The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of Wrestling Inc. or its staff
For a company that is often criticized for failing to think about the long-term, WWE’s prospective plans to completely revamp NXT is a pretty proactive move. Clearly, Vince McMahon is unhappy with the current program taking place in Orlando and aims to rebuild NXT in a way that will create new superstars for the future.
The narrative on NXT is presented as pretty cut-and-dry. The narrative is that the brand failed at both of its goals; it failed to create the next generation of WWE mega-stars, and it failed to stunt AEW’s growth. With both of those failures apparent to McMahon, he is now going to reshape the program in his image, taking the car keys away from Triple H and putting his stamp on the developmental product.
The reality is much more complicated. Publicly, there seems to be a lot of confusion about what NXT actually was supposed to do. Was it really developmental? The television program featured mostly heavily-experienced wrestlers poached from the US independents, NJPW or Impact. Occasionally a talent that was trained from scratch at the WWE Performance Center would make it to television, but by and large the NXT television show was not designed as developmental.
NXT TV and the TakeOver specials instead served as an alternative to outside-WWE wrestling. If fans were interested in seeking a product that was different than WWE’s main roster, they could find it in NXT, which adopted the style and talent of other companies such as Ring of Honor or NJPW. This style made NXT reasonably popular, they were a successful touring brand, drew some very large houses for TakeOver events, and while maybe the success of the TV show on USA Network was not what WWE wanted, it has held its own as a viable cable show on Tuesday nights.
If NXT’s job was to introduce fans to the next generation of WWE stars, it can be seen as a success. NXT got talent over, and there was plenty of talent that came up from NXT to the main roster with much fanfare and were immediately over with the audience. Kevin Owens, Becky Lynch, Sami Zayn, Keith Lee, Charlotte, Shinsuke Nakamura, Sasha Banks, Bayley, Aleister Black, Ricochet, Samoa Joe, Asuka, Drew McIntyre and many more came up to the main roster and immediately were getting good reactions from the audience.
Most of that talent was not trained by the WWE Performance Center, but does that really matter? WWE would ideally like to be training all of their top talent, but in reality all that should matter is that they are over with the audience. The Attitude Era was almost entirely built on wrestlers who came from somewhere else, after all.
So why does McMahon see NXT as a failure, when he was getting all of that talent that was instantly over? Because WWE’s creative on the main roster failed so many of those names. Either by booking them to look like losers, changing what made them popular in the first place, giving them dumb nicknames or gimmicks, or just never investing in them at all, WWE failed to elevate talent that entered the main roster with momentum and a track record of getting over on the smaller-scale NXT show.
Time and time again a wrestler would get called up, get a good reaction from the audience, and Vince would bottle the chance to take them to the next level. Vince doesn’t feel like he has that new generation of superstars because of issues with his own creative. Instead of blaming Triple H or the current NXT system for failing to create new stars, WWE and Vince need to look at the process on the main roster and see what has gone wrong on that end.
There is this belief that NXT failed because it didn’t push talent that would appeal to Vince McMahon. This is shorthand for talent that may lack size or a herculean physique, since everyone assumes that is what Vince craves in top talent. With talent like Adam Cole and Johnny Gargano, that is probably true, Vince doesn’t see star potential in them and that is why they have been in NXT for a long time.
On the other hand, you can find examples of talent that Vince would presumably like, and yet he has still managed to botch it. Donovan Dijak is a good example; he is very tall, athletic and has a great body. Vince immediately called him up, changed his name to T-Bar, and gave him an awful gimmick that has him buried to death on the main roster. Was that a case of NXT not supplying talent that Vince would like, or was it an example of Vince not being a very good creative mind?
Karrion Kross is another example of a guy that would presumably check all the boxes for Vince, and is off to a horrible start on the main roster thanks to bad 50/50 booking and now an outrageously bad costume.
So imagine that NXT gets completely overhauled, the indie/NJPW/Impact talent is mostly phased out and in its place are all the PC recruits who never make NXT television. A bunch of ex-college athletes and bodybuilders are given time on NXT TV and main event TakeOvers. Will that really create the next generation of WWE megastars? Not if those talent are still going through the broken creative system that has hindered the main roster. I don’t think Vince is going to clean up his booking because the talent is six inches taller than they were a few years ago.
The entire idea of reshaping NXT comes from Vince’s failure to accept his own mistakes and faults in the creative process. If viewership is declining and interest in the main roster is waning, it is because of Vince. Placing the blame on NXT and WWE’s talent developmental system is just passing the buck on the real issue, which is that the talent that comes up to the main roster is almost always killed by Vince’s creative. They might die quickly like Dijak, or they might die slowly like Owens, going from a real hot commodity to a fungible mid-carder, but they won’t reach their potential on the main roster.
NXT getting revamped will make a minimal difference on WWE’s long-term future. The faces and shapes of the talent may change, but the problems will remain the same. In this current age, it doesn’t matter what kind of talent is stepping onto the main roster because Vince has shown that his butchery knows no bounds.
In the latest edition of the Gentlemen’s Wrestling Podcast, Jesse Collings (@JesseCollings) and Jason Ounpraseuth (@JasonOun95) are joined by Brandon Thurston (@BrandonThurston) of Wrestlenomics to discuss WWE President Nick Khan, his role in the company after replacing Michelle Wilson and George Barrios, the developing media landscape for WWE, a succession plan for Vince McMahon, competition with AEW and tons more related to the business-side of Wrestling.