As I watched NXT Takeover: Chicago last night, I wasn’t surprised how great the show was. Despite having a bunch of “development” talent/staff, NXT generates fan reaction that can only be imagined on WWE’s main roster. The crowd’s always hot, which can’t be said for Raw or Smackdown. The talent are given freedom, but more importantly .. time, to deliver matches which build to a satisfying crescendo. Programs often last several months til fans get the payoff at the following Takeover.
The roster’s not overexposed so it’s harder for the average fan to become tired of seeing particular talents. There’s no sense of anyone on a NXT Takeover card who is not deserving of the spot. NXT continues to do this despite a revolving door of names. NXT is able to take an individual, build them, harness their strengths, and work on ironing out the weaknesses. NXT shows the evolution of talents, so what you see in their debut is often a far cry to what they become. There’s a high success rate for NXT Champions to be promoted, but there’s still a good success rate for anyone who hasn’t, so long as they’re good enough. This is why NXT is the place to be, for talent and wrestling fans. We get to see the next generation in their primes taking it to the limit.
However, there’s some issues with having too much of a good thing. While half of the main roster are formerly of NXT, most fans will agree many talents lost appeal shortly after their debuts. Different fans, different format, different product image. There’s less freedom, so .. it can feel like some talents “forget” what made them great in NXT. More kids watch Raw & Smackdown, so you can understand why some elements have to be scaled back to suit the audience, but sometimes they are scaled back too much.
There’s a disconnect because Vince doesn’t always watch NXT, so he has to trust the new guys/girls are doing what got them there. NXT talents work in an environment with a plan spanning several months, while WWE’s main roster have to deal with shows being changed last-minute, as well as Vince’s habit of burying feuds/gimmicks with little warning. NXT provides the platform to make a character and develop ring skills, but it doesn’t always prepare individuals for the limitations and workload they’ll take on. The competition for places, minimal input into characters, lack of feuds, and a cartoony atmosphere, all contribute to talents being lost in the mix; as well as fans not being able to take them seriously.
Want an example? Look at Finn Balor. In NXT he was loved, he was NXT Champion, and The Demon was seen almost every PPV. He didn’t need to smile like an idiot. Fans got back stories highlighting his history and the kind of person he is. The main roster assumes anyone who never watched NXT somehow knew about these segments and took the time to find them. Character development usually stops dead the second a talent is promoted, or if there is any, it’s in a different direction to what they were going for. Balor was an athlete to be taken seriously, but these days I can’t when he’s having to put on the fakest grin ever (was probably told to do so by management). They’ve made him look weak by losing to guys like Kane, as well as not letting him get anywhere near the Universal title since he was forced to vacate despite his repeated ambitions to get there. Back then, he had the momentum of his NXT career going for him, but it was all gone by the time he returned from injury.
I said it in my last article but I feel I need to reiterate for those who missed it. NXT is so good that it’s able to promote new talent way quicker than WWE can fire talent to have the airtime available. The problem will get worse, as we wait for stables like the Authors Of Pain and Sanity to find time to be showcased regularly on their respective brands. And by the way, just to go a little off-topic .. did you notice how WWE didn’t want either team with Paul Ellering or Nikki Cross? AOP and Sanity were good as collective units .. so why split them up? What is the point? Why not split them later in an angle and make a big deal of it? Instead, AOP just kinda .. dumped Ellering like a piece of crap the second they got to Raw. It didn’t get them anywhere near as much heat as Ellering would’ve got them. Why listen to AOP when Ellering can articulate? I don’t know. Someone please explain how that’s a good decision. Anyways, back on topic.
There’s a degree of jealousy too. It’s no secret that many of the main roster talent are big NXT fans and have expressed how they wish they could work like they do. Some have gone as far to suggest they wouldn’t mind going back to NXT. It’s funny, because Takeover specials show up the talent on Raw/Smackdown and it’s nobody’s fault .. it’s just that NXT is more focused on what it wants to do, while you’re never quite sure what you’re getting with the main rosters. I mean, would you believe Sami Zayn would dress three dudes up as someone’s sisters? No, because the Sami of NXT was putting on stellar matches with Cesaro, Shinsuke Nakamura, and others. I can’t recall Sami having one memorable match since he left NXT; which is disappointing. It took a long while for Sami to find his character, so I’m glad about that, but the Sami we get is not what I expected when I look back at his career as a babyface.
NXT is a sign that wrestling still sells. There’s a lot of people who still appreciate great matches, and WWE’s main rosters have rarely gone in that direction for any extended period. It’s more concerned with making moments than producing matches, which inevitably become moments themselves. Velveteen Dream creates moments every week, whether he’s working a match or not. I can’t praise Johnny Gargano and Tomasso Ciampa enough, who are sure to go down as Feud of the Year by a country mile. I honestly can’t remember the last time I was so glued to a feud than I am with Gargano vs. Ciampa. Why can’t we get this on Raw & Smackdown? It should be those brands that are showing up the rest of the world, but it’s the opposite .. despite a deep pool of amazing talent. WWE wastes much of its airtime, while NXT uses every second wisely. The first two matches at Takeover: Chicago received standing ovations, and the main event exceeded both. And it’s no fluke, as this has happened for years.