5 Things NXT’s New Era Needs If It Wants To Succeed
After a stuttering year, NXT is on the verge of a revival. Here's how it should accomplish just that.
It has been debated amongst fans that the NXT brand has become stale since its
locker room was raided last year. The breakout stars of the boom period left behind a massive gap that WWE has struggled to fill with the few drawing names they had left remaining. Slowly but surely, the hype surrounding weekly NXT content has dwindled and Takeover events have seemed to lose momentum.
However, at NXT Takeover: Orlando, a new era was set in motion. A new breed of rising stars and a fresh design for the range of championships provided ailing fans with a rejuvenation and a confidence that the brand as a whole is on the rise again. But how exactly could NXT ensure that the “new era” isn’t just a slogan? The tried and tested routine and structure of NXT events could certainly use a revision, with perhaps more emphasis placed on the mid-card scene as opposed to selling just the main event(s). A new batch of future champions need to be established, as opposed to relying on only the established indie names, through a new means of building a “revolution” for mainstream Professional Wrestling.
1. Introduce a new Championship
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Many have pointed to the plethora of championships as a downside to the Attitude Era, with brands struggling to maintain the prestige of numerous title belts that had little to no significance in the grand scheme. However, I believe a brand can suffer from not having enough of a sense of achievement – NXT in particular has operated solely with three championships (NXT Championship, Women’s Championship and the Tag Team Championship). Very few are qualified to enter into the NXT Championship picture, especially since the zeitgeist of pre-NXT established stars hogging the championship feuds, which has ultimately been the reason for much of NXT‘s success. It leaves a wide variety of talent left aimless in the mid-card, competing in feuds which result in very little aside from the increase in screen-time.
NXT should introduce a mid-card championship, similar to the WCW Television Championship (perhaps dubbed the NXT Network Championship). This could elevate certain wrestlers on the brink of being super-over, or allow them to display talent they haven’t the chance to on their episodic appearances. I can only imagine the likes of Roderick Strong, Andrade Almas and Hideo Itami slowly breaking out of the eternal mid-carder role and into the main event scene after a successful reign with the mid-card championship. This would be a return to the traditional concept of the mid-card title being a stepping stone for workhorses.
Unlike on the main roster, where the Intercontinental and US titles struggle to remain relevant and boost the stock of the current champion, NXT could really benefit from having a stand-out superstar amongst a sea of equally talented names. Also, upon call-up, they could have some form of accomplishment to be identified by, unlike former alumni Tyler Breeze and Apollo Crews who debuted on Raw with very little credit to their name and have since fallen into the role of enhancement talent.
I can only imagine the incredible matches that a mid-card title could instigate.
2. More homegrown talent
I personally feel that NXT has dug itself a pretty big hole since acquiring so many huge names from the indie scene. The likes of Finn Balor, Kevin Owens, Shinsuke Nakamura and Samoa Joe have set the standard for the rest of the NXT roster to abide by in terms of star power and match quality. Where this would usually bring out the best in certain talents, it could also hinder their progression and leave the audiences feeling like there’s very little to be invested in outside of the main-event scene. Granted, this has always been an issue with the revived version of NXT that we know and love today, with the likes of Seth Rollins and Adrian Neville maintaining somewhat of an iron-clad grip over the main event scene during their respective tenures. However, there were still a few cases of homegrown talent that managed to become beloved despite their lack of recognition before NXT.
Seeing a home-grown talent thrive and succeed is part of the beauty of being a fan of sport and entertainment. You have a sense of attachment to the individual and pride when they manage to break through and defy expectations. I believe this connection to the current NXT roster is sorely lacking, with very few performance centre graduates managing to get enough screen-time to truly get over. Arguably the only real choices the fans have to support in that regard would be the likes of Ember Moon and The Authors of Pain, who are all peaking in terms of their potential in NXT following their performances at NXT Takeover: Orlando. However, compared to the amount of pre-established talent, they are dense.
Names such as Baron Corbin, Big E and The Four Horsewomen were all home-grown talents and are the foundations for what is being considered a new generation of WWE Superstars. By increasing the workload of cherry-picked trainees at the Performance Centre and thrusting them into the deep end of the NXT roster, WWE could even polish them into future breakout stars.
