The professional wrestling world was a lot different in the 1990s than how it exists today. There were, two decades ago, multiple alternatives for fans who were, for whatever reasons, not interested in actively following the World Wrestling Federation. Along with World Championship Wrestling, viewers could also locate Extreme Championship Wrestling and other smaller organizations on television. It was an era of a so-called wrestling “boom” when the industry was featured in commercials on Super Bowl Sunday and when it was not uncommon for WWF stars to appear in national headlines, sports talk radio interviews and popular prime time television shows.
World Wrestling Entertainment is now the lone king of the wrestling industry and the last standing survivor of the “Monday Night Wars.” Total Nonstop Action Wrestling has been on life support seemingly for years, and the company may be out of business by the time you stumble upon this piece. Ring of Honor has never come close to being a true No. 2 promotion to the WWE, and that the company has a one-hour time slot on cable station Destination America has not changed that reality. The WWE is where it’s at in pro wrestling for those who do not want to put in the work and effort to find smaller independent promotions.
It is ironic and even a bit humorous that the best available option outside of the WWE shows such as Raw and SmackDown is something that the company produces. NXT is the hottest thing going today in the wrestling industry, so much so that special events such as NXT Takeover can draw over 13,000 paying customers to an arena. It is no longer a stretch to suggest that NXT is a better overall product than the WWE shows that are put out there by the company on a weekly basis. It has, in fact, been suggested that NXT could possibly bring fans who tapped out on the WWE years ago back to the product and to pro wrestling. What a genius concept.
10. Show Length
The Raw and SmackDown shows create over five hours of television, commercials included, on a weekly basis. That is way too much TV for those who are not diehard wrestling fans who will watch this form of entertainment over anything else. NXT shows that are first presented on the WWE Network every Wednesday fall just shy of an hour, and thus there is no room for filler content or anything else that wastes the time of viewers. Even the squash matches that occur on NXT serve a purpose. Being able to watch NXT in one sitting without needing to fast-forward through segments is a blessing for fans fatigued from those three-hour Raw programs.
9. NXT Takeover Shows
The WWE is going to hold pay-per-view “special events” every month. That is the nature of the business and of the contracts that the WWE has with television providers so long as those shows will not be exclusively shown on the WWE Network. There are no such concerns with NXT programming. The NXT Takeover specials that have helped put the brand on the map in 2014 and 2015 are not, as of the posting of this piece, in danger of becoming stale monthly events. Multiple NXT Takeover cards, most notably the one that occurred in Brooklyn on August 22, have been “Show of the Year” candidates. That trend will hopefully only continue.
8. No Heel Authority Figure
Every wrestling organization out there, the WWE included, has been trying to recreate the “Mr. McMahon” character that feuded with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin during the height of the popularity of the “Attitude Era,” so much so that the idea has become played-out and boring. William Regal is currently the on-screen authority figure for NXT, but he is more of a background figure than he is one of the main characters on shows. Just as importantly is that Regal is not a heel who messes with babyface wrestlers just for fun. NXT would be wise to run far away from angles that include factions such as “The Authority.”
7. No Needless Talking Segments
It is practically a guarantee these days that every Raw and SmackDown show will have at least one talking segment that will go on…and on…and on, and that will be completely missable and forgettable. There is no time for such content on the weekly NXT shows, though, so any talking segment that makes it way on a program is important to a storyline. Whether it be a contract signing or a wrestler returning from an injury, these interviews that are rare on NXT are much more worthy of your attention than are the similar boring segments that drag on during Monday night shows.
It has been suggested by journalists such as Dave Meltzer of the Figure Four Online/Wrestling Observer website that NXT performers are not as scripted as are the wrestlers on the main WWE roster. One reason for this is that the company wants wrestlers to be able to develop their characters and also find their feet without needing to remember a word-by-word script during shows. This, surprisingly to absolutely nobody who has followed pro wrestling for any significant amount of time, makes for characters who do not sound like they are reading off of a card when speaking either backstage or inside of the ring, and it also makes for unique performers who happen to be entertaining.
5. Full Sail Crowds
Cynics can say whatever they want about the individuals that attend weekly NXT shows that occur at Full Sail University. Those Full Sail crowds accepted certain acts and then helped those wrestlers get over when they otherwise could have become forgotten names among WWE fans who only follow the company and who do not watch ROH, New Japan Pro Wrestling or any other organization. Go back and watch the NXT Takeover: Brooklyn event. Several of the chants that are heard during the show were first presented to WWE fans thanks to Full Sail audiences. Like it or not, WWE diehards, but the Full Sail crowds should be appreciated.
4. Classic Wrestling Storylines
NXT is a developmental WWE brand more so than it is anything else. The storylines are kept relatively basic and simple, and this creates a product that is “Pro Wrestling 101” filled with classic angles that appeal to fans. Take the Bayley storyline as just one example. Bayley was billed as the ultimate underdog who consistently fell just short of the best women’s wrestlers in NXT and who was coming off of an injury leading up to NXT Takeover: Brooklyn. Because of this, those inside of the Barclays Center erupted with joy when Bayley finally managed to win the championship. Pro wrestling really can be easy to write when a company is not fixed on “entertaining.”
3. Fresh Look
So much about the WWE product has become lackluster and stale for fans. It seems as if the likes of John Cena and Randy Orton have been around since the day before forever. The Authority group is version X.X of The Corporation group that was headed by Mr. McMahon a decade and a half ago. NXT has a revolving roster because of the developmental nature of the brand, and it also produces fresh match-ups as it pertains to the WWE Universe. There has never, in this version of the brand, been a time when it felt as if it NXT was merely running through the motions, something that cannot be said about the WWE.
2. Real Divas Revolution
There is a real “Divas Revolution” occurring in the WWE, but it is not the watered-down version that has been poorly scripted for shows such as Raw. NXT writers do not have to worry about pushing certain performers because they are associated with the Total Divas program, and the result has been that the best women have been showcased in main event roles. The Bayley versus Sasha Banks encounter that occurred at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn was arguably the best match in the WWE all year, and it is just one example of the tremendous work the NXT women have put in for that brand.
1. The Roster
Finn Balor. Kevin Owens. Bayley. The Vaudevillians. Sasha Banks. Sami Zayn. Samoa Joe. Tyler Breeze. Becky Lynch. The NXT roster that once had The Shield, The Wyatt Family, Cesaro and others is consistently stacked with talented acts that were either developed by the WWE or who became popular in other organizations. With members of the Four Horsewomen and acts such as Owens getting called up to the main roster, one has to wonder: Who will be the next big name to sign a WWE contract after becoming part of NXT? The future sure seems bright for the company considering how NXT has been run over the past several years.