Those of you who read this space regularly…are the best people in the world. You’re also well aware of my feelings about NXT. I’ve shouted from any rooftop that will have me about the black and gold brand’s need to make a choice. NXT is either WWE’s third brand or its farm system. Straddling the line helps no one and only confuses the audience members who aren’t disciples of the church of Poppa Haitch.
When WWE released a fuck ton (mathematical term) Friday night, I was shocked. But as more news leaked throughout the weekend, my shock changed to understanding. People getting pink slips is never something to applaud, but it does require proper framing of the bigger picture. If the rumors are true—and there’s no reason to believe otherwise—NXT is going back to its developmental roots.
NXT finally picked a lane, even if it’s one few want to drive in.
The disconnect between what Vince McMahon wants and what Paul Levesque wants was already apparent enough for Stevie Wonder to notice. Their tug of war, if left unchecked, would only exacerbate WWE’s current identity crisis. Vince wants the stars of tomorrow in the same mold of yesterday and the day before that. It’s his company, so it’s his prerogative to run things as he sees fit. While we all may question Bobby Brown every now and then, there’s a method to his madness.
WWE is big business in more ways than that pun implies. And as said before, WWE is not a wrestling company. That’s a tough red pill to swallow, but Vince’s empire is an entertainment company that uses wrestling as its chief content source. That doesn’t sound like an organization interested in five-star matches or anything other than moving product and new TV deals. Rightly or wrongly, McMahon doesn’t believe a lot of cats in NXT fit that bill. An obvious statement if ever there was one.
John Cena spoke on this recently, but WWE’s future is, if not cloudy, at least a tad foggy at the moment. Two main events at SummerSlam feature a part-time Peacemaker and a guy whose prime was 20 years ago. Ironically, the promotion was in the exact opposite boat two decades ago. SummerSlam 2001 featured The Rock vs. Booker T and Steve Austin vs. Kurt Angle. WWE didn’t reach back to a prior generation for various reasons, but chiefly, they didn’t need to. Vinnie Mac knew the box office would take care of itself with proven winners like Austin and Rocky.
While Finn Balor or anyone else but Goldberg is a better pro wrestling choice for SummerSlam, the bankability is questionable. The same goes for NXT wrestlers, including Adam Cole. That’s not a diss to Cole at all, but WWE needs to capture lightning in a bottle again for Cole to take flight as Daniel Bryan did. And even then, they were very reluctant to go along for that ride because he didn’t fit the mold, nor did he figure into their bigger picture.
WWE needs to plan for the future, which means putting people in place for the next billion-dollar deal. Holding onto cats who don’t fit that description “just because” is wack and cruel. Like any relationship, letting the person go is the humane thing to do. No one, least of all a psychic, can tell us how this competition with AEW will end. And let’s be honest, the two companies compete for eyeballs, ad dollars, revenues, and wrestlers. Using its D-League as the first line of defense was always going to end the way it did. Course correcting is sensible, even if the method gives birth to irate fans flipping furniture. Again, I feel your pain.
But like its younger “alternative,” WWE is at a crossroads. For far too long, the company wanted to be everything to everybody. That typically makes for mixed messaging and leads to lackluster creativity. So yeah, you know how that worked out for Vince and his friends. Finally, making a decision on NXT hopefully signals solid creative choices for the main roster as well. Hey, I’m an eternal optimist, so try not to laugh too hard.
A new decade with billion-dollar competition brings fresh challenges for the worldwide leader. Culling the herd in NXT sucks, but it’s the first item on a to-do list WWE ignored for way too long. Let’s hope they figure it out like the last time they were in a similar situation.
For their sake and ours. But mostly theirs.