Over Survivor Series weekend, we bore witness to yet another NXT TakeOver special stealing the show from its main roster counterpart. Andrade “Cien” Almas pulled off a major upset in defeating Drew McIntyre for the NXT Championship, Ember Moon finally ascended to the top of NXT women’s division, and a long-dormant stipulation made its triumphant return. But the real story of the weekend wasn’t any of that, no, it was the sleeper hit that was Aleister Black vs. The Velveteen Dream.
What started out as seemingly a filler feud for the man formerly known as Tommy End, Aleister Black’s refusal to acknowledge Patrick Clark and his flamboyant gimmick became a compelling piece of storytelling. For the first time in his NXT run, Black demonstrated vulnerability, as the off-beat quirks of his rival started to get to him. The match itself was an engrossing dramatic display. The athleticism and ability to keep pace of the two performers kept the high-octane action consistent, but the most impressive aspect was the implementation of classic wrestling storytelling.
Velveteen Dream had spent the last month demanding that Black say his name, refusing to be written off as a joke by the Dutch Destroyer. This quest for acceptance served as a smart meta narrative for Dream’s desire to be embraced by the NXT audience, and provided ample character development. When Patrick Clark first showed up on our screens, it was as a contestant on the Tough Enough revival back in 2015. Many were shocked at his early exit from the reality competition, as his athletic prowess, muscular build and colourful personality had him tipped as a strong favourite to win the whole thing.
After treading water in NXT, with no gimmick or story to speak of, Patrick introduced a new personality in which he took on a Prince-like appearance and demeanour. Though he was still portraying this gimmick under his real name and was receiving a negative live reaction, the character was eventually utilised as a hard reboot on Clark’s career. After months of absence, Clark returned in May of this year as “The Velveteen Dream”, completely disregarding everything he’d done under his real name. While the character itself was not appearing for the first time, it was being presented as the in-ring identity of the talent, as opposed to just being a costume.
The work was not yet done though, live audiences were still not connecting with Patrick’s reset and the whole thing started to look like a bust. People were critical of the blatant rip-off of the legendary Prince’s persona, who had tragically passed away only a month before (though this was not intentional, as the episode was likely taped beforehand). Some took issue with the more effeminate nature of Dream as well, believing that it would curse him to never being over.
Patrick needed something that would make him relevant in the eyes of the people; the character had to have some sort of acknowledgement, an appreciation of his work. This is where Aleister Black comes in. Black had been on a monster babyface run in NXT, tearing through every opponent that had been placed in front of him. Whether it be a jobber or an independent stalwart such as Kassius Ohno or Kyle O’Reilly, they would all fall. Seeing Aleister win all the time and then move onto his next victim had put the character in danger of growing repetitive, but The Velveteen Dream was the perfect remedy.
Two characters at a crossroads in their careers, and a feud that could see them both emerging looking better than when they went in, which should be the goal of every feud. Dream would begin obsessing over Black, who would refuse to even acknowledge the existence of his new rival. “Say my name” became the rallying cry for Patrick, and he was talking to each and every fan watching him just as much as he was to Aleister Black. This was one man’s desire to be taken seriously, and he decided to go about it by taking on the most serious man in wrestling.
Against all odds, it worked. NXT fans were engrossed in this tale of light vs. dark, of extravagance vs. solemnness. Come TakeOver, The Velveteen Dream entered the arena to a thunderous ovation, receiving a crowd pop even louder than Black’s.
Entering the ring in a ludicrous entrance attire, the now beloved Patrick Clark ripped off his leather chaps to reveal tights with both his own and Aleister Black’s faces adorning them, a tribute to one of the all-time great heels in Rick Rude. The two men squared off in what almost resembled a dance, with facial expressions and poses garnering larger reactions than the moves themselves. After an intense fifteen minutes of scintillating character work, with several moments in which it appeared Dream might just pull off the upset, Aleister Black emerged victorious with his patented Black Mass spin kick. But the story wasn’t over yet. Sitting cross-legged in the ring with Patrick lying prone next to him, Black took to the microphone and delivered a single sentence, “Enjoy infamy, Velveteen Dream”. Upon the name passing his lips, the crowd reaction may have been the biggest of the night. As Black left the arena, Dream managed to let through a smile – he’d got what he wanted.
The simple yet effective development of this feud proved that great storytelling isn’t entirely dead in WWE. It was only a short programme, but it made Aleister Black tougher and provided him with a challenge, and simultaneously got The Velveteen Dream over. Patrick Clark, at just 22 years old, is already on the path of greatness. He has an instant classic in the NXT canon under his belt and has won over the love of fans. What he has accomplished in the last six months is something some wrestlers don’t manage to do in their entire careers, he’s survived the hostilities of the modern wrestling fan.