This is the latest in a series of articles looking at the NXT wrestlers who have been ‘promoted’ from NXT to either WWE Raw or Smackdown, and whether those moves were actually a positive thing for the individual or team in question.
For the introduction to this series please go to chopskicksandnearfalls.com/from-nxt-to-the-wwe-main-roster-when-is-a-promotion-not-a-promotion and please see the end of this article for links to previous entries.
The Authors of Pain
NXT – On their debut on NXT, The Authors of Pain destroyed American Alpha and were shown to be under the stewardship of Paul Ellering. For those who knew their wrestling history this was an exciting development, as Ellering’s most notable clients, The Road Warriors/Legion of Doom, remain one of the most revered tag teams in the history of wrestling.
And indeed for the majority of their stint on NXT, Akam and Rezar did cut swathes through the tag team division like their illustrious forerunners. Winning their first 11 matches on the developmental brand, often involving them tossing jobbers around like mildly annoying puppies, included taking them to a dominant victory in the 2016 Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic at TakeOver Toronto. Yes the competition wasn’t exactly strong (TM-61 got to the final somehow) but perhaps more than any tag team in NXT before them, they had stamped their authority on the heads, necks and bodies of the division.
Match 13 in their streak, at TakeOver San Antonio saw them go one step further by wresting the NXT Tag Titles from #DIY, and at this stage it looked like they were being set up to be one of the more dominant teams in the world.
This dominance continued unabated as Akam and Rezar defeated both #DIY and The Revival in a superb contest at TakeOver Orlando before smashing #DIY to pieces, quite literally, at TakeOver Chicago I. This was a match that will forever be remembered as ending in the villainous betrayal of Tomasso Ciampa, beginning one of the greatest feuds in NXT history, but the Authors’ role in that whole story should not be forgotten.
From here, Akam and Rezar began a thrilling and at times terrifying feud with SAnitY, which finally saw the giant tag champs seem to meet their equal, albeit through strength in numbers more than anything else. This numerical advantage finally saw Akam and Rezar lose both their belts and their undefeated streak to SAnitY at TakeOver Brooklyn III. The most memorable match including these factions though was still to come.
At the first TakeOver WarGames, the Authors teamed with then babyface Roderick Strong to face both SAnitY and the Undisputed Era in the first War Games match to be seen in decades. And it didn’t disappoint as the teams put on a brutal exhibition of violence in reintroducing the concept to the mainstream in emphatic fashion. Unfortunately for Akam and Rezar, it was the UE who picked up the victory, and this signalled a slow withdrawal from the black and gold brand.
They did earn another shot at the tag titles at TakeOver Philadelphia, but were again undone by the Undisputed Era, and were left cursing Adam Cole’s collective one more time at TakeOver New Orleans. It was here that Roderick Strong, teaming with Pete Dunne against the Authors and the UE, switched his allegiance to Cole and his gang, costing Akam and Rezar the chance to win back the titles.
It was their last match in NXT, and as with some of their previous matches, they were left slightly overshadowed by the stories going on around them…something they were to get very used to on the main roster.
Main Roster – Early signs on the main roster were good for The Authors of Pain. As with their NXT introduction they squashed everyone in their path, including Heath Slater and Rhyno, and Titus Worldwide. Yes they lost their manager (Ellering not wanting to take on the demanding main roster road schedule) and the majority of their ring name (they soon became AOP because the main roster fans apparently can’t deal with words), but they were still looking very strong.
There were issues though. Whilst their squashes remained impressive, WWE gave up their undefeated streak in a random six man tag match against Titus Worldwide, and then perhaps more worryingly teamed them with the diminutive Drake Maverick as their new manager. Clearly only done because Vince likes the ‘comedy’ of small guys standing next to big guys, it made little sense, and immediately reduced the aura of AOP.
AOP did pick up the Raw Tag Team Titles, but this was billed as a sideshow to the break-up of the Shield, with Akam and Rezar defeating Seth Rollins on his own after Dean Ambrose had abandoned him. And as if to highlight how little that win meant, they lost the belts just over a month later to Chad Gable and Bobby Roode. During this short run they did manage to beat the Bar in the inter-brand tag match at Survivor Series 2018, their only main roster PPV appearance as a team, but even this was a drab and lifeless affair.
