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Not for Mass Consumption: The NXT problem when its brightest stars hit the main roster

If you've ever attended or taken part in an independent wrestling show, you know the feeling of the building, the mood of the crowd, and you also know whether or not a promotion has done its job.

Independent wrestling, particularly in the south, often feels like a throwback to the 1970s and 1980s mixed with some high flyers and guys who are known for being able to work their butts off in the ring. It generally plays well and the fans get to know these more daring, outlandish characters on a personal and professional level. Independent wrestling, minus the bigger budget stuff, is for lack of a better comparison the equivalent of your local theater or Improv group. You pay $10, you see a decent enough show and you stick around after and you meet the guys.


As a ten year veteran of the wrestling business, I met and took pictures or shook hands with thousands of fans. I knew their children when I was a babyface. I even knew things about their lives if they felt the need to tell me when they saw me at a nearby restaurant. It was a give and take relationship and I knew that those watching were the only thing keeping me afloat and enabling me to succeed doing something I loved. As I began working for larger organizations, I kept more of a distance from the audience and simultaneously the shows began to look strikingly similar and less risky.

Take a look at today's WWE and think about the following question: How many guys up near the top have a true dyed in the wool gimmick to their character? I'm not talking about Randy Orton as the "Viper" or Seth Rollins as "Plan B" or even John Cena and his persona. WWE, when it struggled in the mid-90s, was mired in a cartoonish world of characters that felt largely out of touch or just too wonky or infected with cheese. Mick Foley often talks about a conversation Vince McMahon had with his talent backstage in 1996 that led to Stone Cold, to The Game, to Mrs. Foley's Baby Boy, and to reality across the board. The best wrestlers remain the guys who are true to themselves with the volume turned up and it began in many ways during the early stages of the Attitude era.

NXT, even with its distribution and parent company, is an independent wrestling show. It creates over-the-top characters and often those personas have to change on the main roster to have any chance of working for the wrestlers. Full Sail features a great, lively crowd, but one that always makes me think back to my own days of performing in front of 500 people. It's easy to understand Emma and her clumsy dance or her character change because you got to know Emma at every taping and she wasn't buried in the muck of a three hour television show and a six hour television content week. Adam Rose might have worked in Georgia, because that kind of character could dance and make kids happy and do the lollipop gimmick and have fun and then get out of the way.


The problem is not enough members of the WWE Universe watch NXT to form any bond with these characters when they're featured in the minor league. It may be AAA ball, but it's not "the show." The fact is very few guys in developmental have the charismatic chops of Bray Wyatt. He's an anomaly. He didn't have to be fully repackaged and his original NXT gimmick worked in a big way. The Shield was a construct made for the main roster. Fandango had good music and was less annoying than Rose so he had a bit of a shelf-life.

These more-gimmicky characters are always going to fail more than they succeed. The mainstream audience has no interest in them because they didn't watch them develop. If you saw Emma through her NXT transformation and evolution, you remember it and you want to see Emma pushed because she's talented. If you talk to someone who didn't watch NXT, almost universally, unless they tell you she's physically attractive, they don't give a damn about Emma in WWE.

It isn't just the character. Very few of the recent batch of call-ups has been booked well, but again, creative has trouble booking guys who have realistic personas. How could they possibly know how to write for the X-Men?


The most interesting case is Bo Dallas, who most of us here at Cageside really enjoy watching. His character is an independent boastful and pseudo-naive heel that gets heat simply for smiling in a smoke filled bingo hall or National Guard Armory. He's not the world's greatest worker, but he's not atrocious. He plays his character perfectly. However, can you point to a crowd that has fully bought into Bo Dallas yet? In 1995, he might be a midcard Champion. In 2014, as sad as it might be to hear, people channel-flip when they hear his music or see him appear on television. We're pulling for the guy. Right now I have my doubts because WWE is a very fickle organization.

Vince has taught us over the past fifteen years the over-the-top quirky characters aren't champions. The viewers know they're not going to miss anything integral to the company if they skip Adam Rose or Paige or Bo Dallas or any of them. I'll admit Paige isn't totally over the top and I love what that character and that woman could be, but she can't talk and they've totally ruined her. But back to the major players, Kane is really the only guy outside of Bray Wyatt who at times plays a ridiculous character and still gets pushed, even though it's usually as a main event job guy.

But ask yourself this, how much do you buy into Kane or like his character when he plays the "Demon?"

It's an odd situation because NXT often seems to teach guys and lead them into gimmicks that can't possibly work on the main roster. They do it to teach guys how to get over anything they're asked. It's also easier to get over a crazy character in front of a small audience than it is to walk out and simply say, "I'm Jason Martin. I'm from North Carolina and you should like me because I work hard and I have a nice smile." It's frankly very difficult to find the niche in yourself that allows you to bridge the gap with the patrons. Put on a mask, talk crazy, be fat and show your stomach, grow a long beard, whatever it might be, it all helps to mask the inadequacy of a young wrestler.


Randy Orton plays a jerk who may or may not hear voices. Seth Rollins plays an opportunistic jerk. Alberto Del Rio plays an arrogant jerk. Triple H plays a powerful jerk. Wade Barrett plays a clever jerk. Cesaro plays an international jerk. Lana, too, plays a foreign jerk. Brock Lesnar plays a monstrous jerk and his manager - well that guy's just an asshole.

They're different...but they're the same. That's the entire point. WWE has conditioned its audience to accept and understand variations on three themes: guys you like, guys you hate, and guys whose motives are unclear. These constructs make it very easy to write stale but safe television. The various tributaries from the WWE river can't fork too much, because the company doesn't have the time to make you CARE about the long rafting trips unless the guy is Bray Wyatt and he's just that good. That's a problem for those who watch NXT and see it as something it isn't. It's a really high budget independent show.

Everybody these days goes through NXT. The entire roster, short of a few rare veterans, spent their time in developmental. That's impressive because the quality of the roster is outstanding. But a lot of the guys who succeed undergo severe character changes. Those that haven't over the past few months seem caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

One good piece of news. Charlotte and Sasha Banks both play supremely-talented jerks, Adrian Neville plays a high flyer, Sami Zayn plays a blue collar hero, Enzo Amore plays Enzo Amore, and Tyler Breeze is the next Bray Wyatt...if they don't turn him into the next Fandango.

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