The NXT brand has become the best wrestling show on television. It’s simultaneously a training ground for the WWE as well as an alternative to the main product. They got to this point by trimming the fat and keeping the greatest features from the wrestling industry. Filmed in front of 400 people at a college, it is an incredibly intimate and visceral experience. The large WWE arenas filled with families and kids have resulted in a far less exciting Raw and SmackDown shows. NXT is also just one hour compared to the three of Raw and the two for SmackDown. This streamlined approach produces the goods and cuts the extraneous crap that comes with a mammoth three hour broadcast. Another case of less is more has to do with the writing and production.
While Raw has struggled with a 30-man-battle-royal of a writing team, (strangely employing TV-drama writers), NXT sticks with what worked best in the past. They use a small, guerrilla-type writing staff to keep the storylines simple, powerful, and resonant. With the writing team more hands-off than on, the wrestlers are able to let their own personalities shine through, the way the legends of wrestling did before them.
This is the single greatest reason for their success and why the WWE’s current product is lacking. The greatest wrestling gimmicks have always been exaggerated elements of a performer's personality. Hogan was always an attention-loving showboat, The Rock is a natural star, Austin is a badass, even John Cena had his most entertaining gimmick as a rapper, which is actually something he can do.
Like the great trumpeter Louis Armstrong said, “If ya ain’t got it in ya, ya can’t blow it out”. It’s the same with wrestling; if the gimmick is not a part of the person, then there is no way they can pull it off and have the fans buy it. This is the single greatest reason NXT is vastly superior. It’s great news for wrestling fans to see the NXT thrive in this way, and especially great that Triple H, who could one day completely run the WWE, has a lot to do with the great NXT product.
There are many, but here are the top 10 reasons why the NXT brand is better than its "major league" WWE.
10. More risks/excitement
It’s a proving ground; a showcase if you will. These guys and gals have to treat every match like it's their audition for the big show. This means you see the highest-quality moves and a do-or-die effort every show. The NXT roster is young and hungry. It’s the reason why March Madness is so captivating to watch. Comparatively, wrestlers on Raw have made it, and there is rarely room for them to move up to the main event if the WWE doesn’t want them to. The wrestlers on Raw need to give a good match, but also need to save a little something for the PPV’s and be mindful of injuries. There is also an air of experimentation on NXT. They bring in wrestlers from around the world who are there to hone their game, trying out moves you may have never seen before.
6 Respect to the Divas
#GiveTheDivasAChance was a top trend on Twitter following this past week's Raw after yet another episode saw creative completely waste the talent of their women.
The three minute matches (on generous nights) the Divas get on Raw and SmackDown are disrespectful. Why even have them as wrestlers if they are not allowed to put on a decent match? I don’t care if you put Bret Hart, Steve Austin, Brock Lesnar and CM Punk together; if you give them only three minutes, they won't tell a great story. The Divas in NXT receive the same amount of time the men do. They can have a proper match and tell a proper story. Hopefully this attitude makes its way to the big show and they start treating the women equally.
5 Less is More
Triple H commented on his recent appearance on the Steve Austin Show (great podcast by the Rattlesnake!) that Raw and SmackDown have “a lot of masters to serve." Raw has become a slow, lumbering, beast of a program. The pacing of such a massive show is very tricky. It doesn’t make much sense that lower ranked wrestlers complain of short match lengths, yet the audience complains that the three-hour show doesn’t feature enough wrestling? The ad-money they make in the third hour means they probably won’t ever reduce Raw back to two, even if Triple H has stated he would prefer it. It’s a diluted mess, full of flashbacks and too much acting by amateurs, and not enough wrestling by professionals.
NXT gives their storylines time to breathe and grow, while the WWE currently feels rushed. In the older times of four PPVs a year, storylines spanned months, gaining momentum and producing gigantic payoffs. Now the WWE is stuck in one-month cycles, forced to constantly promote their upcoming monthly PPV rather than focusing on the bigger picture. For example, the aftermath of the Royal Rumble and the leadup to WrestleMania is at the top of everyone’s mind but the WWE had to focus on February’s PPV Fast Lane instead.
This line of thinking has greatly reduced the magnitude of events. The NXT feels much more like the past, where eras were much more clearly marked out, and title reigns were meaningful. Hogan was the biggest star in the early WWE and he had won the title five times at that point, a huge achievement at the time. Now Cena and Triple H have both won it over 10 times, and the lower belts like the US and Intercontinental have lost much of their pizzazz.