Unfortunately they didn’t have the opportunity to recover this fairly dreadful booking as an injury to Akam put them out of action for the majority of 2019 (because apparently once you’re in a tag team on the main roster, you cannot possibly be a singles performer). Their return towards the end of 2019 again looked promising as vignettes and backstage attacks suggested a return to their previous ways and this continued into early 2020.
Whilst the slow ‘reveal’ that AOP were working with Seth Rollins was incredibly telegraphed, it did make for some intriguing options and they put on some good matches with Seth’s various enemies including Kevin Owens and Samoa Joe, and a tag-team hoss fight against the Viking Raiders looked on the cards. For some reason however that never materialised, and AOP became marginalised in their own faction when Seth teamed with Buddy Murphy to win the tag titles.
In March 2020, Rezar suffered a bicep injury, which again meant (by the laws of WWE) that both men had to disappear. Having not appeared since that date, both members of AOP were released by WWE in September 2020.
Conclusion – The formula for AOP on the main roster had literally been written for Vince and co on NXT. Let them look dominant, let them smash people to pieces, let them win titles. However in their infinite wisdom, the main roster creative team decided to focus AOP’s exploits around Drake Maverick….because you know….short jokes, and this completely destroyed any reverence or aura that AOP had. Long term injuries to both members of the team certainly didn’t help matters, but AOP were already on their way down the main roster food chain before such unfortunate events. Even when things looked to be getting back on track with their involvement in Seth Rollins’ heel turn, they felt like a bit of a sideshow, and when further injury problems arose, Vince clearly didn’t see the worth in keeping Akam and Rezar on his roster. Anyone with a memory longer than 10 minutes would have been able to show him their exploits in NXT to show exactly how they could, and should, have been money.
NXT – When doing my research for this piece (yes I do research….shut up) I was surprised at how few times Billie Kay and Peyton Royce had actually teamed together whilst on NXT. In the three years they were in ‘developmental’, they only teamed together six times, winning three times, but all in matches that had little to no consequence.
Considering NXT doesn’t have a women’s tag division, perhaps I should be less bedazzled by this fact, but either way it means that we mainly have to look at the Iconic duo (as they were back then) as separate entities during their time in black and gold.
Even this brings up fairly sparse results however, with the first time they really threatened the NXT mainstream being at TakeOver San Antonio when they both challenged in a fatal four-way match, with Nikki Cross, for Asuka’s NXT Women’s Championship. They did tell a good story in this match, and the two Iconics combined together to take Cross out of the match before Asuka, being Asuka, destroyed them both to retain her title.
Billie then took the backseat as Peyton defeated Ember Moon and Liv Morgan to earn another shot at Asuka….a shot that would again end in failure for the Australian. But this established Royce as the ‘fighter’ of the team, as she went on to pick up a few TV victories against the likes of Sarah Logan and Ruby Riot, whilst Kay was portrayed as the ‘comedy’ in the team, which she performed excellently but exclusively in losing efforts.
Peyton did get one more shot at the big one when she qualified for a Fatal Four-Way match at TakeOver WarGames for the vacant women’s title. She put in a strong performance against Kairi Sane, Nikki Cross and eventual winner Ember Moon, but again it was another mark in the loss column.
In truth, the in-ring work of the Iconic Duo wasn’t where they were focusing, and we saw in this time that their natural personality and character work was second to none. But in this period NXT didn’t really do banter, so it is perhaps not entirely surprising that we never saw the best of the Iconic Duo before their call-up.
Main Roster – Considering their relatively low key roles in NXT, it was interesting to see the now IIconics (instead of losing a name like so many who are promoted they gained an ‘I’) thrust straight into the women’s title story on their debut. Attacking Charlotte Flair and leaving her laying, Royce and Kay allowed Carmella to (finally) cash in her Money in the Bank briefcase.
