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Vince McMahon has always had the goal of conquering the wrestling world, and over the years he has largely succeeded. His company has consistently shown the ability to put rival organizations out of business. Today, while WWE may not be as openly aggressive when it comes to squashing their competition, the company is still extremely protective of its position within the industry. However, what has changed is that while in the past WWE used its massive star power, whether it be Hulk Hogan or Steve Austin, to crush its competition, in 2019 WWE is using its developmental program, NXT, to subvert the efforts of smaller organizations looking to grab a piece of the wrestling pie.
While today WWE lacks a true wrestling rival the size of WCW or the AWA, the smaller, independent promotions do occupy a portion of the wrestling market that WWE does not control. These promotions may have started small, but a promotion like Ring of Honor has consistently grown over the years to the point that it can sell out Madison Square Garden. ROH did sell out MSG, but they also had the help of New Japan Pro Wrestling, another competitor to WWE's claim of world domination. In just a few years NJPW went from being almost unknown in the US to selling out venues across the country.
WWE is obviously not interested in seeing these companies, or new companies such as All Elite Wrestling, continue to rise up and challenge their supremacy. The way McMahon has combated his challengers in the past is by luring their talent to his company. McMahon buried the AWA by taking its best talent (Hulk Hogan, Jesse Ventura, Bobby Heenan and more) and McMahon defeated WCW largely by using talent the company had cast-off (Steve Austin, Triple H, Mick Foley, The Undertaker, etc.). It's not surprising that over the years WWE has poached talent from NJPW (Shinsuke Nakamura, AJ Styles, Finn Balor, etc.) as well as ROH (too many to name).
It's no secret that WWE uses NXT as an outlet to reach independent wrestling fans who may not be interested in WWE's main roster product. NXT television features the best (former) independent wrestling talent in the world and the creation of NXT UK, the next step in WWE's globalization strategy, is a way for WWE to promote the best (former) indie talent in the UK under the WWE umbrella.
While WWE signs these wrestlers in part because they are from their competition, it also is because they are extremely talented. Over the last decade or so, WWE has really struggled to manufacture and train their own wrestling talent. Today, a majority of the names that make up the WWE main roster were trained and began their wrestling careers outside of WWE; and many of whom were significant stars for other promotions.
Don't believe me? Take a look at the Royal Rumble card, one of the biggest WWE shows of the year. Excluding the two rumble matches; 13 out of the 18 performers on the main card were trained and wrestled outside of WWE. Only Brock Lesnar, The Miz, Shane McMahon, Ronda Rousey and Rusev could be categorized as being WWE-bred talent, everyone else came from another company.
Which brings us back to NXT, which is publicly labeled as being a developmental brand for WWE. The goal for NXT is to train wrestlers to become WWE Superstars, and WWE frequently touts the number of coaches and specialists who handle their precious students. However, NXT's role in developing talent is interesting. While the stated goal of NXT is to train athletes to become wrestlers, the NXT fans know doesn't quite do that.
The public faces of NXT are not wrestlers that WWE trained and promoted, they are wrestlers that WWE has signed from other organizations who were trained outside of the official WWE Performance Center. The NXT TakeOver Phoenix card currently has four matches, booked, and out of the ten wrestlers slated to appear, only one of them (Bianca Belair) was actually trained by WWE. The rest were either stars on the independent scene, or for ROH and NJPW.
While WWE signing a key name from the independents such as Matt Riddle does make the news, what does not is the numerous athletes, bodybuilders and fitness models who WWE signs to their developmental program. Some of that talent, such as Belair, does eventually make it to NXT TV, but the hits are few and far between. Even rarer is a talent that WWE trains that actually shows real value to the company on the main roster. Roman Reigns, Braun Strowman and Charlotte are the biggest success stories on the main roster, but the talent WWE has poached from other promotions (Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, Styles, Nakamura, Asuka, Becky Lynch, Dean Ambrose, Balor, The Bar, The Revival, Andrade Cien Almas, Sasha Banks and more) have had a far bigger impact on the company.
