The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of WrestlingInc or its staff
On Monday, Triple H walked to the ring during an episode of Monday Night RAW as the crowd serenaded him in chants for NXT. When he got to the ring Triple H said that NXT on Saturday night was a great show, and that SummerSlam took things to a whole new level. While Triple H politically is going to say that SummerSlam was great, anyone who watched the two shows knows that he was lying, and that TakeOver was the far superior show.
Currently, hardcore fans have decisive opinions on WWE's product. There seems to be a lot of frustration with the main roster and the utilization of talent, while on the contrary the opinions on NXT are very positive. In my opinion, the typical NXT TakeOver show is superior to the average WWE PPV and I think a lot of hardcore fans would agree with me. That doesn't mean NXT is perfect and the main roster shows can't get anything right, but pound-for-pound, NXT is putting out a better product.
Despite being owned and operated by the same company, NXT has achieved a lot of critical success while the main roster has been frequently panned by critics. Why is that? The easy answer is that under the guidance of Triple H, who has a better understanding of what the modern fan wants, while the main roster is largely under the guidance of Vince McMahon and his administrative circle (which includes Triple H) who is behind the times and has "lost touch" with the fans.
There is definitely some validity to that claim; if a promoter is in charge for decades eventually they are going to lose touch. History is littered with great promoters who eventually struggled to adapt to the changing fanbase; Verne Gagne, Antonio Inoki, Dusty Rhodes, Bill Watts, Riki Choshu, etc. Over the years, Vince McMahon has adapted better than most, but history tells us that eventually the industry will pass him by.
However, there are several other reasons why I think NXT has been able to achieve critical acclaim while the main roster is so frequently critiqued. Some of these answers could easily be implemented on the main roster, but there are also advantages in NXT's situation that cannot really be replicated on the main roster. Here are my five biggest reasons for NXT's success, and how likely they could be translated to the next roster.
1. NXT gets the best talent
NXT TakeOver Brooklyn IV being a stellar show wasn't a surprise; given the talent involved in the matchups it was expected to be great. Over the last couple of years WWE has become very aggressive in signing the top talent outside of their company, and the result is the NXT cupboard is overflowing with talent. It wasn't shocking to see Adam Cole and Ricochet have a great match, because anyone who was familiar with their work outside of WWE knew they are both incredible talents. The card for TakeOver would have read as an all-star indie supershow two years ago; there is an insane surplus of talent on the brand.
Part of the reason for this is because WWE has become more open to signing different varieties of talent in recent years. Years ago, WWE would have never signed so many smaller performers, like Johnny Gargano, Ricochet, Tyler Bate, Kyle O'Reilly, etc. They also would have never signed as many Japanese names, especially joshi performers like Kairi Sane, and they wouldn't have invested in the women's division that much. NXT is doing so well because WWE has become more considerate of talents that don't meet their specific mold of a wrestler, which has greatly enhanced the diversity of the roster.
The main roster though, is not short on talent. The biggest difference between NXT and the main roster is NXT effectively used their talent while the main roster often struggles. In the future, with Triple H in charge this could change, as Triple H will likely be more aware of what made the NXT talent successful outside of WWE. However, there is a significant issue on the main roster that NXT does not have to deal with, which is examined in reason number two.
2. Nobody gets stale in NXT
Because NXT is set up under the guise of being "developmental" for the main roster, the system prevents talent from overstaying their welcome. Once a wrestler becomes a big enough star, they move up to the main roster and are replaced by a new name. This creates far more opportunities for talent to work in the marquee spots on the brand; there are no permanent spots blocking talent from working in the main event or contending for titles. It also makes the product feel fresher because the roster is constantly evolving.
The main roster simply doesn't have that advantage. Once you get called up there is no next step; so talent remains in the same position for decades. If Roman Reigns or John Cena were only promoted as being the top star for one year or two (like what happens in NXT) they probably wouldn't be nearly as reviled as they are by hardcore fans. Additionally, it prevents spots from being opened up for new talent; which is part of the reason some NXT talent has struggled once being called up to the main roster. The top babyface spot on the brand isn't opening up for someone to slide into every six months like it is in NXT; it is only being opened up once every decade. That is going to be hard to change on the main roster, no matter who is in charge.
