With the conclusion of WWE’s 2021 Brand Draft, the company confirmed that NXT Superstars Ridge Holland, and the stable Hit Row will soon appear on SmackDown after Crown Jewel. For anyone who doesn’t regularly watch NXT, they may wonder who are they? And what can we expect from them for the rest of the year and beyond? Please continue to find out more about these fresh faces coming to the blue brand.
The leader of Hit Row is the current NXT North American Champion Isaiah “Swerve” Scott. He is a veteran, having wrestled on the independent scene since 2008, notably for CZW, MLW, Lucha Underground and other promotions as Shane Strickland. In 2018, during a developmental partnership between Evolve & WWE, he defeated Matt Riddle for the Evolve Championship. It was his work in Evolve which opened the door for him to sign with WWE in 2019, and he spent the next two years working in NXT’s mid-card and 205 Live, along with challenging for the Cruiserweight title frequently.
Ashantee “Thee” Adonis rarely worked on NXT, as he mainly appeared on 205 Live after WWE released most of its small roster. At TakeOver 31 in October 2020, Adonis helped Scott during a Cruiserweight title match, but nothing came of it for several months. Before signing with WWE, he worked for Ring Of Honor, but has only been wrestling since 2018. He is a former soldier in the United States Army, and served a combat tour in Afghanistan in 2010-2011. Following a match against Leon Ruff in February 2021, Isaiah Scott shared his frustration for recent losses by taking it out on Ruff and turning heel. He & Adonis worked together for the next few months, with the focus being on Scott.
The feud between Scott & Ruff continued until May, and after picking up a win over Ruff, A.J Francis and Briana Brandy joined them. They would adopt the names Top Dolla & B-Fab. In the following week’s episode, Hit Row gave us an official introduction.
Hit Row isn’t just about making an impact in the ring, as they enjoy producing music as well. In July, on WWE After The Bell, Scott explained how Hit Row came together. The transcript is courtesy of Fightful:
“The way it came about is very simple. It wasn’t a long constructed idea. There was Top Dolla, Ashante Thee Adonis, and B-Fab. They were performing something called The Hit Makers as their own trios group. They were together about eight months and doing a lot of the in-house shows together. It was a project they were feeling out but Ashante was still doing 205 Live and AJ Francis was doing WWE Treasures, so scheduling wise it was hard to get them to come together at the same time. I was transitioning from the Cruiserweight Title stuff to doing my own thing and doing something different and unique myself.
I was kind of done with my look and a lot of where my mannerisms and character was going, I didn’t think the volume was turned up high enough. It was time to really dive into it and go into a different way that no one else looks like, not just in WWE, but anywhere in wrestling. I want to go somewhere like ‘this guy is standing out and doing something unique.’ After one of the NXT TV shows, Triple H approached me with the Hit Makers idea and wanted to put them together. He said there was a lot they could learn from me and my 12 years of wrestling experience and TV (experience). I could guide them in a way and they can bring a different flavor and add muscle and impact to where I was transitioning.
It was a perfect storm. It just so happened that we are all music artists. How often do you get musicians that compete at a high level in-ring together at one time? We played around with names and AJ, before he came to WWE, he was doing a faction called The Row on the independent scene. It was a Death Row spin-off thing. We were like, ‘what if we took that hard grittiness, in your face, rugged, unscripted filter and we brought it here.’ We put that spin on it and the fact that I had been on NXT TV for two years, we had that legitimacy. We started throwing out ideas and everyone was agreeing, which is very rare.”
A few weeks before this interview, Isaiah Scott defeated Bronson Reed for the NXT North American title. Strangely, he has only worked one match since then, which was a loss in a six-man tag to Santos Escobar’s Legado Del Fantasma. It should have led to a North American title match between the stables two leaders, but perhaps Scott is injured? On last weeks NXT, he referenced the lack of matches since he won it (by blaming management), but did not give the real reason. Adonis & Top Dolla worked as a tag team, while B-Fab had her first matches against Legado Del Fantasma’s newest addition, Elektra Lopez.
Top Dolla, real name Anthony Francis, played football for the Miami Dolphins, Seattle Seahawks and the Washington Redskins. He signed with the New York Giants in 2018, but went unused. Throughout his career, he only played 9 games, most of them for the Redskins in 2017. As far as we know, he has only been wrestling since 2020 (Scott mentioned he has worked the independent scene), when he signed with WWE, and has worked six matches as of this writing.
Formerly known as Briana Brandy, B-Fab is mostly known for touring with rap artists Soulja Boy and Jadakiss, Juicy J, Ying Yang Twins, Too $hort, Young Dro, and Kurupt. Her athletic background includes basketball, swimming, working as a boxing coach, along with training in ninjutsu and cross-training. WWE signed her in August 2019, and she spent much of her early career working matches at live events.
