be a major player. He’s got good size, great charisma and he’s in excellent shape. He’s a very dynamic wrestler. He can throw down and hit as hard as anybody, but when it comes to technical wrestling and getting guys into submission, he does things I’ve never seen anyone else do before. He’s very creative.
“If you don’t know the name Tracy Williams, you need to get familiar very fast, because he’s the next breakout star.”
“Anthony Nese is a superior athlete in the ring, and a great guy in the locker room, but he’s developed a bit of an attitude. He has a physique that’s second-to-none. He knows what he’s doing in the gym and is proud of that, to the point where he’s boastful and insulting to others who aren’t in the same kind of shape. That’s given him a bit of an edge.
“When it comes to athletic, dynamic moves, Anthony Nese is on the same level as just about anybody else in wrestling. He’s a very gifted athlete.”
Zack Sabre, Jr.
“I’ll go on the record as saying Zack is the best technical wrestler on the planet. The things that he can do to a man’s arms and legs make you cringe when you watch it. He bends them into such unnatural positions.
“He’s also an escape artist. It’s hard for other wrestlers to put holds on him, because he knows counter after counter after counter. When it comes to elite talent, Zack Sabre, Jr.’s at the top of the list right now.”