Mishal asks a very important question about WWE NXT: has it lost its edge? It’s a topic that needs to be explored.
A ‘brief’ recap.
Very few brands across the history of professional wrestling have managed to garner the praise, respect, quality talent & following that the modern-day brand known as NXT has since it’s reincarnation during the early 2010s in WWE.
Once upon a time, the brand of NXT was essentially a ‘reality television’ game show, shot in front of a live WWE audience on that given week that blended together the reality of wanting to be a WWE superstar with that very world to try and create something that fits into the category of shows like The Ultimate Fighter, where mentors try to drag out the best in their ‘pros’ or ‘rookies’. Like most expected, it accomplished very little. With the exception of a brilliant start to the Nexus vs WWE feud which lasted all of 5 minutes & the exposure of one of the company’s biggest current stars in Daniel Bryan, the initial NXT was a failure by all other measures.
It wasted its top talents, did nothing for the live crowd, reduced potentially immensely talented performers to competing in ‘obstacle courses’, added nothing of value once each season ended & was more or less a completely pointless venture once fans & those in charge lost interest in it.
However, that’s when Triple H came into the picture.
Since around 2012 the brand underwent substantial changes, being placed in the hands of WWE’s COO to take hold of and inject with newfound energy, passion & offer something alternative for the younger talent outside the ranks of FCW (Florida Championship Wrestling) which garnered little to no exposure from most wrestling audiences. While its beginnings were certainly quiet compared to now, the brand introduced fans to something very different. Giving us the likes of Seth Rollins, Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Bray Wyatt, Cesaro, Sami Zayn, Big E, Bo Dallas, Sasha Banks, Bayley, Xavier Woods & a dozen others, it utilized many of the WWE talents being groomed for the main roster and produced a show that was about one thing; wrestling. It didn’t possess the spectacle of the main roster shows, the mainstream desires, the bigger names to draw huge audiences or worldwide appeal that could quite literally boost economies, it was all about wrestling’s roots & that changed the very nature of the company.
Instead of attempting to mimic the bigger brands surrounding them, NXT became its own thing entirely. It was about what the fans wanted & whom they fell behind, not what was ‘best for business’, as the company had so famously held up as their slogan for keeping many names down below the glass ceiling. This kind of product delivered energy, and a fanbase that instilled the passion in the likes of someone like myself for professional wrestling all over again, wrestling was cool for the first time in a very, very long time.
As the product grew, so did the NXT brands reach. Shows became larger in scale but still felt very contained & reserved, never straying away from what they were at their core, the fans & the squared circle. Newer talents came in from across the planet, many of whom we’d thought we’d likely never see with Finn Balor, Asuka, Shinsuke Nakamura, Samoa Joe, Kevin Owens, Adam Cole, Johnny Gargano, Bobby Roode, Drew McIntyre, Aleister Black, Matt Riddle, Ricochet, Ember Moon, Pete Dunne & too many others to name bringing a larger-than-life vibe to the brand that made this feel like the main roster product, but with booking & matches that catered to the interest of the paying audience first & foremost. It was almost surreal in a way, that a brand like this wasn’t just a wrestling fans dream but almost flawless, with every show receiving near-universal praise & always managing to give their audience something new to invest in.
It was (and for the most part, still is) an incredible time to be a fan of the business because even if what the WWE was doing on their headline shows such of RAW or SmackDown, NXT was the ideal counterbalance to your problems, generally offering solutions to a good chunk of the issues fans like myself had with the direction of their product. Despite it technically being under the WWE banner, the NXT brand felt very much detached from its actual ‘parent’ brand, embodying something that the main roster products could never realistically embrace due to the nature of the company & how it’s structured in the business world.
NXT was very much a wrestling fans biggest dream come true, but like any brand or company, it isn’t without slip-ups.
And as of late, something just doesn’t feel right to me.
In the midst of not just a pandemic that is shifting the entertainment business as a whole in a very different direction but a big creative change to the brand since late last year, the landscape of NXT looks a tad different. While it isn’t bad by any means, I wanted to look into why the NXT brand seems to have lost its ‘edge’ during these strange times we live in.
NXT’s decision to bring back some former main roster talents they’d lost over the last 3-4 years was at first an exciting decision for many people. Bringing back certain names can infuse a lot of nostalgia into the brand that would remind fans of former days before the brand became the phenomenon that it is, it could open the door to dozens of dream matches that fans have been clamoring for that the main roster likely wouldn’t satisfy & depending on the talents, gives some misused names a chance to re-establish themselves.
We’ve seen the likes of Finn Balor, Tyler Breeze, Fandango & most recently, Charlotte Flair make their returns to their original home of NXT and involve themselves with a plethora of different talent across the US version of NXT, as well as stars from the more recent UK branch of NXT which doesn’t always get the attention it deserves in an overcrowded marketplace. And while in theory, the idea sounds like something that could benefit talent in the long-run, I’m not sure it played out how we’d imagined.
