WWE: NXT has now seen its greatest strength become its greatest weakness

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For nearly a decade, WWE NXT went from being one of the worst executed sideshow attempts that WWE has ever attempted to produce some of the best wrestling seen in the company for years. After a series of reports indicated major changes coming to NXT in the near future, it looks like the black and gold brand so many fell in love with is officially over with.

There were so many little things, from the talent to the style itself, that made NXT feel special and saw it thrive for several years. It created absolute magic on so many occasions, but all those strengths may have precipitated the downfall we’re seeing today.

Back on Aug. 7, as a series of releases hit WWE once again, Fightful Select reported about the initial plans for WWE NXT and how things began to shift once NXT moved to USA Network. One WWE official told Fightful Select about how they entered “talent stashing” mode in 2018, and this was originally supposed to lead to a series of WWE Performance Centers being developed worldwide.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case and within a year the entire focus had shifted to moving NXT to USA. While WWE will actively avoid admitting it, there’s absolutely no doubt that their move to USA was at the very least influenced by AEW: Dynamite premiering on TNT.

NXT was moved to compete head to head with a show that had never even aired, and unfortunately, the move to cable began a downhill progression as NXT got further and further away from everything that made it great. Even the “talent stashing” agenda wasn’t the nail in the coffin, as proper execution of the international WWE Performance Centers plan could’ve still been done without drastically changing NXT’s presentation and core values.

As more details started to come out, the reports from Dave Meltzer on Wrestling Observer Radio seemed to confirm the suspicion that Vince McMahon was going to change the landscape of NXT for good. Meltzer stated the following:

"And it’s back to when they first started developmental, because, I know this from Jim Ross, who was a very key part of this, the original idea of NXT was to be developmental, and to get guys with the mentality of, we’re trying to find people who can main event WrestleMania – that’s always what they’d say. And their feeling is that even though Bryan Danielson main evented at WrestleMania, and CM Punk never did but could have, what that means is they want more Roman Reigns-looking guys. And the basic feeling is that they lost the war (with AEW) and now it’s time to get it back to, you know, it’s like, this is the aftermath, and this is the new direction, and the new direction is younger guys and bigger guys. [H/T Inside The Ropes for Transcription]"

As the report continued, Meltzer later stated the exact wording he heard was “no more m*****s, no one starting in their 30s and people who can be box office attractions and main characters”. This intentional shift in talent searching is going to gut NXT of the things that made it feel so special, but it also explains exactly why we’re seeing the NXT of old go away.

One of the primary reasons that so many fans were drawn to NXT was because of how starkly different it was to the main roster WWE product. If you look back on the booming era of NXT, which is arguable, but most would agree the 2014 to 2017 period was a key part of when the brand started to take off.

WWE NXT was primarily a webcast on WWE.com and available at times via Hulu pre-2014, but when the WWE Network launched in early 2014 it became an immediate draw for the new subscription service. NXT Arrival, the precursor to TakeOver, was the first live event broadcast on the WWE Network and offered a test run before they used the service to air WrestleMania XXX.

The show was anchored by Cesaro and Sami Zayn in the opening contest, two highly respected indie wrestling darlings of their time, and they tore up the opener with a nearly 23-minute long clinic that stands today as one of the greatest NXT matches we’ve seen. The main event saw Adrian Neville, another competitor who made his name before coming to NXT, dethrone homegrown third-generation star Bo Dallas for the NXT Championship.

From there, just take a moment to consider the stars who main evented NXT TakeOver events by the end of 2017: Neville, Zayn, Tyler Breeze, Tyson Kidd, Kevin Owens, Finn Balor, Bayley, Sasha Banks, Samoa Joe, Shinsuke Nakamura, Bobby Roode, The Authors of Pain, Johnny Gargano, Tommaso Ciampa, Drew McIntyre, Alexander Wolfe, Eric Young, Killian Dain, Roderick Strong, Adam Cole, Bobby Fish, and Kyle O’Reilly.

By the start of 2018, it became clear the driving forces of the men’s division in NXT were The Undisputed Era, Gargano, and Ciampa. All six of these men had become huge stars of the independent wrestling scene, as well as seeing success in promotions like Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling, and they were now leading what had essentially been platformed as the counter-culture punk rock version of WWE.

Whether you loved or hated any section of this time, there’s no denying the growth of the NXT fanbase, and it continued to influence the use of stars like Pete Dunne, Ricochet, War Raiders, Aleister Black, Keith Lee, and others in the following years. NXT was finding significant success by taking the best of the independent scene, talents who had already proven themselves and become highly skilled in-ring performers, and putting them behind a WWE-sized platform.

