Feb. 27, 2014
Just a few days after the launch of the WWE Network, the first event ever to be live streamed over the network would be a special episode of NXT, what WWE had renamed their developmental program earlier in the decade. While the first show, NXT Arrival, was modest by later standards, the birth of NXT on the WWE Network and the further evolution of the brand from developmental territory to a cornerstone of WWE’s programming would change wrestling for the rest of the decade and pave the way for WWE’s further monopolization of the wrestling industry.
NXT began back in 2010 on SyFy, replacing the failed reboot of ECW with a pseudo-reality show competition. The format was similar to Tough Enough, where talents would compete for a spot in WWE, with the major difference being that NXT featured more experienced wrestlers and matches and segments in front of a live audience. While the first season of the show would eventually spawn The Nexus, subsequent following seasons would prove less successful.
Later, the format of the show would change to include wrestlers from WWE’s developmental territory, Florida Championship Wrestling, as well as some main roster talent that wasn’t being featured regularly on TV. Eventually, NXT would end up becoming the public name for WWE’s developmental territory, ending Florida Championship Wrestling. While the show was canceled on SyFy, an idea came to use NXT as original programming for the WWE Network.
Thus NXT Arrival was born. The first card looked like this:
*Cesaro vs Sami Zayn
*Mojo Rawley vs CJ Parker
*The Ascension vs Too Cool for the NXT Tag Team Championships
*Paige vs Emma for the NXT Women’s Championship
*Tyler Breeze vs Xavier Woods
*Adrian Neville vs Bo Dallas
The card tells the story of the early days of NXT; it was used mainly as a way for WWE to give screen time to WWE-trained talent and get them ready for eventually appearing on the main roster. While names like Sami Zayn, Cesaro and Adrian Neville had some notoriety from the independent circuit, it was a far cry from the all-star roster that NXT would become, acquiring known talent from throughout the world and putting them inside a WWE ring. Outside of Woods, Paige and Zayn, none of the talent would make a major impact on the main roster (Cesaro was already on the main roster at the time of Arrival).
Over time, NXT would receive a lot of praise for its approach to wrestling. The quality of the matches were good and the storytelling was usually logical and made sense week-to-week. Away from the constant supervision of Vince McMahon and removed from a lot of the other issues that plagued WWE’s main roster programming, the brand emerged as arguably the best programming WWE produced.
NXT’s ultimate significance is that it served as the breeding ground for future ideas and developments that shaped WWE’s product and will likely continue to do so. NXT was where WWE first really pushed wrestlers from the US independents, as well as Japanese and Mexican imports, before elevating them to the main roster. It was where WWE first really started taking women’s wrestling seriously. Most importantly, by Triple H taking a hands-on approach to shaping the product in his own image, it created a model for what the future of WWE may look like once Vince McMahon is no longer running the company.
NXT also would be used as a weapon for WWE against rival wrestling organizations. Obviously, the placement of NXT against AEW Dynamite and creating the Wednesday Night Wars is the prime example, but WWE has been using NXT as a way to weaken its competition for years. As the popularity of the brand grew, WWE would use it as a staging area for its latest signings from around the world; going from a company that rarely signed outside talent to a company that tries to acquire as many as possible. In the process, NXT would stop being true “developmental” and instead be WWE’s own independent promotion.
During the last 20 years, independent wrestling and interest in promotions outside of the United States would gain significant followings. Looking to insert itself into that ecosystem, WWE would use NXT as a counter to promotions that offered something different from WWE. Since NXT was away from the many Vinceisms of WWE’s main roster programming, it could develop a style different from RAW or SmackDown, and feature wrestlers that would not be typically be seen on the main roster. If fans were seeking an alternative to WWE’s normal programming; WWE would give it to them through NXT.
From the fast-paced, high-spot-based wrestling style, to the more prominent use of serious female wrestlers, to the focus on smaller, athletic wrestlers, NXT’s identifiable wrestling style would be ripped straight from the independents. In order to do that, WWE needed talents from outside the WWE system.
At the latest NXT special event, NXT TakeOver: War Games, the brand featured 23 talents; 22 of which had come from the independents or other promotions. Only Bianca Belair could be considered a “WWE trained” wrestler. Absorbing that much talent, often the best talent in other promotions, would come at a cost for those other companies. Some, like Ring of Honor, would be particularly gutted, with nine of those wrestlers (Damian Priest, Tomasso Ciampa, Keith Lee, Dominik Dijakovic, Kevin Owens, Adam Cole, Bobby Fish, Kyle O’Reilly and Roderick Strong) having first made their names in ROH.
So NXT would both help progress wrestling in the 2010s, but also in some ways harm the future of pro wrestling outside of WWE. By promoting the style and wrestlers from outside WWE, NXT likely introduced new types of wrestling to fans who were unaware or unwilling to watch wrestling outside of the WWE sphere. Some of that, most notably the push of women wrestlers, would have a major impact on WWE’s main roster as well. At the same time, the company aggressively targeted rival wrestling promotions with NXT, to keep fans inside the WWE sphere and to hurt their rivals from intruding on WWE’s monopoly.
Lastly, NXT UK has to be mentioned as a potential game changer heading into the next decade. In the 2010s, the UK saw tremendous growth in independent wrestling, with many small local promotions gaining traction. To capitalize on that popularity, WWE aggressively recruited the top talent in the UK and Ireland to produce NXT UK, a product that while good, has certainly impacted the local scene in a negative way, forcing a good number of those smaller promotions to close down or reduce the number of shows they run.
WWE has mentioned that the company plans to eventually launch NXT brands in other countries, including Japan and Mexico. There is no doubt that similar to the UK, WWE will attempt to use its billion dollar umbrella to recruit top talent from those countries and attempt to muscle out the domestic promotions. While Japan and Mexico are home to larger promotions than the ones found in the UK, it is reasonable to believe that some of the smaller independent promotions will be at the mercy of the new NXT brand.
Needless to say, NXT has come a long way this decade from being a filler TV show on SyFy, to being the face of WWE’s global ambitions as well as hardcore WWE fans’ favorite promotion. Heading into the future, the possibilities for NXT seem endless; by 2030 there could be ten different NXT promotions scattered across the globe, employing hundreds of wrestlers. The style seen in NXT may replace WWE’s traditional, main roster approach to wrestling once Triple H takes over from Vince McMahon. When it comes to NXT, anything is on the table.
This article is the fourth in a series of articles discussing the most significant moments in wrestling over the past ten years. Make sure to check back on Thursday for the next installment in the series
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