The landscape of the WWE has been very interesting in 2015. The Royal Rumble pay per view gave us an incredible triple threat championship match between John Cena, Seth Rollins and Brock Lesnar. That same show ended with Roman Reigns winning the Royal Rumble match to a chorus of vociferous booing from the live crowd. THE ROCK got booed out of the building as well for endorsing the victorious Roman Reigns. It’s a strange state of affairs as we are on the road to Wrestlemania.
To say I’m angry at the direction the WWE is heading would be an exaggeration. Sure, like many other hardcore wrestling fans, I wanted to see Daniel Bryan win the Royal Rumble match and face Brock Lesnar for the championship at Wrestlemania. On the other hand, watching the live crowds reject what is being forced on them is almost as entertaining as seeing the guys I like win. When wrestling storylines don’t go my way, I try to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. I ask myself, why do I even enjoy watching professional wrestling? I’ve come to realize that I like the entire spectacle of it. If the guy I like doesn’t win all the time, it’s not the end of the world. I’m not cancelling my subscription to the WWE network or selling my DVDs. Of course, it’s great when my favorites get that big win, but watching a well worked, physical match with crazy, elaborate entrances and theme music and fireworks and explosions are what I’m watching the WWE for. Perhaps the WWE has subconsciously trained me to think this.
As Triple H said on Stone Cold Steve Austin’s podcast, “The WWE is the book that never ends.” Daniel Bryan may not be in the Wrestlemania main event this year, but there’s always Summerslam in August or Wrestlemania next year.
Am I glad to see new, younger talent getting a chance to main event? Absolutely.
Is the WWE making tone-deaf booking decisions, ignoring what the crowd wants in order to do what it wants? Probably.
Am I the biggest Roman Reigns fan? Not exactly. I’ll still watch Wrestlemania, but I’ll be cheering for Brock.
The biggest feeling I have towards the WWE right now is apathy. Wrestlemania is a few weeks away and it certainly doesn’t feel like it to me. Three hours of RAW every Monday night feels like a chore to sit through, whereas I’m perfectly fine reading the results after the show and watching the clips I want to see on YouTube. This has happened to me in the past. It proves to be difficult staying motivated and invested in a show that runs every single week of the year. I certainly hope things will pick up soon to help stir up some excitement for Wrestlemania.
Fortunately for us disinterested WWE fans, there are plenty of alternatives. I guess it’s unfortunate that the biggest name in town would even make us look for alternatives, but the world of professional wrestling is so gigantic that there’s always going to be highs and lows. If I’m bored with the WWE, I can watch New Japan Pro Wrestling, Ring of Honor, Dragon Gate, Pro Wrestling Guerilla, TNA, AAA, CMLL, Lucha Underground…you get the idea. My options are seemingly endless.
WWE even offers their own alternative. NXT is their developmental federation and weekly TV show. It’s the NCAA to the WWE’s NBA. NXT started as a pseudo-gameshow for upcoming WWE superstars and has evolved into a wrestling world of its own. Triple H took over the WWE’s developmental program in 2012, and since then, NXT has been a legitimate show worth watching. The show is taped once or twice a month at Full Sail University in Florida, in a smaller arena than Raw or Smackdown which provides the show with an intimacy not seen on the main shows. There’s a smaller roster with a wide and eclectic mix of superstars, from ex-NFL players to former champions of the independent wrestling circuit.
All new WWE hires must go through the NXT system before being called up to the main roster and wrestling on Raw and pay-per-views. Even wrestlers who have been on the indies for over 10 years still must come through NXT and learn to work the “WWE style.” NXT’s system trains everybody from the wrestlers to the cameramen to the pyrotechnicians to the referees. Other wrestling companies have training facilities, but nothing as fully fleshed out as NXT’s system.
NXT’s weekly wrestling show is one hour long on Wednesday nights. It’s available on Hulu or the WWE Network which is great for me since I can’t always catch it live. NXT’s storylines are pretty simple and logical to follow. One wrestler wants another wrestler’s title belt; they’re going to fight over it. One wrestler wants the championship to earn more money for his family and he’ll stop at no lengths to get it. Combine these plot devices with some phenomenal ring-work and you’ve got a hell of a wrestling show. The fact that the show is an hour long is incredibly refreshing from the three hours of Monday Night Raw. Every segment on the show has a purpose and winners and losers can affect the overall storylines. NXT is also very good at listening to their audience. If the crowds are booing a character out of the building, they’ll turn them into a villain and use that to their advantage. The characters that the audience want to see are given plenty of TV time and even eventually win the big one.
NXT’s success stories can be seen in Seth Rollins and Bray Wyatt. Seth Rollins was a Ring of Honor champion before coming to WWE and became the inaugural NXT Champion. Now he’s in line to become the WWE champion by summer. Bray Wyatt was formerly known as Husky Harris and flopped on the second season of the original NXT. He went back to Florida under the revamped NXT system, completely redid his character and is now on his way to face The Undertaker.
Triple H and William Regal (former WWE and WCW wrestler) have an eye for talent. They’ve plucked some of the top names from the indie scene and hired them to work NXT.
These five performers have decades of combined experience from promotions all over the world. Over the last two years we’ve seen all of these guys get signed to developmental WWE deals, when seemingly any of them could main event Raw next week. I’ve followed most of their careers for a while and it’s very exciting to see this caliber of talent come to the WWE. They’re the next-of-kin in line after CM Punk, Daniel Bryan and Seth Rollins helped pave the way.
Here’s a glimpse of what they can do:
These guys are the future of WWE that I’m looking forward to. If we’re stuck with Roman Reigns for now, at least we have these five to help carry the company. The cream always rises to the top.
NXT doesn’t run monthly pay-per-views like their big brother WWE does. NXT’s “pay-per-views” occur every two or three months and air live on the WWE Network. The distance between these shows allows for their angles to build more organically and take on more of a “slow burn.” The payoffs are usually much greater. These live shows have garnered so much attention to where they are a huge selling point for the WWE Network. Rolling Stone and The AV Club even put articles up about their last live show a couple weeks ago.
Another major selling point of NXT are the women wrestlers. For starters, their championship is called the Women’s championship instead of the Diva’s championship. They’re allowed plenty of time to actually work matches instead of the three minute dance-offs or pillow fights we’re subjected to every Monday. The higher-ups backstage treat them as real competitors instead of gratuitous eye candy, and as such, so do the audience. They’re booked to be the same level as the men and at the last pay-per-view, the women’s four-way match stole the show. It’s gotten to the point where the women on the main roster actually want to work NXT shows to prove that they can actually wrestle outside of the few minutes they’re allowed on Raw.
You might see something like that in Japan, but it’s a rarity to see this kind of physicality from the WWE.
NXT is a wrestling show for wrestling fans. Monday Night Raw features three hours of sports entertainment. Quite often I enjoy sports entertainment, but when I need a break from Vince McMahon’s cable television show, I turn to NXT.
by Nate Dimit