WWE has been the biggest international wrestling company in the world for a very long time now, but with the rise and availability of more wrestling they need to consider producing a consistently better show to prevent viewers moving away to competition. However have WWE managed to create competition within their company that is now hurting them? NXT is a clearly growing a huge following, and people are actively turning away from mainstream WWE programming to watch NXT, but can WWE make this a positive.
WWE has been producing Raw live now for a very long time, however since the death of WCW has had no competition to compete with (I’m not counting TNA’s 4week stint) and as a result the product has been slowly growing stale and this weeks show was a real showcase for how lazy the writing has become due to this. Smackdown has been a second brand since Paul Heyman was taken off the writing duties for the show, and has often been used and seen as a way to provide a recap for the main events from Raw while giving some talent a few minutes of ring time to keep them fresh in viewers minds. Despite these two issues viewers have stayed true to the WWE and tuned in to watch the shows no matter how bad, always hoping things will improve and actually getting small periods of time where this does actually happen, however WWE seems unable to keep this consistent much to the ire of the wrestling world.
In February 2014 WWE launched the ‘WWE Network’ and along with this came NXT, which is essentially the WWE’s developmental territory given a 1hr weekly show to allow viewers to become familiar with stars that should one day make it onto the “Main Roster” and become the future of the WWE. Within two weeks of the network launching we were given ‘NXT Arrival’ which was a 2hr live event featuring the best of NXT talent, and was for many people (myself included) was the first time eyes were put on the product and the show delivered beyond expectations and really showed just how well the WWE could put together a live PPV/Event and just how great some of the performers were on this show along with the variety in style that these performers had.
Concurrently with this the WWE was in a whirlwind of story telling as Daniel Bryan was on the move towards the Wrestlemania main event, and the fans were fully behind this build and this programme. Fans were also expecting the Shield to breakout, Wyatt to get the main event push, Lesnar and Taker was looking like a hell of a match and Cesaro was looking like he could become a huge star. This was a great time for WWE programming as not only had the got viewers hooked on their main shows but the developmental show had just shown that it too could be looking like a great show to watch. But fairly soon everything changed for the WWE, and the landscape of their shows- and not all for the better.
Post Wrestlemania everything began to dwindle within the next month; Daniel Bryan got injured, Cesaro lost his push, Wyatt seemed to be being fed to John Cena every week and the tag team division seemed to be forgotten about and reset when the Wyatt’s weren’t given the titles. But one thing remained true- NXT stayed strong and continued to deliver amazing in ring action from the growing talents of Sami Zayn, Adrian Neville, The Ascension, Charlotte and everyone who got any television time. Due to the consistent story telling and linear match making, the show was easy to follow and made sense from a purely wrestling perspective as the best athletes were at the top of the card and feuds were well written. NXT was so strong that the first crop of stars were elevated (that’s the WWE term not mine) to the “Main roster” so we saw Paige, Bo Dallas and Adam Rose get there debuts. Paige managed to win the Diva’s title on her first night from AJ Lee looking like the success she had in NXT would carry over to the main roster and she could change the landscape of the current Diva Division. Bo Dallas was allowed to keep his gimmick I personally love his cheesy and false self-help talk- and was given a winning streak looking like he too could be climbing his way up the card. Adam Rose however was always expected to debut in the mic card and due to the limitations and newness of the gimmick always looked like he was going to staying there.
By May the NXT roster was ready for the 2nd live event of the Network era in the form of ‘NXT Takeover’ and expectations were high after the success of the first show and the fact that the weekly shows were so strong and featured some top class wrestling. The show truly delivered a huge spectacle and most of the matches delivered again- the Main event between Adrian Neville and Tyson Kidd for the NXT championship was great. This bout built up in terms of pace and aggression as it went along and was given just over 20minutes to showcase the real high level of competition within the company. Charlotte Vs Natalya for the NXT Womens Championship was also one of the best female matches of the year, this was a true technical showcase for both ladies and really showed what the WWE could have in a women’s division if they allowed their competitors time and gave them a great story to work with. This will always be my wifes standard bearing match for women’s wrestling as she constantly references this- and I have to say with good reason as this is truly the stand out match from this live event. The event also gave us a great clash between Tyler Breeze and Sami Zayn for the number1 contendership, and again this match got close to 15minutes and was a really well wrestled match. It was also the point were we got to see the beginnings of this years best wrestling story; Sami Zayn not winning the big one and never being able to get to the next level with a lose to Tyler Breeze here.
