What Lies Beneath: The problems with NXT

Don’t you all just love NXT? The fact that the in-ring action always delivers, just like it did again during another excellent Takeover show, the simpler, more old school storytelling, the fact that it is the golden problem-less child of the WWE family…

Except it’s not that problem-less little brother any more. You see something struck me at around 2.30am BST on Sunday the 2nd of April 2017, as I sat there in the wee hours of the morning in England, watching NXT Takeover: Orlando live. I was taken aback during the rather bloody excellent triple threat elimination tag team title match between The Authors of Pain, DIY and The Revival when during a control segment by AOP the crowd, one and all, stood up and chanted “No one likes you!” at the champs, both of whom stood there not knowing what to do at all.

Granted they are the heels and part of the reason why no one liked them in the crowd is also because they don’t know what to do when the unexpected happens. They are big, mean and green, unlike the two teams they were facing. They are the prototypes of what the traditional WWE superstar mould is or is at least perceived to be and they found themselves in a high profile match with gold on their shoulders which the live NXT faithful hated with a passion.

Which is when the thought struck me, that is the problem with NXT or rather, there are a multitude of problems with NXT emanating from the same common source, something that became clearer the more I looked back on the event and the past couple of years really.

Before I digress any further on that point, time for a little trivia. Name the last star who has not had a career of two years or more on the more established Indy circuit before coming to NXT to hold the NXT championship. Go on…

Yep, the astute fans would have realised it was Bo Dallas, who lost the belt over three years ago to (Adrian) Neville in a ladder match at Arrival, the first big live special that NXT ever produced.

Since then a parade of Indy darlings have flooded through the doors, some stars that many of us fans believed would never work for WWE. Granted Neville and Sami Zayn were already there and Chris Hero as Kassius Ohno, Tyler Black as Seth Rollins, Brodie Lee in his Luke Harper guise and John Moxley as Dean Ambrose were there or just came before but in the three years since that night we have seen…

  • Eric Young a former TNA World Champion
  • Bobby Roode, another former TNA world champion
  • Andrade Almas (La Sombra) a multi time title winner in NJPW and Mexico
  • Hideo Itami (formally KENTA) a former GHC World champ in NOAH
  • Finn Balor (Prince Devitt) who won every Jr. Heavyweight title and accolade in NJPW
  • Samoa Joe a former RoH and TNA World Champion amongst other things
  • Roderick Strong a former RoH and PWG World Champion
  • DIY of Ciampa and Gargano who have long and loved careers in PWG and other US indy promotions
  • Aleister Black (Tommy End) who has worked for PWG, Evolve and PWG and nearly every European fed of note.
  • Oney Lorcan (Biff Busick) of PWG fame
  • TM61 of Miller and Thorne aka TMDK of Nicholls and Haste, who held tag titles in NOAH
  • Shinsuke Nakamura who was the ace of NJPW for quite sometime
  • Killian Daine (Big Damo) who had started to make a name for himself in WCPW, RPW, Progress, ICW and other British feds.

Whilst we have seen no one in the male ranks who was actually scouted, discovered and given their training and break by the WWE Performance Centre staff and as a result made their national breakthrough in NXT.

Remember WWE began NXT as a repackage of FCW, a feeder promotion designed to find the next set of home grown talent. Like OVW and HWA brought in Cena, Orton, Lesnar, Charlie Haas, Batista, Sheldon Benjamin, Renee Dupree along with a whole raft of other superstars you won’t remember from around 2001 to 2007. In this respect, right now NXT is failing and failing hard.

Whilst you can say there was always talent from other promotions in NXT at least there was a mix of home grown guys in the tag-team and NXT title picture. The aforementioned Bo, Big E when he still had Langston in his name, Tyler Breeze before the main roster ate his soul but now, well now not so much.

Since Dallas lost the title a pattern has emerged, specifically around the time of Takeover R-Evolution back in 2014. An Indy talent debuts, sets his eyes on the champion who is also a former Indy talent, they feud, new talent wins belt, former champ gets a rematch, loses and then goes up to main roster. Zayn v Owens, Balor v Owens, Balor v Joe, Joe v Nakamura and now Roode and Nakamura – all of them followed this pattern and it has gone pretty much the same for three years.

But you say! Lots of guys have been repackaged, they have been given time to hone their promo skills, to be exposed to fans outside of the hardcore fan base and reach a wider audience. That is what a developmental should do! OVW and FCW did it for Daniel Bryan, CM Punk, Rollins, Ambrose, it’s what it is meant to do!

Problem is NXT is only available on the WWE network. The people like me who subscribe are hardcore fans, they already know these guys so the exposure only comes when they move up and now more frequently aren’t even being repackaged.

The latest and biggest batch like Strong, Young, Roode, Nakamura, Joe all of them have their previous names and aside from Young being in sANITY pretty much their previous gimmicks or some form of them. The first to be called up out of this crop is Joe and he is on the main roster as Samoa Joe, his move set and gimmick is the same as it was during his stints in RoH and TNA as a world champion.