3. NXT doesn't have to turn a profit
Its been mentioned in the past that NXT as an entity is an annual money loser for WWE. While this refers to the entire developmental organization (which includes around 100 talents WWE has signed that do not appear on NXT television and are still "in training") it's true that NXT as a whole does not actually make money. The reason for that though isn't because the product isn't popular enough, it is because WWE is so financially secure through their television contracts with RAW and SmackDown that they don't need NXT to turn a profit, they are comfortable taking the loss and see the enormous developmental project as an investment in the future.
If WWE somehow needed NXT to suddenly turn a profit, they could easily cut all of their Florida house shows, release a bunch of talent they are not using for the TV show, and sign a TV contract with a cable network and they'd be doing fine.
NXT doesn't have to do that though, and that allows WWE to be more experimental with NXT and avoid having to worry about anything they do having a negative effect on business. I don't think it's a coincidence that WWE started taking women's wrestling more seriously in NXT before they did on the main roster; NXT showed that fans would react positively to longer women's matches with more action, and that made the product better. Obviously on the main roster WWE can't afford to experiment as much because they are counting on that product to generate revenue, so this is something unique to NXT.
4. NXT has a more positive fanbase
One of the things that stands out with NXT, particularly at the big TakeOver shows is that the crowd is almost always hot and doesn't try to "hijack" the show in a way that they supposedly do on some of the main roster shows. Unlike the main roster, NXT has built up a lot of goodwill from the fans, and they believe that every show they attend is going to be good. The main roster, for whatever reason, has not inspired that same kind of faith, and fans will turn against a show, whether it is negative reactions, random chants, or just silence. That kind of reaction rarely happens in NXT, and that helps the shows stand out as a better product.
This is something that can be easily rectified on the main roster as long as WWE delivers a consistent product and avoids trying to resist the fanbase. Some people believe that the modern fan is just fickle and no matter what is done with the product, fans are going to be upset with it. That line of thinking is complete bulls--t; the fans "hijacking" the show is a unique problem for WWE, and doesn't really happen outside of their main roster shows. Watch any other brand of wrestling, whether it be NXT, NJPW, ROH, PROGRESS, CMLL or anything else, and the fans are almost always overwhelmingly positive about the product. The negativity among the fanbase has to do with the fact that the product WWE has presented has failed to instill faith that their product is going to be good. If they can get back on track, they should be able to capture the same positivity that NXT fans have for the product.
5. In NXT, less is more
A big reason NXT has been so successful is because they don't produce a ton of content. NXT is one hour each week, and the TakeOver shows are around 2:30 and take place every three months. That makes the product easy to follow and fans never have to invest massive amounts of their time in watching the show. I think it's safe to say that a majority of the WWE fanbase does not particularly care for RAW lasting three hours every week; and the same can be said for PPV shows running on average close to five hours. Fans get burned out and it's hard to be enthusiastic about a mid-card match taking place 4:30 into a show. Creatively NXT is able to get by much easier, because the creative team doesn't have to come up with a bunch of content to fill all those TV hours every week.
Unfortunately, this would be very difficult to implement on the main roster since WWE's revenue is so closely tied to their television contracts. WWE makes their revenue by delivering a lot of content each week to their network partners; and they are not cutting into their billion dollar deals so they can have a product that's easier to watch. WWE's business model is now built around filling five hours of television each week, and that means they have to really stretch out their content to take up all of that time. The NXT model is nice, but it's never going to turn the profits the current model is generating.
Must Watch Matches
Tomasso Ciampa vs Johnny Gargano: ****1/2 NXT TakeOver Brooklyn IV
Ricochet vs Adam Cole: ****3/4 NXT TakeOver Brooklyn IV
Kairi Sane vs Shayna Baszler: **** NXT TakeOver Brooklyn IV
Mustache Mountain vs Kyle O'Reilly and Adam Cole: ****3/4 NXT TakeOver Brooklyn