For a long time now it’s been common for viewers to discredit any wrestling program other than Monday Night Raw, and for good reason. No one brings their A-game to Main Event or WWE Superstars, and Smackdown has suffered ever since the roster-split was eliminated. The WWE thrives on competition, and Smackdown provided Raw with a viable contender. However, now that WWE doesn’t have the talent to support two separate rosters (and two shows-worth of writers), even Smackdown has fallen into disregard.
However, an unlikely alternative has surfaced to not only challenge Monday Night Raw for wrestling supremacy, in many ways it far surpasses it’s already-established older brother. What I speak so highly of is NXT, the WWE’s developmental program and, quite literally, the future of the WWE. And that future is a bright one for a number of reasons:
Not your average batch of rookies
It’s easy to dismiss NXT due to it’s premise: a starting point for young superstars to learn the ropes and develop their skills and characters until they are ready for the main roster. Looking at it that way, you’d think that NXT was full of wide-eyed hopefuls who are just content to run the ropes in a WWE ring. The truth is that NXT is a meeting ground for world-class indie talent. Sami Zayn has wrestled all over the world! Recent additions Hideo Itami (formerly Kenta) and Finn Balor (formerly Prince Devitt) are probably the biggest names in Japanese and European wrestling, respectively. To say that these are rookies on the way up is a misnomer: In reality, these are long-time practitioners of the craft that are just now getting their breakout opportunity. Rookies these are not.
Monday Night Raw is a perfect example of too much of a good thing. On paper, three hours of wrestling on Monday night sounds great. But in practice, three hours can be a lot of time to fill. Pretend for a minute that you’ve just been hired as a writer for the WWE. You’re over-the-moon excited! Finally, you have a chance to tell those great stories you’ve been concocting in your head! You go to your first meeting and blast out all your big ideas, a number of story beats that are absolute gangbusters. Then the others turn to you and say “that’s great, but we still have another two hours to fill. Every week. All year.” Now what do you do? It’s simple: You fill the void with whatever crap you can come up with.
The moral of the story is three-hours is a lot of time to fill, and after a while the quality stories get overwhelmed by the filler. NXT, in comparison, is only one hour long per show. This results in a much tighter, well-developed show due to simple quality control: When you only have an hour to fill, only the best product gets put out on the shelf. The “filler” stories never make the cut, and the audience reaps the rewards. NXT is a perfect example of quality over quantity.
The quality of the programming carries over into the ring as well, as with only a limited amount of time to put on a show, and everyone trying to make an impact and stand out, every athlete brings their A-game to every match and typically adds something new to their repertoire every time they get in the ring. Unlike the “established talent” who rely on a solid 5-move routine, the NXT athletes innovate and improve with every show. If you want to see something cool every night, NXT is the place to be.
An unbeatable combination
Having only an hour to put on a wrestling show seems like a tough road for the talent. You’d think that, with only an hour of air-time, the NXT athletes would have a really tough time getting some exposure. However, NXT turned that disadvantage into an advantage by promoting a very strong tag-team bracket.
Full-disclosure: I’m a big fan of tag-team wrestling. I find that, with four athletes all trying to show what they can do in a limited amount of time, there’s less in match filler. It probably helps that the talent can tag out and take a break, making the matches more of a sprint than a marathon. In NXT’s case, tag-team wrestling also allows more of the talent a chance to show their stuff in a shorter amount of time, and the payoffs have been huge. Teams like The Vaudevillains, Enzo and Big Cass, and especially the Ascension have put on some absolutely great matches, while the singles stars still team up to put on a show.
The WWE has practically abandoned the tag-team bracket on the main roster. Seriously, how many more times can they give us the Usos vs the Dust brothers before the people notice that there’s only two tag-teams on the whole roster (sorry, but Los Matadors don’t really count). If you want more bang for your buck, NXT is the place to be.
Where the big girls play
The way I see it, there are two categories of female wrestlers: the Divas division, and the Women’s division. Divas are eye-candy wrestlers: They look good in tights, but have shallow characters and limited wrestling skills. The Women’s division, on the other hand, is full of female superstars who have earned spots equal to their male counterparts. They have real characters with real depth, and put on fantastic athletic performances. Now, I have no problem with pretty girls (I married the prettiest of them all, after all), but I expect more from “sports entertainment.” The WWE main roster is full of Diva-caliber talent: All flash and no substance, a sideshow attraction that glimmers but isn’t gold. NXT’s female talent, on the other hand, are way more over than their main roster counterparts due not only to their (much better developed) characters, but also their superb in-ring abilities. Talent like Bailey, Charlotte, Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks are great examples of female superstars that anyone, both men and women, can appreciate. To put things in perspective: Bailey is a girl-next-door who treats everyone with respect and wants to be the best she can be, while Nikki Bella has a twin sister, “enhancements”, and a finishing move called “the Rack Attack.” Which one would you want your daughter to look up to?
Like the tag-teams division, the Divas division is greatly under-appreciated, under-valued, and under-utilized in the WWE. There have been some absolutely great female talents on the main roster in the past, like Trish Stratus, Lita, and Beth Phoenix. These are the characters that should be emulated. These are the athletes that creative should be trying to push. Not a watered-down Paige (who, I should mention, was great in NXT and failed miserably on the main roster) being forced to copy AJ’s “crazy girl” character with Alicia Fox in tow, making the matchup “crazy girl vs. crazy girl with crazy girl.” It’s nearly 2015, and I like to think that we’ve reached a point where the women’s division should be treated with equality and at least offered the chance to prove it’s value. There is way too much talent on hand, and too many strong female characters on board, to simply ignore the value of a great Women’s division.
The future is now
So there’s four solid reasons why you should check out the future of the WWE. I’ve got a few more for you on the way out: NXT is shown, in it’s entirety, on the WWE network. So you can watch it, and catch up, anytime you’d like. Said network is also free for the remainder of the month, so if you’re on the fence now is the time to check it out. It won’t cost you a dime, and you may just find the best wrestling show out there today. You’ve got nothing to lose and plenty to gain.