“One way of looking at it is misuse, another way of looking at it is things don’t always work out. There are players that play in college football and people cannot wait for them to get to the NFL. Then they get to the NFL and it doesn’t work, it doesn’t pan out. And you can say a team misused them or mismanaged them or the coach of the team they play for didn’t put them in the right role. It can be a million reasons. It can also be sometimes talent doesn’t fit in a particular place or talent got to a particular place and thought, ‘Oh, I made it’ and that was the end of their growth curve. There’s a lot of factors.”
It was not that long ago that NXT felt like the future of WWE and the future of wrestling in general.
It was a training ground not only for the future stars of WWE but for Triple H as well, who was the obvious heir apparent to Vince McMahon as the key decision-maker in WWE whenever Vince retired/died. Triple H had married into the McMahon family, and had shown an affinity for an administrative role and had achieved a lot of success in convincing a lot of WWE fans to get invested in WWE’s developmental brand.
Today though, things are very different.
Triple H is no longer the obvious heir to Vince’s position within the company. Outside of in-ring action, Triple H’s role has been phased down, replaced in corporate calls by new WWE President Nick Khan, and demoted last winter going from Executive Vice President of Talent, Live Events and Creative to Executive Vice President, Global Talent Strategy and Development, according to Dave Meltzer.
Essentially, Triple H’s role in WWE appears to exclusively be related to NXT. On the main roster, it does not appear that he has a lot of creative power, and people like Bruce Prichard and even Paul Heyman seem to have more creative influence over RAW and SmackDown than Triple H. NXT is now Triple H’s sole responsibility, and unfortunately, things are not going particularly well for him at the moment.
As his quote at the top of this story suggests, Triple H admitted on a media call this year that sometimes there is a disconnect between NXT and the main roster, and that can lead to some talent failing when they are called up. Triple H seems to write this off as an unavoidable reality of the industry, but in the real world, this would seem like a huge problem that would need to be corrected. In baseball, if a minor league team and the major league team did not agree on what prospects are worth investing in, it would be a big failure of the entire developmental system. There should be clear synergy between the main roster and NXT to ensure developmental is working efficiently.
That brings up the main question that has always surrounded NXT: Is it actually developmental?
Triple H has largely handled NXT television as his own personal fiefdom where he produces the kind of wrestling product he wants to see, which appeals to hardcore fans and is not in line with Vince’s traditional view of pro wrestling. Triple H has aggressively signed the best indie talent available and pursued big signings from Japan and Mexico. He pushed women’s wrestling seriously, something that wasn’t done on the main roster until it worked in NXT. He hasn’t shied away from the modern, American indie style and has brought in progressive minds to help assist in putting together that kind of product.
While NXT achieved strong success, turning into a viable third brand for WWE, landing a weekly TV slot on USA and having some significant touring success, it ultimately didn’t seem to be achieving its stated goal; which was to create the next generation of wrestling stars for WWE. Triple H focused on wrestlers that often did not appeal to Vince McMahon; whether they didn’t speak strong English (Shinsuke Nakamura, Andrade), were too small for Vince to push seriously (Neville, Ricochet) or were a tag team (The Revival, The Ascension, American Alpha) and the result is that many of them flopped on the main roster, not because they were not talented, but because Vince never sincerely believed in them.
So while Triple H was producing an objectively good show for most of NXT’s existence, he wasn’t doing NXT’s stated goal which was to get talent ready to be the new generation of business-defining stars. As time goes on and more and more NXT stars flop on the main roster, Triple H’s influence over WWE’s star-making scene appears to be diminishing.
This week marked a low point for Triple H. It started when he lost key talent, including Shotzi Blackheart who was in the middle of a feud over the tag titles, and Teagan Nox, who literally just returned as part of a series of vignettes, were called up to SmackDown.
Whatever plans NXT had for those talents had to immediately be scrapped.
Then Karrion Kross, a man who Triple H likely pushed to the moon in part because he had the size and look that would appeal to Vince, was beaten by Jeff Hardy in under five minutes on RAW.
The fact that Triple H was unable to even protect Karrion Kross on RAW to make sure he didn’t lose, when his entire gimmick in NXT hinges on him being an unbeaten monster, is revealing to how little influence he appears to have on the main roster.