During this time WWE was still riding the post Wrestlemania wave and was still utilising and producing decent stories for the former NXT stars and the rest of the roster as we got Evolution Vs The Shield as the main event of Payback, even if no-one at this point wanted to see Batista and it was obvious he didn’t want to be there any longer. However we also started to see the re-rise of John Cena as Bryan had announced he needed surgery and Cesaro was conspicuously absent from the PPV after his Wrestlemania moment. However the inclusion of Rusev, Paige and Bo Ballas on the PPV showed just how strong NXT still was in their own universe and the “main roster.” However at Junes ‘Money in the Bank’ PPV the WWE had the opportunity to catapult a new star into the limelight due to Bryans vacation of the title as they ahd plenty of talent in the main event for the WWE World Championship, however the WWE returned to old tactics here and gave the belt to John Cena. This was a moment that killed many fans hope for the continued change we had seen over the past few months as Cesaro, Bray Wyatt and Roman Reigns were in this match and could have easily become the next break out star with a win here- but the WWE gave us the crowd groaning as Cena is always the man routine once more. the only shining light of this event was that Seth Rollins won the Money in the bank briefcase post his Shield betrayal showing that the company had faith in him.
While fans were becoming bored with the reliance on Cena over the next few months, NXT continued to deliver and announce the signing of huge independent stars such as Kenta, Kevin Steen and Fergal Devitt further getting attention placed on the show. These were al top talents that people were eagerly waiting to see debut on what was easily WWE’s freshest and most exciting show. At the same time the weekly shows were building nice feuds between Kidd, Neville, Breeze and Zayn as these four traded wins to try to get the title shot at Neville and cement the number one contendership. Breeze also cashed in his contendership to lose in a very good television when KIdd distracted him on the apron. At this time we also got to see the push of the Lucha Dragons, Vaudevillians, Ascension, Bull Dempsey, Sasha Banks and Bailey who all began huge players on the television show due to the fact that they were being given logical and exciting feuds and were given time to deliver quality matches week in and week out.
Zayn continueed to be close to the top of the card, and easily the most beloved wrestler by the fans meaning that the story of him never quite making the top with a win really started to resonate with the growing audience and draw in new viewers. No other WWE story was so compelling or so well told, and in my honest opinion no other company has delivered such a good story this year. NXT was starting to become much watch Television while Raw and Smackdown were on a downward trend post wrestlemania and the roster on NXT seemed to be delivering each and every week while the “main roster” seemed paper-thin, and this was capitulated when Kane was main eventing July’s Battleground PPV. We also started to see that the creative team hadn’t fully planned Bo Dallas’s call up and he was now trading wins and loses between shows with the same opponent, and Paige was lost in a feud that was meaningless while the focus was shifting to Brie Bella and Stephanie McMahon. The misuse of these stars was a waste and really left people wondering if the WWE had even planned stories for more than Bryan and Batista as everything seemed to have fallen apart with his injury and the laters release/departure. However while the “main roster” was struggling to produce great television, outside of Seth Rollins and the always awesome Dolph Ziggler the network was delivering week in and week out with NXT. WE would get to see the continued build of Sami Zayn, Tyson Kidd and the dominance of Adrian Neville in most shows while also getting the rise of a true womens division as Charlotte, Bailey, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch continued to be featured prominently. We started to see the seeds being sewn for a Charlotte and Sasha Banks match- and I have to say that I hadn’t been this excited about the build to a women’s title match in a long time but the quality of the two stars involved and the fact you knew that the writer would give these two the time to truly perform was an amazing prospect.
