The Cause of Death
This past weekend, it was reported by multiple sources that NXT is about to see a major change.
The first report was Mike Johnson of PWInsider. He reported on the major releases of Friday evening and then reported that he had heard major changes were coming to the show. This change supposedly includes a complete brand overhaul which will change everything from the roster to even the logo.
Then, it was Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer. He had a bit more information on that change. He claims that the changes are going to abandon the idea of NXT being a “third brand” of WWE programming. Instead, he claims that it is heading back to being a developmental brand. Less emphasis on giving the fans what they want, a return to preparing talent for the main roster.
The quotes Meltzer had from an inside source were extremely troubling.
“…no more midgets, no one starting in their 30s. They want people that can be box office attractions and main characters.”
It is worth noting that all of this information came out alongside the release of a dozen NXT talents. That list includes names like Bobby Fish, Ari Sterling, Bronson Reed, Leon Ruff, Mercedes Martinez, and Tyler Rust. Many of those names were champions and major parts of NXT’s growth in the last few years. Most notably, Leon Ruff and Bronson Reed, who were NXT North American Champions in the last six months.
According to Dave Meltzer, these names are chosen by Vince McMahon and his close circle of advisors. Paul Levesque (Triple H) did not approve these names, the man in charge of NXT.
The Beginning of the End
NXT’s fate was decided in late March when WWE officially conceded the Wednesday night wars with AEW. AEW was consistently beating NXT in the ratings war, forcing NXT to move to Tuesday nights. This not only forced Vince McMahon and co. to admit defeat but also allow AEW to grow their ratings even further. McMahon notoriously does not lose, so having to take a loss would not sit well with him.
Further, it was very clear that McMahon did not like the talents that modern NXT was sending to them. Keith Lee, Finn Balor, Tommaso Ciampa, Johnny Gargano, Ricochet, Aleister Black, The War Raiders, every wrestler who got stuck in Retribution. Most of the top stars in NXT would go on to the main roster to be given the worst possible booking if given anything at all.
Even the quotes that Meltzer’s source gave him directly highlight that struggle. “No more midgets” Ricochet is 5’9″, Gargano is 5’10”, Pete Dunne is 5’10”. “No one starting in their 30s.” Tommaso Ciampa is 36, Keith Lee is 36, Gargano is 33, Matt Riddle is 35.
NXT was putting on amazing shows that fans of all types of wrestling could enjoy. On a personal level, NXT was what brought me back into the wrestling community back in 2016. There are plenty of stories like that from thousands of people.
However, that is not what Vince McMahon is worried about. It was allowed to exist because it was successful, but the moment it took a loss, McMahon had a reason to take it away.
Remembering NXT As It Was
It is extremely sad to go this way. However, when you remember what NXT was, it becomes even sadder.
Giving A Platform To New Stars
NXT brought Shinsuke Nakamura to United States audiences. After spending a few decades in the Japanese wrestling world, he was ready to take over the United States wrestling scene. His debut match with Sami Zayn was the closest thing most Americans have ever seen of strong style. He opened the door for Asuka, Kairi Sane, and Io Shirai to come over as well.
As a matter of fact, NXT had this crazy ability to bring international superstars to American audiences for the first time. Andrade Cien Almas, Pete Dunne, Tyler Bate, Asuka, Zelina, Finn Balor, Killian Dain. Jushin Thunder Liger even wrestled a match at an NXT Takeover. Most of these wrestlers were already stars, but NXT gave them the platform to finally be exposed to the United States.
NXT finally gave indie performers, who had been busting it in every North American promotion, a platform to earn their respect. Bobby Roode, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, Samoa Joe, Eric Young, Roderick Strong, Adam Cole, Ricochet, Keith Lee, Karrion Kross, Scarlett Bordeaux.
The Women’s Revolution
NXT fixed women’s wrestling in North America. Sasha Banks and Bayley and Charlotte and Paige and Emma were given a platform where they could show they were as good, if not better than any male wrestler on the roster, thanks to NXT. They killed the “Divas” title and started the “Women’s Revolution” on NXT.
If it were not for that movement, Ronda Rousey never even thinks about coming to WWE. If it were not for that movement, Becky Lynch would have not been able to take over the wrestling world as “The Man” and main event Wrestlemania. I have mentioned before that if were not for NXT and the women’s revolution, there would be no Britt Baker, the closest thing we have seen to Steve Austin since he retired.
Tag Team Revolution
Tag team wrestling has been gaining momentum on the independent scene for about a decade. The Young Bucks, the Hardy Boys, the Guerillas of Destiny, and many more were leading that charge. Meanwhile, tag team wrestling in WWE was a joke. Two random singles superstars would be thrown together and hold the titles for a while so that they could inevitably break up and feud in about three months.
However, in NXT, that was fixed. American Alpha and The Revival started the movement, but many more helped push it. DIY, The Authors of Pain, The Undisputed Era, The War Raiders, Street Profits, MSK. Some of the best wrestling matches in NXT history are tag team matches.
These tag-team rivalries set up some of the most important wrestling rivalries in modern wrestling.
Gargano vs. Ciampa
If I had to watch one match for the rest of my life, I would choose Okada vs. Omega at Wrestle Kingdom 11. That is for me.
However, if I had a friend who did not understand what wrestling was about, and needed to be convinced to watch wrestling, I would show them this feud.
Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa’s rivalry was built over the course of four years. It started at the Cruiserweight Classic in 2016, where the men were forced to wrestle early in the tournament. They gave 110% and earned their WWE contracts that night. I would show that friend this match to start.
Then came the DIY story. Fighting alongside each other against the Revival and the Authors of Pain, DIY was unbelievably fun and told amazing stories in the squared circle. I would show a friend their match with The Revival in Toronto.
Then, the end of DIY. Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano exited the arena to thunderous applause after a dramatic ladder match against the Authors of Pain and the Revival. Rumors were circulating that it was their time to go to the main roster. The wrestlers embraced at the top of the ramp to chants of “DIY” only for Ciampa to declare that this was not their moment, it was his moment. He whips Gargano around and launches him into the wall behind them and brutalizes his lifelong friend. I would show a friend this match and end.
Ciampa would go away for a while with an injury, which would force Gargano to go on a singles run for a while. He had unbelievable matches with plenty of other wrestlers, but would always fall short. I would show a friend his match against Andrade Cien Almas at Philadelphia.
Then Ciampa came back, and it was clear that the men could not begin to move forward unless they settled their business. This lead to some of the best matches in WWE history, let alone NXT history. The unsanctioned match at New Orleans. Their No Holds Barred match in Chicago, Then the Last Man Standing match in Brooklyn. I would make a friend watch all of these.
There is technically more to this rivalry, but that small sample size of just seven matches would be able to convert someone who has never even seen a wrestling match into a lifelong fan.
There is no way to tell what the future holds for NXT, but the likelihood is that it is not good.
There is no way that Triple H’s relationship with his father-in-law, Vince McMahon, can be at a good place. And, there is no way that many wrestlers on the NXT roster today have much longer with the company if those new protocols are pushed. Independent wrestlers around the world are essentially having an entire landing spot closed off for them, which will bolster AEW and NJPW rosters.
In the last year, many WWE talent has gone to NXT to try and reinvent themselves. Most notably, Finn Balor did this for about a year and a half. That option is now also closed off to the main roster talent, which will lower morale further. It is already being reported that morale is pretty low, so what is lowering it further?
NXT has been extremely important to modern wrestling. However, the new show that will wear the face of NXT’s past will try and ruin that reputation and impact.
We just need to remember NXT for what it was, not what it will soon become.
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