What a wild, wacky week of wrestling it’s been. Almost every taste has been catered for and the level of entertainment on offer had something for everyone. Whether you’re a die-hard WWE fan who sees NXT as a developmental show or a vocal AEW fan who is insistent on pushing the fledgling federation, one thing is for sure; this is a good period to be a wrestling fan. I held back on calling this a ‘Golden Age’, as I don’t think it is. True there is a lot on offer at the moment; WWE, NXT, AEW, NJPW, NWA, NXT UK, the list goes on, but to call it ‘Golden’ isn’t right. I’ll stick with good, if you please.
Anyway, I digress, I watched NXT Takeover/WarGames, Survivor Series and have NXT and Raw still to catch up on, but once the weekend was over, all I could think about was NXT. Had I been brainwashed or spoiled by the plethora of NXT talent on show in two consecutive days, or have I become accustomed to them on the bigger stage and under the brighter lights in front of a bigger audience, do I now see NXT no longer as the show in a small arena with excellent, but infrequent PPVs? Do I now see NXT as a solid mainstream show with a roster to match?
NXT may beat AEW in the TV ratings battle last week, but given the high profile they’ve been receiving of late, who can blame them? I’m not crapping on AEW at all. Regardless of the competition, it was always going to be difficult for a brand new wrestling show to grow and keep an audience that has other entertainment on offer. I hope their viewership and popularity grows, I really do, just right now, in this moment, they have come up against an NXT brand that has some fire in its belly and talent just itching for the spotlight their Raw and Smackdown co-stars currently occupy.
If we learned anything this past weekend, it’s that NXT is certainly no longer the ‘Third Brand’ in WWE and like a rabid dog straining at its leash, so are the NXT talent raring to step up to the next level and test themselves against the best the WWE has to offer. The dynamic has changed these past few months. NXT was seen as the ‘feeder’ for Raw and Smackdown. Talent down in Florida would hone their craft, rise up the ladder and when they’d achieved all they could down there, the next step was to climb on the bottom rung of a bigger, more established ladder on the red or blue brand.
Whether it was Seth Rollins, Becky Lynch, Paige, Kevin Owens, Bayley, Shinsuke Nakamura or Roman Reigns, the plan was always the same; work your way up in NXT and when a spot opens up or we need fresh blood, you may find yourself called up to the main roster. Of course, not everyone has had such storied success as those mentioned above. For every Seth Rollins there is an Apollo Crews, for every Roman Reigns there’s a Tyler Breeze. A step up from NXT is anything but a sure bet. However, that was then and this is now. NXT is no longer sending up their cream of the crop to forge a new path on Raw or Smackdown. NXT has grown into something so much more. A living, breathing entity that doesn’t look to be stopping anytime soon. NXT is bigger than the stars they create.
A worry among many WWE and NXT fans was that certain wrestlers on NXT would be too valuable to lose or their gimmick, look or style wouldn’t carry over well to Raw or Smackdown. Many feared how Johnny Gargano or Tomasso Ciampa would fare when in the ring with the massive Luke Gallows or the taller superstars like Drew McIntyre. Many worried that guys who were super talented like Adam Cole (Bay Bay) would look small compared to Roman Reigns or Brock Lesnar and the inevitable squash match would follow. The theme is that once the star left NXT, they would be alone in the wilderness and would have to change who they were and what they did to get over with the fans or to even survive at all.
That argument can be put to bed as NXT has shown it can not only hang with the big boys and girls, but dominate when given the chance. This past week showed that WWE no longer has two mainstream brands, but three. NXT is on an equal footing with Raw and Smackdown. Triple H and his team have created a monster and one that won’t go quietly. NXT is no longer the niche product for WWE fans who may want to watch something different. NXT is no longer a show that only WWE Network subscribers want to see. NXT came, saw and conquered this past weekend. Their Takeover show was incredible. Then they came into Survivor Series bloodied, bruised, tired and broken and still managed to dominate.
There are many questions left to answer: Has NXT bitten off more than they can chew? Was the whole product niche for good reason and was it the smaller production and sporadic PPVs their biggest draw? Was the fact that NXT wasn’t as over-saturated or in your face than Raw and Smackdown their biggest plus point? Has their impact on the main roster thrust them and their talent into fresh eyes that now want more? If so, how do they react now? Do they continue on their own schedule and leave Raw and Smackdown behind, perhaps face them again another day, or do they have to adapt and respond to the clamour and interest they’ve created? Do they now have to do more PPVs? Should they increase their roster? What if the WWE higher-ups now see NXT as what the people want? What then? Those are all questions that are hard to answer right now, but we’ll see how things play out in the future.
I think WWE is at a crossroads right now. NXT was successful because it wasn’t Raw or Smackdown. Their shows were in a smaller venue and the wrestling wasn’t promo-heavy with goofy storylines. NXT showcased stars based on their incredible talent, not on their incredible abs or boobs. NXT feels real. NXT feels genuine and authentic. The biggest draw for NXT was that it wasn’t mainstream. Perhaps, just perhaps, this past weekend has thrust them into a new light that they may not crave all that much. Who knows? I suppose only time will tell.