I love NXT, you love NXT, we all love NXT – WWE’s developmental branch is a super fun little pocket promotion that regularly produces some of WWE’s most exciting and satisfying programming, but unfortunately when it comes to fulfilling its own mission statement, NXT is largely a failure. NXT is supposed to prepare the next generation of WWE Superstars for success on the main roster, but its track record in that regard is pretty spotty. For every Roman Reigns or Dean Ambrose brushing their fingertips against that brass ring, there’s a Bray Wyatt who hasn’t lived up to his true potential and many more talented names like Big E, Bo Dallas and Emma who quickly and dramatically flamed out under the WWE bright lights.
Maybe this is just the way it is. A lot of unfortunate souls need to be fed through the grinder to get that one, juicy WWE main eventer sausage (I picked my metaphor and I’m sticking to it) or maybe, just maybe, NXT could be doing better. So, here’s six things NXT could be doing to better prepare their stars for main roster success, but first, a couple of caveats…
Caveat #1: These changes won’t necessarily make NXT a more entertaining TV show, in fact I’m pretty certain they won’t. This is about making NXT more successful in its stated objective, not more entertaining.
Caveat #2: This list operates on the assumption that Vince isn’t going anywhere, and that main roster booking won’t change any time soon. In other words “just make the main roster booking less closed-minded and terrible” isn’t an option.
Okay, got all that? Then let’s get our list on…
Charming, clever, main roster poison.
Fewer Gimmicks, More Personality
NXT has been home to some of the smartest, most creative gimmicks to hit WWE in ages, but more often than not, those gimmicks haven’t done their performers any favors once they hit the main roster. Bray Wyatt has had a certain degree of success since being called up, but names like Adam Rose, Bo Dallas and Emma have been promptly and thoroughly chewed up and spat out. These super specific characters debut on Raw without proper context, and the mainstream audience that hasn’t seem them grow and develop don’t understand what’s going on, or simply don’t care.
As entertaining as they can be, it’s time for NXT to drop the quirky, complex characters. NXT should be about working on basic skills, and leaning how to act like an old-timey strongman or how to work “Bo” into all your sentences aren’t basic skills. New NXT stars should be given the most dirt basic of gimmicks – face, egotistical heel, monster heel — and from there they need to be encouraged to express their personalities and find their inner superstar without a wacky character in the way. As we’ve heard a thousand times before, the most successful wrestlers in history were guys and gals who took their real personality and turned it up to 11, and that’s exactly what NXT stars should be focusing on. Finding that thing inside to crank the dial on. That’s what the talent with the greatest chances of succeeding on the main roster are doing – that’s what Sami Zayn is doing, that’s what Sasha Banks is doing, it’s what most of the Shield guys did. It’s what most of the names we’re most worried about aren’t doing.
Preparing for the main roster like a boss.
Basically, if somebody’s gimmick takes more than four words to explain, it needs to be dumped…
Sami Zayn – Ska lovin’ nice man.
Sasha Banks – Tiny boss lady.
Charlotte – Female Ric Flair.
The Vaudevillains – Two modern guys who play – nope.
Emma – Woman who is awkward but – nope.
Bull Dempsey – Just plain nope.
Oh, Bayley — there are more tears to come on the main roster.
Say Goodbye to Full Sail
The NXT Arena at Full Sail University is a wonderfully warm, nurturing place. It’s a nice cozy basement bedroom with a mom upstairs who’s always at the ready with a grilled cheese, tomato soup and an encouraging word. In other words, it’s an absolutely terrible place to prepare somebody for the slings and arrows of the real world.
Real WWE audiences are diverse, they’re hostile, they’re disinterested, they’re distracted and winning them over is the hardest part of the job. The NXT crowd chanting “marking out” the first time Kevin Owens wrestles on WWE TV is nice and all, but it does him absolutely no benefit. Making heart hands at Sami Zayn isn’t going to help him survive a shitty, cranky crowd in Des Moines, Iowa, who only bought tickets because they thought they were still going to see Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage.
Hogan might be there, but they’ll still be disappointed.
The only way to prepare guys for real WWE audiences is to have them wrestle in front of them. A good portion, if not all, NXT shows should be filmed before/after Raw or Smackdown. Or maybe they should do their own separate tours (which is starting to happen) – whatever it takes to get out of mom’s basement. As a bonus, having the NXT guys travel with the main roster would help introduce them to the higher ups, and make the transition from NXT to main roster WWE a less traumatic experience.