Much of the flatness of this angle falls on external circumstances, whether that be the creative direction or the circumstances the company might have to operate under for the foreseeable future, but the results haven’t been up to the usual level of excitement that the brand gives off. Finn Balor had a decent little feud with Johnny Gargano which worked but ended in a manner that divided many fans, Charlotte Flair’s victory of Rhea Ripley at Wrestlemania added nothing of real value to the brand & any other remaining talents haven’t done anything to really justify their moves back ‘down’ from the main roster.
If anything this transfer of talent has resulted in the brand losing a slight bit of its own identity, based around newer talents from around the globe in search of a new chapter in their careers, and while the number of main roster stars returning has been minimal, can give off the vibe that a slight change of pace has been made to a product that was really hitting its stride.
In terms of writing, NXT isn’t really at its apex at this very moment.
There’s actually a lot happening on the brand; Gargano’s heel turn, Velveteen Dream chasing Adam Cole for the NXT Title, Charlotte Flair reigning supreme with her NXT Women’s Title, Karrion Kross (the former Killer Kross) eyeing Tommaso Ciampa, Matt Riddle making the most out of the situation with his NXT Tag Team Titles & an on-going Cruiserweight Tournament to boot.
On paper, all of this sounds plentiful, yet the only thing of genuine intrigue is the debut of Karrion Kross. Most of NXT’s remaining angles just don’t have the spark behind them that we’ve come to expect. Gargano’s heel turn came off a mostly panned performance against Ciampa which started that angle off on the wrong foot, Flair’s reign just doesn’t bode as well as you’d think despite starting off on NXT & the tag team scene across WWE hasn’t exactly been bursting with life as of late as it is. Even the chase for the brand’s main titleholder in Adam Cole just isn’t clicking despite the potential of Velveteen Dream finally claiming the brands biggest prize being a potential outcome, which shocks me watching the product every week.
Obviously the business is in a weird place at the moment, and with certain stars being limited on availability it does place products in a precarious position, NXT, however, has a general track record of making the most of that situations in the past.
Whether this is a transition period into a brand new era for NXT or just a period that’s taking its toll on the business entirely, it’s fairly clear that the volume might need to be ramped up on storylines with some fans beginning to display disinterest.
Have the ‘higher-ups’ spoken?
While I personally drift away from this theory, addressing it is worth some merit since it hasn’t only be mentioned by fans but some ex-WWE talent as of late. The issue being that the products current move over to the USA Network last year has somewhat sucked the product of its appeal to fans compared to what it once was, which in my opinion is a bit of a stretch.
NXT’s product, in spite of some structural changes to its overall airtime & distribution, has continued feel like it’s very much catering to the fans it once was prior to being moved against AEW Dynamite on the very same evening of its airtime. USA Network has granted the show more airtime (2 hours as opposed to the previous 60-minute version of the show that aired on the network) but if anything, this has helped flesh out more talent than in the past and grant more exposure to a number of stars not just on a writing level but to a whole new, more broad audience. It’s involvement in the Survivor Series show last year made things all the more fascinating for fans of every WWE show & it has made the show feel much more significant, even more than it was when it was being streamed.
Obviously, certain decisions have been made to satisfy some heads on the television network but none of them has necessarily wrecked what the product is supposed to be at its core. Most gripes with the product fall on how it’s being handled on a creative front, which I addressed earlier. If anything the move to the USA Network has been a tremendous gain for the brand & talent involved to truly strut their stuff in front of the world. We get more matches on a weekly basis, new characters more frequently & faith that others aside from just the WWE want the world to see what NXT has to offer.
Blaming the ‘higher-ups’ is a constant thing in many communities, particularly wrestling ones, and for good reason. Seeing NXT manage to continue to be what it was created to is extremely satisfying to a fan like me though, as it gives faith that this is a product that won’t be trifled with in the way the very first incarnation of NXT was back in the day. If anything, let’s be happy what we have now isn’t near what it was back in 2010.
NXT isn’t at its peak right now, as myself and obviously a few others have aired throughout the media. Most of its current gripes, however, fall on the shoulders of creative direction more than anything external to the product itself.
Having a platform like the USA Network is the least of the brand’s worries for the moment, and our concerns should lay where stories are being handled or aimed towards in the future. As the summer season has more or less began for the WWE it’s this transition period that concerns me the most, because the potential that the brand has on its hands right now isn’t reaching the levels of excitement I’m used to.
The current situation is a blend of a few things that have gotten us to this point, and while my flare for NXT isn’t as positive as I generally am, that doesn’t mean in any way that NXT won’t rebound from a small hiccup and knock it out of the park with what they do next.