When it comes to the category of NXT success stories, Elias is undeniably among the elite. After being what could once only be described as a polarizing act, Elias’ main roster run has been an unexpected hit across the board. Arriving to minimal fanfare, Elias has connected with the main roster audience in stunning fashion, becoming one of the most consistently popular acts on WWE TV. Eighteen months following his RAW debut though, Elias is now set to start a brand new chapter and frankly, it could prove to be his most important yet.
It can’t be forgotten of course that at one point in time, this kind of moment felt quite a distance away from NXT’s “drifter.” With the easiest of shifts, Elias is now organically popular enough to ‘turn’ babyface in a matter of moments, and that’s a far cry from his reception just a few years ago. It’s a fascinating progression to revisit too, with only a handful of standout individual moments in-between a general movement upward. Almost every week, Elias has sat in center ring and with his guitar in hand, garnered a response regardless of circumstance.
Elias’ popularity has steadily surged for that very reason, establishing a simple act that at heart, is quite old-school in approach. A perfect example of the benefits surrounding WWE’s ‘variety show’ set-up, Elias has become a borderline institution on the flagship show, with his weekly segment proving a rare certainty in the hectic world of main roster programming. Outside of some phrasing adjustments for marketing sake, Elias’ act remains virtually unchanged also, the only real difference of course being the wild growth in fan interest surrounding it.
Now in fairness, Elias has certainly proven himself to be much more than just a gimmick. While it’s not really been his specific role, Elias has been a part of some genuinely strong matches along the way too, most memorably in Intercontinental Title matches opposite Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins respectively. When necessary, Elias has also seamlessly filled the role of main event player, even taking part in a blockbuster Elimination Chamber line-up earlier this year. Regardless of wins, losses or the titles that have yet to rest on his shoulder, Elias’ main roster run has quite obviously been a spectacular success.
Elias is an interesting case in that sense though, as the role of floating performer is rather unique in the modern WWE landscape. Without even so much as a second thought, Elias can transition from contender to pretender, one week going 20 minutes in the main event and the next, losing to John Cena’s ‘Lightning Fist’. To be clear though, I mean that as a compliment, it’s a credit to Elias that he’s so effectively filled the role but frankly, at this point he’s probably surpassed that spot. This is a genuinely popular act and with that now established beyond doubt, it’s time to test its potential.
That recently came to fruition on RAW too, with Elias indeed making the aforementioned babyface ‘turn.’ Baron Corbin, the RAW Interim General Manager, had nonchalantly dismissed Elias and with crowd support on his side, the usually villainous loner lashed out, emphatically destroying his guitar on Corbin’s turned back. It was incredibly simple but due to Elias’ established fan-base, legitimately effective also. Better yet, this wasn't out of character for Elias in any way, shape or form and instead, made perfect sense. After being interrupted every single week, Elias had finally had enough and it was only his victim’s identity that made it an obvious alignment shift.
Furthermore, in many ways, that’s a perfect example of how this run will ideally go. Elias doesn't really need to change because for about a year, he’s been immensely popular even when designed to be anything but. It’s now simply a matter of continuing that process, furthering Elias’ connection with the live crowd while stripping away the elements that intentionally turn them away. The character just needs to embrace their fandom, that’s really the only change needed and in the grand scheme of things, it’s actually a pretty subtle one.
The Elias’ tale has been an enjoyable one to follow, a success story that in truth, emerged out of nowhere. However, its length is still a mystery. As of right now, Elias as had a brief yet memorable main roster run, but if this next chapter proves a success, he could end up as much more than that. Now on the babyface side, Elias has a chance to organically tap into his popularity and expand on it, solidifying an improved spot on the roster by highlighting his often underappreciated talent and versatility.
In the current WWE landscape, it’s really impossible to tell which way it’ll go but based on what we’ve seen so far, it’s quite obvious that only a fool would still doubt Elias.