However while the WWE had a huge slump and NXT was delivering on all cylinders, we did get a huge shock moment in August at SummerSlam where the WWE was able to get all eyes back onto their product as Brock Lesnar absolutely dominated John Cena in the most one-sided main event I have ever witnessed (bar the finger poke of doom). However this was very quickly negated as Cena returned the following week to return to his super-human ways and AA Rollins, Wyatt and Harper all in the space of a minute and all the hard work to build Lesnar and dismantle Cena Fell away massively. And the prospect of moving into September’s Night of Champions was one less of excitement and more of expectancy that Cena would recapture the gold. However before that could happen we would be treated to the third NXT live event of the year on the 11th September entitled ‘NXT Fatal 4Way’ which would give us the payoff of the Neville, Kidd, Breeze and Zayn story along with the clash between the AScension and the Lucha Dragons for the NXT titles that had been so well-built. However to everyone’s surprise it didn’t give us Sasha Banks vs Charlotte instead giving us Bailey Vs Charlotte in a match of mutual respect furthering Banks storyline hatred at the champion and only heightening the drama for this match down the road.
This show continued the trend of NXT really delivering the goods in the 2hour live specials that they air, there wasnt a single bad match on the card and the three most anticipated events were given a great amount of time (35minutes main event) and told logical stories and had a logical end that allowed some stories to end and others to continue. Sami Zayn came within inches of the NXT title but was cheated out of it by Neville who retained with a pin on Kidd effectively removing him and Breeze from the main event. This showcased how great a worker Tyson Kidd was and how wasted he had been in his “main roster” run along with showcasing the bright stars of Zayn and Neville, all while highlighting that with work Breeze could easily move to the main level. The show also featured the debut of Kenta, renamed Hideo Itamin the first of three major acquisitions set to debut before the year’s end and further change the NXT landscape by adding a well established and respected world-wide star to the already talented roster.
‘Night of Champions’ arrived a few weeks after, and given the opportunity for the main roster to step-up and show how they can deliver on the big stage and not just the NXT talent i was expecting a great show- and instead what everyone got was an average show that furthered the decline of stars the fans wanted to see succeed at the start of the year with Cesaro, Paige, Ziggler and Lesnar losing on the night and Orton, Cena and Sheamus coming out winners. The show had fully re-established the status quo and not only did this feel out-of-place and odd but as it followed ‘NXT Fatal 4Way’ it felt very lazy and uninspiring. WWE had failed to keep their main brand fresh and develop new stars while all the while NXT was eating away at its viewers by delivering top quality in everything it did. Even WWE’s Survivor Series event in November couldn’t help freshen the formula, we did get a great showing from Ziggler that has since been dropped a little- thanks to this weeks firing on Raw- but what we ultimately got was an appearance from Sting that led to the Authority losing, other than that we got nothing on this show of value or remembrance at all. We weren’t even given a reason for Stings appearance beyond ‘he now has a contract’ and still to this day 3months later we have no reason at all.
What makes this kind of ‘when we give it to you, you’ll have to like it’ story telling worse is the fact that NXT was continuing to tell the story of Zayn’s redemption against Neville by keeping them feuded for the title- culminating in a small turn hell for Neville as Zayn put his career on the line for one last shot at the NXT gold at Decembers ‘REvolution’ live event. This story alone was enough to sell the show as this had been nearly 12months in the making of compelling story telling and great in ring action, that good or bad was going to end on this night! However before REvolution aired we also got the debut of Fergal Devitt (changed to Finn Balor) a world renowned talent that instantly upped the talent pool at NXT and moved into the top of the card slots. He was paired with Itami to take on the ever-present and dominant Ascension, who had been stopping Itami at every turn and this just seemed to make sense. Then came November on NXT television and we got Kevin Owens (Steen) vignettes and you felt that the product was due to shift upwards again with his debut, and low and behold it was slated for REvolution. Alongside this we were promised the showdown between Charlotte and Sasha Banks that had been built to brilliantly over the last several months and these three matches made the card a real stand out show.
