A Matter Of Character - Velveteen Dream by Matthew J. Douglas

Happy Friday TJR Faithful and welcome to another brand new edition of A Matter Of Character! Thanks so much for your feedback for my last installment covering the rise of Andrade “Cien” Almas. It’s great to be back writing bi-weekly about the characters I see every week on WWE TV. There are so many characters and performers I like, I found it hard to pick out who I wanted to cover this week (please feel free to tweet me suggestions @MJDP_GSE on Twitter) or comment below.

I eventually settled on former Tough Enough contestant Patrick Clark, who’s now known affectionately as Velveteen Dream. I chose Dream for a myriad of reasons, not limited to his humble beginnings on Tough Enough, his meteoric rise in popularity during his rivalry with Aleister Black in the fall of 2017, and his completely derivative character that somehow doesn’t feel lazy or plagiarized. More than anything I wanted to analyze what this guy is doing to make something that shouldn’t work, work better than almost anything in the entire WWE landscape? He has become one of my favorite acts in the WWE and I simply want to get to the bottom of why that is.

So enough with the pleasantries and introductions, I hope y’all are ready for a little Velveteen Dream analysis. Let’s Do This!

Background

In 2015, one year after beginning his wrestling training and eight months after debuting and wrestling in small independent promotions, most WWE fans were introduced to Velveteen Dream under his real name, Patrick Clark, on the sixth season of WWE Tough Enough. At 19 years old he was the standout contestant, perceived by many to be heads and shoulders above the competition. Despite being the favorite to win, he was shockingly eliminated early on in the competition due to “Lack of Humility” and placed 9th out of 14 on the show. His elimination was met with confusion, disappointment, and anger. Mick Foley himself posted his displeasure with the elimination of the most promising prospect so early in the competition. There are a couple of clips from the show that I feel are relevant to show right now. The first is the coaches from that season of Tough Enough voicing their displeasure with his elimination from the show and the 2nd is Patrick talking To Chris Jericho after his elimination.

The coaches vent about Patrick’s elimination: WWE Tough Enough Digital Extra, July 22, 2015

 

Cameras catch Y2J's parting words to Patrick: WWE Tough Enough Digital Extra, July 21, 2015

The coaches saw something special in Patrick at 19 years old. Chris Jericho did too, and his words to Patrick border on prophetic. Patrick Clark would sign a developmental contract with the WWE in the fall of 2015, and after wrestling a few matches in 2016 under his real name followed by picking up his first television victory in March 2017, Velveteen Dream was born on May 24, 2017.

As Velveteen Dream, a heavily Prince influenced character, Dream spent the first few months of his existence finding his footing. Velveteen Dream was getting over, despite embodying a character that was heavily derivative. Nothing about the character was new. It was all repurposed characteristics, looks, and mannerisms that the world had seen before. Even as he unexpectedly soar to dizzying heights of popularity during his rivalry with Aleister Black in the Fall of 2017, I couldn’t help but ask the question, “what is this he doing that is making this thing work?”

What’s Working?

Part Rick Rude, part Prince, part Goldust, Velveteen Dream crafted a look that was unique within the confines of the current WWE landscape. He developed a provocative and sexually ambiguous manner that was equal parts engaging, off-putting, and quite frankly ludicrous. All the while he dripped with an attitude infused with the words of advice that Chris Jericho gave him in the Summer of 2015 upon his elimination from Tough Enough.

Nothing he was doing was groundbreaking though. It was all reminiscent of people and characters we’ve all seen before, in wrestling and pop culture. It was all imitative, yet felt original coming from him. I spent a lot of time watching his work during the Aleister Black feud simply trying to figure out why what he was doing was working so well despite largely being comprised of secondhand attributes, elements, and traits? I soon had a second question; how was he making what I had thought would be a holdover program for Black, based on Dream wanting Aleister to acknowledge him and say his name, seem like the best rivalry of the year? Velveteen Dream had become a guilty pleasure, a never-ending source of entertainment, and an all-consuming conundrum for me. It took me a long while to really understand his appeal, despite finding him to be an undeniably captivating character.

It all clicked for me at NXT TakeOver: WarGames. He and Aleister Black had a wonderful match that exceeded any expectations anybody could have had for it. In the end, Dream lost the match, but was victorious in his quest, as Black acknowledged him and said his name post-match. It was that night that I realized there are three aspects of brilliance within the Velveteen Dream. An enormous chip on his shoulder, an advantageous familiarity, and a fluid subversiveness second to none.

Everything Velveteen Dream says and does is colored with the supposition of disrespect. He goes into most situations expecting to be overlooked, dismissed and ultimately insulted. He supplies the ammunition for such attitude toward him willingly and almost gleefully, to start conflicts. Think about his feuds/conflicts with others. A three-month program was based on another guy not saying his name. His match with Kassius Ohno was based on saying he still looked good after losing an NXT Title opportunity to Johnny Gargano. He likely has a match with Tyler Bate coming up based on demanding a sip of his water during an interview. Dream is purposefully infuriating and most importantly makes a mountain out of molehills around him, which I theorize is heavily influenced by Jericho telling him to use his elimination to fuel him and his character in the future. He’s constantly in a state of feeling disrespected, which sets him apart from the many people he’s borrowing characteristics from.

