NXT started life as a reality show but turned into a wrestling show with the best WWE had to offer. It was the home of five-star matches, talented wrestlers getting opportunities, and memorable feuds. Despite being the proving ground for wrestlers before they inevitably moved on to RAW or SmackDown, the yellow brand stood on its own as a unique corner in the WWE Universe. That’s what it was, at least. While there are still talented folks delivering the goods in-ring, NXT has lost its identity.

When NXT re-booted in May of 2012, it was an hour-long show usually located in Full Sail University. This format stayed this way until WWE extended NXT runtime to two hours in August 2019. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, NXT changed its taping location to the Capitol Wrestling Center (aka the WWE’s Performance Center) in October 2020. The CWC setup is small yet gives off a vibrant aesthetic similar to the main roster.

Whereas before, NXT would be more grounded in their stories than RAW and SmackDown, wackier shenanigans have infected the show recently. While groups like the Wyatt Family and the Ascencion were out there, wrestlers like Dexter Lumis, the heavily implied serial killer, and Mei Ying, the 1,000-year-old, woman make it hard to maintain suspension of disbelief.

With NXT filling its two hours with some of these nonsense storylines, it’s better off being an hour. While 60 minutes could make it harder to build towards feuds for TakeOvers or NXT Specials, they have proven it is possible to achieve. NXT has created programs in the one-hour show for seven years, and on average, only have four or five major events per year.

While leaving Full Sail for the CWC was caused by the issues with the pandemic, there are no plans to return for the foreseeable future. Unlike RAW and SmackDown, NXT currently is not touring in front of fans, not even for the TakeOver event in August.

NXT lost the presentation and primary location that set it apart from the main roster, and it is leaning more towards more sports entertainment, similar to RAW and SmackDown. For a brief period, NXT was equal to RAW and SmackDown, and that was the build to Survivor Series 2019 and the show itself. The brand even came through in the clutch and covered SmackDown for the delayed main roster, stuck in Saudi Arabia post-2019’s Crown Jewel. Unfortunately, even with all that, WWE’s top brass can’t bring themselves to give NXT its respect.

Look no further than how WWE treats NXT’s top champions recently called up.

Rhea Ripley went undefeated for four months as NXT Women’s Champion. At WrestleMania 36, only her second televised match on the main roster, she lost her title to Charlotte Flair. It would take her ten months to return to the main roster after a month’s hiatus and then going back to NXT. When she did return to RAW last March, she did win the RAW Women’s Championship in April, only to lose it June to Charlotte. Her dominant aura, created in NXT last year, is practically gone.

Former NXT Champ, Keith Lee, started his time on RAW with a loss to Randy Orton. He lost his NXT theme song to something polarizing and ill-fitting, though he has received a better theme song since. He had a 13-12 win-loss record before taking a five-month absence from the company, in part due to injury. Since his return to RAW on July 19, Lee is 1-2, with his first loss being in his home state of Texas.

Shayna Baszler, the most dominant NXT Women’s champ of all time, has spent most of her time on RAW in a title-winning tag team with Nia Jax. Not only has she received one 1-on-1 opportunity for the Raw Women’s Championship, but she also played second fiddle to a possed doll and an acrobatic, lothario sommelier.

Karrion Kross debuted on RAW on July 19, the same day as Keith Lee’s return. The two-time and current NXT Champion is 17-1 in NXT. His defeat was a failed attempt at the NXT Tag Team titles where he did not get pinned. His RAW debut went without his significant other and valet, Scarlett, or the majority of his dynamic entrance. That was before he lost his debut match in under two minutes to Jeff Hardy. On the plus side, he rebounded by beating Keith Lee. Then the week after, he lost to Keith Lee.

Aleister Black’s career on the main roster was much better in comparison. But then, he disappeared from TV after the October 12, 2020 edition of RAW and stayed gone for six months. He watched his wife, Zelia Vega, get fired in the interim. Just as he came back to the company on the May 21 episode of SmackDown, on June 2, WWE fired him due to cutbacks.

Despite him wanting to stay with WWE and Vega getting hired back a month later, this story has a silver lining. It turns out someone didn’t change the terms of Black’s contract when he debuted on the main roster. He should have had the standard 90-day non-compete clause. Instead, he still had a 30-day non-compete clause that remained from his NXT contract. So Malakai Black is now a member of the All Elite Wrestling Roster.

It goes to show you that WWE has to be through with the terms of its contracts. But it’s not like another egregious error like that could happen…right?

Wrestlers on NXT who have been booked strong practically have to start from scratch on the main roster. Talented performers are assigned niches to fill when they get called up. It doesn’t surprise me that wrestlers who have accomplished so much in NXT are still in NXT. Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa debuted on RAW with Aleister Black and Ricochet on February 18, 2019, appeared for a couple of shows throughout the year, and have been exclusive with NXT since 2020.

Let’s talk about Adam Cole.

He is currently the most dominant single reign NXT Champion and, in general, the second most dominant NXT Champion ever. As he and his stable, the Undisputed Era, ran roughshod over NXT, he became both one of the brand’s most hated heels and one of its most entertaining acts. Like Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa, Cole and the UE only briefly appeared on the main roster. Ironically it was during NXT at its strongest in kayfabe, Survivor Series 2019. November of that year, Cole faced Daniel Bryan on SmackDown and Seth Rollins on RAW for his NXT Championship and retained. After his victory at Survivor Series for the NXT title against Pete Dunne, Cole and the UE weren’t on main roster TV again.

So not only has Adam Cole not been called up to the main roster after almost four years with the company, even though the Undisputed Era broke up and he has not been NXT Champion in two years, he’s even working with an expired contract. That’s right, according to wrestling news sources including PWInsider and Fightful, Cole’s contract expired in July, but he agreed to work until SummerSlam. WWE management was reportedly caught off guard with this revelation last month. There is no word as of this writing of if he signed a new deal.

Should Cole move on, whether he stayed in NXT or not, it would be WWE’s fault for how they handled this. Vince McMahon doesn’t need to care about NXT. However, these contract issues have happened more than once, and it’s just bad business.

These days, I don’t know what NXT is.

It isn’t a wild and young promo class in front of a live audience. It isn’t a surefire way for its roster to get to RAW and SmackDown. It is no longer a brand where their top champions and main eventers are taken seriously like Seth Rollins and Kevin Owens. Despite the reality-breaking gimmicks and overbooked feuds, the inability to tour, among other limitations, means it isn’t on the same level as RAW and SmackDown in terms of production.

The only thing that has remained consistent in NXT since the beginning is the wrestlers. Generational wrestlers, wrestlers that will resonate with fans, and wrestlers that will put in the work to improve.

Unfortunately, NXT no longer has the same hold on wrestling fans as it once did, and they can find the same types of wrestlers on a better show.

Triple H’s catchphrase for the brand he helps run and is synonymous with is “We are N-X-T.” If WWE were honest, I’m not sure that they’d know what NXT is anymore.