Level Ground: NXT and its Approach to Diversity

NXT, functioning as a televised developmental brand, continues to pace the industry in featuring diverse talent.
NXT Battleground
NXT Battleground / WWE/GettyImages

In America, the word "diversity" became a slur, a pejorative used by the narrow-minded against those who dare to look, act, and sound different. Not to mention, the word became a political talking point. "Give me your tired, poor, huddled masses" did not mean the same for those blessed with 4C hair types. Yet, throughout the nonsense non-mandated diversity exists, in NXT. The WWE developmental brand leads the way in offering athletes from all walks of life, regardless of race and ethnicity, a chance to prosper. Both snarling heels and smiling faces of color paint the landscape at the Performance Center.

Abysmal History

Historically, when the WWE introduced new talent, they'd lean heavily into the gimmicks and perceptions. When debuting a heel from a foreign country, the company manipulated the fans into nationalistic stances that evoked " U-S-A" chants that resonated through the building.

Meanwhile, other athletes of color needed to embody and promote themselves through stereotypes. For example, when did Pacific Islanders become barefoot savages who did not speak and mowed through competition? First, the Rock, then Roman Reigns broke the mold, creating an arrogant heel that conducted themselves better than average fans. Similarly, the jive-talking Black wrestlers, strutting down the aisle, using AAVE in caricature in promos littered the landscape. No one looked above the stereotypes. Becky Lynch debuted while doing some sort of Irish jig.


The majority of NXT talent comes from the world of amateur athletics. Under those circumstances, many hold college degrees. Also, in the internet age, wrestler biographies exist for the world to read. The once-impenetrable wall of kayfabe morphed into a beaded curtain. For instance, children growing up in the 1980s never realized " the jungles of Africa" really meant Senatobia, Mississippi for Kamala.

Now, athletes of not only color but ethnicity thrive or fail on the merits of what they can do in the ring and on the mic. The crutch of getting over due to exaggerated personalities steeped in stereotypes ended. Well, mostly. NXT persists in making Joe Ariola, a former NCAA Division 1 wrestler at the University of Buffalo don a fedora and sleeveless t-shirt and speak with an accent that makes Nic Cage's "Con Air" drawl seem passable. Besides that, NXT continues to shine when spotlighting diverse talent.

AAVE, not Ebonics

When Carmelo Hayes, Trick Williams, and just about every Black talent find themselves with NXT TV time, you can feel a collective wince because of the uncertainty of what the first promo sounds like. In surprising form, NXT allows its Black athletes to speak in their everyday voice.

AAVE, or African American Vernacular English is a widely accepted dialect. Trick Williams and Jaida Parker use it well, conveying energy into their promos in true-to-life matters. Where NXT succeeds is not forcing all Black talent to speak exactly the same. Kelani Jordan doesn't use AAVE. Neither does Wes Lee. However, they still bring out their best promo work, exciting the crowd, and putting behinds in seats. We live in a world where Shawn Michaels and his coaching staff understand racial nuance, not shoehorning all Black talent into a category.

Lola Vice

When Valerie Loureda entered the PC, people knew that she competed in Bellator, and is a decorated martial artist. Yet, using her hometown as a backdrop, mixing in Spanish and English phrases fits her persona perfectly. While a serious character, Lola Vice will still dance for the cameras and make people talk. In the ring and through her path, NXT allows Vice to pursue parts of her character that many companies lack the time or resources for. Instead of the stereotypical fast-talking Latina, Vice slows her words down and gives the audience a chance to breathe. Similarly, NXT Women's champion Roxanne Perez exudes true heelishness without embracing racial stereotypes that hurt predecessors.

All Shapes, Sizes, and Accents

While NXT does tap into the collegiate athletic market for talent, they recruit from the indies and overseas. When they dip into the international pool, the athletes arrive with some sort of idea as to what persona they will soon embrace. Granted, the entire Sarray debacle, from stem to stern failed miserably. At the same time, Ilya Dragunov and WALTER parlayed their NXT stay into main roster success. Perhaps the most dominant female talent in either NXT or WWE, Asuka came to America, never lost in NXT, booked like an unstoppable striking monster. She did not throw salt, reference Pearl Harbor, or wave the imperial flag of Japan as a heel. Now, whatever the McMahon regime made her do as far as speaking on the main roster possesses no bearing on NXT.

Title Diversity

In past years, when one athlete of color/ethnicity won a title, you would not see another belt held by another. Currently, three Black athletes sport NXT gold (Williams, Oba Femi, and Kelani Jordan), an Australian and Spaniard hold the tag belts, while a Latina is the NXT Women's champion. You do not see wrestling companies with that level of representation. With this in mind, looking towards the future looks completely similar to the present.

The Emphasis

Outside of female-only organizations like stardom, no one highlights women wrestling better than the WWE. From main events to major storylines, female wrestlers do not feel like afterthoughts, thrown ill-devised programs. Instead, time and effort devoted to not only character development but in-ring work prepare the talent for that eventual ascent to Mondays or Fridays. When the athletes arrive on the main roster, how creative use them remains to be seen.


As mentioned, for a rather large yet wholly ignorant part of America, diversity remains the boogeyman, the shadowy figure trying to poison the industry. Meanwhile, NXT attempts to not only train and polish talent, but also place them in a positive like, making the main roster transition smooth. Now, that is not to say, the PC is a utopia where everyone gets along and love flies through the air.