NXT has a babyface problem that it needs to address

WWE NXT, Johnny Gargano Credit: WWE.com
WWE NXT, Johnny Gargano Credit: WWE.com /

Whether a promotion hangs its hat on babyfaces driving the product or heels, it needs a healthy cache of both to put together a compelling television show or pay-per-view. Over the last year or so, NXT has only gotten half of that right.

WWE’s “alternative” brand has invested a lot of time and energy creating some interesting antagonists. Between The Way, the Pete Dunne/Danny Burch/Oney Lorcan trio, Legado Del Fantasma, Imperium, and the debuting Diamond Mine, NXT has accrued a formidable stable of, well, heel stables. Having heels hold four of the six available championships further emphasizes the brand’s focus on the rule breaker side of the spectrum.

As stated in a previous piece, this isn’t a bad thing. NXT also isn’t the only promotion putting heels at the forefront of its product. Every champion in All Elite Wrestling (AEW), for example, is a heel. Over at Impact Wrestling, X Division Champion Josh Alexander sticks out as the only babyface titleholder in the company. Both of these promotions are, at the very least, regarded fairly well creatively, so if the “heels hold all the belts” strategy works for them, it’s fine for NXT to do the same.

However, NXT has fallen short when it comes to building up viable babyfaces to oppose these heels.

NXT has struggled to build up interesting babyfaces.

When Isaiah “Swerve” Scott pinned Bronson Reed to win the NXT North American Championship on this past Tuesday’s episode of NXT, he was met with a righfully-positive reaction to his triumph. His victory also prompted an important question: Who is available to challenge him for the title?

NXT Champion Karrion Kross, a wrestler whose character alignment oscillates between babyface and heel on a weekly basis, suffers from the same problem; why else would he be feuding with Johnny Gargano, who is still a heel despite receiving warm responses from the Capitol Wrestling Center crowd?

There are barely any women’s tag teams in general, let alone babyface teams, to credibly challenge Candice LeRae and Indi Hartwell for the NXT Women’s Tag Team Championships, and the singles women’s champion, Raquel Gonzalez, is running out of opponents as well.

Of course, this is a widespread WWE issue, but for the department of WWE that positions itself as the competent space fans can turn to when the main roster disappoints them (and it often is, to its credit), its startling to see it suffer from the same maladies that plague Raw and SmackDown.

To be fair, the brand isn’t completely bereft of babyfaces. Aside from his weird entrance music, it has gotten most of Kyle O’Reilly’s singles run right. Tommaso Ciampa and Timothy Thatcher have meshed well as a gruff-but-lovable team. Io Shirai is *checks notes* still great. Kushida’s efforts have elevated the NXT Cruiserweight Championship. Most impressively, the bookers listened to the fans who have latched on to Cameron Grimes and now have one of the most over acts in the company at their disposal.

They have also missed the mark with a number of their protaginists, too. In terms of their abilities, Ember Moon and Shotzi Blackheart are outstanding, but they are often scripted in a way that pigeonholes them as grating try-hards. Other than some video packages during the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, MSK haven’t been defined too well outside of the watered-down versions of their Impact characters, which is part of the reason why the fans have rejected them as babyfaces. Leon Ruff hasn’t appeared on TV in some time and his last appearance ended with him losing clean after attacking his opponent from behind. You know, like a good babyface would.

It should go without saying that this imbalance isn’t tenable; while some fans enjoy romanticizing the idea of “shades of grey”, many prefer taking in a story with an affable hero facing a reviled villain. One without the other diminishes the stakes for both sides of the spectrum, thus making it harder to get lost in the story. Even if the NXT writers enacted a turn or two to balance things out, it would only temporarily heal theses fundamental ailments.

WWE Raw: The New Day defeat Bobby Lashley and MVP. dark. Next

Fixing this on a larger scale will require a lot of time and energy, but it’s something that the NXT creative team should have no problem accomplishing. After all, if they can devote that amount of effort to the heels, they can do the same for the babyfaces.