The state of NXT, and its place in WWE’s business model, has always been a hot topic, but discussions have become even more heated since loads of talent was moved from that show’s roster onto Raw and SmackDown during this past Summer’s brand extension.
One of the big questions is why something that started as an offshoot of the developmental program is being headlined by guys in their late 30s like Samoa Joe, Shinsuke Nakamura and now Bobby Roode. Not only are critics wondering if those are spots which should be filled by new faces, but they ask if WWE isn’t wasting guys who have headlined for other companies in their minor leagues.
Triple H addresses those issues along with NXT’s “ever-shifting” role in a new interview with ESPN.
The article finds The Game in “how’s your territory coming?” mode, evidenced in how he addresses the critique that Nakamura should be on Raw while “pulling a confused facial expression”:
One of the things that's funny to me -- I always laugh at it -- is when people say to me, “I watch Nakamura every week in NXT. I don't know why they don't put him on Raw so I can watch him on Raw every week.”
You're getting to see him, right? You're getting to see him doing what he does, in a big way. The opportunities are there. He's got that clean path now to get here, when he gets here he might go there, he might go back.
While he’s clearly pushing NXT as an equal to Raw and SmackDown, his answer ignores the different levels of exposure talent receive based on whether they’re on WWE Network a couple times a month or USA every week. He’s also adhering to the company line that everything other than WWE is an indie, so everyone who comes to WWE has to learn how to be in the big leagues... except that AJ Styles and Karl Anderson came from the same “indies” as Joe and Nakamura and didn’t need to learn camera placements or other things Trips says were eye-opening for someone like Finn Balor.
But it’s the tease at the end of that quote about Shinsuke which is really interesting, and points to a possible new role for NXT in WWE’s system.
Raw and SmackDown are already developing their own distinct identities. NXT had one of their own prior to the brand split, and this interview with Trips may be part of an effort to refocus the show back to being a “third brand” rather than a feeder for the “main roster” it objectively was during the draft. Later in the article, he says:
I think over the years you're gonna begin to see Raw is its own brand, SmackDown is its own brand, NXT -- you're gonna see people move around. It's no longer gonna be just, this guy got called up, it's gonna be maybe “this guy got moved over, she got moved here,” and see that transference of talent.
It all sounds good. But it also runs counter to a lot of the messaging, both subtle and overt, WWE puts out about their shows. For instance, no one from NXT will headline WrestleMania, the “grandest stage of them all”. Special attraction programs like Brock Lesnar and Goldberg are built on Raw.
Which helps to create those different identities, but the identities aren’t equal.
It’s all well and good that we can see Shinsuke Nakamura on WWE Network, but questioning why we’re not seeing him more often on platforms that have bigger audiences isn’t a laughable question.
Check out the whole interview at ESPN.com and let us know what you think.