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WWE: Run with Elias by Marc Madison

He began his career wrestling in and around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He expanded his horizons to compete all over the northeastern United States, spending a lot of time with the International Wrestling Cartel where he competed under the moniker ‘Heavy Metal Jesus’ Logan Shulo. He spent the better part of five years there between 2008 and 2013 and captured a championship on more than one occasion. Very little is documented about his time developing on the independents until 2014 when Jeffery Logan Sciullo signed with WWE, where he was given the name Elias Samson. Many wrestlers, at the beginning of their career with WWE, are dubbed as enhancement talent, or ‘jobbers’. It was no different for Elias Samson. He initially worked alongside current 205 Live star and new Cruiserweight Champion Buddy Murphy, but was rarely seen after that. There are a number of reasons why that was the case, character development being a primary one.

When he first debuted as ‘The Drifter’ it was in a winning effort against former NXT star Bull Dempsey. He didn’t have any long programs with anyone, but did manage to have several smaller ones. After an initial winning streak, he went on a losing streak that began with losing to Johnny Gargano. His character was disliked by fans, which really that was his role. However, it wasn’t until he lost a ‘loser leaves NXT’ match where we began to see his character begin to flourish.

When talent arrives from NXT on one of the main shows, there is the fear that the steam they developed on the brand is lost due to poor writing. Once they arrive on Raw or Smackdown Live their growth can be slowed, derailed or simply non-existent. There could be any number of reasons for that. However, in some cases, it could be that NXT success was due to development after planting seeds for a character and then growing them slowly. In NXT it was not clear if the drifter or ‘elVagabondo’ (the name a masked Elias used in his last match for the brand) was going to become something more.

When he first appeared on Raw, not much was made about him. As ‘The Drifter’ he would appear on screen in different places without rhyme, reason or explanation, much to the chagrin of announcer Corey Graves. It really didn’t seem as though he was being set up to become anything of value; he would walk out, interrupting a promo, strum a few cords and walk away, leaving the other wrestlers and the audience to scratch their heads as to the purpose.

As time has passed, however, the use of Elias has evolved to what we see today on the Raw brand. As was trying to establish his character, often complaining about being ‘upstaged,’ it could easily have gone one of two ways: fans could have ridiculed and laughed at the fact that others don’t respect him, or they could support his effort. The key was that with each attempt by his opposition to upstage him, he didn’t simply sit around idly and do nothing. He would return the favor, disrupt them and exacted retribution for being embarrassed. For example, after being interrupted by Finn Balor, later that evening he attacked Balor, beginning a small program against him and teaming up with Cesaro and Sheamus in the process.

He then proceeded to begin a short program with Jason Jordan that resulted in Elias blasting a guitar over the shoulder and neck of the ‘son’ of Raw General Manager Kurt Angle. He followed this up with challenging Roman Reigns for the Intercontinental Championship at the time. Even though he was unsuccessful, it didn’t necessarily matter because his character was heavily involved in the program. Whether anyone gives him credit or not, the reality is the Elias character is unlike that of when he was in NXT, for one simple reason: he is resilient.

It would be easy to suggest that since he continues to lose this will affect whether or not fans care about him. But each and every week his character is able to generate a reaction. Most times, at the outset of each performance fans, cheer him at the beginning, and then by the end of the night are jeering him. It doesn’t matter which city he is in or how he addresses the crowd, the formula remains the same. Often he will give backhanded compliments to the fans, seemingly embrace them and then quickly discard them, much like when a groupie seeks his approval.

His talent is remarkable, actually, and fans support his singing and guitar playing. Often when a wrestler sings it is so clearly bad that it’s difficult not to jeer, but in the case of Elias, he will play well and thus receive applause as a result of it. It is when he concludes his performance that he starts to insult and berate the crowd. He goes from informing the crowd how they will be entertained to telling them to shut up so they can allow themselves to be entertained. The formula for his success is remarkable, actually. Regardless of who he steps in the ring with either before or after his performance, to go from receiving the admiration of the fans only to smite them and feel their hostility afterward is incredible.

He challenged Seth Rollins for the Intercontinental Championship and then he was completely overmatched in a short program with BraunStrowman. Both feuds were different, and yet, despite losing Elias remains relatively unfazed. This could be, and most likely is, a case of how he is booked. However, credit does go to the performer for allowing what he has done to this point not change how he prepares for each situation. His feud with Strowman meant fans witnessed another dimension to Braun’s character when he strummed a cello and then swung it like a guitar. Despite losing, Elias had moments where he was able to save face, primarily by blasting ‘The Monster Among Men’ with a guitar.

When he faced Rollins, seeing them next to each other with their similar look was not only uncanny but a little awkward. It did provide Elias an opportunity to showcase the type of performer he is in the ring though. He wouldn’t be able to get over today if he wasn’t capable of executing a solid match. And while credit is certainly due to Rollins for his role in the feud that doesn’t mean Elias didn’t play an important part also in making sure it at the very least looked competitive.

His entrance to the ring is unlike anyone else’s as well. He doesn’t walk out with entrance music while having his name announced. Much like a musician performing at jam night in a club, there is simply the announcement ‘Ladies and Gentlemen…Elias’. After that, there is a spotlight focused on the center of the ring, and he is there sitting on a stool with his guitar, addressing the crowd through a headset. It’s original, and fans appreciate originality in a character. The announcement of his name immediately stirs jeers, but as soon as he asks ‘Who wants to walk with Elias?’ the crowd collectively finishes his catchphrase. Someone that fans aren’t committed to, or couldn’t care less about, couldn’t pull that off.

There have been a couple of other things that have taken place during Elias’ tenure that has made him successful as well, and they involve being used in different places. For instance, he took part in a ‘Table for 3′ episode with WWE Hall of Famer Jeff Jarrett and the Road Dogg. Although Elias doesn’t have any history with either man. He was given a platform to tell his story of where he came from, and that his ability to play music is legitimate, as he can strum a cord and sing. This legitimate talent has been harnessed in his character so that fans can see it weekly. During the episode, he shared how he is able to play a song by ear, which is very difficult even for those well versed in playing guitar.

Another standout moment was when he did a ‘Ride Along’ segment, alone, when normally the program shows two people having a discussion in a vehicle. But he simply rode alone in what appeared to be a limousine and addressed the viewers. He had the luxury of maintaining the character and shared stories that may have been fabricated. While typically talent on the show enjoy the car ride and share real stories with those they are traveling with. In the lead up to WrestlemaniaWWE had him perform ‘Unplugged,’ which works for the character. Could they do this with other musical acts in the company? Possibly, but in Elias’ case the character has legitimate musical talent so it works well and fans could easily find themselves enjoying his music. But still, in doing so he managed to insult them in the process.

This past week on Raw, Elias was part of a memorable in-ring segment with Kevin Owens where they insulted the city of Seattle for not having an NBA team anymore. It led to what amounted to about six minutes of booing just for a line that was intended to get cheap heat.

Elias may not be a champion, at least not for the time being. But if fans continue to respond to him the way they have it will only be a matter of time. To be a heel that generates such a response, with management listening, could mean they make him a champion. Which would be a sign that they will not only walk with him but run with him as well.

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