Aleister Black isn’t just one of NXT’s newest arrivals. The former Tommy End is something new in this world, a singular athlete whose presence and attitude in the landscape of WWE holds no precedent. Nothing about him adheres to a norm.
Of Black’s unique traits, his air of legitimacy is perhaps the most prominent. He’s what Bray Wyatt, Finn Balor and others have tried to be and failed: frightening. A lifelong practicing combat sports, particularly kickboxing, lends to him a degree of physical credibility rare in the WWE today. A top-rope suicide dive seems like it would matter little to a man who can roundhouse kick your head across the ring, and an otherwise-entertaining wrestler like Tye Dillinger wouldn’t be your first choice for backup in a bar fight if Black were available. Very few performers possess this credibility, the most notable other being, of course, Brock Lesnar. Lesnar’s physicality, coupled with his history as a bona fide UFC heavyweight champion, has made him one of the most feared competitors in professional wrestling. Because of this, it’s easy to draw comparisons between the two. But Lesnar is an athlete, through and through. His wrestling gimmick is basically that he’s not a pro wrestler but a “real” fighter. He even infamously continues to sport the Jimmy Johns logo on his ring gear as he did as a UFC fighter. Black’s athleticism, while tremendously important, does not stand on its own as the sole contributing factor to his uniqueness, or his fearsomeness.
One would be remiss to not equally take note of his image. He holds himself like something otherworldly, something not quite human. He is an avid student of the occult, demonic lore, and Satanism—a connoisseur of the obscene, the things humans are not supposed to see or come to know. He projects the image of a man who understands these taboo practices intimately. He has looked into darkness and not once flinched. It’s easy, given this, to draw comparisons to other wrestlers who have invoked the image of the supernatural, performers like The Undertaker, Kevin Sullivan or Finn Balor. But the difference lies in the performance. Finn Balor’s demon paint is just that—paint. Sullivan might’ve been known as “The Satanist” in Florida Championship Wrestling, but he was the same guy who managed a group of ex-college jocks in The Varsity Club and a squad of Saturday morning cartoon villains in the Dungeon of Doom. The Undertaker, for all of his commitment to not breaking the fictional bounds by which his character is held, is known by most to be a man who has a wife and kids and enjoys boxing and motorcycles when he’s not onstage. But Black cannot take off his mask, because he does not wear one. He carries his iron gaze, unique profile, and numerous morbid tattoos with him when he leaves the ring. And he has made it abundantly clear in the past that his fascination with dark practices is no gimmick.
Black’s ring work harbors a brutality. His presence and image are jarring and threatening in a more serious way than expected from wrestling. But plenty of wrestlers hit the ring with an edge and invoke supernatural imagery in their character. What fully sets Aleister Black apart from his contemporaries, then, are his grace and his calm. Those likely aren’t the first words you thought of when you saw him debut at NXT Takeover: Orlando in April. But once noticed, it’s impossible not to. If one moment epitomizes it at its flashiest, it’s his now-signature rope jump spot. He leaps onto the second rope and springs backwards, his body arching into a flip like a crescent moon. And as he lands, he swiftly sits himself down into a cross-legged position that reads as almost meditative. It’s a power play, a dare to his opponent. He doesn’t need to cut a flashy promo about how this is his ring. He simply shows them the irrefutable evidence. Furthermore, his innate sense of calm while performing is so intense that it almost seems out of place. It would be so easy for him to channel the monster-heel rage of performers like Baron Corbin or Braun Strowman, but he doesn’t. He performs quietly, efficiently, and with a fluidity usually only seen in cruiserweights. It’s unsettling, especially considering that the aforementioned grace and calm is being channeled through stiff MMA-style striking. He frequently utilizes spin-kicks, flying knees and elbow strikes. It’s an almost oxymoronic combination, yet here Black stands, a contradiction to what we know as the norm.
His theme music, performed by legendary New York hardcore band Incendiary, opens with a statement: “No man is ever truly good, no man is ever truly evil.” It’s a prophetic statement. One likely doesn’t see Aleister Black conforming to a simple face/heel dynamic. He’s a man out for his own—chaotic neutral incarnate. It’s hard to see him winning matches in the future by way of heelish shenanigans, just as the idea of him playing the role of whitemeat underdog babyface is unthinkable. And really, he shouldn’t be either. He’s something new, something that, as previously stated, defies any precedent, any norm that may be in place in WWE. Why force him to conform to that dynamic when he seems intent on rewriting it? He’s unpredictable in that respect.
It’s hard to imagine what a match between him and current NXT Champion Bobby Roode—all things considered, a very conventional wrestler—would look like, and yet it would seem that Black’s logical rise is to that top spot. Perhaps Roode will be there waiting for him when he reaches that point, or perhaps a new contender will have taken his place. Really, it doesn’t seem like it will matter. Aleister Black is, in all ways, a rising storm, both the chaotic rage wreaking havoc wherever it goes, as well as the unstable calm resting at its center. The storm winds are rising, and a dark night has fallen on WWE. The NXT roster had best take warning. Because once creatures like these rise from the crevices in which we hide them, they can never be put back.
Tres Dean has written for Uproxx, IGN and Bespoke Post.