The NXT Evolution Is Upon Us.
It is an inevitable trend that has sunk its hooks into popular culture for decades now in a variety of ways.
With few exceptions the pattern followed is assuredly the same every single time.
A certain television series or musical act will kick off and amass a small but loyal to the end fanbase.
Word of mouth will spread about how great it is and how everyone not watching needs to make it a point to do so; failure to carries the risk of being labeled out of touch and blinded by the mainstream beyond hope.
Gradually over time the buzz for the show or band gradually grows as more people become aware of its existence. Upon discovery that they too love what they see/hear, the new converts quickly spring into action to help spread the word.
Before you know it, the rocket has taken off and now everyone and their grandmother are hooked. Interest hits a peak never previously imagined and popularity seemingly knows no limits.
But then a funny thing begins to happen along the way of progression. The initial loyal fans begin to feel crowded by the attention they themselves helped bring to the product. Their annoyance turns into resentment and in the blink of an eye they begin to tear down the very thing they wanted to see grow into a phenomenon.
As WWE’s NXT brand entered 2017, it has predictably become the focus of the pattern described above.
When Triple H first took the reigns of developmental from John Laurinaitis, NXT was three dirty letters fans wanted no association with. It was that failed game show that saw the likes of Lucky Cannon, Eli Cottonwood, Michael Tarver among others fumble their way around speaking and obstacle courses.
Then in 2012, FCW was shut down and NXT was rebranded with the intention to bring the process of creating new viable talent for the main roster to previous levels attained by Ohio Valley Championship Wrestling which gave the company Randy Orton, Brock Lesnar, Batista, Shelton Benjamin, and some guy named John Cena all within a two year span.
The early shows at Full Sail University were something of a hit and miss but you couldn’t help but notice the grand plan Hunter had mapped out in his mind. Talents such as Big E, Neville, Bo Dallas, The Ascension, The Wyatt Family all grew into popular acts and the brand started to accrue a small but loyal following.
NXT was WWE’s best kept underground secret only available to view by those who lived in Florida or found scattered videos of the show on the internet. A deal to supply Hulu with content saw NXT brought onto its service but only a small number of people knew about that.
Then came along the WWE Network in February 2014. In a surprising move, the very first event to be streamed live would be an NXT special extended to two hours titled “Arrival”. The brand hasn’t looked back since.
With a new platform and a rapidly growing number of rabid followers, NXT began to really hit its stride.
Over time Triple H changed the landscape of how talent would be recruited. Sure there were diamond in the rough NFL prospects like Baron Corbin and Mojo Rawley recruited to be molded from the start but suddenly international and independent names of all shapes, sizes, and weight found their way through the doors of FSU.
Major name after major name were touted as being signed and presented in a new chapter of their storied careers; Finn Balor, Hideo Itami, Samoa Joe, Sami Zayn, Neville Apollo Crews, Kevin Owens, Austin Aries, Eric Young, Bobby Roode, Andrade Almas, and Shinsuke Nakamura are just some of the talent recruited and brought aboard to make NXT a juggernaut.
The perception of women’s wrestling went from three minute train wrecks many tuned out of their minds to highly anticipated marquee matches courtesy of Paige, Emma, Charlotte, Natalya, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, Asuka, Nia Jax, and Bayley.
Takeover specials, now a staple, and live events went from regional shows to a sustained touring brand in and out of the United States.
All of this created a perfect storm that led to the current inevitable backlash.
As NXT has grown, many of the same fans who wanted everyone to tune in and support it lay on the criticism heavily about how it’s too mainstream and has lost its edge.
Now many pundits and fans alike have begun to lament the “good old” days of NXT and how the quality and roster just aren’t there anymore.
All of a sudden shows are stale, skippable affairs while each subsequent Takeover has been over-analyzed and projected to be the weakest one yet (only to pass with flying colors and leave naysayers full of crow)
They cite many call ups to Raw and Smackdown as well as the promotion of its lead writer Ryan Ward to the blue brand as signs NXT peaked and can only go down from here.
Those people would be wrong. Wrong and frustratingly impatient.
Perhaps it’s part of the culture we live in today but short term memories are abundant especially pertaining to wrestling and its cycles.
Once upon a time Paul Heyman had a promoter’s dream mix of talent in Extreme Championship Wrestling. Hardcore warriors, technical masters, Luchadores who literally took high flying to new heights. You name it, you found them in ECW. So when WCW and WWF came calling and many wound up jumping ship, many predicted Heyman would simply burn out like a super nova and never equal what he had.