NXT now is no longer just a developmental – it is its own distinct third brand of the WWE which is also still a gateway to the main roster.

This brings me back to my earlier point. The crowd last night and the reaction they gave Akam and Rezar during a rather excellent match.

The fans at NXT events are now conditioned and treat it as a distinct, almost non-WWE promotion. They come to revel in the stars they never believed would work for WWE or succeed within its walls do just that. DIY are two such guys, stars who before CM Punk and Daniel Bryan would never have been let through the door and then you have Dash and Dawson, two long time Indy guys who floated around the WWE developmental system before finding their niche – those guys despite being old school heels are respected as hell because they deliver between those ropes.

So last night when two big hulks who didn’t fit that mould were in that ring the crowd s**t on them. Yeah they had to be lead through that match but the fact is they did everything they were asked to do, they did it well and they did their jobs wonderfully. Still the crowd s**t on them. Not because they were the bad guys, no but because they were in the way of DIY and Revival facing off alone, because they were not established guys who had earned their stripes in the eyes of the crowd. As a result, despite busting their balls and playing their roles the crowd s**t on them all the same.

The issue plaguing the main title has now leached down into the tag ranks and the show in general. It has conditioned the crowd to be hostile to guys who are there in NXT to hone their craft and actually fulfil the purpose of the promotion – to train new stars and get them over.

In the past the tag-team scene usually consisted of teams who had a veteran of the Indies and a greener, more WWE talent. Victor and Konnor, English and Gotch, Kalisto and Sin Cara all fit this bill. Then of course you had Blake and Murphy and American Alpha who were pretty much cut and dried as teams made from developmental talent.

It worked and WWE has tried again to use tag-team wrestling as a base to insert new talent but as I mentioned before the crowd don’t want it. They long for the Broken Hardy’s (they actively chanted Delete during the match as well), they would die a happy death if the Young Bucks turned up and challenged the Revival – they now don’t want WWE Performance Centre trainees on their shows.

Likewise the Women’s division will soon go the same way, WWE have gone after and signed Evvie and Hojo from Stardom, the number one women’s promotion in Japan. They nearly captured their main champion, Io Shirari as well but she backed out of the deal but they are still sniffing around her. Add to that they have Ruby Riot (formally Heidi Lovelace) and Nikki Cross (Nikki Storm in the past) with Kimber Lee (a former Chikara Grand Champion, yes that is a men’s title) waiting in the wings. Kay, Royce, Lynch, Bailey, Banks, Askua – all of them are non-WWE talent a fact glossed over because Women’s wrestling is such a niche area and because it was offset by the likes of Dana Brooke, Alexa Bliss, Carmella, Naomi and Charlotte.

So now with a crowd who want it to be a haven for non-WWE stars, with a booking and hiring protocol that has conditioned and reinforces it and with more arrivals still to debut that fit this pattern we stand at a crossroads when it comes to NXT.

Road One

Do you carry on like this and actively promote it solely as a third brand, what ECW could have become but failed to do. Do you leave it on the WWE Network or do you find a market for it on a national televised stage and see if it can continue to flourish? Make it part of the draft rotation and allow it to still reinvigorate the rosters of Smackdown and Raw whilst also allowing it to do what it has in the past and give over looked talent, like Tyson Kidd, like Sin Cara and like Dash Wilder a place to find their mojo and prove they are worthy of their spot.

Road Two

Or do you bite the bullet and instead of bringing Indy talent in to take spots on the card in NXT, actually do an AJ if you will, do what used to happen in the old days and put them straight on the main roster. People like Joe, Owens, Young, Nakamura and Roode – these are people who have been around long enough on televised and somewhat major promotions as world champions and were equipped to swim in the deeper waters of the main roster. They didn’t need NXT, they are just fine as they are.

To break the cycle is it not worth doing more and more debuts like AJ and taking the likes of Drew McIntrye who has just resigned and is due to go to NXT and putting him where he used to be, on the main roster so people like Akam and Rezor can be free to actually develop in NXT, to allow the promotion to do what it is supposed to do and to retrain the crowd that if they don’t give stars like these a chance then they are denying potential superstars their dreams and also themselves the possibility of witnessing another stellar class of homegrown talents breaking through like in 2002-03.

I personally don’t know which way this could go. It is Triple H’s baby after all and a huge feather in his cap, one that if they do go legit as a true third brand could well see Vince step in and make more decisions and lead to him losing control over it – an event fans like me would dread.

But something needs to happen soon, NXT has become more stagnant and less impressive than it used to be, a problem Triple H himself has spoken of. Many blame the exodus of talent due to the brand split but when you see the pattern and storyline rut the NXT championship picture has moved into, when you have the same star as champion for a year in the women’s division and only now show signs of weakness and when the crowd crap on your attempts to be different in your now thin tag-team title picture it is clear the problems run much deeper.

Hopefully it is something they fix sooner rather than later.

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