REvolution aired on December 11th and was everything that it had promised to be, the undercard was full of good matches and build to future matches. The opening match featured a dominating Kevin Owens debut that showed he hadn’t missed a step in his months of television and that NXT have big plans for him, and on the undercard we also got the start of a Baron Corbin and Bull Dempsey feud that similar to the Charlotte and Sasha feud is an exciting prospect. The tag team title match between Vaudevillains and Lucha Dragons was a very good tag team bout, and better than anything we’ve seen on WWE PPV since the Shield and Wyatts were split months before. Then we got the Finn Balor & Itami VS the Ascension match and NXT did something new here, they gave Balor the opportunity to use a full 4minute entrance that featured one of his famous independent looks and showed that not only can Balor do different character aspects but it also allowed him to break out even more and with non-balor fans as he looked cool and can really back this up in ring with the intensity he brings. The match itself was great, even better than the title match and delivered on the excitement and in ring action for the full 12minutes from bell to bell that the four men were given. This showcased how tag team wrestling in the WWE should be and how to build a real tag team feud, it says wonders that on the back of this live performance the Ascension had an accelerated move upto the “main roster.”
Then we look at the two main events, and up first was the NXT Womens championship match between Charlotte and Sasha Banks and this match was a real breakout moment for Sasha who delivered a performance that many felt was above her capability as her and Charlotte delivered an outstandingly physical battle for the title that had plenty of back and forth and near falls. This match may have been better than the Charlotte and Natayla match from earlier in the year, but either way this once again showed that the women’s division in NXT is leaps and bounds above anything the WWE has produced in the last few years. The main event was where it all hinged however, and boy did we get one of the tp matches of the year anywhere! Neville and Zayn delivered everything that was needed to keep everyone engaged, we got spots that made you go “WHAT?!” and we got the ending that everyone was hoping for but no-one was sure we would see- Zayn rasing the Gold for the first time. This was the best written and delivered story of the year and a lot of that has to be given to the NXT writer, but most of this is due to the quality that these men have delivered all year-long in the ring. However NXT also used this time to jump straight into the next big story for the upcoming year (no spoliers here) but it was a great shock end that helped build a new star as a heel instantly. This PPV marks a high point for NXT and sets the bar going forward for all WWE shows- which unfortunately was followed by TLC that is widely acknowledged as the worst PPV of any company in 2014.
WWE this year has given us Lesnar ending the streak, dominating Cena and the breakout star of Rollins (who has carried the compnay since June) and the brilliance of Mizdow. However it has also given us meaningless PPV’s, an over reliance on Cena, the misuse of Cesaro, Wyatt, Ambrose (recently), Paige, Bo Dallas and a shocking Divas division that is no more watchable than anything TNA has produced this year. They have also proved in recent weeks that they can’t even transfer ready-made stars from NXT successfully to the main roster- Ascension fell flat after 1showing and a poorly written promo for them and the best female performer in NXt lost on Raw in under 3minutes to Natalya and we know they can have great matches.
NXT this year has given us 4great live shows, consistently great television shows and wrestling main events and has made international stars (atelast to new fans/wwe only fans) out of Zayn, Neville, Charlotte, Balor, Owens, Banks, Bailey, Itami and the Lucha Dragons. The future for NXT is very bright indeed and you can’t miss a single show as all year it has been compelling, I havent found myself saying this about anything WWE main show related this year at all other than Paul Heyman and Rollins. If you have been watching NXT this year then you know this is true and if WWE doesnt up its game soon then NXT will be the bigger show, if it isn’t already.
NXT could easily be a new brand within WWE, hell it already is as many people have considered this the second show after RAW as Smackdown is now a nothing show. The WWE moving NXT to Wednesday so it doesn’t clash with Smackdowns new Thursday night shows you it is a big draw away from the show, and WWE needs to capitalise on this by giving us what we want in the “main shows” and this is consistent writing, logical story telling, good in ring action with enough time and a host of differing styles and stars to focus on not just the big power house moves and the established men. Oh and WWE we will watch Women’s wrestling when its down right, just look at the praise for Charlotte’s recent run as champion just as Paige before- you need to start getting this right.
NXT is my go to WWE show and for now that wont change- but at the same time I feel loyal to Raw which is why it hurts my feelings of nostalgia to say “NXT is the best wrestling show on Television.”