The Delco Elbow Drop

Friday, April 4, 2014

NXT - The WWE's indy

It’s a great time to be a professional wrestling fan. With amazing independent promotions across the country showcasing the talents of myriad amazing upcoming wrestlers and the WWE creating an incredible product like the WWE Network, there almost has never been a better time to be a fan of the sport. And fans of the WWE not only enjoy the talent on the main roster but can also see the next generation of WWE Superstars in its developmental promotion, NXT.

NXT first came into life as a “Tough Enough-esque” reality show where young wrestlers were paired up with veteran WWE wrestlers and eliminated each week until a winner was declared. At the same time, WWE operated Florida Championship Wrestling as a developmental promotion in Tampa, FL. In 2012, WWE shuttered FCW and replaced it with a new program – NXT Wrestling, running out of Full Sail University.

NXT is an interesting product for several reasons and not just because it is presented as more of a “wrestling-focused” promotion in contrast to the focus on story of main roster shows like Raw and Smackdown. The program itself is a weekly hour long show that doesn’t waste time on overwrought backstage segments or in-ring talk shows – the time is used much more effectively, interviews are kept short and they get guys in the ring and in front of the crowd without any superfluous nonsense.

Fans of independent wrestling are also gravitating to NXT as several of the most popular indy stars have been getting signed by the WWE in recent times. Sami Zayn competed on the indies as the beloved luchadore El Generico and other indy stars like Sami Callihan and Samuray Del Sol have also been signed to NXT, though have yet to appear on NXT programming. It’s been rumored that several other independent stars like Kevin Steen and Drake Younger have attended WWE Performance Center tryouts and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them extended offers as well. Fans who watch Raw and Smackdown are more than familiar with Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose and Cesaro who all made their names on the independent scene before coming to the WWE and with NXT, we’re seeing more indy stars on the biggest professional wrestling stage than ever before.

As the popularity of NXT has grown, many fans have wondered if the product will be expanded in any way – if the weekly show will be extended, if the product will eventually be broadcast live or if WWE will ever seek a cable TV slot for the show among other ideas. However, it seems that to WWE, fans being able to watch the NXT product at all is the expansion of the developmental system – that expanding it any further wouldn’t be beneficial as the NXT product is used to hone wrestlers for the main roster, not necessarily for the sake of continuing NXT as a brand.

But within NXT’s presentation I believe lies its greatest weakness.

Indy wrestlers hone their skills by traveling across the country, across the globe even, and working hundreds of matches in front of different crowds against different opponents. By working in new places against fresh opponents, wrestlers get to see what will really get a reaction from the crowd and what doesn’t. The same is true for NXT. The WWE is trying to see what will work in front of a live crowd for a specific wrestler and what won’t.

However, because NXT only runs shows from one venue, its wrestlers don’t necessarily get the same exposure and the same kind of experience indy wrestlers do. But more importantly, the crowd goes to NXT tapings is, most likely, the same fans again and again. While that doesn’t sound like a detriment up front, the reactions wrestlers get in NXT can be very different to how live Raw and Smackdown crowds react.

I’ll use Big E as an example. At the end of Big E’s NXT career, he was the NXT champion and was hugely popular with the crowd. Fans loved his gimmick, they loved his in-ring work and they were majorly on board with his catch phrase “Five!” which stemmed from beating people so badly, he could score a five-count on them, not just three. (It’s even referenced in his theme song – “Three ain’t enough man, I need five.”)

However, now that Big E is on the main roster and carrying the Intercontinental title, he’s yet to find the same connection to with the Raw and Smackdown crowds. He hasn’t made use of his NXT catchphrase in the WWE yet (even though it’s in his theme song) and I’ve noticed crowds lately outright booing him – though, those matches were against more over competitors like Sheamus and Cesaro.

The point I’m trying to make is that even though NXT is the WWE’s developmental program, because they only run NXT shows in front of the same audience, the reaction that stars get in NXT isn’t necessarily indicative of the reaction they’ll get on the main roster.

I noticed something similar happening with the Wyatt Family as well. During their NXT run, the Wyatts were not only NXT tag team champions but were incredibly over with the live crowd. They were heels technically, but people were crazy for them. When they came up to the main roster, they barely seemed to get a reaction at all, at first. Fans at Raw or Smackdown just didn’t seem to know what to make of them and for a while, I was worried they’d never get over at all. Now that they’ve been put at odds with the likes of Daniel Bryan and John Cena, they are getting a better reaction but it was sketchy at first.

However, with the WWE Network now in place, fans will have an easier time of accessing NXT and being a part of the next generation of WWE Superstars. Hopefully with more fans watching the product, the WWE will be able to get a better sense than ever before of what characters are really resonating with fans and who is ready to be brought up to the main roster.

I wouldn’t expect to ever see NXT expanded – being taken on the road or given more TV time – since it is more for the WWE to see what works and what doesn’t in front of a live crowd before going to Raw or Smackdown than it is for the fans. But even considering that, with more people watching now because of WWE Network, NXT can only continue to grow and the future of WWE brighter because of it.


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An avid gamer and long-time pro wrestling fan, stay tuned to Grizzly Gaming and the Delco Elbow Drop for game reviews and pro wrestling news.

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