Since its rebranding to NXT 2.0, the product has been a mixed bag of memorable moments on both ends of the spectrum, leaving fans with varying opinions. Earlier this year, when WWE announced that the brand would revert to black & gold, like many fans, I anticipated the return of elements that made the old NXT appealing. More wrestling. Logical booking. Feuds with plenty of heat. Epic PPVs to outshine the main roster. That would have been grand, but none of it happened.
Today, I will delve into the positives and negatives of the current state of NXT, building upon my previous analyses in the links below.
Rising Stars & Resilience Amidst Struggles
I have a deep respect for the talent of this generation. Despite having more opportunities than ever before, the wrestling audience can easily get burned out by the plethora of weekly shows. This makes the average fan prone to a diminishing attention span, which has the adverse effect of talent being seen but going almost unnoticed.
I have this problem. Working for a wrestling site, I feel like I need to watch as much wrestling as I can so I can remain knowledgeable. After all, I can’t write about wrestling if I don’t know what’s happening. But when you watch hours of wrestling each week, it leaves shows like NXT as an afterthought. You’re waiting for a match or a moment that leaps out and forces you to give it your full attention. The last match I remember doing that in NXT was Ilja Dragunov vs. Dijak.
Unlike the old NXT, very few matches make me feel like I need to stop everything I’m doing to give them my absolute focus. And creatively, the storylines and gimmicks have hardly changed since 2.0. I still don’t understand how Cora Jade’s heel turn helped her. Nor do I see the appeal of Carmelo Hayes playing a babyface with catchphrases better suited for a villain. The rumors of Roxanne Perez turning heel have me worried because she’s a natural face who never needs to turn. The same goes for Tiffany Stratton; she’s a heel, and there’s no reason to turn her. The best characters don’t need to turn. They keep reinventing themselves while staying true to their core. A shift in character needs to be done with solid reasoning. If a shift occurs because creative doesn’t know what to do with a talent, that’s on management for having poor writers. Do we remember the running joke of The Big Show turning every other week? It’s crucial, especially in a superstar’s early development, that they aren’t unnecessarily turned with no reason or plan. Yet, I see this happening often in NXT.
I’m not invested in most of their characters because not only is creative struggling to do it properly, but half those on the roster are barely talented enough to be on TV. I know that sounds harsh, but there are solid reasons this generation of NXT talent is struggling. In the last decade, the old black & gold brand took most of the best independent stars in the world and molded them into WWE Superstars. An incredible number of names have come through the system, and eventually, the talent pool was to dry up. You can only go to the well so often, and WWE has been taking water from it for years. Not only that, but AEW also took a heavy load of that water. Imagine how much better NXT would be if AEW didn’t exist. WWE would easily keep NXT sustained without having to resort to cheap tricks like bringing main roster stars in to boost ratings.
Of course, this isn’t anything new, and it will keep happening because WWE so desperately wants to keep NXT around. Why? Because it’s another roster they can use in various ways, like keeping talent away from other promotions, but also as a platform to bring in special talents, like Olympic Gold Medalist Gable Steveson. WWE’s developmental territory loses its appeal if they don’t keep it on television. But I will give it to WWE lately because it has tried extra hard to promote the show on the main roster. Back in the old days of NXT, we hardly heard anything about it. The Black & Gold brand was like this underground territory only select fans knew about. They would tell casuals who only watch the main roster how much they are missing out on. NXT fans were proud of those days. They went to bat for it because it was cool. And rightly so, I bought right into the “WE ARE NXT!” mentality. Since the brand lost that, so too did it lose its soul.
That’s not to say it has nothing to offer. There are some incredible athletes on the show. However, after some of the recent call-ups, NXT has been left with scraps. The men’s division direly needs some kind of reset. I’m really struggling to care for them outside a select few. And as for the women’s division, it’s a free-for-all. Tiffany Stratton and Roxanne Perez are established, but everyone else has an opportunity to grab the bull by the horns and do something. Anything. Move up the ladder and prove they belong. I hope that those who WWE brought from the main roster are there to help, and not to hinder, but if it’s the latter, then the new faces have got to try even harder.
I really want to see an NXT with fewer nonsensical storylines and cartoony gimmicks. I’d love to hear Vic Joseph and Booker T sound genuinely excited to call the action. They’re often having to oversell, and that’s no disrespect to them. It’s just how things are. I’m sure Shawn Michaels and his team are doing their best, but how do they make this crop of talent better than those from 4 to 6 years ago? It’s asking a lot. A good start would be to generate proper feuds like that of Tommaso Ciampa vs. Johnny Gargano. Use that classic feud as a template. Despite the weirdness, I love that they are giving us a reason to care about Von Wagner with his backstory. NXT needs to remember what brought it to the dance. Pull together with an abundance of resilience.
Yet, WWE also needs to release talent who aren’t making enough progress. It feels like it would rather hold on to subpar talent for the sake of keeping them than to scale back and focus on the quality they have. I don’t want folks to lose their jobs, but if WWE is supposed to be the pinnacle, and WWE wants their developmental talent to try harder so they don’t get stuck in the system for years, then they need to up the pressure on those who aren’t contributing. Look at Thea Hail, for example. She’s absolutely amazing! A feisty young prospect who is destined for great things because she is earning it with every second of airtime she gets. The passion is there in her performances. It’s how the old NXT used to be. You saw both guys and girls knocking it out of the park every week. In 2023, I’m only seeing maybe 1/4 of the talent doing that?
So, with that said, I am enjoying NXT, but man, do I wish I could enjoy it like I used to. I will not point any fingers and blame anybody specifically, but the responsibility is on WWE. Even more so when it’s going above and beyond to promote it for better ratings. Do you agree? Should NXT take some notes from its past? Could it prosper by cutting back or hitting the reset button? How would you handle this brand if given the chance? Please let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading!