Is NXT Still the Third WWE Brand or Has it Become Something More? – by Mike Sanchez

I’m not the most avid WWE fan in that I know every superstar’s real names, their birthdays or eye color, but I feel that as a fan, I try to know enough about the largest wrestling company in the world. That being said, it’s unfortunate that I miss a lot of NXT due to watching five hours of main roster talent each week, plus reading the plethora of online reviews, opinions and criticism, not to mention the excellent reports from TJRWrestling’s own Kurt Zamora. NXT has never been a priority for me over the years, but with every passing NXT Takeover, every online clip of Velveteen Dream and every article gushing praise upon Tommaso Ciampa, it has become hard to ignore.

NXT came from the evolution or blossoming of what was FCW – Florida Championship Wrestling. The flowerbed where talented youngsters were grown into mature superstars and where the seeds of the future were sown. Luminaries such as Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins were born (at least as WWE superstars) in this humble federation. Fast forward to today, and with the injection of cash, the vision of Triple H and the hard graft of former wrestlers like head coach Matt Bloom, Robby Brookside, William Regal, and Serena Deeb as trainers, FCW has morphed from a humble WWE project to the hugely popular and ground-breaking NXT. Though this isn’t the first stop for green, aspiring wrestlers – who are still in the WWE Performance Center – it was initially seen as the proving ground for young, hungry talent, or the recently-signed professional who needed to work the ‘WWE Way’ before being elevated to the main roster.

As NXT took off, it was inevitable that their stars, their big fish in that small pond, would grow too large and needed to be moved on. This formula seems simple at first, but WWE sometimes overlooked the niche audience NXT had, and the general lack of awareness the ‘regular’ WWE fan had of the hottest NXT talent. Though someone may be super-over down in Florida with the smaller, hard-core NXT audience, many in an arena seating thousands may not have even heard of them. This could be problematic if pushes were on the horizon, but if a gimmick needed to be put over again, management could grow tired and switch direction quickly without giving them a real chance to capture the fans’ attention once again.

Then there was the issue with some talent being moved up needlessly, or to accommodate more new recruits. I’m not saying the wrestlers can’t wrestle, but some made the big jump to the main roster without much impact and that has to be down to lack of belief or interest behind them. A wrestler can only do so much, but if the writers and office aren’t fully behind them, it’s inevitable their young career could stutter. Two prime examples that spring to mind for me are Apollo Crews and Tyler Breeze. Both men are super-talented, but for whatever reason, their careers haven’t hit the heights on Raw or Smackdown Live. That really sucks, as I remember the pride Triple H had when he announced to the rest of the NXT talent that Breeze would be joining the main roster.

Speaking of Triple H, it’s been heart-warming to hear his recent comments about the popularity of NXT with the fans. An interview on ESPN recently showed him talking about how NXT has developed from being a developmental program into something much more. He likened the reception and support for NXT from some wrestling fans to the way many football fans are ‘all in’ for College Football rather than totally into the NFL and nothing more.

Another recent interview after the very successful NXT War Games also shows Triple H’s love for the product and he gushes over the talent on display. He regards the NXT Women’s Division as probably one of the most competitive in the world. He pushes Velveteen Dream, Johnny Gargano and others in his interview. Is it slightly scripted and in the style of a promo? Possibly, but the words he speaks are truthful and ring of a man talking about the potential and talent of his crop of superstars. He comes across immensely proud of how well the show and talent are doing. – Skip to 2:45 for the interview.

NXT has come on so much in such a short space of time, that there has been a shift in professional wrestling, in so much that NXT is no longer seen as the feeder for Raw and Smackdown, but as an entity in its own right. It doesn’t need to promote the top level talent to the so-called ‘big leagues’ anymore. Are NXT talent paid less than their Raw and Smackdown counterparts? Yes, and they also play to weekly crowds that are much smaller, but the NXT audience isn’t just confined to the seats in the modest arena. NXT fans are across the globe thanks to the WWE Network. The Barclays Center sells out for their shows. The Takeover events are regularly highlights of the wrestling calendar, filled with four or five star matches. The NXT audience is huge and they’re loving their show. Other interviews with Triple H have him discussing the possibility of main event talent already established on Raw or Smackdown taking on NXT guys and girls on an NXT PPV. What a spectacle some of that would be to see.

It just goes to show that from small seeds, mighty oaks can grow. NXT has blossomed into something quite spectacular and looks to be in no danger of wilting anytime soon. For me, it has become so good that every big PPV weekend, I prioritize watching the NXT Takeover above the regular WWE show. Long may it continue.