The only area where WWE seemed to actually succeed with “developmental,” an original tenet and purpose of the brand, was with women’s wrestling. WWE took Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair, Bayley, and Sasha Banks, none of whom were exactly indie darlings prior to their arrival, and created four of the biggest draws the company has today.

A massive amount of credit goes to names like Sara Del Ray and the earlier influence of Dusty Rhodes, as well as a willingness to provide opportunities by Triple H, which all helped push things forward for women’s wrestling. However, all of them saw significant adjustment issues when they moved from the world of NXT to the WWE main roster. Perhaps the least affected was Charlotte Flair, who WWE barely altered upon arrival, but the others all saw major character shifts as the main roster seemed unable to grasp what made them great in NXT.

The same rings true for the vast majority of WWE’s top stars from that time period. From the list provided above, Neville, Breeze, The Authors of Pain, Wolfe, Young, and Dain have all been released by WWE. Tyson Kidd saw his in-ring career cut short, but continues to work as a producer with WWE.

Meanwhile, we saw major struggles (at least temporarily) as Zayn, Balor, Bayley, Banks, Joe, Nakamura, Roode, and even McIntyre didn’t quite fit after moving up from NXT. The latter is the biggest example of someone who eventually changed that, but McIntyre had already been on the main roster, and it still took months for them to finally work towards the success he’s seen in the last year.

Some of them have since found their place, with Bayley and Banks eventually becoming huge stars for the company despite how badly booked they were during the transition to the main roster. Owens is arguably the other biggest success story, as he managed a reign as Universal Champion, and has become a mainstay of weekly programming alongside (or against) his forever frenemy, Zayn.

Balor, Nakamura, and Joe all saw their own brief glimpses of success, but their characters have never seemed to fit or be utilized fully on the main roster. On top of all of that, key NXT stars like Gargano, Ciampa, Strong, Cole, Fish, and O’Reilly all remain on that brand rather than being moneymakers on WWE Raw or SmackDown.

Time and time again, fans had to watch in frustration as their favorites from NXT had so many of the things that made them great stripped away upon arrival with the main roster. Unfortunately, as long as Vince McMahon remained the “dear leader” of WWE, the ways Triple H and others made NXT unique were never going to work.

As soon as NXT moved to USA Network and found itself in a cold war with AEW that no one in WWE or NXT seemed willing to acknowledge, things started to deteriorate. The show’s writing became increasingly reactionary as they fought to compete with AEW, and the eventual losing of that competition seems to have finally woken up Vince McMahon to the fact that NXT hadn’t been developing his kinds of stars for years.

NXT was striking gold without the “six foot or taller, bright white Adonis” mold that Vince McMahon has beloved for so many years. Triple H was feeding him stars like Owens, Zayn, Nakamura, and Joe, none of which Vince had any idea what to do with.

Even when they did succeed, it would often feel short-lived or overshadowed. Owens capturing the Universal Championship was an amazing moment that led to a WrestleMania main event caliber collision with former friend Chris Jericho, except that Vince decided it wasn’t worth that and put the title on a 50-year-old version of Vince’s dream physique that couldn’t even put together a passable wrestling match.

Nakamura won the 2018 Royal Rumble and took that all the way to a WrestleMania clash with WWE Champion AJ Styles, a match that had set the Tokyo Dome on fire just over two years earlier. Nakamura and Styles put on a solid match, only for Nakamura to hit a low blow and turn heel after. Except that within a few months Nakamura was seemingly a babyface again and embroiled in a storyline with Jinder Mahal most remembered for racist anti-Asian stereotypes being pushed during Mahal’s segments.

By the time Nakamura was back in a feud with AJ Styles, it seemed to drag on for months and be more concerned with strategically placed low blows than the strengths of either performer as a character or an in-ring competitor. Even when many NXT stars seemingly have main roster success, it can rarely be sustained because Vince still doesn’t really know what to do with them.

NXT wasn’t preparing anyone to succeed on the main roster; it was preparing them to succeed in NXT. Some have argued that Triple H essentially bet the house that Vince would be gone in the last few years and Triple H would be able to take the successes of his NXT model and apply them to the main roster.

NXT TakeOver 36 Results: Ilja Dragunov and Samoa Joe pick up titles. dark. Next

We may never know if that’s the reality of what happened here, but the drastic differences in the ways NXT operated compared to the main roster have finally caught up with the black and gold brand. Vince McMahon has seemingly put an end to Triple H’s indie-influenced side project, and we’re about to see FCW 2021 become a reality.