One of the biggest developmental successes of NXT, World Wrestling Entertainment’s much-lauded developmental territory and supplemental brand, has been NXT itself. What started as a slightly ramshackle promotional territory (with a name from a failed semi-reality format) has turned into a critically-acclaimed third brand for the world’s pre-eminent wrestling company.
If you didn’t read Marc Madison’s article here the other week, WWE: There Is No More Being ‘Called Up’ From NXT Anymore, I’d recommend it as an essential primer for the new era that NXT is now heading into. When the title of the Takeover event of June 8th this year – “The End” – was revealed in full – “The End… of the Beginning” – it signalled a reset of sorts. WrestleMania season a couple of months beforehand and the WWE Draft the month that followed relieved the NXT roster of many of its most regularly featured performers.
Over the past three weeks of regular programming since NXT’s return to Brooklyn, this new era has begun to take shape. A couple of new faces have been introduced, pecking orders have been rearranged and previous enhancement talent veterans have started to pick up some wins.
Naturally it will be a difficult process, as the show and the roster members start to shape their new identities in an environment without Balor or Bayley or Bliss, Alpha or Apollo or Amore, the people who helped to put the yellow brand on the map. There will be growing pains and, as viewers, we will have to be patient as the new projects grow and take shape. But we shouldn’t be above making some wishes for the future, in light of what these last few Wednesday nights have indicated to us.
So without further ado, here are four of my – sometimes slightly peculiar – main wishes for the new era of NXT.
Install Tye Dillinger as the top babyface
This should be fairly obvious from the reactions he’s been getting, but crowds are crying out to love Tye Dillinger, whether it’s as an underdog with delusions of grandeur or a comically arrogant rater of other people’s performances.
One of the first presumptions I’m making with this column is that Shinsuke Nakamura (and Samoa Joe for that matter) will be making his way to the main roster sooner rather than later; if it isn’t before WrestleMania 33 it surely shouldn’t be soon after. At that point, the next generation of babyface main eventers for the promotion needs to be ready to go.
So yes, Dillinger as a folk hero please. He’s been in the WWE system a while now, has the tools and is now showing signs of that connection with the audience that we’re constantly hearing is the defining challenge of “making it”. I even had him down as a dark horse for the WWE Draft; he’s in a similar situation to where Tyler Breeze was 18 months or so ago, when he was getting his teeth into something that worked for him.
Also, please let him rate more people’s performances. Opponents, tag partners, other wrestlers, interviewers, commentators, referees, cameramen, the production team after video packages…. This gimmick can take a lot more flogging before it dies.
Figure out what you’re trying to do with Steve Cutler
When Steve Cutler was given a little inset window promo before his match with Kenneth Crawford a couple of weeks ago, I thought “that’s promising, Steve Cutler’s getting a voice”.
Then when it turned out like a poetry reading from the Book of Reigns – apparently Cutler doesn’t care if you like him, doesn’t care if you love him and for damn sure doesn’t care if you hate him – I’d be lying if I denied my heart sank a bit. It was glib, cliché and the blandest slab of mild cheddar. But heck, it’s a start, I told myself.
Then the following week, in a backstage interview, Cutler trotted out the exact same mantra and my heart sank a lot.
The guy is a former marine and he looks like a young Ron Perlman. Surely it must be possible to find better depth for his character than this? In only a couple of TV appearances, Patrick Clark feels like he’s already achieved more definition and that’s almost entirely been done by spraypainting his face onto his tights. It doesn’t always take much.
After a couple of years in NXT now, perhaps this is sink or swim for Cutler. But surely somebody at the Performance Center must have some ideas that could give him a leg-up. His recent WWE.com interview, focusing heavily on his military service, is a logical hook on which domestic audiences would readily connect. Having him cut promos with the words “at the end of the day when it’s all said and done, you will respect Steve Cutler” will do very little.
Bring in indie talents to bolster the women’s division
NXT’s women’s division has been gutted over the last two months, losing almost all their featured TV performers to the main roster. If we’re being blunt, those remaining can be divided into approximately three categories:
2. Ember Moon
3. Everybody else
Of that third category, Billie Kay and Peyton Royce (still one of the worst new names I’ve ever seen WWE give somebody) are the two who have been on NXT the longest, but Kay has just been repackaged and Royce has scarcely been seen on programming all year. There’s potential beyond those obvious two – Nikki Glencross has pedigree, Liv Morgan is already fairly popular with the Full Sail crowd for example – but the current perception is of a talent chasm between them and the elite, more than was ever being portrayed when any of the horsewomen were around. This week Morgan was putting herself over as having a deathwish for asking for a match with Asuka, to which the crowd in attendance and the commentary desk agreed.
I’d like to see WWE bridge that gap by bringing in and talking up a couple of permanent signings. A lot of women from the independent circuit have made guest appearances on NXT in the past, many of whom work a solid style and could be seen as a legitimate second-tier threat. Santana Garrett is one example. My personal choice would be Evie, who has a great look and believably stiff offense (and who beautifully sold a beating for Nia Jax’s debut last October). I can’t believe, with the Performance Center at their disposal, WWE wouldn’t be able to get swift and substantial returns out of somebody like Evie while also nurturing their other developmental talents.
If the reports of WWE running a women’s tournament similar to their recent Cruiserweight Classic in 2017 are true, hopefully this might be an avenue to achieve exactly that. There are a lot of talented women out there.
Stop putting on amazing shows in large arenas
I realise I might have to show my working on this one.
It was recently announced that NXT’s next Takeover special would happen at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, the night before Survivor Series, in a similar arrangement to how WWE used the Barclays Center over Summerslam weekend. One of the problems with doing this is that it obligates NXT to book a card that will sell out a 16,000-seat arena.
NXT already looks to have made the high-profile shows around Summerslam and WrestleMania annual traditions. But the more of these there are, the fewer Takeovers there are in front of 400 forgiving regulars. That’s where you can take some risks. That’s where you can occupy your men’s champion with a tag tournament and put your women in the main event. That’s where you can elevate a talented, athletic guy from Newcastle, England into a worthy champion. That’s where you can let an underdog like Bayley try and fail unremarkably on the long burn to an eventual triumph.
With brighter lights and more tickets to sell, so comes greater temptation to hotshot feuds and keep hold of big draws, sometimes long after those talents should’ve been released to the main roster (looking at you, Finn). Yes, absolutely, it shouldn’t be easy to get yourself a place on a Takeover card, but when you raise the stakes of the show you’re trying to put on, you reduce your latitude for experimenting and taking chances on your card. NXT absolutely needs to be doing that.
Fine, go big in Brooklyn. Maybe put on something indie-ish in front of 5,000 people during WrestleMania weekend. Otherwise keep the live Takeovers at Full Sail and keep taking risks.
What’s on your wish list for the future of NXT?
I don’t expect everyone to agree with my particular wishes. There are doubtless other things people are hoping for from NXT. Another running of the Dusty Rhodes Classic, a Bobby Roode title reign, further in-ring rehabilitation of Hideo Itami on his route back to where he was before injury.
The truth, however, is that no matter what we might each individually be looking for in NXT’s future, the track record WWE has with its developmental territory over the past couple of years has shown one thing: We should trust them to deliver.