Sadly this, and an opening tag win against Asuka and Becky Lynch didn’t seem to lead to much for the IIconics and they spent the next few months largely losing in either singles or tag matches against their more illustrious opponents. They did get a nice moment when they picked up the win against Asuka and Naomi in the WWE Super Showdown event in Australia, but really this was it in terms of in-ring success for the IIconics.
That said, the pair continued to be tremendously entertaining when given any screen time, and this was further highlighted in their cameo in the 2019 Royal Rumble where Kay refused to enter until Royce joined her, and the two then cowered and cackled until being eliminated by Lacey Evans.
The duo were again great fun in the Elimination Chamber match to crown the first ever women’s tag team champions, but despite delivering the laughs, they didn’t deliver the win. They did however score a victory one month later against the new champions Sasha Banks and Bayley, and this set them on their way to without doubt the biggest moment of their careers so far.
At Wrestlemania 35, the IIconics competed in a Fatal Four-Way tag match for the women’s titles against the champs, Natalya and Beth Phoenix and Nia Jax and Tamina. The match itself was largely a hilarious mess, and will mostly be remembered for Sasha and Bayley’s rumoured backstage antics having lost the match, but the moment of glory fell to Billie Kay who pinned Bayley to give the IIconics the titles.
Their reign was entertaining, albeit not really in the ring. Entertaining squashes against such luminaries as ‘The Brooklyn Belles’ (one of whom was the now Kris Statlander) and Aleyah Mia and Lisa Lace were the only success that the champions saw, but they didn’t care as long as they retained the belts.
And retain them they did for over four months, through a variety of shonky wins and DQ/count-out losses, before the dream eventually died on a fairly random episode of Raw. To rub salt in the wounds, the IIconics were the first team eliminated in a four-way elimination match, as their titles were scooped up by Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross.
Having lost the titles, not much of note happened in the IIconic world. After a six month layoff at the end of 2019, they finally returned in the middle of the empty arena era to badger Bliss and Cross, but with no success in terms of getting their titles back. Instead they moved on to bullying Ruby Riott, which in hindsight looks like one of their worst decisions.
For reasons best known to very few people, the IIconics were given a match with Riott and her on-again-off-again partner Liv Morgan, in which the losing team would have to split up. This was given very little fanfare, story or reasoning, so when the IIconics lost and were forced to split up, many were rightly left thinking why were WWE disbanding one of the only teams in a laughably under-stocked division.
Maybe the answer will lie in a Peyton Royce singles push which we seem to sort of be seeing at the moment, but unless that works tremendously well, this split does seem entirely baffling.
Conclusion – A tag team at a time when there hasn’t been a women’s tag division, even when WWE tried to create one, Peyton Royce and Billie Kay have done superbly well to stay even remotely relevant on any brand that they’ve been on within the world of WWE. Without doubt their personality and natural irritating screeching means they have been much better suited to the main roster than they were on NXT, and some of their promo and backstage work on Raw and Smackdown has seen some of the better comedic moments on shows that don’t really know how to do comedy. Time will tell whether the split will help either or both of the IIconics, but it seems unlikely that either will rise to the top of the singles ranks and if that’s the case, it seems that WWE hage unnecessarily severed a team that have an excellent dynamic on a roster that generally lacks personality.
Want some more?
For the most recent article about Finn Balor and The War Raiders see https://chopskicksandnearfalls.com/development-to-destiny-from-nxt-to-the-wwe-main-roster-war-raiders-and-finn-balor
For Shinsuke Nakamura, Carmella and Tyler Breeze seek out https://chopskicksandnearfalls.com/development-to-destiny-from-nxt-to-the-wwe-main-roster-shinsuke-nakamura-carmella-tyler-breeze
For Elias, The Revival and Ember Moon head to https://chopskicksandnearfalls.com/development-to-destiny-from-nxt-to-the-wwe-main-roster-elias-the-revival-ember-moon
For Aleister Black, Emma and Lacey Evans pop over to https://chopskicksandnearfalls.com/from-nxt-to-the-wwe-main-roster-when-is-a-promotion-not-a-promotion-aleister-black-emma-lacey-evans