We’re coming up on “Wrestlemania XXXI” with less than a month to go before the biggest show of the year. This past week on “Monday Night Raw”, it seemed that the build was way out of focus with stuff like Stephanie McMahon defending Andre the Giant, the laughable scenarios of John Cena and Daniel Bryan not being on the show and Roman Reigns trying to get people to care about him. I could go on for pages and pages about why this Wrestlemania season is lacking, but that would just make me mad so let’s talk about NXT instead.
One of the major stories of the last week has been what seems to be the imminent signing of TNA’s Samoa Joe to a WWE contract. This raised the possibility of him going straight to the main roster, perhaps appearing in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at “Wrestlemania XXXI.” Some people have said this is an option, while others point out that almost every new signing, no matter how big a star or how much experience they may have, spends some time in developmental. This brings up an interesting question: is NXT really a developmental system, or is it more of a holding tank before people come to the main roster?
As lame of an answer as this is, it really depends on who you’re talking about. Some people are signed to WWE with almost no or very limited in ring experience, while others come in having spent years in top level organizations around the world. It’s clear that many members of this latter group are ready for the main roster the second they step foot in an NXT ring, while others shouldn’t be allowed to work a dark match in front of 83 people at a middle school gym in some no name midwestern town.
Now, that brings up another question: is that fair or a good system to operate under? This answer comes off as much easier for me as it’s clear that NXT is working, at least for the most part. There are people who either are on or have been on the NXT roster who have improved by leaps and bounds in their time there. The promotion offers them time to develop their characters, work through well crafted storylines and see what works and what doesn’t.
If you need proof of this, your best bet is in the women’s division. Looking back at the time the division first started, the NXT girls were really nothing special. You might see an occasional good match from them at the beginning, but the division mostly consisted of lower level main roster Divas coming down to Florida and interacting with a handful of NXT girls.
Flash forward two years. The NXT women’s division and the matches for the NXT Women’s Championship have gone from a popcorn run to featured attractions. The feud between Sasha Banks and Charlotte over the title, with Bayley and Becky Lynch thrown in as well, produced some of the highest drama and best action on the excellent Takeover shows. These girls have gone from a glorified sideshow to doing things just as entertaining, if not moreso, than their male counterparts. That’s certainly development, no?
Now on the other hand, you have people like Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Hideo Itami and Finn Balor who have extensive experience and could arguably be on the main roster today without missing a beat. These people may need some polishing, such as getting used to the WWE style and knowing how to connect to a crowd, but that’s exactly what it is: polishing a career that has already been formed.
However, there’s one other major issue with this whole system that undermines the idea of it being a developmental organization: a lot of the time, none of it matters. Let’s look at a few cases where talent has come up from NXT and debuted in WWE and see how well those transitions have gone.
Let’s start with someone who debuted right after “Wrestlemania XXX”: Adam Rose. After well over a year as borderline psychotic Leo Kruger, he turned into the party loving Adam Rose. This new character instantly connected and didn’t need to be changed whatsoever to debut on the main roster, which is exactly what he did. Then it was decided that just being a role player who could fire up crowds to start up a house show wasn’t enough, so Rose was turned heel and started feuding with a rabbit. To the shock of anyone with a brain, this went absolutely nowhere and Rose is one of the lowest guys on the roster today.
On the other hand though, let’s look at someone like Bo Dallas, who debuted right around the same time Rose did. His character went from a delusional whiny man who thought everyone worshiped the mat he sports entertained (his words) on to a motivational speaker who wants everyone to Bolieve. This was nowhere near as massive of a change as Kruger to Rose, and the move worked….kind of. Dallas wasn’t exactly lighting the world on fire but he was a solid enough midcard player to be given a shot.
There are two major cases of acts that went from incredible in NXT to not quite so much and both of them are currently on the main roster. First up we have the Ascension, who were by far and away the most dominant tag team in NXT history, holding the Tag Team Titles for about a year, to a glorified joke on Raw. This brings up one of the main differences that drags WWE down compared to NXT: the commentary.
On NXT, the commentary ranges from neutral to positive. The commentators are in the mold of Jim Ross: there to enhance the stories and focus on what’s going on in the ring. In NXT, commentators were in awe of Ascension. In WWE, one Hall of Fame commentator called the stupid and another commentator helped beat them up two weeks later.
The team hasn’t won a match on “Monday Night Raw” in over a month and appears to have lost their momentum. While there are other issues than just the commentary, being called stupid and getting beaten up by a bunch of guys in their 50s didn’t do them any favors. That whole year down in NXT? It seems to be a big waste of time.
That brings us to the final example of what happens when an NXT star comes to WWE: Big E. Langston. Not only has he lost his last name, but he’s lost all of the characteristics that made him a monster for the forces of good down in NXT. Big E. currently has a gimmick where he sweats a lot and shouts NEW DAY over and over. This comes after he lost a bunch of matches to Rusev and had a meaningless run as Intercontinental Champion (ok so it hasn’t been all bad for him).
Let me describe a scene to you from late 2012. Big E. has been around NXT for a few months now and is nothing short of untouchable. No one can come near him and he’s been Goldbergesque in his dominance. At the same time, the Shield had recently formed and Seth Rollins was still the first ever NXT Champion.
On January 2, 2013 on “NXT”, Shield came to the ring and destroyed everyone in sight. I said to my computer screen, “In a good wrestling promotion, this is where the big unstoppable monster would come to the ring and square off with these guys.” With no one else left to fight Shield, a song starting with the words “I’m a soldier” came on, the fans started shouting FIVE FIVE FIVE over and over again, and here came Langston. He clapped his hands together, he growled, he got on the apron, and the Shield ran. One week later, Langston beat Rollins and won the NXT Title. He would be on Raw by the end of the year.
How does that sound for a moment? Shield had recently had one of the best TLC matches anyone had ever seen against Ryback and HELL NO but they were backing down from a single man. That man would wind up being a lackey for Dolph Ziggler and is currently known for being very sweaty. Again, things didn’t translate too well from developmental to the main roster.
Of course on the other hand you have the Wyatts, the Shield, Rusev and Paige so maybe the system does work.
Overall, NXT is developmental for some and a place to keep people working until they have a spot waiting for them on the main roster. That being said, it might be better to cheer for your favorites while you can and hope that they can stick around NXT as long as they can. You never know who is going to be Bray Wyatt, Big E. or Adam Rose.
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