What are you guys still doing here?
Already Developed Talents Shouldn’t Be In Developmental
Okay, now here’s where I need to remind you this article isn’t about making NXT more entertaining, so please don’t run straight to the comments section when I say Kevin Owens shouldn’t be in NXT. Finn Balor shouldn’t be in NXT. Sami Zayn shouldn’t be in NXT. These are seasoned pros who have mastered their style, honed their personalities and aren’t going to be improved significantly by WWE developmental. The justification has always been that these guys need to learn “WWE style”, but that’s a line of company bullshit. Adrian Neville toils away for years in NXT and he gets stuck with a Mighty Mouse gimmick – learning WWE style is another illusionary brass ring. These already developed talents aren’t really learning anything they couldn’t pick up in a few weeks of on-the-job main roster training, they’re just biding their time. If anything, having big pre-existing stars debut on NXT blunts the excitement of their eventual WWE debut.
The real issue with already-ready guys being in NXT is that they’re taking spots from talent who actually need them. Guys who actually do have something to learn. Sami Zayn shouldn’t be champion, Tyler Breeze, Colin Cassady or Aiden English should be. NXT shouldn’t be focusing on making the next Daniel Bryan or CM Punk, those kind of guys make themselves, they should be trying to make a Roman Reigns who actually has the tools to succeed on the main roster.
Get by her if you can, ladies.
Establish a Permanent NXT Roster
But wait, if you take guys like Zayn and Finn Balor off NXT, wouldn’t it quickly become a blind leading the blind situation? Green wrestlers learning from other green wrestlers in a generally unproductive circle jerk? Well, it wouldn’t have to be that way if NXT established a core of wrestlers that aren’t gunning for a main event spot. Permanent NXT performers who are there to challenge developmental talent to new heights.
This permanent NXT roster should be made up of talented, seasoned wrestlers who are perhaps too old for the main roster or don’t fit into WWE’s very narrow definition of what a Superstar/Diva should be. There’s no reason in the world why Sara Del Rey shouldn’t be NXT Women’s champion, like, 90% of the time, or the Dudleys shouldn’t be the anchor of the tag division. Training is great, but actually wrestling and feuding with these veterans is a whole different level of schooling. No more low-card WWE guys slumming it in NXT – establish a permanent NXT roster, and make them the gauntlet new talent have to run.
New, Seth Rogen-ey faces.
Use Tough Enough to Introduce New Faces To WWE Fans
Tough Enough is returning, although it’s not yet known what form it will take. Personally I think it would be an absolute shame to not very closely tie it to NXT.
Ideally, instead of being a standalone program, Tough Enough would be show within a show on Raw – every week, there could be a 10-minute Tough Enough documentary on one of the names making their way through NXT. Rather than just dumping a new name on Raw or hyping them with repetitive, shallow vignettes, main roster fans could get to know them, their personality and struggles over a series of weeks. It would create day one main roster support for new stars, and as a bonus, it would humanize them, making it harder for the writing team to give them ballroom dancer or human dinosaur gimmicks.
I’ve missed you. Sort of.
The NXT Draft
One of the problems with the call up process is that, most of the time, new stars are brought up from NXT one at a time, thrown into the WWE deep end and expected to sink or swim all by themselves. Look at the new faces that have actually had success over the past five years – The Shield, Bray Wyatt, Daniel Bryan, Wade Barrett – all of them were brought up as part of groups. New talent needs to have a pack to run with so they aren’t eaten alive by grumpy, entrenched main roster guys.
How do you do that? You can’t have a new Nexus every year. Well, there are faint rumblings that the brand split might be returning, which means the draft would also return, and if it does, I think it should be made into a real draft – i.e. a thing where new guys are called up to the main roster, as opposed to the somewhat pointless “trading established guys between shows” thing they did in the past. Have the two shows fight over new talents, make them seem like stars and bring up six, seven, eight of them all at once. They won’t all make it, but history shows their chances will be better than if they were brought up one at a time.
So, there you have it, a few ideas that might help NXT become a more successful developmental division. It would mean some big changes, but maybe it’s worth sacrificing the beautiful little jewel that is the current NXT for a main roster product that isn’t endlessly depressing. What do you folks think? Am I nuts? Out to destroy everything you love? Or am I onto something? How do you think NXT could be made more successful?