This Saturday night at NXT TakeOver: San Antonio, Bobby Roode steps into the ring for what could very well be the biggest wrestling match of his whole career. In a main event spot against one of the most respected performers in the world, Roode is finally where many feel he has always belonged: headlining in a filled arena on a big stage. However, whilst to some this story of achievement may seem a quite rapid one, it’s in reality quite the opposite. Roode has climbed the NXT ladder in a flash with a beloved theme song and rejuvenated momentum but his road to the first rung on that ladder was a long and winding one.
It was February 2001 when Roode first made the walk down that WWE or then WWF ramp, on that night losing to Perry Saturn on an episode of Jakked/Metal. It wouldn’t be a one off showing for the Canadian either, as he continued to be used as an enhancement talent for the world’s biggest wrestling company. In fact, the sporadic showings would continue for over two more years as the carrot of a developmental contract was dangled in front of the determined talent. Whilst waiting for what seemed an inevitable WWE contract offer, Roode began to work for an emerging TNA in 2004 and the company would quickly offer him a contract. However, he was hesitant due to his consistent contact with WWE.
Roode himself has since recalled both Edge and Chris Jericho personally encouraging him to take up TNA’s offer and in the end he did just that. Tired of waiting, it was now time for Roode to make an impact, pun intended. Another piece of a young and talented roster, Roode would be a part of Team Canada for next couple of years, establishing himself as a solid and reliable performer. The faction’s eventual split would create opportunities for Roode as the company looked to elevate him into a singles star. Repackaged as a rich and entitled bully, Roode was paired with Traci Brooks in what seemed to be the foundations of a major main event push.
However, whilst a long feud with countryman Eric Young made for some fun television, Roode didn’t seem to quite catch fire the way some seemed to have expected and the former Team Canada member was left somewhat aimless following a slightly underwhelming feud with Booker T. Roode’s fortunes would soon change though as he was matched with longtime TNA wrestler James Storm. Two talented technicians that seemed to have unfulfilled potential, Roode and Storm desperately needed to make their seemingly random pairing work. And make it work they certainly did as the tag team that would become known as ‘Beer Money’ rapidly rose to prominence as one of the world’s greatest duos. As chemistry between the two grew, both began to exude more and more personality, slowly becoming complete and elite talents.
After three years of battling teams like LAX, Team 3D and the Motor City Machine Guns, the powers that be decided that it was time to test Roode and Storm as singles stars once again and so in the summer of 2011, the wheels were set in motion. Roode would win that year’s Bound For Glory Series to position himself for a shot at the TNA Heavyweight Title against Kurt Angle. It seemed that the event would serve as the crowning moment for Roode, TNA’s top new babyface star. A late audible would be called though and Angle would surprisingly win the match, retaining his title. Though the seemingly bizarre decision would make for great frustration amongst fans, it would in the end prove to be a blessing in disguise.
Wrestling legend and then TNA decision maker Hulk Hogan felt that Roode’s pure babyface characterization had inadvertently positioned him for the perfect heel turn and in the end, he’d be absolutely right. The turn would take place just a couple of weeks following Bound For Glory when Roode would take on newly crowned champion and former tag team partner James Storm. The match’s climax came when Roode used Storm’s own beer bottle to score the victory, taking his title in the process. It was an excellently executed turn, Roode had given in to temptations and taken the easy, cowardly way out, selfishly screwing his friend in the process.
Now billed as ‘The It Factor of Professional Wrestler’, Roode would become the longest reigning TNA World Heavyweight champion of all time. The ‘It Factor’ wasn’t just a nickname either, it was an absolute reality in everything Roode did. Still technically great in the ring, Roode performed strongly on the microphone and had finally found the missing puzzle piece, an it factor. As champion Roode wasn’t a star because of the belt or his booking, he was a star because he simply carried himself like one. Nonetheless, Roode’s excellent title reign would come to an end in a classic encounter with Austin Aries but his work continued to impress, eventually completing his feud with James Storm in violent and enthralling fashion.
For the next three years, Roode would continue to be one of the centrepieces of TNA, working as a main eventer regardless of his heel or babyface disposition. In fact, Roode seemed to be one of the few constants while many of his peers left the struggling company. In the end, it was Roode’s time to move on and in March 2016, he left the company. At the time Roode’s future seemed unclear, many doubted that WWE would have an interest in a TNA standout approaching 40 which left the Canadian’s options somewhat limited. None of that affected Roode’s decision though and he simply trusted in his own undeniable talent.
The trust would pay off too as just two weeks later, Roode appeared in the crowd for NXT TakeOver: Dallas. Ironically that night would mark the debut of Shinsuke Nakamura, Roode’s opponent this Saturday night. Regardless, whilst he wouldn’t debut for a couple more months, Roode’s destination was clear and his official TV debut would come on August 3rd. With a now viral theme booming out proudly, Roode made the rather short walk down the Full Sail ramp, stepping into the ring for his first words as a member of the NXT roster. In an instant, Roode established himself as a smug and arrogant heel, insulting the rowdy crowd with a charismatic confidence. It was clear then and there that Roode still had and in fact was the ‘It Factor’.
In his in-ring debut, Roode would receive a spectacular ovation as he defeated Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas at TakeOver: Brooklyn. Next the veteran would enter a feud with cult favourite Tye Dillinger, further solidifying his spot as one of NXT’s top heels, even if the crowd refused to boo him for too long. Now as an unpinned brand figurehead, Roode is set for a shot at ‘The King of Strong Style’ and his NXT crown, all just five months following his debut. A great contract signing segment last week set the table for what’s sure to be sublime clash of seasoned greats but what it represents is really the story here for me.
For over a decade most pondered why Bobby Roode never made his way onto the WWE roster full time. A refined worker with a good look, strong microphone skills and an innate star power, Roode always seemed the perfect fit for the world’s biggest promotion. In hindsight it took longer than many expected but Roode has proven in this short NXT run that those praises were very, very accurate. I appreciate that NXT isn’t one of the WWE’s main two brands but it’s under the banner and Roode is undeniably thriving. Roode’s position as one half of Saturday’s main event represents hard work proving the naysayers wrong and the admirers right and more importantly that ‘The It Factor of Professional Wrestling’ was much, much more than just a catchy nickname.