Speaking of borrowing traits from other places, his ability to make them work for him display an adept knowledge of how to use familiarity/nostalgia to his advantage and not as a crutch. It’d be really easy to fail just trying to mimic Prince or Goldust or Rick Rude. People will usually feel like doing so is lazy and lacks creativity. He’s been able to do it very successfully because he respects the inspirations for his character, and he is only borrowing pieces of them to tell his own story. He isn’t simply a bizarre sexualized creature wrestling other men and undercutting their masculinity. He isn’t trying to be an erotically androgynous rock god creating content that challenges the very perception of what is sexy and desirable. He isn’t just an arrogant son of a gun who thinks he’s better than everybody else and carries himself as such. He’s a man that has incorporated elements of all those men, to tell the story of a dynamic and talented individual who innately expects he won’t be accepted and will not be respected. He’s created the visage of Velveteen Dream as a personal scapegoat, to take the brunt of the perceived inevitable contempt.

It all plays into what he does best, which is subvert expectations and mold his character to be most disrespectful to whomever he has decided to take issue with. It’s this fluidity, while always staying tethered to the ultimate motivation of his character that makes him great right now. Nothing feels out of character, and yet you’re never quite sure what to expect because he will find a way to subvert your expectation. Expectations are the mother of disappointment, and by messing with our expectations so purposefully, and continually subverting them, Velveteen Dream finds himself in a place where we’re consistently pleasantly surprised by what we’re getting from him.

Where To Improve?

I’ve effusively sung this man’s praises for the last few paragraphs and quite honestly, I don’t believe there is a whole lot of stuff he needs to improve much on. He isn’t perfect, but he has great instincts and presents well at only 22 years of age and with only 3 years of experience as a wrestler.

He could stand to slow his work down a little. Sometimes he feels like he’s in a rush to get to the next spot in his matches and needs to be corralled a little bit. It’s something I personally believe will be addressed as he gains more experience. I also think that he desperately needs a better finisher than the Purple Rainmaker Elbow. I get the nod to Prince in the name, but I think his Cartwheel Death Valley Driver and his Pocket DDT are much more effective looking maneuvers to use as finishers. The elbow can stay as a signature move I suppose. Or if he’s married to the idea of a diving finisher, he could stand to dress the elbow up a bit more. Do a 360 or front flip into the elbow, or something cool to spice it up a bit.

Finally, as much as I do love Velveteen Dream, this certainly isn’t his final form. I think there’s another evolution, or two or three. I think this guy could be a new age Chris Jericho in the sense that I think he can change his stripes multiple times throughout his career. We haven’t seen the best of him I don’t think, and I’d hope he’s not satisfied with this being who he is. I want him to continue to evolve and grow. His instincts are second to none.

The Velveteen Dream Experience now includes an entourage: NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia

Going Forward

I think the guy is good enough to be working on the main roster right now (lord knows Smackdown could use somebody to spice up their show). With that said, at 22 I think it’s best to keep him in NXT for a while longer and let him grow/experiment there. There are a wealth of guys with experience that he can work with and improve as a performer as a result. He’s pretty much a homegrown talent, and I don’t think they need to rush him. I don’t want to see him stagnate on the main roster. Let him grow and mature and improve some using the brand that is theoretically supposed to be for growing, maturing and improving.

I want to see him work more with Aleister Black. Either as rivals or unexpected allies (which would become one of the greatest odd couple tag teams ever, I’m calling that right now). I could also see him as part of a faction with like-minded individuals. I weirdly want to see him work with Pete Dunne, Oney Lorcan, and EC3. Oh and I think he and Adam Cole could have a memorable match as well. More than anything though, I’d love for Goldust to come on down to NXT to work with him for a little while. I think that would be cool to see, but we might have to wait for Velveteen Dream to come up to work with Goldy. (side note: Goldust becoming the manager/mentor for both Mandy Rose and Velveteen Dream would be super interesting to me and something I’d love to write for)

The NXT roster is also getting rather sizeable, and I think introducing a secondary Championship Belt there would be perfect for Velveteen Dream. He could be what The Miz has been with the Intercontinental Championship for the last couple of years. He could have a series of lengthy reigns with that belt over the course of the next year or so, before eventually graduating and setting his sights on whomever the NXT Champion at the time is.

No matter what, I think the future is bright for Velveteen Dream. He is a dynamic performer, with great creative instincts, that continues to demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of the art form. I don’t feel like I’m going out on a limb to suggest that he is going to be special!

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There you have it, but as always I want to know what you think! Do you remember how you felt about Patrick Clark on Tough Enough? What do you think of Velveteen Dream? Does he exceed your expectations or are you just not into the act? What could he do to improve in your eyes? Do you want to see him called up? And how bright a future do you think he has ahead of him?

Until next time folks, I’m Matthew J. Douglas saying thank heavens the NBA is back. All work and no NBA for a week make Matthew go something, something? Have a great Elimination Chamber weekend everybody! Oh, and go see Black Panther!