Hi everyone! Taking a break from the Rumble series, which I do plan on finishing .. but perhaps won’t post them as often. Today, I’m looking at the way WWE has used equality and competitiveness to make their products more consistently exciting and memorable.
The NXT Big Bang
Much of what we’ve seen in recent times has been influenced by NXT and other promotions. Not just the talent, but the way WWE treats its divisions has changed. For years, the women of WWE were not taken seriously as they were paraded around as Divas. While promotions like TNA Impact (Knockouts) and SHIMMER (Women Athletes) enjoyed healthy women’s competition, WWE were stuck with eye candy champions like Kelly Kelly. AJ Lee did a lot to show women could be part of major storylines, and they could be taken seriously as wrestlers. But it wasn’t all down to her (and her tweet to Stephanie McMahon about equal opportunities for women), much of what we see today came about because of the NXT Women’s Championship. Paige & Emma kicked it off, with their amazing match in the final of a tournament to crown the first champion. There’s a young Charlotte Flair in attendance, and Stephanie McMahon was present to hold up the title for the world to see.
Other NXT titles showed the potential success a wrestler can have if given opportunities. Seth Rollins, Big E, Bo Dallas, Neville, Sami Zayn Kevin Owens, Finn Balor, Shinsuke Nakamura, Samoa Joe, and Bobby Roode are all former NXT Champions. Out of the tag champions, 14 of those made it to the main roster in some way. This includes Neville, Rowan, Harper, Corey Graves, The Ascension, Kalisto, Sin Cara, The Vaudevillains, The Revival, and American Alpha. You could say 15 if you include Buddy Murphy; as he’s debuting with 205 Live soon. Authors Of Pain, Sanity, Undisputed Era, Andrade Almas, and Drew McIntyre are all bound for the main roster at some point. We know Drew’s already been there, and Adam Cole/Almas had good times in the Rumble.
What is exceptional about NXT is the success rate. You find many talents aspiring to go to NXT because they know it will get them over before moving up to the mainstream. It gives a back story WWE can actively feature. They’re more likely to sell that, than your Impact/ROH/NJPW/Indy career in the same way. And there’s the UK Division, which has brought in young guys like Pete Dunne and Tyler Bate to NXT. It’s a wonderful place which is forever changing, always losing top guys/girls so they can be replaced with future top guys/girls; and just look at the recent signings of EC3, Ricochet and War Machine. There’s always something to learn, whether they’re a rookie, or a seasoned veteran like Bobby Roode. NXT gets wrestlers used to the WWE style, without throwing ’em in the deep end with the sharks. There’s room for tweaks in character, and time to improve wrestling ability. This has an adverse affect on the main roster, as many talents wish they could work with the same freedoms.
It also gives the main roster a sense of danger. If you’re not willing to perform, there’s plenty of talent chomping at the bit. There’s plenty of men and women capable of moving up and taking spots, and it forces main roster talent to deliver consistently. It also makes it tougher on them if they get injured, even more so if it’s long-term. No one can afford time off in 2018 as the landscape changes every passing day. What WWE has shown, is there’s an extraordinarily gigantic pool of talent to pick from. They’ve scoured the globe and taken the best; only those who they believe will succeed working the WWE style. When you have the best of the best being signed year-on-year, it creates a competitive edge everywhere. It’s not just the talent wanting to move up from the indys to NXT, to the main roster .. there’s managers (like Paul Ellering), commentators, referees, and even backstage staff who want to prove they belong working on Raw or Smackdown. Instead of waiting for other promotions to compete, WWE has gone the other way and created an environment which promotes equality. There’s an expectation to deliver, and even more importantly .. the skill and intelligence to be innovative in every aspect of the individuals work. Those who show the total package will get booked, and their value will increase at the expense of those who are not pulling their weight. WWE is pitting everyone against everyone, and it seems to be working.
WWE doesn’t always want to bloat NXT with newcomers, so they make special tournaments to give fans the chance to see what outside talent are capable of. The Cruiserweight Classic, The UK Tournament, and the Mae Young Classic were all great in their own ways. In fact, it feels like some of these divisions declined immediately afterwards, with only a handful of guys/girls (the cream of the crop) getting contracts to sign. Let’s take a look at those who proved themselves worthy:
- From the Cruiserweight classic the following talent remain on 205 Live: Finalists TJ Perkins & Gran Metalik, Tozawa, Noam Dar, Brian Kendrick, Lince Dorado, Cedric Alexander, Tony Nese, Drew Gulak, Jack Gallagher, Mustafa Ali and Ariya Daivari. 12 out of 32. Only three of these men have been Cruiserweight Champions. Many will argue the way 205 Live has been presented (compared to the Cruiserweight Classic) has hampered the show considerably. Not only that, but the crowds they get are not energetic in the slightest. Under Vince McMahon’s watch it didn’t feel right, but the past couple of weeks (with Triple H taking over) has been miles better. Drake Maverick (I still call him Spud) is a no-nonsense GM who promotes tough, do-or-die competition. Because of this, I have a vested interest in seeing how the current tournament pans out.
- The UK tournament brought one Irish and 15 British participants to crown the first UK Champion. Danny Burch was already in NXT, so he was the only familiar face. As we know (I’ve written too much about them already), finalists Pete Dunne and Tyler Bate were the breakout stars. WWE has used Wolfgang and Trent Seven sporadically, usually on NXT or at live events. Only last night on 205 Live, Mark Andrews had a breakout moment of his own, when he cleanly defeated Tozawa in the first round of the cruiserweight tournament. It remains to be seen whether we’ll get a UK show like they announced, but for now .. at least a few of the guys survived. As a British fan, I’m happy enough with that.
- Sadly I didn’t get to watch much of the Mae Young Classic, but I did catch the semis and the Final. Much like the Cruiserweight Classic, it featured 32 women wrestlers from around the world. Not as many were kept on, but some found more success than others. Considering Sarah Logan lost in the first round to Mia Yim (and only ever seemed to lose on NXT), she was brought up to Smackdown with The Riott Squad. Bianca Belair is working on NXT more lately; and she’s going places. Lacey Evans sometimes shows up and looks incredible (I’m probably more in love with her than Graves is with Mandy Rose). Candice LeRae has managed to sneak on to NXT TV lately, as she’s Johnny Gargano’s real-life wife, but it’s not the only reason! Finalists Kairi Sane and Shayna Baszler are future NXT Women’s Champions, and it’s only a matter of time.
If WWE continues with these specials it will give men and women the opportunities to break through and make it to NXT, and possibly the main roster. Smaller guys from NXT have another platform in 205 Live, but I’ll talk about that in a minute. The most important thing is they don’t sign anyone who isn’t ready, and putting the talent in a competitive environment brings the best out of them. It’s easier to scout when they are doing their best in an environment of WWE’s choosing. And as for 205 Live, it has yet to prove it can be a stepping stone to greatness. It remains to be seen if 205 Live can get over to the point that the Cruiserweight Champion comes out on Raw and is showered in adulation or hatred. It may feel like a dead-end to guys like Neville, Austin Aries, and possibly Hideo Itami .. but for the young and hungry like Mark Andrews? They don’t care as long as they get on TV .. and it beats working elsewhere.