Triple H can do whatever he wants in NXT, but on the main roster all of that goes out the window and talent is starting back at square one.
At the end of the day, NXT is only viewed by Vince as another territory he can raid for talent, and whatever that talent was doing in that territory when they were acquired does not matter. Vince has always been interested in signing new talent and building them in his image. Harley Race has to become King Harley Race. Bill Goldberg is wearing a wig in a backstage segment with Goldust. Matt Riddle is a dork who rides a scooter. With Kross, he was stripped of his valet and his aura as an unstoppable badass, probably with the idea that Vince has his own ideas for Kross and his character in NXT is not a factor.
We can’t talk about Triple H and NXT without bringing up his relationship with AEW. NXT was clearly positioned to prevent AEW from finding a foothold in the wrestling industry, opting to run opposite of Dynamite’s on Wednesday nights to try and curb AEW’s viewership. Even prior to that, Triple H was tasked with signing AEW’s future talent such as The Young Bucks and Kenny Omega, and although he reportedly made them very strong offers, he was unable to match the opportunity that talent would have in AEW.
Triple H ended up failing at this task, Dynamite consistently beat NXT, often doubling them up in the key demo ratings, and only a few months after the war started, TNT signed AEW to a lucrative new contract, ensuring that the company had a viable future. NXT eventually gave in and moved to Tuesday nights to run unopposed.
Some people have speculated that the reason Kross and other NXT names have been booked poorly recently has been a punishment to Triple H and everyone involved in NXT for failing to destroy AEW. Even if that is the case, how can you really blame Triple H? AEW’s existence is because Vince McMahon has failed to deliver a quality product that left the door open for a new alternative to gain an audience in the US, and that trend existed long before NXT came into the picture because WWE has been bleeding fans for nearly two decades.
Although Triple H appears to be taking the brunt of the blame from WWE on the shortcomings of WWE’s talent developmental system, his responsibility in the matter is questionable. While NXT isn’t perfect; it has mostly been an entertaining product that appealed to fans, including fans who were turned off by the main roster’s product.
The reason talent has failed on the main roster has more to do with Vince not understanding things that might appeal to those fans, and instead degrading them into middling roles and in some cases, firing them.
Is Triple H to blame for not finding the right talent for Vince, or is Vince to blame for not seeing the appeal of top NXT talent and failing to elevate any of them into superstardom?
In some ways, Triple H is not unlike the NXT talent that sees their WWE careers crushed by the outdated whims of Vince McMahon. Triple H’s strategy and ideas has shown the ability to attract fans to a smaller platform, and if paired with the larger platform of the WWE main roster and RAW and SmackDown, it might lead to real value in WWE. However, Vince has failed to see things the same way and the result is that Triple H is handicapped by Vince’s desires and despite his close connection with him, he is powerless to change anything.
That is why Triple H appears to have lost his position as the chosen heir to Vince’s all-encompassing authority within WWE. Vince can easily understand someone like Nick Khan, a ruthless negotiator with a sharp understanding of the media industry that has already paid huge dividends for WWE. He also understands someone like Bruce Prichard, because unlike Triple H, Prichard puts together the wrestling content Vince enjoys, regardless of whether it really appeals to a mass audience.
Triple H on the other hand, is the guy who failed to stop AEW and wants to push all of these little wrestlers that Vince couldn’t care less about. When he does have talent that Vince does seem to like, Vince wants to give them a new character and ignore their past in NXT, removing Triple H’s fingerprints from the final product.
Triple H will probably always have a role in WWE, and if Vince does ever step down from the position, he will play a larger role in the company. But will he ever sit in the big chair and become the “new” Vince McMahon? I doubt it.
In this edition of the Gentlemen’s Wrestling Podcast, Jesse Collings (@JesseCollings) and Jason Ounpraseuth (@JasonOun95) talk about the famous Nexus angle from 2010. The guys go over the original debut, what went wrong at SummerSlam 2010, the weird post-Nexus careers for the talent involved and how the angle paved the way for future instances of WWE failing to elevate younger talent.