When WWE cancelled their ECW show and decided to replace it with a new format most people greeted the news positively. WWE’s lacklustre ECW was a pale imitation of the original that was dispiriting to watch. It needed to end but it seemed the company had made the decision without giving enough thought to what the replacement would be. That lack of attention was a big concern.
Over the following weeks details of the new show, dubbed WWE: NXT, gradually began to leak out. It would feature talent from the FCW developmental league paired up with established stars in a rookie/pro dynamic. The rookies would compete in matches and challenges for a spot on the RAW or SmackDown roster. We would get an insight into their lives away from the ring and find out what had attracted them to the “sports entertainment” business whilst also seeing what skills established stars felt were necessary to become successful.
Is that the show we’ve ended up with? Erm... sort of.
NXT, like all WWE programming, is scripted. That means that nothing anyone ever says on the show can ever be taken at face value. While it doesn’t surprise me that they didn’t experiment by trying something other than the proven formula it does seem like a wasted opportunity. NXT was the perfect chance to take a more old school, hands off approach: the rookies could have been given the gist of their promo and the finish of their match and filled in the blanks themselves. This approach would have provided the pros with the chance to have genuine input and made for a more varied product than RAW or SmackDown, as well as allowing the rookies to succeed or fail on their own merits.
The tasks the rookies have been made to complete included running assault courses, participating in arm wrestling contests, and racing each other around the ring carrying kegs. Invariably the tasks have been an utter waste of time for the wrestlers and the viewers. They serve no purpose other than to bore the crowd and demean the participants.
Which brings me to my biggest gripe with NXT: it does not elevate the new wrestlers. Unfortunately this is across all WWE programming but it’s particularly prevalent on NXT because that it supposedly the whole point of the show. The rookies are supposed to appear on the show and impress the audience enough for them to want to see more. The ritualistic humiliation and nonsensical storylines make the rookies look foolish and uninteresting, they don’t create a desire to see any of them succeed, or even wrestle again. WWE seems to want us to view them as comedy figures but also empathise with them. Does that mean WWE sees its viewers as comedy figures? Quite possibly, there’s more than enough evidence to support the theory. The current approach is one that simply won’t work, especially when Michael Cole is obnoxiously screeching (as per Vinnie Mac’s instructions) that anything these people have accomplished before reaching WWE doesn’t matter.
It all boils down to this: if the rookies are presented as losers they will be perceived as losers. And nobody will back a loser for long.
The show’s not been a complete waste. NXT has been the platform Wade Barrett, Alex Riley and Broadus Clay needed to convince management they were ready for a spot on the main roster, and it introduced the WWE audience to Bryan Danielson. Perhaps the show’s biggest achievement was the original “NXT invasion” angle. Yes it fell flat, but think back to how exciting and filled with potential it felt at the time. It should have turned out differently but its failure is the result of there being no long term plan, not NXT as a show. It couldn’t even have been attempted if it weren’t for the NXT format.
It’s certainly seen more failure than success so far but that doesn’t mean NXT should be condemned. There’s room for improvement. A return to having bigger names as pros would be a good start. We’ve gone from Chris Jericho, CM Punk and Christian to Vladimir Kozlov, JTG and Hornswoggle. Who do you think is going to have more of an air of legitimacy as a pro? If the relationship between pro and rookie were not just for TV then I think the right pros could provide genuine help for the rookies, and that’s something WWE should be aiming for.
A greater emphasis on bringing out real personalities would be a good move too. I believe just being himself is what helped Broadus Clay attract attention. It worked out well for him, and it would for others. Letting newcomers be themselves (or a character of their own creation) eases the pressure on them and increases the possibility of them forming the desired bond with fans.
NXT could be an invaluable tool for WWE when it comes to introducing new talent, but it’s clear at the moment they have no faith in the system they’ve created. That’s why hot prospects Alberto Del Rio and Mason Ryan bypassed NXT: the writing team realised they would look stronger and be taken more seriously if they avoided being linked to the flailing show. A few improvements could change all that, not to mention give experienced acts something fresh to do in their role as mentors. If WWE can put in the time and effort now they’ll reap the rewards in the long run.