WWE's NXT Redirection Is The Greatest Dismissal Of Their Most Hardcore Fans
With this NXT backtrack, WWE again refuses to cater to the most passionate elements of the fanbase
Well, this one really stings.
Over the past month or so, the wrestling business has been hit with wave after wave of seismic changes. Punk, Bryan, Wyatt, Cole - the circumstances of the stories differ, but the overall theme has been one of potential ground-breaking change. Major moves are likely to happen, and until very recently, the atmosphere was a cautiously optimistic one.
Then last Friday happened.
The NXT releases were reported; the memo leaked.
Last week, many talented Superstars were let go from their contracts. Fightful reported that releases are set to be a regular occurrence going forward, while Dave Meltzer spoke on a major upcoming change in the presentation and focus of the NXT brand. The kinder line was that WWE were interested in refocusing on bigger, younger talent ‘who can main event WrestleMania.’
The far more blunt one - seemingly read verbatim from a source of Meltzer’s - stated: ‘no more midgets, no one starting in their 30s, and people who can be box office attractions and main characters.’
Your mileage may vary, but I’m immensely disappointed by this news.
I’ve been more forgiving towards NXT than most over the past couple of years, a period which has seen the black and yellow brand fall from its lofty perch of the mid-to-late 2010s. A variety of changes led to its sudden loss of momentum, the rise of AEW chief among them, but some problems were self-inflicted.
The doubling of the weekly show’s runtime, for example, separated NXT from its reputation as the tightest hour in world wrestling. The move away from a strictly developmental function didn’t help either, with the likes of Gargano, Ciampa and Cole meandering around like graduates in a student bar, forcing storylines that had once unfolded so naturally.
Perhaps most damagingly, NXT began to believe its own hype.
At its peak, the brand enjoyed an explosion of incredible matches and epic moments. Suddenly, it was seen more as a parody of its former self, that feeling of ‘epicness’ artificially inserted into every level of every card.
But despite all of that, I continued to forgive NXT, because there were still glimmers of excellence. When it was good, it was good - and these small flashes seemed to suggest that a return to form was possible somewhere down the line.
I’m speaking in the past tense though, because even though NXT does still nominally exist, the brand we once knew is gone.
Just look at this tweet from last night’s show:
The weird thing is, NXT hasn’t ended the way we thought it would.
It didn’t fully become that self-parody, eating itself amid a whirlwind of finishers, kick-outs, and half hour matches. Things have actually gone the other way, with WWE shunting the brand far back in the opposite direction.
No more experienced cult heroes of the indie scene; no more enthralling prodigies under six foot. Vince wants big guys who can turn heads at the airport, just like he always has.
It’s the same old cliché and it goes back decades; but NXT was supposed to be our safe haven from that. At its best, it blended the polish of sports entertainment with the passionate, rebellious spirit of independent wrestling - and honestly, in the context of modern day WWE, it feels absolutely crazy that it existed at all.
For about three years, watching a top tier TakeOver would make me think: “I can’t believe we’re getting away with this.”
After 15 years of not being catered to, hardcore wrestling fans were now being given everything all at once. Samoa Joe showing up to stare down Kevin Owens; Bayley and Sasha Banks reinventing women’s wrestling; Enzo and Cass whipping the crowd into a frenzy; the Revival putting on classic after classic; Shinsuke Nakamura being booked against Sami Zayn just because.
But should I have even felt so lucky in the first place? Is it not strange that we thought ourselves so wildly fortunate to have witnessed consistently great wrestling...courtesy of the planet’s biggest, richest wrestling promotion? Surely that just makes sense.
Why would it be so outrageous to expect WWE to provide the hallmarks of a good product: exciting, innovative action and intense, engaging storylines? After all - as they so often love to remind us - they’ve done it in the past.
On the main roster, WWE has deliberately ignored the audience for many years now, but this redirection of NXT is surely the biggest dismissal of its hardcore fans.
What’s worse, such a callous decision (and heart-breaking release of talent) is probably not going to harm the company in the slightest - not in the era of gigantic TV contracts and decade-long deals with Saudi Arabia. But it still feels as though WWE, in blatantly disregarding the most passionate elements of its fanbase, has surrendered something.
If NXT does indeed become a scaled-down version of Raw or SmackDown, won’t fans be instead driven to the nearest alternative? We know where that alternative is, and if a couple of those big name free agents sign on the dotted line, many more are about to find out too.