I think it surprises some people when they find out that NXT does not actually make WWE any money. The brand does sell-out some large venues, but it's believed that the revenue generated from those gates ($5.9 million in 2017) does not cover the expenses associated with WWE's talent development. For every wrestler that appears on a TakeOver, there are two more who may never make it to NXT TV and WWE signs talent all the time that never makes it to NXT TV, let alone the main roster.
According to the performance center's official website, WWE has 77 wrestlers assigned to NXT, obviously many of whom will never make the main roster. The success of a few live shows throughout the year probably does not cover the expenses spent on training 77 wrestlers and promoting numerous spot shows throughout Florida, not to mention additional expenses spent on scouting and providing supplemental education courses for new wrestlers.
For WWE, spending money on the performance center is very logical, even if NXT isn't in the black, the idea is that it's a long-term investment in the future of the company. Eventually, the performance center will churn out enough big names that will draw so much money for the main roster, it justifies investing in the performance center to refine that kind of talent. Minor League baseball teams may not make a ton of money, but MLB teams readily invest in them because they produce the talent of tomorrow.
The difference is that while the minors is responsible for developing almost all of the major league talent; there are not a lot of major WWE names who have been developed through the performance center. If the performance center is not churning out big names for the main roster, what is the justification for investing in the performance center? Maybe it will all be worth it because some ex-college football player WWE just signed is going to be the next Steve Austin, but until the performance center begins producing more of WWE's talent, that question is worth asking.
Last Friday, WWE formally opened a new performance center, this time located in London. This is part of WWE's globalization plan and has been discussed during earnings calls by several WWE executives; the goal is to open performance centers in pockets around the globe and open NXT brands associated with the performance centers; with plans for an NXT Japan, NXT Mexico, NXT South America, NXT India, and more.
The British performance center is obviously going to be used to supplement NXT UK, which like it's American counterpart, is largely made up of talent trained by other promotions. By opening the performance center in the UK, WWE is looking to seize the means of production so that they will not have to rely on other people to train the stars of WWE's future; the idea is that a majority of the future NXT UK talent will be trained by the performance center.
The problem is that if the UK performance center is anything like the one in Orlando, it may not ending up producing the talent that can carry WWE into the future. I'm not sure what the problem could be; maybe it's WWE targeting big, muscular athletes, or women with perfect bodies, but for the last ten years or so, WWE has not been able to consistently train and develop wrestlers that end up becoming a big stars for the main roster.
The cookie-cutter WWE style, complete with vanilla scripted promos, may hurt talent development as well. Wrestling has always been about traveling and picking up different styles and tricks as you shift through different promotions. Maybe learning to wrestle in a warehouse and not in front of live audiences isn't the best way to develop talent; even if you have the best trainers and the best facilities. WWE's goal is to have a perfectly modeled system that develops talent from across the globe under the WWE system, but the results from the performance center are not particularly encouraging.
So far the performance center has only produced one real wrestler of major value to WWE in Braun Strowman. Strowman is certainly a big name for WWE, but the performance center has been around for six years now, and only one performer has emerged as a star of major significance to the company. You could argue Rousey as well, but she is kind of an outlier in the sense he was going to be a major star regardless because of her name value. If the US performance center isn't turning out a collection of top talent that impacts WWE's bottom line, I'm not sure how effective the various performance centers around the globe will be at producing impactful talent for WWE.
NXT UK TakeOver Blackpool Ratings
Mustache Mountain vs Zack Gibson and James Drake: ****
Jordan Devlin vs Finn Balor: ***
Toni Storm vs Rhea Ripley: ***1/2
Dave Mastiff vs Eddie Dennis: ***
Pete Dunne vs Joe Coffey: ***3/4
Must Watch Matches
Kento Miyahara vs KAI: **** - AJPW New Years Wars Night 2