3 Non “McMahon” wrestlers
Vince McMahon loves big guys. He’s a bodybuilding fan and has always had a bias for the large men. He pushed guys like Sid Justice and Lex Luger so hard to try and recreate the Hulk Hogan magic of the 80’s. Smaller men like Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels were only able to break through once the steroid scandal hit, and the muscle men had to take a back seat. It still exists today in the WWE with a very poor wrestler like Ryback getting tons of air time with very little to do with it. CM Punk stated in his Colt Cabana interview that Ryback’s poor wrestling skill resulted in some nasty injuries to Punk.
Two of the biggest stars in NXT are Finn Balor and Kevin Owens. Both would find it very difficult to impress Vince McMahon. Finn is built like a Luchador, and Owens looks more like a wrestling fan than an in-ring performer. But these two are both incredibly entertaining. They get a chance in the NXT to prove what they can do in front of real crowds while being broadcasted live, allowing them to build momentum for a move up to the big roster.
5. Appeal for Hardcore Fans
The best time to see a band is right before they break through to the mainstream; when they are playing to a 1,000 people or less who sing along to every word and cheer for every note. Once a band hits the big time you are stuck seeing them in a massive arena with a bunch of casual fans who heard a song or two on the radio. Right now in the NXT, they are playing to the hardcore fan. They assume the fan has the requisite knowledge and is paying full attention to what’s going on in the ring. Raw and Smackdown are more like the circus. It travels through North America in large venues, entertaining a wide variety of people, including families with kids. I’d rather entertain 400 people who love it, then 4000 who like it.
4. No Michael Cole
Perhaps spoiled with Jim Ross for so many years, the fans of WWE have had to suffer with the very mediocre commentary provided by Michael Cole. The loyalty showed to him by the WWE is incredible, as it boggles the mind why he is still occupying the hallowed top spot. While not every broadcaster on NXT is better than Cole, a good heap of them are. The rotating lineup they use is refreshing, not allowing the fans a chance to get sick of the same voice. Hopefully a golden throated star will emerge from NXT to usurp Cole, and honor the broadcasting table the way Gorilla Monsoon, Bobby Heenan, and so many others have.
3. Triple H has complete control
Triple H gets a lot of hate on the internet. Fans write that he isn’t a talented enough wrestler on his own, relying on his relationships with DX, Shawn Michaels, and Stephanie McMahon to carry him. I myself am not a big fan of his matches, but I do love what he is doing with NXT. You really get the feeling that this guy loves the wrestling business and takes developing the product very seriously. I’m very excited to hear Triple H mention he prefers improvised promos over heavy scripting.
To me, that’s the biggest problem the WWE has; they rob the wrestlers any chance of showcasing their personality with these boring, over-written, soap-opera dramas. The WWE of the modern era has felt too bloated, and puts too much focus on corporate business. It feels like managing the brand, and putting guys on cereal boxes is far more important than the in-ring product. Triple H has done an amazing job putting together a show that he himself would like to watch, and as it turns out, that’s what the real wrestling fans want to watch as well.
2 Smaller writing team
This is huge. There’s a reason why movies aren’t directed by 30 people. It’s about vision. CM Punk blasted the WWE for having 30 writers whom he didn’t even know. When wrestlers asked the legendary Jim Cornette what their characters should say he responded “I don’t know!, I’m not you, only you can know what you should say.”
NXT has a very small writing team, and the product benefits greatly from it. The storylines are not overwritten, wrestlers are allowed to showcase their own personalities, and everybody wins. Hopefully the success NXT is having will influence the flagship brand.
1 It’s organic, rather than forced
A comedian once told me that comedy is one of the few jobs that you can only practice by performing. The interaction with the crowd is integral. Wrestling is exactly the same. You can never predict how the fans will respond to you. The only way to develop your performance and gimmick is by getting in front of crowds and doing it for real. The best wrestlers use the crowd reaction to shape their style, letting it naturally evolve into what it needs to be. Too many times we have seen talented wrestlers go to the WWE and been given completely RANDOM gimmicks that ultimately don’t resonate with the crowd and make the wrestler look like a moron. Hopefully with WWE owning NXT, it means the wrestlers can keep using the same gimmicks on the big stage that got them there in the first place.