As anyone who even peruses the pro wrestling internet this week can attest, it was a pretty big week for WWE's developmental program and their Network-exclusive NXT brand that focuses on that roster of talent. Their second Takeover live event was well-received by critics and fans alike, and was preceded and followed by a ton of coverage of the show, its stars, and the man driving it all, Triple H.
Someone with an interesting perspective on the rise of NXT is Gabe Sapolosky. He worked behind-the-scenes with Paul Heyman at ECW before founding Ring of Honor (ROH) in the early aughts. After a falling out with the company he helped create, he went on to partner with Japanese promotion Dragon Gate, bring a version of their product to North America in the form of DG USA and then launching its sister promotion, EVOLVE.
Along the way, Sapolosky has had a chance to work with many of the faces who are on or have already passed through NXT. He's also recently been brought into the WWE fold as a commentator on web articles, Network specials and DVD releases, earning a spot in the sport entertainment giant's kayfabe history of the business.
It's interesting then to hear his take on the big week for former independent stars, and the indies current influence on WWE. And via the email newsletter of his internet pay-per-view (iPPV) partner, WWNLive, he's done just that (the message and the medium used to deliver it are a bit of advertisng on Gabe's part - he is a promotor, after all - but it doesn't make it any less pertinent):
History does repeat itself. I remember when ECW was shunned and ignored in the early days. Then suddenly we saw WWE and WCW embracing the principles and soon the ECW wrestlers. This ignited the biggest boom in the history of US wrestling.
Yesterday [Thursday, September 11], we saw some things that lit the Internet on fire because they are new and we didn't expect them. The biggest was HHH posing for a selfie with Kevin Steen, Hideo Itami and Fergal Devitt and then giving huge endorsements to Sami Zayn and Adrian Neville by tweeting that he would like to wrestle them.
Kalisto as well as Zayn and Neville brought new excitement to NXT Takeover that had fans tweeting their support. This doesn't even include the impact that Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose are making on the main roster. WWE has even included me on the The Shield documentary and Paul Heyman DVD.
So what's my point? A few years ago, none of this would have happened because the talents from the independents weren't considered "major league." WWE has obviously changed it's thought process and we are hopefully at the dawn of a new era.
Will it lead to a boom like in the 90s? I don't know, but I do know that it will lead to new stars and and some fresh wrestling (or sports entertainment in the WWE Universe). The most important thing is that these innovative, cutting edge talents capture the imagination of new, young fans. Given the stage WWE is providing, they can.
I'm really proud to have had the opportunity to work with many of the talents I just mentioned. I am thrilled to be able to work with today's new stars right now. We will unleash them and let them perform at their best at the EVOLVE live iPPVs at WWNLive.com this weekend from New York City. There is something special going on. This is your chance to get in on the ground floor and watch today's new stars bring us into the future.
Is he right? Haitch himself made the 'NXT as ECW' analogy earlier this week. Is Sapolsky simultaneously making the same observation, or is this a WWE company line that he's helping to push? Is there a tacit agreement between Hunter's talent development team and indies like EVOLVE and ROH to work together to the benefit of everyone?
Regardless, Gabe hits the nail on the head in saying that the bigger and more popular that NXT becomes, the more interesting WWE and pro wrestling in general will become. Whether it's successful or not, fresh blood and different approaches make for a more dynamic product. The next few years should be very interesting as WWE taps more independent and international talent, NXT grows and those talents make their way to Raw and Smackdown.
Check out Gabe Sapolsky's current product tonight (September 13, 2014) with EVOLVE 34, featuring champion Drew Galloway (formerly McIntrye in WWE) against high-flier Rich Swann, and tomorrow (September 14, 2015) at EVOLVE 35, where Galloway will face ROH veteran Roderick Strong, and DG USA champ Ricochet defends against hoss Uhaa Nation.