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Why the NXT Invasion of Raw and Smackdown Could Be a Pivotal Moment in WWE – by Mike Sanchez

History has told us to expect the unexpected. Whilst some people diligently plan for every eventuality or possibility, for every given scenario in the professional or personal lives, others will leave their future up to fate as the song says; ‘que sera, sera, whatever will be will be’. Some subscribe to the old adage of the Six P’s; Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance, whilst others live by the mantra of ‘try your best, there’s nothing more you can do than your best’. Whatever point of view you take or advice you adhere to, one thing is for certain; the future is unpredictable and unknown. Things happen that will be out of your control. True wisdom lies in knowing you cannot change the future, but knowing that you can adapt to the challenges that await you.

It was such a challenge that faced WWE immediately after the Crown Jewel event. As was widely reported at the time, a hefty proportion of WWE talent were effectively left stranded in Saudi Arabia, unable to board their flight back to the United States. For whatever the reason for this (and I’ve read many opinions and various reasons online) the fact remained that WWE were in quite the pickle. They had some of their roster en route to Friday Night Smackdown, but many were simply not going to make the show, no matter what flight they caught. A dilemma for WWE, especially considering the FOX deal on Friday nights is still in its infancy.

Step forward the COO of WWE, Triple H. In fairness to him and WWE, the options to them were limited; run Smackdown with a thin line-up that ignored the draft rules of the previous weeks by having some Raw talent on the show, or call in the cavalry from the yellow brand, NXT, to save the day. The calls were made and Triple H brought his army. The timing couldn’t have been better as we have Survivor Series on the horizon and with NXT now brought in to face Raw and Smackdown superstars, it gave the company an ideal opportunity to showcase some of their talent and introduce some ‘new’ names to a wider audience.

Smackdown was then advertised as ‘must-see’ for all fans as the NXT roster were going to make their presence known. Would it be for one night only and WWE would return to their regularly scheduled programming on Monday? Who knew? As it turns out, the reception for the NXT stars and the excellent show they all put on, meant they were creating a buzz and being noticed. So when all the talent arrived back from Saudi Arabia and were all raring to go, NXT stayed and made themselves at home.

I think this could be a pivotal moment in WWE and I’ll explain why. Some years ago, WWE tried the three factions idea when they had WWE go up against ECW and WCW – more commonly known as the WCW/ECW Invasion. The latter two would align with one another to create a simple story of two warring companies – with WWE eventually winning, of course. The premise was simple and it also allowed for something that hadn’t been done before. Yes, all the talent were technically WWE stars and on their payroll, but the situation was new. The locker room was divided, the crowd allegiance was split between companies, each fan having their own personal favorite wrestler and faction.

Today WWE can give each brand a stable base from which to operate and build. Each have their own show. Each have their own roster and each have enough pedigree and history to be more than a flash in the pan or in danger of being absorbed by the almighty WWE machine and fade into insignificance. Ask yourself, would this have worked if the 205 Live roster had ‘invaded’ Raw and Smackdown? The addition of NXT to the mix also allows WWE to play with the rules somewhat. The draft was rightly criticized by many fans for not being rigid enough and allowing WWE to break their own rules (Brock Lesner to Raw, anyone?), but NXT don’t adhere to the draft and do their own thing, similarly the rules of the draft only restrict Raw and Smackdown talent from crossing over to each other’s shows, however they can drop in on NXT whenever they want and it’ll still make sense.

Many wrestling fans, myself included, have expressed their concerns for the NXT talent in recent months. Their continued success in the company and the excellent shows they put on could have meant that they became entrenched in the brand and rather than move on to the larger audiences and arenas on Monday and Friday nights, they would find themselves held back in Florida in a company that they love, but perhaps restricting the next stage of their development. Victims of their own success, if you will. The recent interactions on the main roster could have put that argument to bed. WWE may rely on NXT to continue to provide an alternative to Raw and Smackdown, but I think the winds of change have already taken effect. The addition of NXT talent to the mix also offers up many fresh feuds and stories. It allows a true cross-brand opportunity that can deliver on so many levels and gives the men and women more opportunities to show the world what they can do.

Triple H will not be satisfied with HIS team playing second fiddle to the main roster and being used to fill in gaps when appropriate. This showing on national networks will only serve to boost NXT – they’re in a win-win situation. Though WWE have shaken things up with the main brands, the injection of NXT throws a curveball into the mix. They’re coming across as renegades, upstarts and an unsavory band that have been ignored for too long but now want to show the world what they’re capable of. Names like Keith Lee, Matt Riddle, Rhea Ripley, Tomasso Ciampa and Adam Cole are trending on Twitter twice a week, and getting hundreds of thousands of views for online videos and clips. They’re becoming more and more recognizable to a wider WWE audience. They’re doing exactly what Triple H wants them to do; be impossible to ignore. When my young son (who has never seen NXT) watched Smackdown and Raw with me this week, he leapt from the sofa and shouted “Adam Cole Bay Bay!” it made me think that WWE and NXT must be doing something right. Adam Cole merchandise now occupies several spots on a young boy’s Christmas list to Santa.

With the competition for WWE very real and it making inroads and producing a solid product on a regular basis, WWE may have needed to be creative going forward and not rest on their laurels. They may have needed something unexpected and surprising to change the game. Perhaps the unfortunate delay of the talent on a Thursday night in Saudi Arabia could be the catalyst for something so huge and unexpected, it could change the face and future of the WWE for a long time to come. I certainly hope so.