Her first tag team partner was Taynara (Conti), but they split up after two matches. She has also worked with Raquel Gonzalez, Deonna Purrazzo, Shotzi Blackheart, Santana Garrett, Indi Hartwell, Kayden Carter, Kacy Catanzaro, and more. After B-Fab’s feud and TV matches with Elektra Lopez, many fans reacted by saying she’s too green. She has the look and confidence on the mic, but has a long way to go before she can prove her worth in the ring. Check out some of her rapping in this video.
What Can They Offer?
I’m guilty of not being the demographic Hit Row is targeting. If I were in to rap music, then they might appeal to me, but I can see how it would to others. Hit Row talk like nobody else, and Top Dolla recently stated they will be unscripted on SmackDown. There’s a ton of natural charisma here, so I’m not surprised WWE called ’em up on that basis. However, I’m most surprised at how little ring experience Top Dolla, Adonis, and B-Fab have under their belt. Isaiah Scott is more than deserving of the call up. He’s a proven veteran and is one of the best workers NXT has. If you combine the experience of the other three to Scott, it still wouldn’t be near what he has done.
So, what I worry about the most, is WWE throwing Hit Row in to the deep end right away. This would only highlight their flaws, while it would be smarter to put the focus on Scott. Let Hit Row be there for him and do run-ins, but they really should keep to dark matches and live events. If they want a tag team on TV, have Adonis team with Scott, because they have the most experience. Hit Row has the potential to be incredibly successful, but pushing them this hard so soon? It needs to be nursed, or they will be exposed. In case you didn’t know Hit Row? Now you know!
“Yorkshire Steel” Ridge Holland has been a beast since I saw him lose in his debut to Keith Lee in 2018. While WWE announces him being from Yorkshire, England, he is specifically from West Yorkshire, which was never known for steel making (Sheffield was, and is in South Yorkshire), but I guess it makes for a good nickname? It won’t matter to most people, but it does to anyone living where he’s from.
I’m from the northern county, and it’s cool that I get to support somebody representing all of Yorkshire in WWE for the first time. Before signing, Holland played Rugby professionally between 2007-2017 for many teams. In 2016, he began his wrestling training under UK wrestling Marty Jones, who is known for training William Regal and some of the current NXT UK stars. His large physique and brute strength have served him well, but he has put in the work. With at least 99 recorded matches under his cap, he has fought hard all the way. He has challenged for the NXT North American and tag team titles, but has yet to pick up any championships. After a run on NXT under his birth name Luke Menzies, Holland debuted with NXT UK, and won all his matches until he ran in to Walter.
WWE saw too much potential in him, so they called him back to NXT, and he took out Adam Cole at TakeOver 31. A few days later, after a match with Danny Burch, Holland took a cross body and suffered an ankle dislocation and fracture in his left leg, a knee patellar dislocation, and a patellar tendon rupture in his right leg. The original plan was for Pat McAfee to introduce a new stable with him and Pete Dunne, so he had to be replaced by Danny Burch & Oney Lorcan.
After nine months of recovery, he returned and helped Pete Dunne and Oney Lorcan against Tommaso Ciampa and Timothy Thatcher. Dunne & Holland would later kick Lorcan & Burch out to stand tall as a formidable duo. This year he has won all of his matches except two, including a singles match with Tomasso Ciampa, and a tag match with Dunne against Ciampa & Bron Breakker.
His promotion makes history, not only as the first Yorkshireman to break through at the highest level, but as the first male NXT UK superstar to be promoted to the main roster. He has achieved this ahead of former NXT UK Champions Tyler Bate, Pete Dunne and Walter. The only other former NXT UK stars to make it include Rhea Ripley, Doudrop, Toni Storm, and Tegan Nox. It has taken the NXT UK brand three years to produce a man deemed worthy by WWE’s top brass.
What Can He Offer?
Holland is an athletic performer with a solid work ethic. I have never felt like he is phoning it in, or didn’t belong in the ring. His look helps considerably, and he’s not afraid to talk either. There’s still much to learn, and part of me feels he would have benefitted from a NXT title run. WWE is looking for the next generation of superstar, and Holland is someone they can mold better with more experienced hands. He’s still somewhat of a blank slate, so Vince McMahon’s creative team can take him down any path they need.
The only strange thing some fans have noted is the choice of entrance music. I like it though; I think it suits him and makes a change from the generic CFO$ stuff (Shinsuke Nakamura & Bobby Roode’s themes were the only good ones) we’ve had to endure for years. The only weakness in Holland’s game is experience. He isn’t stiff or dangerous with his opponents, so I’d like to stress that he isn’t one of those big guys who is likely to injure others. It will be interesting to see where he goes from here, after he officially moves up to SmackDown. I hope this has helped anybody who isn’t aware of SmackDown’s latest signings. They all have potential, so let’s not judge too quickly and see how it goes. Thanks for reading!