Baron Corbin: Evolving in Plain Sight

 

Believe it or not, 2018 hasn't been Baron Corbin’s first year in the spotlight. Not at all in fact, it just so happens that this year, that light has been shining brighter than ever. You see, once upon a time, Corbin was NXT’s central rising star, an undefeated brute positioned as a face to remember. At one point, the Full Sail crowd would literally count during his matches, awaiting how few seconds Corbin would waste on his foe. However, that momentum came in the midst of a change for the once developmental brand.

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In what inaccurately felt like an overnight shift, NXT’s focus had altered. With each marquee signing, the home-grown talent became less important and considering what has since been built, understandably so. As a brand, NXT’s quality improved with its growing roster, as established wrestling stars took center stage and expanded the show’s popularity along the way. Suddenly surrounded by an increasingly different world, Corbin’s position naturally developed. As a virtual outlier, Baron fully transitioned to the heel role, becoming an almost resentful character without any respect for his peers’ pedigree.

That particular presentation really worked in my view, giving Corbin his first real ‘gimmick’ outside of that initial monster run. However, as NXT’s expansion took shape, Corbin’s real home became clear. For better or worse, Baron would quite obviously be a talent built for the main roster. His improvement had been undeniable but considering the audience NXT was looking to capture, Corbin no longer felt like a good fit on top of that brand’s roster. For that reason, a call-up was always fast approaching and at the first ever NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn event, this perception was understandably confirmed. 

Losing his undefeated streak to the recently signed Samoa Joe, Corbin’s path became clearer. This just wasn't the environment for a Baron Corbin push and though he’d continue to develop there over much of the next year, his inevitable destination soon emerged. One night after losing to Austin Aries in his NXT debut, Corbin made a debut of his own, appearing at WrestleMania and winning The Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal too. Creatively, it was a statement of intent, a starting point worth remembering and hopefully, one that’d lay the groundwork for what followed.

In truth though, there didn't seem to be too much of a plan for Baron’s arrival. Instead, he went back and forth with Dolph Ziggler in a somewhat aimless programme that left him basically unmoved. Opportunities would soon increase for all involved though, as the brand split’s re-implementation created a necessity to produce some new main event stars. As SmackDown Live’s lone heel big man, Corbin was an easy choice for some form of push and eventually, that would play out on television too.

Following victories in some more middling feuds, Baron got a brief opportunity within SmackDown’s title picture. Set up to succeed, Corbin would indeed thrive, looking at home alongside Ziggler and WWE Champion AJ Styles in what was a memorable blue brand main event. With that momentum behind him, Corbin entered 2017 in good fashion, first with a strong Royal Rumble showing and then more importantly, securing a coveted WrestleMania singles programme. Better yet, Corbin’s opposition would be Intercontinental Champion Dean Ambrose, all after just a year on the main roster.

In the end, their pay-off would miss out on the WrestleMania main card but nonetheless, Baron’s positioning felt indicative of his future. Even if it got bumped late, that spot was a compliment to Corbin’s work as well as a credit to his improvement. Though he didn't leave 'The Grandest Stage of Them All' as Intercontinental Champion, Corbin soon took the next step upward either way, becoming the 2017 male Money in the Bank winner. At the time, Baron’s victory felt like a confirmation of his main event status but in reality, its result would soon be rendered meaningless.

Corbin’s ticket to the top was soon torn in half, losing his Money in the Bank briefcase before suffering a rather underwhelming SummerSlam defeat against John Cena. Performing opposite Cena on a PPV of that stature is obviously an achievement in itself but in execution, Corbin left the fleeting programme without any real growth at all, a sudden stall after seemingly approaching the completion of his climb. Regardless of the reasoning behind Baron’s booking inconsistencies, he’d stay featured, soon capturing the United States Title for a short reign, and briefly re-entering the WWE Title scene too.

At WrestleMania however, Corbin’s prior feat wouldn't be repeated, instead returning to the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal, this time as a runner up. Since then through, Corbin’s career has taken an unexpected but encouraging shift, with a move to RAW proving unfathomably beneficial. Within months of his arrival, Baron became ‘Constable of RAW’ and before long, he’d even take Kurt Angle’s spot, being made the brand’s acting General Manager. Operating as a corrupt authority figure that remains active in-ring, Corbin has made the most of an opportunity that once would’ve seemed comical in concept alone. 

Long gone is the brooding destroyer that once dominated NXT’s undercard as out of nowhere, Baron Corbin has become a TV regular that week by week, improves on the microphone while playing a type of character which totally contrasts that prior presentation. Corbin has quietly evolved in front of the our very eyes, steadily growing and now becoming something that once looked miles out of reach. Best of all, it’s not limited Baron’s in-ring production either, instead simply adding stakes to his already solid showings.

This Sunday at TLC, Baron Corbin’s time as an authority figure could come to end, currently scheduled to take on Braun Strowman in a TLC match with his position on the line. However, while this stint isn’t something that’ll likely be celebrated down the line, Corbin’s improvement to this point is worth admiring in my view. Not long ago, in-ring Baron Corbin promos felt far from advisable but while he still obviously has some room to grow, he’s become an increasingly comfortable speaker, regularly appearing in lengthy live segments every single week. 

Baron Corbin’s main roster run hasn't gone as expected. His initial push didn't pan out as some had predicted. With that being said, he’s continued to hone his craft and as of right now, is a more complete performer than he’s ever been before. Fittingly, that’s allowed him more TV time than ever before too. What’s next? Well time will tell but for now, Baron Corbin is RAW’s authority figure and strangely enough, he seems at home in the role too. 

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