Earlier this year, I wrote a series of pieces where I ranked my top 50 WWE prospects piece. Maybe you read it, maybe you didn’t. If you didn’t, you missed me nerding out by creating a list of stars and explaining why I ranked them where I did. My spot for one person in particular, as soon as I placed him, felt wrong because I knew I would look insane a year from now. The man I ranked at #30, the Velveteen Dream was embroiled in a feud with the now NXT North American champion Ricochet that showcased exactly what he was capable of and the spectacle they had just put on at NXT Takeover: Chicago II made it seem like that was just scratching the surface.

I said that I wanted to write a follow up piece. I was too captivated not to do it. But I’m also notoriously lazy, so I figured I would buy myself a lot of time on the piece by saying to myself that I’d write it when he was competing for the NXT championship. The procrastinator in me imagined that would buy me a lot of time.

But the procrastinator in me (and at this point I should just start saying “me” instead) did not realize just how red hot the star of the Dream truly was. Here we are, less than six months and a few takeovers  later, and suddenly my arm is twisted. I can’t procrastinate anymore.

I shouldn’t be surprised though, the Dream’s career arc has been like something right out of one: controversial, meteoric, and anything but expected.

The Velveteen Dream’s career, most assuredly, did not start the way one would imagine a star’s would. As Patrick Clark, he competed as a contestant on the now-defunct, short-lived revival of WWE’s Tough Enough that ran in 2015. According to his Wikipedia entry, which is the only way to know what really happened because nobody really watched the show, he was eliminated in 9th place due to a “perceived lack of humility”. If you care to hear the coaches logic for their decision, here you go:

After being eliminated, Clark joined the indies and did enough on the scene (including winning the tag titles in Maryland Championship Wrestling with current member of the RAW/205 Live roster Lio Rush) to get a second chance with the WWE. In late 2015, at the age of 20, the company signed him back to work in a development role in their expanding NXT promotion. He would need time to mature and he would need to figure out a way to develop a character, but Clark would have the second chance that most wrestlers only dream about.

But a second failure would be incredibly difficult to rebound from, despite his youth. The pool of hungry pro wrestlers is constantly getting deeper, and there are only so many spots. He might get another shot in a large independent promotion years down the road, but having the stink of two separate WWE failures would certainly linger. In a world ruled as much by backstage politics as in-ring talent, promoters would likely be hesitant to give him more than a passing glance.

So Clark arrived in NXT and got to work. It would be another six months until he even hit the ring at an event (where he lost to future NXT jobber Riddick Moss), and another five after that until he appeared on a televised NXT program (this time doing the job to noted asshole Austin Aries). Though things were surely not going as Clark had planned, he was continuing to gain valuable in ring experience and was growing in a time of unparalleled talent that we’ve seen in any “developmental” promotion. Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, Samoa Joe, Finn Balor, and a host of other current and former main roster champions were working in the brand. Triple H began to take a more hands on approach. Shawn Michaels began coaching. If you’re going to learn how to wrestle at the highest level, you’d be hard pressed to find better mentors.

In a way, getting ousted from Tough Enough ended up being the best thing in the world for Clark. Not only did he get an important lesson in acting humble and fitting into the locker room, he was spared what likely would have been an underwhelming run on main programming before being sent back to square one had he won. Getting to work out of the spotlight worked similarly to the caterpillar in a cocoon. People knew he was growing, but they weren’t quite sure how much.

That was, until, May of 2017. Clark would burst out of that lazy metaphor accompanied by a violet spotlight, a funky new entrance theme, and a metaphorical third eye. He was no longer bland, flavorless Patrick Clark. He was now, in all of his Prince-like glory, the Velveteen Dream.

He was certainly an odd juxtaposition to the rest of the roster. At a time when the brand was known for putting on clinics using the talent listed a few paragraphs ago, Dream decided to go the other direction and fully embraced an attitude era type of character, one with an over the top wardrobe, cryptic promos, and flamboyant, sexual mannerisms. And he was a breath of fresh air. We weren’t sure what this new Prince knockoff would be able to do (I can’t overstate how blatant this was early on, I feel like someone in a pitch room was like “well Prince died recently, can we just have a guy be the new one?”), but we knew it was going to be something, well, almost out of a dream.

