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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  • Henry Higgins III

    If you put all of the “indy darlings” straight onto the main roster, then the developmental talents don’t have anyone more experienced to learn from during their matches (believe me, from experience, you learn a massive amount by being the in the ring with someone better / more experienced that yourself).

    Also, with NXT being an actively touring show, it needs “name” talent to sell the tickets while the other homegrown folk work their way up to being on that level.

    The tag-team division has three teams at the top comprised of guys who weren’t on the level of Joe, Nak, Zayn, Owens, etc, when they came in (DIY had some recognition, but let’s not overplay it). Same with the women; Royce, Kay and Riot (to name three) had recognition, but not on the level of, for example, Asuka.

    The Revival may have wrestled on the indies, but they became who they are through the NXT developmental system.

    It isn’t broken, so it doesn’t need fixed, it just needs a bit of a tune-up.

    • Rob Heard

      Just to respond to your points…

      I understand younger talent need someone to learn from, but with exception of Baron Corbin in 2015 and now the AOP that young talent isn’t working with anyone really – it is just stuck in the PC or curtain jerking when they tour.

      Also they have a wealth of experienced trainers and staff at the PC to help groom them as well.

      The touring aspect again falls under the issue of them becoming a third brand or at the moment being in a weird limbo between being that brand and the feeder promotion. Why does the developmental promotion need to tour? A tour of the local arenas and gyms and stuff in the Florida area fair enough but OVW, HWA and FCW didn’t tour and still produced talent so why does NXT if it is the developmental? If it doesn’t tour it doesn’t need names so it solves the issue.

      As for the tag division as I said it is in the article and has from the beginning been were they try the most to bed in talent – that is not the issue. The issue is that the live crowds who watch the shows don’t have patience now to see this talent be bedded in.

      Those fans know DIY from the Indy scene, they have seen the Revival form and grow from the start so they accept them as NXT originals but AOP don’t fit that mold, they don’t like the push they are getting, those live show fans and hardcore fans who watch NXT like them now want Indy names, they don’t AOP or other green horns, they want names because they have been conditioned with the situation at the top of the card to except these kind of people now.

      Yeah, some people, the more casual of fans might not have known Royce and Kay and maybe Lovelace/Riot wrestled in the Indy Scene as women’s wrestling outside of the WWE is even more of a niche market then the main Indy promotions BUT the more hardcore fans of wrestling who watch NXT live or subscribe to the network will have known. Anyone has seen any SHIMMER with have known all three. I’d even argue that there is more chance of knowing them then Asuka/Kana when she debuted as Askua mainly worked in Japan and Japan alone so there was even less chance of US fans knowing her.

      Also you will note in the article I never mentioned the Revival where Indy darlings, or their background in the scene. They are an NXT product, two guys who came in as single guys who formed as a team there and gained their identity there.

      Finally I never said NXT was broken. Its not because quite clearly they are putting on great shows and people like us care enough to discuss it. I said it has problems, the main one being an identity issue, because as I point out in the article and above they are in a limbo. Are they the 3rd brand of the WWE? Are they developmental? It is hard, maybe impossible to actually be both, particularly if they keep on flooding the card and the TV shows with Indy talent or ex talent. They have problems all be it good problems and going forward as I said they need to be solved, fixed or tweaked, whatever words you want to use but right now, hardly any new talent, that is people without a previous Indy following, is coming out of there and hasn’t in the last year or so – that is a big issue when you are a developmental.

      • Henry Higgins III

        Nice response, Gringo.

        With that, I feel that if the PC recruits, and this includes those who worked the indies to less acclaim than your Roddy Strongs, etc (the majority of them will have had at least a modicum on indy experience), are presented correctly, then the fans (casual and hardcore) will get behind them.

        American Alpha, Enzo & Cass, Big E, Bo Dallas, Bray Wyatt, The Vaudevillains, The Ascension, Baron Corbin, Rusev, Sasha Banks, Charlotte Flair, Nia Jax, Bayley (to a lesser extent), Dana Brook, Emma, Paige (most people wouldn’t have known who she was), Summer Rae, Alexa Bliss, Becky Lynch (see Paige), Tyler Breeze and Carmella are all on the main roster now after getting over as homegrown NXT talent, regardless of whether they actually had any pre-WWE success anywhere else.

        Sure, a fair few of them were before the rerun of the territory raids by Triple H, but the point is that people can get over in NXT if we’re given a reason to.

        Case in point, on the current NXT roster, The Revival, AoP, Blake & Murphy (though they have slipped a bit), No Way Jose, Tye Dillinger (eventually), Heavy Machinery, The Drifter (I know he had “DRIFT AWAY” chants, but he was over as a heel and playing it very well), Liv Morgan (swoon), Aliyah and Royce & Kay (who the majority of fans will consider NXT “originals”) have all got over to varying degrees during the huge all-indy-names-welcome era.

        From the article, I felt you were being a tad harsh / unfair and overlooking the need to have at least some “names” on the roster. Also, the developmental-level wrestlers do get to work with the indy darlings on house shows as well as the odd TV taping, so they do benefit (because, as you and I both know from experience, there’s a world of difference in learning at a training session and learning on the job).

        • Rob Heard

          I’d argue that AOP and No Way Jose are not actually over with the crowds. Jose for instance was booed when he faced off against Aries and as I touched on before, AOP faced derision when facing off against DIY and the Revival and not in the way heels should actually face the wrath of a live crowd.

          But I can agree that some of the lesser known Indy talent should go to NXT. For instance Edge and Christian where Indy talent but they went through the then used developmental promotions to be repackaged and have their skills honed. These guys had a few years experience at the time and no doubt it assisted them.

          What we can both agree on is that guys like Aries, Strong, Joe, Roode, Young – all former World Champions of TNA, RoH or PWG – they don’t needed to go to NXT and people like them shouldn’t in the future and clog up the title picture there barring the path for PC trained talent.

          NXT should really be for people like Tye Dillenger, who never really found the thing to get him over on the Indy scene despite his talent and had minimal exposure as a result but can be molded into something new, people like Dash and Dawson as well.

          In the past NXT has shown with them and the other names you mentioned that it could do wonderful things – but now it just seems to have a title picture clogged up with Indy big timers and the crowd NXT attracts don’t want to embrace smaller scale or PC talents anymore as a result. Getting them to recondition and once more embrace other talent is the main step to fixing their issues because right now NXT is trying to give those fans what they want completely it seems, rather then doing what NXT needs to do for the benefit of all its talent and the WWE as a whole.

          • Henry Higgins III

            “Aries, Strong, Joe, Roode, Young – all former World Champions of TNA, RoH or PWG – they don’t needed to go to NXT”

            I agree in so much that they don’t need NXT, but NXT does need them to at least have a run there before going to the main roster.

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