Sunday 1 July 2012

New Direction

NXT’s sixth season was a long time coming but it finally started airing on Wednesday 20th June. The fifth season, dubbed Redemption, seemed at many points as though it would never end and will forever be remembered as the season in which the focus of the show changed. It started out under the old rookie-pro dynamic and finished up as pretty much another “weekend show” (in the style of Heat, Velocity and Superstars) that could easily be missed, safe in the knowledge that nothing important would be shown.

There were positive things about the programme but essentially it was not performing its core function: namely, introducing new names and faces to WWE television. A core roster of performers were used as regulars on the show, which was a good thing, but they were methodically jobbed out on the rare occasions they made an appearance on SmackDown or, even more rarely, RAW. There was no feeling that you were watching the future stars of the company at work.

The show’s relaunch has brought with it a fresh feel and a different focus focus. Debuting wrestlers are being booked to look like stars during their matches and are being introduced with the tried and tested video package formula.

Two approaches were used during last week’s show. Leo Kruger and Richie Steamboat were highlighted in videos that spliced in-ring footage from FCW with specially recorded sitdown interviews with the men in question, in which they talked about their hopes for their WWE careers and their love of wrestling. It was refreshing to see this on WWE programming, as was seeing wrestlers wearing something other than their own merchandise.

Bray Wyatt was the recipient of the second approach, a traditional vignette which introduced the man and his gimmick. We heard a promo from him and caught brief glimpses of him preaching to a small crowd along with random shots of street signs and woods. It accomplished the same thing as the sitdown interviews (introducing a new talent) but also gave us variety so there was no chance of boredom.

Truth be told any wrestling fan, no matter their feelings on WWE, would be hard pressed to be bored by NXT. The show set a frenetic pace from the start and kept it up until the end. In a show that lasted less than forty-five minutes without ads we saw an impressive seven matches. True there were several squash matches in the mix but those matches were clearly designed to introduce one new regular star that is going to be a featured performer on NXT.

Jim Ross was predictably superb on commentary. He enhanced the product with his knowledgeable comments and was clearly doing everything he could to make the wrestlers appear as stars, just as he would with the established names on RAW or SmackDown. Byron Saxton and William Regal were both enjoyable too, and worked nicely alongside the veteran play-by-play man.

Seth Rollins (formerly Tyler Black in Ring of Honor), Leo Kruger, and Richie Steamboat were treated as the stars of the episode. All three should develop into talents who can be depended upon to generate the desired reaction if they are used in this fashion every week. In time I could easily see all three appearing on RAW and SmackDown. Rollins in particular is someone I can see achieving great success in WWE, mainly because I saw how good he was during his time in ROH.

I think Seth Rollins will benefit from the NXT revamp

Elsewhere on the show we were treated to matches featuring main roster performers the Usos, Antonio Cesaro and, wait for it, Jinder Mahal (sadly there was no sign of his perspex box). While they don’t benefit from an NXT appearance as much as the newcomers do it’s nice to see WWE dedicating time to wrestlers who have yet to solidify their position in the organisation.

The Derrick Bateman v Johnny Curtis main event was a good note to finish on. Both men have been regulars on NXT for over a year and have earned the right to wrestle in the show’s headline match. While it was nothing memorable the contest they put on was enjoyable and showed that both warrant a promotion to the main roster. They’ve done all they can on show and deserve the same chance that fellow NXT veterans Darren Young and Titus O’Neil have received.

The emphasis on wrestling matches, lack of backstage silliness and plethora of fresh faces are great to see, and a promising sign that WWE is serious about using NXT as a platform for its next generation of stars to begin making names for themselves. This enjoyable approach, along with the NXT debut of Kassius Ohno (also known as Chris Hero), should be enough to convince you to give the show a try next week. You won’t regret it if you do.

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