Yet once he lost Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, Public Enemy, Psicosis, Rey Mysterio Jr, Sabu he simply kept his finger on the pulse of where the talent was and brought in Rob Van Dam, Mike Awesome, Masato Tanaka, Super Crazy, Yoshiro Tajiri while building his home grown acts like Tommy Dreamer, The Sandman, Shane Douglas, The Dudley Boys to new levels . He rolled with the punches and never put his head down.
Yes NXT lost Enzo Amore & Colin Cassady, Carmella, Apollo Crews, Mojo Rawley, Neville, Zayn, Owens, Charlotte, Banks, Lynch, Bayley, Alexa Bliss, The Vaudevillians, and others to the main roster.
And yes many people have hit the panic button and put their impatience on full display.
The present day Women’s Division of NXT is a very solid mix of capable veterans and newcomers with raw potential.
Fans seemed to have forgotten that when they debuted, the likes of Banks and Charlotte weren’t instantly taken to and went through several persona changes before finding their groove. Becky Lynch was portrayed as every Irish stereotype you could think of before her steam punk personality was allowed to shine brightly.
So rather than be down on Liv Morgan, Billie Kay, Peyton Royce, Aliyah, Daria Berenato, and Mandy Rose, why not exhibit patience and offer credit where it is due?
Morgan, Aliyah, Daria, and Rose have each showed consistent improvement and confidence with each match they compete in. Not all of them will rise to the level of a Boss or a Hugger but there is no denying that their respective upsides are there and are positive.
With Asuka and Ember Moon along with Nikki Cross as the veteran anchors, who can’t be excited by the prospects of newly signed Hedi Lovelace, Kimber Lee, Evie, Andrea, and Nixon Newell mixing it up with them in the near future?
A Women’s Tournament is eyed for the Summer and the potential names brought in are pretty big. There is a tidal wave of awesome talent out there in ROH, SHINE, SHIMMER, Stardom, etc. We could see names like Tessa Blanchard, Deonna Purrazzo, Santana Garrett, Madison Eagles and others brought to the forefront.
It’s safe to say Triple H and lead scout William Regal have all their bases covered here folks.
It doesn’t stop there. The NXT Championship scene will see many exciting new faces enter the landscape if fans are patient enough to see it through.
The returning Kassius Ohno, coming off a career 2016, is a massive addition and bolsters the already in place talent like Roderick Strong, Andrade Almas (just now hitting his stride as a cocky prick heel), Roode, and Nakamura. A fully healthy Itami is an awesome Itami so his return will be a most welcome one.
Another wildcard is Aliester Black who just recently only showed a small sample of what he could do against Neville during WWE’s UK Championship Tournament weekend.
Names such as No Way Jose and Elias Samson have also emerged as breakout stars. Each have taken personas that could have flopped and turned them into Full Sail favorites as a babyface and heatedly detested heel in a matter of months.
Eric Young’s knowledge and abilities have been attached to Alexander Wolfe and Killian Dain in SAniTy and all three are viable future NXT Championship and Tag Team Championship contenders.
Under the radar are the Performance Center talents and already repackaged stars that could and most likely will see battle very soon on their path to the top.
Patrick Clark, Dan Matha, Steve Cutler, Kona Reeves, and Adrian Jaoude are all prospects to keep an eye on. Once they find their niches, they will ensure NXT’s future remains bright and prosperous.
Lest I forget to mention the tag team division and how 2017 should see many talented duos emerge as the year goes on.
Heavy Machinery, Tino Sabbatelli &Riddick Moss, Montz Ford &Angelo Dawkins are just three teams plying their trade on small Florida circuit shows and getting positive reviews from fans who attend. No doubt Triple H and his team have taken notice and I expect all three tandems to mix it up with DIY, TM-61 when they return, The Authors of Pain, and The Revival before you know it.
That is a lot of talent I named but the one key ingredient that will keep NXT at its high quality is continuity.
As old faces move on and new faces appear on the scene, that element has never left the brand.
Championships are presented as valuable commodities that bring much reward and accomplishment.
Rivalries are simmered and seasoned before being blown off in stipulation matches.
Each show build upon what the previous one laid the foundation for and everything that happens never insults the viewer’s intelligence or happens without a reason. Even if that reason isn’t clear a first, patient viewers are rewarded when it all comes together to make sense.
As long as that remains in play, NXT will always thrive.
So remove your pessimistic cap and buckle in. NXT Takeover: San Antonio will be the first of many new chapters to be written this year. If you would just exhibit that patience I’ve repeatedly mentioned, you will thank me for it.
I know I won’t be missing a single show and will remain excited to see what is NXT on the horizon.