3. Utilise external talent
May this be a little juxtaposing following that last point? Probably. However, I think back to the first Takeover: Brooklyn and I remember just how excited everyone was for the appearance of indie legend Jushin Thunder Liger. His opening match with Tyler Breeze was truly fantastic to watch as both a fan of NXT and a fan of independent wrestling promotions such as PWG. Even though Breeze lost to Liger, he was given a rub just by being the one chosen to take him to the limit. Tyler was poised as one of the ambassadors for the NXT brand, representing them whilst combating against an outsider. Could this be repeated with other huge names from the indie scene? Or even members of NXT‘s past to help build a new act’s credibility?
NXT has occasionally shoe-horned alumni into tournaments and random episodes of TV, such as The Ascension making a comeback appearance during the inaugural Dusty Rhodes Tag Classic. They never seem to enhance anyone’s presence after they put them over. Perhaps that speaks more to the status of those that are brought in at the moment, but nevertheless, if used correctly then it could work wonders.
Even when ECW legend Rhyno was brought back to enter a feud or two in 2015, it helped bring a few more fans around to the idea of home-grown talent and upcoming stars. What with WWE’s legend contracts and open-door relationship with former superstars, there’s a catalogue worth of names that could be brought in for one-match programmes. Even though NXT has a habit of signing any indie talent they can nab from the more casual schedules, certain stars have slipped their grasp – Kota Ibushi and Zack Sabre Jr being just a couple of examples. Bringing them in could not only increase the hype of a Takeover event but also hugely put over someone who desperately needs a win or two.
Even though most eventually find themselves signing contracts with WWE (and thus NXT), using widely recognised indie stars like The Young Bucks, Kenny Omega and Pentagon Jr. could not only satisfy fan’s need to see them compete in the big leagues but also allow them to maintain the lifestyle of competing in New Japan and other such wrestling promotions.
NXT isn’t afraid to cross boundaries. Whilst operating under the PG-13 rating still, NXT appeals to the more mature wrestling fan by including less gimmicky characters and more genuine emotion. Most of the audience who have been driven away by content aimed specifically at the younger demographic over the years have found solace in NXT, and use it as an outlet for less acceptable chants and support for their favourite stars. Even though NXT is still marketed as part of the WWE package, to all audiences, there’s certainly a calling for the less-PG aspects of wrestling past.
Now I’m not suggesting that they suddenly bring in barbed-wire and blade jobs in every other match. But the occasional throwback to the hardcore style of wrestling would certainly add drama to the blow-off matches and even help create a niche for acts such as SAnitY, who could be framed as wanting to create anarchy in all of their matches through the use of flaming tables and other creative means of inflicting pain.
Thinking back to the main event of Takeover: Dallas, which saw Finn Balor and Samoa Joe spilling blood in an intense title match, the added hardcore aesthetic made it a match to stand out over the Wrestlemania weekend. Albeit an unplanned part of the match, it should act as a lesson for NXT writers, to be less frugal with the TV/MA pushing drama.
5. Drop the deadwood
When it comes to managing the NXT roster in the new era, there comes a time when one must consider who exactly is going to be worth keeping around for it. Judging by the variety of names you’d find competing on NXT TV in the recent slump period, naturally there’s not enough to keep the audiences invested. And considering the stubbornness of the fanbase, there’s probably not a great deal they’d be able to improve. Even though it can take a while, or in Tye Dillinger’s case – a very long while – until a wrestler can come into themselves and relate to the audiences, there are some that can appear hopeless during their struggles to find a niche. Wasting TV time and efforts backstage on talent that aren’t likely to make it to main events would only alienate the locker room and the fanbase, thus there’s certainly time for some spring cleaning.
NXT attempted to rebuild their Women’s division following the departure of Bayley and the rest of the Four Horsewomen with the likes of Liv Morgan, Aliyah and the “breakout stars” Peyton Royce and Billie Kay. I haven’t met a single person who truly praised any of their in-ring work, nor their ability to generate a credible feud on NXT TV. It didn’t add anything to the Women’s title picture, aside from a couple of defenses by Asuka which were fairly decisive in her favour. I wouldn’t consider any of the aforementioned to be talent worthy of remaining contracted to the NXT brand. Perhaps I’m being a little harsh on Kay and Royce but I just don’t see it.
Likewise with the males, there’s a range of on screen talent that sometimes show up to work as enhancement. Angelo Dawkins, Wesley Blake and The Ealy Twins are all names which seem to be loitering about with no real reason aside from making another guy look strong. I won’t deny that enhancement workers are necessary to any brand of wrestling, but none of the above really add much to any individual and seem to just be dead weight at this point.
Trimming the fat would certainly free up space on the live events for exposure of newer talent and to give others the chance to perform in front of a live audience, priming them for a spot on the TV roster.