A Penny For Your Thoughts Wrestlemania Countdown Day 9; The NXT Factor

Penny Hugger

Welcome back to my unique Mania countdown. Today it’s time to talk about the accidental wildcard in the mix; NXT. So like yesterday with Mania itself, let’s first look back a little for a brief history lesson.

ECWWE had failed, as many knew it was going to. It lacked all the spirit of soul of Heyman’s ECW and was, in the end, an insult to it’s memory. A lot of fans even believe Vince half-assed his copy of ECW on purpose in a failed attempt to kill the ever recurring “E-C-DUB!” chants at last. Whether there’s any truth to that or not, the project failed. But WWE still had a contracted timeslot to fill on SyFy, and the one thing ECWWE DID manage to do was create a handful of new stars.


Thus was born the first concept of NXT, which was… pretty f**king horrible actually. Vince’s idea was to have a pseudo-reality competition show with developmental talent, wherein the plot, such as it was, was that established WWE stars would act as “Pros”, mentoring these rookies, and the winner got a “guaranteed” WWE contract and a championship match. If you never saw that version of NXT and want to know how well that turned out? Wade Barrett never broke past the mid card and has been repeatedly put down by injury, Skip Sheffield and Husky Harris only gained any success at all by completely re-inventing themselves, Heath Slater is a joke as is his Social Outcasts stablemate Curtis “Micheal McGillicuddy” Axel, and Darren Young is barely on tv trying to find a new tag team partner while Titus O’Niel is suspended. And the only original NXT talent to truly succeed just had to retire due to lesions on his brain.

This format of NXT went on for a few “seasons” and was generally not well received. Vince all but forgot about it. Which is when his son-in-law, some guy you’ve probably never heard of, asked if he could have control of NXT and try something new.

Florida Championship Wrestling was the last developmental territory WWE had, and Triple H, with the help of the late Dusty Rhodes, converted it whole cloth into the new NXT, a WWE controlled developmental league, a non-independent “indy fed”, where new talent could hone their talents, fine-tune their selling and storytelling in front of a smaller more vocal smark crowd, and polish their promo skills.

And in many fans’ eyes, the best part of NXT is no Vince. Vince is, for whatever reason, completely hands-off with NXT. Which is the ultimate proof of how out-of-touch and ineffectual he is. I can barely make it through Raw without passing out these days. Aside of a handful of reliably good promo cutters like New Day, Jericho and Ambrose, most of the storylines and promos on Raw and Smackdown just aren’t all that entertaining. And Vince doesn’t really like listening to the fans when he has his mind set on something, which is why poor Roman Reigns, a guy I otherwise actually like, is being forced down everyone’s throat in a role he just doesn’t fit in. I like Roman. I don’t like super-cena Face Roman.

While Tripsy isn’t immune to this himself, given his refusal to stop pushing talent-vaccuum waste of space Baron Corbin, Tripsy otherwise generally DOES listen to the fans. He runs good logical storylines, pushes wrestlers who work for it, creates characters that are extensions of the talent themselves that get over, and 98% of the time listens to the audience when something isn’t working.

The result of this is that the majority of the audience and the industry sees NXT now as THE place to be. Talent IN NXT has openly said in interviews they’re perfectly happy to stay there. International talent like Austin Aries, Samoa Joe, Hideo Itami and Asuka are perfectly happy to have signed with WWE to work in NXT. Talent outside the company who don’t have the kindest of words for the main product have generally good praise for NXT.

The NXT TakeOver specials especially have never been less than 7/10 shows, and usually are at least 9’s. Reddit’s Wrestling section, who are smarks that generally hated Tripsy, actually sent him a fruit basket as thanks after the perfection of R-Evolution. And that special was so good, that WWE’s TLC ppv the following Sunday looked even worse than it actually was by comparison. Same with last year’s Summerslam. The NXT Brooklyn special that preceded it? BURIED it.

And that’s the NXT factor I’m talking about. Next weekend, the Friday before Mania, is another NXT live special, as part of Wrestlemania weekend. And given that a lot of people already expect this year’s Mania to result in unintentional comedy gold with how massively the live audience is likely to just completely and utterly shit on the Tripsy/Reigns match, the NXT special has all the potential in the world to completely embarass Vince and once and for all prove beyond any possible excuses Vince could make that it’s time for him to finally and completely step down.

Because everyone I know is more eagar to watch the NXT special. And everyone I know expects the live reaction to Tripsy/Reigns to be a glorious inhuman trainwreck of X-Pac heat. And the kids in NXT are HUNGRY. Vince outright openly pissed half his roster off last year on the Stone Cold podcast when he dismissed the “mllenials” as not having the drive or hunger of older stars. Not only was it ignorant and patently untrue, but it showed another way that Vince is so completely out of touch, with his audience, with his industry, with reality in general. And come Friday night, those “Millenials” like Bayley, Asuka, Finn Balor, Samoa Joe, and the rest of the NXT crew, have a chance to serve up a big ass slice of crow and make Vince choke on it. And if they do, WHEN they do, it will be a thing of utter beauty.

Because the NXT kids WILL steal the show. And they will set the bar so high that Mania will have to have mountain climbing gear to even touch it. And that’s the gauntlet that the main roster will NEED to pick up. Because however grand and huge the spectacle of Wrestlemania looks this year, it’s GOING to be standing under a huge shadow. The one NXT is already casting as it is. And if NXT kills it on Friday, that shadow is only going to get bigger.

See you tomorrow for Day 8; Why Shane Can and Should Win

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