“Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith first; the trust part comes later.”
-Jor El, Man Of Steel
Like many fans, I was curious what would be done with Nikki Cross when she initially hit the main roster of WWE. The rest of the furious whirwind that was Sanity (including Cross’s IRL spouse Killian Dain) had been released or repackaged. This left Nikki alone; a whirling dervish of few words, which could be tweaked to a point (I enjoyed her as the warped keeper of NXT’s secrets in the Johnny Gargano/Aleister Black feud) but still was possibly limited on her own. Then the random pairing of Cross and Alexa Bliss managed to hit on an organic chemistry that got over as a tag team, but necessitated Nikki acting like a normal human. Alexa’s character work thus drove most of their featured air time. What’s more, Cross was again left alone, this time with her unique insanity and edge already gone, when Bliss was drawn to the side of The Fiend. There seemed to be few options left, and many anticipated a return to NXT or even feared a release in her future.
Whether she shared those fears or not, Nikki did not rest on her laurels and instead came out with a whole new look and presentation on the June 21 edition of RAW. She came out bedecked in a cape and thrusting her fist in the air. After making some hay in cheeky Beat The Clock challenges, she flat out out-wrestled a mat wizard in Shayna Baszler to pin her way to the Money In The Bank ladder match. Afterward, she yelped and giggled and danced around in a way we’d never seen. What was this new Nikki about exactly – the Internet had its theories and plenty of concerns. Was she being made into a punchline, or a glorified cartoon? That chorus only revved up further once she herself summed up this package by referring to herself as “almost a superhero” and began being announced as Nikki A.S.H. With visions of past caped crusaders of the 80’s and foolhardy repackagings of The New Generation in mind, it’s understandable why some were apprehensive. There was also confusion about just what that moniker and summary were supposed to mean, anyhow. But as the weeks went by, Nikki ASH’s drive and confidence only grew and a funny thing happened along the way – the crowds reacting to her got louder.
“Keep moving even if your path isn’t clear. Trust that you’ll find your way.” – Barry Allen (The Flash)
All this culminated in an absolutely wild 24 hours in which Nikki ASH rose above the competition (literally) to snag the Money In The Bank briefcase one night, then cashed in on Charlotte Flair to win the RAW Women’s Championship the next. Shock fell across the entire “WWE Universe” at this change, the belt having been entrenched in a Flair/Rhea Ripley feud for weeks with no sign of letting up. THIS was the next standard bearer, the next woman to hold a title with a recent lineage of Becky Lynch, Asuka, Sasha Banks, and Flair herself? If it feels odd to you, if this whole dang thing feels off to you, I get it. These days we’re trained to be cynical, realistic, and consider what has the most likely odds. But that’s not what Nikki ASH is about, which lets us as fans see ourselves and our aspirations in her chase. What exactly do we see, and why has she re-connected so quickly in a meaningful way?
- The character is deeply human (literally and figuratively)
The WWE has seen people treated as nearly superhuman before, whether through the mystical light and lightning controls of The Undertaker, the infallibility of prime Hulkamania-era Hogan, or more recently the mind-warping and transportation of The Fiend. Those men were presented in (the show’s) reality as possessing abilities beyond those of mere mortals. Nikki ASH very explicitly doesn’t, as she was the first to say. Nor is she the only one not to realize it, as was the case for The Hurricane. Nikki is open about her shortcomings and mortality, but has made an active choice to not let that limit her imagination and vision of what she can do. She’s allowing herself to be unapologetically her while aiming to be an even better version of that self, one who achieves all of her wildest dreams. Nothing is perfect, however, and there will be bumps and growing pains. Leaning into those pains is the underlying brilliance about this new approach. Yes, it might look odd to see someone in a striped mask, her fist pumps to the sky might come off awkwardly some nights; hell, she even suffered a setback against Charlotte on last night’s RAW to set up a rubber match next week. But all that does is reinforce (by design) that she’s a real person who is no longer afraid to look weird, or square, to be and get exactly what she wants. Her fire during and after the match, demanding a tie-breaking shot at The Queen, made that clear.
That is a choice we all face whenever we try a new endeavor. By enduring the rougher moments in order to transcend them on the way to victories, Nikki can stand as a beacon of hope for all of us in our own lives. At the end of the day, isn’t that most of a superhero’s job description? Delivering that hope without being able to leap tall buildings in a single bound – that is what the “almost” in Nikki ASH is all about.
- Nikki’s up-to-11 enthusiasm is infectious
Since the original debut of Nikki’s new gear and character, it’s been reported on several places that this was her own idea, from concept to overseeing the gear and butterfly logo. She dreamed it up and is clearly invested in it, putting visible passion into every gesture and a huge amount of joy into each promo she gives. On an episode of RAW Talk following the new character’s debut, Cross was asked by R. Truth what gift Nikki had brought to them in the vein of John Morrison, who had given them some drip assistance. Thinking it over, she stood up and cheerfully cried out “me,” a magnetic smile overtaking her face. Having someone relatable who is having just as much fun performing as we think we would, shining like we would hope to on the same stage, makes Nikki feel easy to root for no matter your age bracket. Think back to Bayley’s initial main roster success – we could see ourselves in her and, for a moment, let our doubts wash away in her joy and victory over baddies. That Bayley is gone (sadly, current-day Bayley is also out for an extended period due to injury), but Nikki has arrived to save that feeling along with the day.
- She has gotten opportunities and backed up her talk
Being an inspiration in your look and attitude is an excellent thing but, of course, we’ve all seen such acts come and go. What has set Nikki ASH apart so far is that she’s not only fighting for her dreams, but largely winning those fights leading into her cash-in. Getting back on television in high profile spots against former and current champions has given Nikki the spotlight to remind us all that she’s more than capable in the ring, her newfound confidence going beyond her promos to see her throwing herself into in-ring action with abandon. From her smooth tornado DDTs, top-rope dives onto the floor, to the slick armbar takedown/cradle combo that defeated Shayna Baszler, it’s clear Nikki is going past any and all limits on the mat also. That has made her transformation all the more real and fully actualized on her path to a title. This isn’t lip service or a catchy motto, she has allowed herself to try more, go for more, and believe the biggest and best things can happen. That lack of doubt allowed her to make it real and achieve her dream. A big, happy, universal story that brings us all out of reality while giving a lesson to take to our next normal day.
At the heart of it, that is what both wrestling and heroes have always been about. And it looks like Nikki ASH has got plenty of plenty of heart to go around.