I’m really proud that I was able to make it nine hundred words before I resorted to that. I’m pretty sure I almost used that in the opening sentence, so be sure to note that took a lot of self control.

And, almost immediately, he made an impact. Very early in by teaming up with future NXT champion Aleister Black to have the feud of the year. Essentially, Dream became obsessed with the brooding Black and stalked him in an attempt to get him to say one thing: his name, Velveteen Dream. I realize it sounds insane, but the entire thing was actually strangely compelling. Dream toed the line of obsession and sexual attraction brilliantly. He had a strange way of moving in the ring that was, essentially, controlled chaos. His style made it seemed as if he were putting himself in danger to perform his move set. And, most surprisingly, his character shone in his in-ring promos.

When it came time for their blowoff, Dream’s first at an NXT takeover, he would have a match with Black that would either put him on the map or show that he needed time in development. If you haven’t seen it, watch it below and answer the question for yourself.

If you had watched it previously, you already know what I’m going to type: Dream wasn’t just on the map, he was near the center in big, bold letters. The Dream, it seemed, was now definitely over.

Since then, it’s been a whirlwind of a year for him. He won his first match on NXT programming earlier this year, competed in the match of the year for the North American championship at NXT New Orleans, defeated rising star EC3, and had a barn burner with the sensational Ricochet. His hands now firmly on the brass ring, the Dream was slated into the NXT championship match at last month’s War Games event. Though he didn’t capture the title, he had his best match to date and looked every bit the part of a champion.

The question now is exactly how high his star can rise? A run as any champion in NXT wouldn’t come as a surprise, and the list of Intercontinental and United States championship is littered with performers who couldn’t hold the Dream’s likely purple shaded jockstrap. He’s got enough charisma to make any tag angle work. Honestly, knowing the WWE I wouldn’t rule out some sort of inter-gender angle where he makes a short run as women’s champion.

But the big straps are, obviously, the WWE and Universal championships. And I’d probably be remiss to not bring up one small fact about this titles in an article about the Velveteen Dream: In the entire history of the WWE, there has only been one black WWE champion. Since, the universal championship is relatively new, debuting only two years ago, so we’ll give it a pass (it should be noted that there hasn’t been a title match featuring an African American, for what it’s worth). The WWE obviously has a complicated history with race, which is a discussion for a different time, but they have been making an attempt over the last few years to be more progressive. In the last three years, they’ve had a main roster champion from every continent.

But blackness has been, by and large, a pretty big hurdle for a major championship run. Other than the Rock, Mark Henry and Booker T (who each had a single reign with the World Heavyweight championship, the “lesser” of the two main championships at the time) are the only other two men to hold one of the companies two major titles. I can’t say that I’ve done the research to figure out if that number is representative of the percentage of African Americans on the roster, but it doesn’t seem to be in line. I’m definitely not trying to play the race card here either, but it’s a trend worth noting in the past. The last time it happened was in September of 2011 – it’s pretty rare. All of that said, I think Dream has the star power to push all the way to the top. If anyone not named Bobby Lashley has the bona fides to get added to that very short list above, Velveteen Dream is that guy.

But that’s looking too far into the future. One step at a time and all that. On last week’s episode of NXT, we had a segment that asked the question everyone wants to which everyone wants to know the answer: What’s next for the dream? There are a lot of interesting candidates for his next feud – it’s hard to think of another high end performer on the roster that wouldn’t generate an interesting angle with him. Personally, I’d like to see him and the Undisputed Era get tangled up together, but I think their dance card is pretty full. Maybe they move in a new direction after War Games a few weeks ago. Who knows?

What I do know is that this dream is just getting started. And by the time it’s done, he’ll definitely be over.