Roderick Strong: A Diamond in the Rough

Believe it or not, Roderick Strong is almost five years removed from his NXT debut. In October 2016, Strong entered in relatively under the radar fashion, setting the tone in a fashion that wasn’t unfamiliar to Strong. One of Ring of Honor’s focal points for over a decade, Strong was seldom the star. Instead, Strong was the reliable glue, a consistent show-stealer even within a squad of skill and star potential. Franchise players came and went, one by one, colleagues receiving the chance to change their lives.

Clearly, Strong had to wait a little longer, never quite jumping off the page like his most prominent peers. Strong wasn’t showy or theatrical, he wasn’t outwardly charismatic in a way that separated him from the rest. Instead, the beauty of Roderick Strong was and is that in theory, he shouldn’t stand out at all but yet, he only needs the bell to ring in order to do exactly that. There’s an intensity to Strong, a sense of competition that’s so authentic, always projecting an unparalleled physicality.

That truth may not separate Strong on a scouting report but it does so immediately when put into use. Strong’s consistency earns him a confidence, trust creatively that in any spot, he can and will deliver. That allowed Strong to swiftly stick in NXT, even if not in a grand, glaring fashion. Instead, Strong just earned his role on the roster and expanded it with each and every showing. Though he wasn’t initially involved in anything particularly enticing, Strong quickly established himself as a name of note.

One of the brand’s lead babyfaces before long, Strong soon pursued Bobby Roode, the NXT Champion. Though not a natural fit in that role, Strong again made the most of every in-ring possibility, producing some of the more energetic outings that the title scene had seen in years. In hindsight though, that was a mere introduction for Strong, laying the groundwork for his eventual betrayal. Around a year after opening up about his road to pro wrestling success, Strong sold his soul at NXT TakeOver: New Orleans.

By joining The Undisputed Era, Strong effectively conceded defeat, desperate for a sure-thing after such constant heartbreak. As is probably too often the case on that brand especially, Strong was proven right but in this case, at least it was for something worthwhile. The Undisputed Era became the ultimate NXT act, a defining constant during the product’s critical peak. Strong was the supporting single at times, one-half of a staggering team with Kyle O’Reilly at others. The role was so incredibly Roderick Strong, an encapsulation of his career perception and productivity.

That’s a credit to Strong too, not a criticism. For all his immense skill, Strong is selfless, able to spotlight others without losing a piece of himself. The move alongside Cole and co benefitted both sides, allowing Strong to quietly compile yet another collection of TV thrillers. The focus was usually elsewhere but that didn’t make Strong any less valued, quite the opposite in fact. On a brand of prospects awaiting opportunity and stars requiring protection, Strong provided a necessary bridge between both.

Strong isn’t finding himself, he’s a known commodity that provides quality in any and every match imaginable. That position not only suited Strong, but it expanded his impressive legacy. As a part of The Undisputed Era, Strong had the run that he’d probably be known for, the workhorse among workhorses, an integral piece of a famed faction. Nothing lasts forever though, not even The Undisputed Era, abruptly disintegrating earlier this year. With Cole and O’Reilly now feuding, Strong and Fish were left without a clear direction, suddenly spare parts.

On-screen, Strong soon ‘resigned’ from NXT, legitimately putting his future in even greater doubt. I don’t think anyone expected Strong to retire or even leave, but a cross-brand move felt feasible, especially with such speculation surrounding NXT’s own rumored developmental programme. Instead, Strong returned in emphatic fashion, unveiled as the centerpiece of Diamond Mine, a faction built on straightforward, no-nonsense aggression and brutality. In many ways, that describes Strong’s style, the only thrills coming when firmly packed within the violence. After one match, the fit proved as seamless as it sounds.

Now armed with Malcolm Bivens as a mouthpiece, Strong gets a chance to do something that under the WWE banner, seemed unlikely at best. In Diamond Mine, Strong seems set to the star of his own show, the almost sole focus of his own faction. Strong’s already set his sights on Kushida, the NXT Cruiserweight champion. That possibility presents the chance to complete an incomplete venture, a reminder of Strong’s small stint on 205 Live. Entering a tournament for the brand’s vacant title, Strong seemed perfectly at home in his three bouts.

In fact, Strong felt like a long-term solution for the Cruiserweight division, a contender to build around as his NXT run neared completion. Only weeks later though, Strong’s aforementioned turn changed everything, not only keeping him in NXT, but tying him to its central act. Even still, there was certainly something to Strong in that role, pairing his own athleticism with that special spite, explosively grounding the brand’s flashiest acrobatics. Now over three years later, such an opportunity can be revisited, all without Strong even leaving his home brand.

Either way, Strong’s legacy is secure, one of his generation’s great pure workers. Few have been more watchable, as consistently exciting and worth your time as Strong. With Roderick Strong, there are no off-nights, just another chance to steal the show.

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