In nearly five months, the time between NXT’s Takeover: London and Takeover: Dallas, WWE effectively killed all of the organic buzz it built over two years with episodes taped months in advance which didn’t have anything to build towards. Now, with NXT Takeover: The End looming next week, WWE is reaping what it sowed.
With the brand split imminent, no one is sure what the composition of the NXT roster will look like in two months. In the current form, however, NXT has gone from a barnburning phenom of longform storytelling, in-ring supremacy and actual character development to a stale, monied supercard brand with a whole lot of nothing in between Takeovers.
NXT’s Weekly Malaise
As recent as winter 2015, but peaking in summer and autumn 2015, NXT’s weekly programming meant something. Not every week was the best hour on of wrestling every week, but it became the only must-watch wrestling brand when the show in Orlando started stringing months of great programming together.
There are still bright spots on NXT. Hell, it’s probably still the best weekly WWE programming unless something special happens on Raw. The title-level stories range from great to sublime, and the tag team division is still special – even with the departure of Enzo and Big Cass.
There is no longer a self-contained story for someone like Tye Dillinger or Elias Samson, however. At NXT’s peak, wrestlers like Bull (James) Dempsey had weekly stories that would either not make it onto Takeover or serve as a 5 minute cool down during the big shows. Today, like on the main roster, Dillinger and Samson remain in the vacuum of the midcard, being fed to Samoa Joe and Shinsuke Nakamura, while waiting for their chance to squash Buddy Murphy in hopes of a push to the top of the card like the opportunity Dillinger had on tonight’s episode of NXT.
If there’s hope, and they may yet be, stories like the dissolution of Wesley Blake, Alexa Bliss and Murphy would take center stage in the weeks where those top-level stories aren’t being as highly promoted. Since December 2015, however, weekly NXT programming has become a series of placeholder content in between General Manager William Regal’s segments promoting Takeovers. And I like Regal’s segments!
The State of NXT
NXT is still trying to do new things. The touring brand has been wildly successful and WWE has worked to capitalize on it by telling the recent important beats of the NXT Championship story at house shows. Samoa Joe finally defeated Finn Balor at a house show in Massachusetts.
The house show title change was an ingenious idea to solidify the importance of attending NXT house shows, but the match needed to be shown to a larger audience at some point. Instead, NXT showed us 30 seconds and a series of reaction tweets. That was all that loyal viewers saw of the longest reigning NXT Champion losing his title.
And maybe WWE and NXT could get away with that when they had great matches on the card every week, but they can’t get away with it when enhancement matches and middle-of-the-second-hour-on-Raw matches are filling the card every week.
Another major issue with NXT is the filming schedule. It makes sense why the company would want to film episodes in month-long chunks, but the schedule is removing all of the urgency (and interest) in the show. Is there a solution that works both financially and creatively? Probably not. But the problem needs to at least be acknowledged. For Christ’s sake, NXT didn’t get back to Florida until a month after WrestleMania. Is anyone supposed to give a damn about those shows?
The Nakamura Effect
Instead of quality storytelling, NXT has relied on debuts to fill the void. Nakamura, obviously the largest and most important addition to NXT, was accompanied by Austin Aries and Eric Young as main features to sell the importance of NXT. Additionally, WWE relied on the speculation surrounding the NJPW raid in January to buoy their lackluster shows.
There are three problems with this, however. First, those moments were ruined by WWE themselves. WWE.com spoiled the arrival of Nakamura, Aries and Young. Additionally, the always helpful #WrestlingTwitter removed any lingering excitement by uploading cell phone video of any and all major twists to come out of the monthly tapings.
— 411 Wrestling (@411wrestling) April 29, 2016
Second, most of those NJPW signees didn’t even come through NXT. Only Nakamura went to Orlando and, cynically, he’s likely only there through the summer to sell the WWE Network in Japan and tickets on the Japanese tour. Nakamura will be on the main roster before the end of the summer, almost certainly.
Third, what are these guys doing since debuting? Aries and Nakamura are perilously close to becoming “just guys,” (I would argue that Aries is already just another guy) and Young hasn’t even been on the show since falling to Samoa Joe in his debut. Aries and Nakamura have been paired together for Takeover: The End, but it’s clearly a placeholder for both wrestlers heading into the run up to SummerSlam and Nakamura’s departure from NXT.
NXT Takeover: The End Might Actually Be The End
There are two foreseeable options: NXT continues on this path of irrelevant weekly matches plugging the holes between Regal’s matchmaking and solidifies it’s position as the world’s premier monied supercard indie promotion.
Or, alternatively, SmackDown becomes the new NXT and the weekly programming becomes tried and true developmental – essentially killing any and all remaining buzz around the brand. The new brand split will greatly expand the rosters on both Raw and SmackDown and the additional talent drain on NXT will leave the brand with no veterans or believable champions. NXT Takeover: The End really is the end of NXT as we know it. And that’s fine. It’s a legitimate way of cashing in on NXT’s popularity. I hope you have cable. But it is a huge blow to what is still WWE’s hottest brand.
With either of these solutions, however, we’ve seen the peak of NXT. I hope you’ve all enjoyed it as much as I have.