Looking at Johnny Nitro
Wrestling fans will never forget the events of last week, and the fact that three people died tragically certainly makes everything else going on in wrestling pale in comparison. However, while the Chris Benoit story is far from over and I know I am not finished blogging about the subject, I think it’s time to try to get back to some sense of normalcy and write about other topics.
That’s what I am planning to do the rest of this week, beginning with this entry on Johnny Nitro, who has surprisingly become the ECW champion.
The plan apparently had been for Benoit to defeat CM Punk for the vacant ECW title at Vengeance on June 24, but when Benoit failed to appear, WWE needed to improvise. I would have thought that someone who already had been in the title picture, such as Marcus Cor Von, would have gotten the spot. That would have made more sense from a story-line standpoint. Ultimately, however, I think Nitro is the perfect choice to be champion.
I’m not just jumping on his bandwagon, either. I thought Nitro (whose real name is John Hennigan) had star potential ever since he was one of the winners of Tough Enough III. In fact, I wrote exactly that in a story that appeared in the June 2003 edition of the now-defunct Wrestling Digest in which I picked 10 future WWE stars. Here is an excerpt:
While "Tough Enough" alumni Maven, Christopher Nowinski and Nidia already have made it onto the WWE roster, the participant from the wrestling reality series with the most star potential may be John Hennigan, one of the two winners of "Tough Enough III." The "Tough Enough" trainers referred to the 22-year-old Hennigan, who has a background in gymnastics and martial arts, as a natural in the ring, and he certainly has a marketable look. Also an accomplished break-dancer, he even does a better "spin-a-rooni" than Booker T, as he proved during his audition for "Tough Enough II." Once Hennigan learns ring psychology and hones his skills on the microphone, he'll be a valuable addition to WWE.
Nitro showed good heel charisma when he debuted in WWE as Eric Bischoff’s understudy three years ago, and by the time he came back to WWE in 2005 as part of MNM, he had tremedously improved his ring skills. As a singles wrestler, he had an exciting series of matches with Jeff Hardy – including a ladder match in Baltimore last year – as the two traded the Intercontinental title back and forth.
Just when it seemed like Nitro was going to get a big push, however, his career stalled (reportedly he was being punished because his real-life girlfriend, Melina, had heat backstage). He was put back in tag teams, first with his old partner, Joey Mercury, and then with Kenny Dykstra. I started to come to the realization that WWE saw Nitro as nothing more than a mid-carder.
Fast-forward to June 24, and he is suddenly the ECW champion. As I said, I think he was the right choice, but I do wish WWE would have built him up as more of a legitimate contender before putting the title on him. Because he went from jobber to the stars to ECW champion overnight, the fans haven’t accepted him in the spot. In time, however, I think they will.
Nitro plays the young, cocky, heel champion well, and I like the idea of Punk chasing him for the title. It’s certainly a lot more interesting than a Bobby Lashley-Snitsky program would have been on ECW. Nitro still needs to improve his promo skills, but I think he will eventually end up in a prominent role on either Raw or Smackdown.