“Oh no” is right, because it has been over one full year since Kassius Ohno returned to WWE and he’s no better off than when he first arrived. In fact, he’s arguably in a worse spot after 12 months.
His future isn’t looking as bright as it once did, and I don’t have a ton of faith that things are going to improve any time soon, based off the most recent NXT tapings and his complete absence during them.
For context, Ohno is 38 years old—far past his prime, particularly in a developmental system that primarily has two functions: polish an indie star up to the WWE ways before sending them to the main roster (Kevin Owens, Finn Balor, Samoa Joe, Bobby Roode) or train home-grown young talent virtually from the ground up (Alexa Bliss, Bo Dallas, Rusev).
Since he doesn’t have the time to start from the bottom and gradually progress, if Ohno is going to make anything of himself on the main roster, it has to happen now or it simply is never, ever going to happen at all.
Fair is fair, he shouldn’t be in the beginner’s class. He’s someone who has been wrestling for nearly 20 years. If there’s something WWE thinks he doesn’t have in the ring, by now, he’s not going to get it, but that doesn’t seem to be the case as they re-hired him last year.
Ohno went through a stint in FCW and NXT from 2011 to 2013, which saw him go from one of the anchors of the program to build the future stars back to someone traveling throughout the independent scene, as if it was a demotion that wouldn’t be corrected.
Now that he has that second chance, it’s sad to see nothing is coming out of it whatsoever.
Since his return in January 2017, what has Ohno accomplished? He’s had very sparse feuds where only one of them has had any consistency (his program with Hideo Itami) and he’s primarily made appearances coming up short in somewhat random challenges.
Most recently, he put over Lars Sullivan at TakeOver: WarGames and then did the same for The Velveteen Dream at TakeOver: Philadelphia.
This is all well and good, because somebody needs to lose for the newer talent to learn and to look strong, but for a guy who calls himself The Knockout Artist, his record is pretty bad, particularly for someone who came back onto the scene with quite a bit of fanfare.
Unfortunately for him, that buzz almost immediately dissipated in favor of pushing other people, and before long, Ohno was that guy you could easily forget was still on the roster when thinking about potential challengers for the NXT Championship.
So how does he turn things around? What can he and WWE’s creative team do to give him a fresh coat of paint and spruce him up to the point where they can sell him as a star?
After quite a long introduction, I figured I would address that concern with the first of what I’m assuming will be a series of articles now and again: Save a Superstar—where we talk about the changes needed to improve someone’s career path and some fantasy booking scenarios we can pitch for how to get the most out of them and best utilize their talents.
Change #1: Fix the Weight Problem
Let’s just get the elephant in the room out of the way and say the obvious: Ohno is out of shape.
Compared to his former run several years ago, he’s gained a considerable amount of weight and not in the muscular bulked up type of way, but in the “always wears more clothes to hide it” way.
This isn’t entirely his fault, as he stated in a Reddit AMA that he suffers from a thyroid issue, which is at least partially responsible for his change from 197-220 lbs to his current billed weight at 270.
If at all possible, WWE’s physicians and trainers should look into every way possible to get that under control—something that I’m sure they are at least working on, but perhaps maybe not as much as they can be.
Maybe there’s a diet or exercise regime they haven’t tried yet, or the right type of medication to offset his condition in a highly-effective way? That’s not for us to know, but it’s something that needs to be addressed regardless of how the circumstances are.
Change #2: Turn Him Heel
When in doubt, make someone a villain. It doesn’t work for absolutely everybody all of the time, but more often than not, it can give them a bit of a boost just to change up their character a bit, if not really allow them to find a whole new groove.
Ohno right now is a babyface who doesn’t have any discernible traits to separate him from any other babyface, which is a problem, naturally, for anybody who falls into the same couple of character traits.
We get it. You’re passionate and you have heart and determination and when someone is being attacked, you’re going to run in to make the save and then pose awkwardly next to them when they’re nursing their wounds on the mat, asking them if they’re okay while you eyeball the heel who was able to sneak off and is now laughing all proud on the stage.
So what? Why should I care any more about Kassius Ohno doing that than Roderick Strong or Apollo Crews or Mustafa Ali?
When he randomly pushed The Velveteen Dream in their backstage segment to set up their match at TakeOver, that felt like more of a heel thing to do than he had normally been acting and it was (at least in my mind) the most interesting thing he’s done so far since his return.
Maybe he’s the one who should have turned heel instead of Hideo Itami, or he should have at least followed in his footsteps.
He doesn’t strike me as the type to be upset about a lack of respect or to be a heel that would gloat all the time, but rather, someone who is more along the lines of “hey man, I get paid to beat people up, and sometimes it’s kind of fun, so don’t get in my way or I’ll have to take you out and put a little more oomph behind my hits.”
Speaking of which…
Change #4: Let Him Win
He’s The Knockout Artist. How about he actually knocks out people who aren’t Raul Mendoza and the NXT live event crew who we know will lose every single one of their matches unless they’re in the midst of a repackaging?