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The upcoming WWE Draft, which will be the official start of the new Brand Extension has everyone, from fans to wrestlers to executives wondering about how it will affect the company. Much of the details about the actual draft are still up-in-the-air and fans are still unaware of just what to expect from the company going forward.
One of the certainties however, is that more stars are going to be relied upon because each show will have effectively 50 percent less of the star power that they normally would have. To make both SmackDown and RAW consistently entertaining, WWE is going to have to get contributions from more than the handful of talent that they rely upon right now. WWE has stressed that need in a couple ways so far; the first being that they have reportedly reached out to former talent who have departed the company, guys like MVP, Carlito, Jimmy Wang Yang and others, to come back and work on either SmackDown or RAW. The second is that WWE recently has gone out of their way to promote a lot of talent on television. I don't think it is a coincidence that we have seen Kane, Big Show, The Social Outcasts, Mark Henry, Zack Ryder and others recently featured on RAW. I don't think it is likely that any of those guys will have big contributions down the line, but it is telling that WWE is preparing in advance about potentially needing those guys in the future.
The most obvious solution would be to bring up talent from NXT, after all the whole point of a developmental program is to eventually get wrestlers ready for the main roster. Indeed, call-ups from NXT have gradually reshaped the WWE roster. At the last PPV, Money in the Bank, 20 of the talents used on the show had spent time in NXT. Clearly the NXT experiment has been a big success for WWE and the future of the company's ability to develop start begins there.
The conundrum is that NXT has become such a popular entity within WWE, it is now a vital aspect of the company. WWE relies on NXT as a third touring roster to garner additional revenue, and NXT-only events, like the TakeOver shows in London, Dallas and Brooklyn, have proven to be very profitable excursions. WWE has specifically not called talent up to the main roster because they see them as too valuable to the NXT brand. In fact, most of the recent NXT call-ups (Apollo Crews, Dana Brooke, Baron Corbin) were brought up ironically because they were not particularly important to NXT.
It is not 100 percent certain that NXT wrestlers will be eligible for the draft, but is widely believed that at least the top names will be picked. It is not out of the realm of possibility that Finn Balor, Samoa Joe, Shinsuke Nakamura, Bayley, Asuka, American Alpha and The Revival are all picked up for either RAW or SmackDown during the draft. When you are contacting Jimmy Wang Yang to see if he can come back, you are pretty desperate for bodies so it wouldn't be surprising if WWE tried to get everything they could from NXT.
One of the many reasons NXT has become so successful is because people get called up. Talent comes into NXT, eventually reach the main event and move on to the main roster before they can even think about getting stale on top. It ensures that the brand is always moving forward, introducing new talent and creating fresh rivalries. Around this time last year, the brand was built around Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Neville, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch and Charlotte, and now all of those men and women are in WWE, effectively replaced in NXT by the aforementioned new wave of talent. The difference was that those talents were gradually brought up to WWE; zapping all the major talent from the brand at once is a much more dramatic move.
If those talents were to leave, they could in theory return to NXT while also being on the main roster, at least long enough to put over the talent that is set to replace them (Owens did exactly this when he came up last year). They will almost certainly have to do this because some of the talent rumored to being called up still hold titles. But who will be the new talent that replaces them? Austin Aries, Cien Almas, Tye Dillinger and a returning Hideo Itami seem like safe-bets to make leaps forward in NXT, and Bobby Roode is set to work full-time in NXT soon. Those guys will have to make bigger leaps up the card than the wrestlers before them, but it is possible. Underneath them are underutilized talent from EVOLVE (Tomaso Ciampa, Johnny Gargano, Chris Girard and Rich Swann) that are very capable of performing well in NXT.
The surest way for WWE to reload NXT is to continue to sign top talent from other promotions. However, that is becoming more difficult over time as the two top promotions they have raided, Ring of Honor and New Japan, have become more protective of their talent in 2016 and are paying up to retain them. WWE can outbid them if they really want to, but they haven't anted up yet to steal key talent that ROH and NJPW have been trying to retain, like The Young Bucks, Kenny Omega, reDRagon, and Ricochet.
The tag team and women's divisions are in more trouble. While WWE has a decent surplus of male singles wrestlers, the talent pool is much shallower for tag teams and women wrestlers. Banks, Lynch, Charlotte and others established the women's division in NXT as a division capable of having the best matches on any show, and the recent bouts between American Alpha and The Revival have done the same for the tag team division. There is a reputation to uphold there and WWE doesn't appear to have replacement talent at the ready. Gargano and Ciampa have worked together in the past and The Authors of Pain recently debuted and look like they are going to receive a big push. The onus will be on TM-61, formerly known as The Mighty Don't Kneel, an import from Pro Wrestling NOAH, to carry the division but it is going to lack depth unless WWE throws together a makeshift team of notable wrestlers.
If Bayley and Asuka go to the main roster, they are going to have to scramble to get more capable women involved. Bayley is arguably the most popular wrestler in NXT right now and Asuka has done really well since coming to WWE last year. Nia Jax will likely be the top woman in NXT, and while she has improved she really needs a good worker to have passable matches. I believe that WWE actually has a talented stock of women in NXT, women like Ember Moon, Peyton Royce, Billie Kay and Aliyah are all solid workers (although Aliyah needs more polish to warrant title contention) but the issue is that they have rarely appeared on NXT TV to the point that many of you probably have no idea who any of them are. The good news is that acquiring top level female talent, either from the indies, Japan or Mexico, will be much easier than acquiring top male talent.
While WWE relies on NXT as a separate entity, they really need to bite the bullet and call-up all of the talent that is ready right now for the main roster. Keeping talent in NXT to draw crowds on the road when they are ready for RAW or SmackDown and you desperately need to fill holes on the roster is the equivalent to a baseball team in need of a slugger keeping their top hitter in Triple-A because they need him for the Triple-A pennant run. The goal is always to bring the guys up to the main roster and keeping them held down when they are more than ready to make an impact is doing both them and the company a disservice. It might take a little while to rebuild NXT, but WWE really needs the brand extension to go really well, and one of the key aspects that will make or break it will be new names coming and making an impact, and wrestlers like Joe, Balor, Nakamura and Bayley have the best chance of doing that.