Opinion Piece: Why I Watch WWE NXT Over Raw & Smackdown

It’s WWE Wrestlemania week, and I’m excited. I’m excited for Wrestlemania, but first the foremost, I’m excited for NXT Takeover New Orleans. For those unaware, up until August of last year I wrote a weekly column here on InsidePulse comparing both Raw and Smackdown. Truthfully, I’ve not watched a single full episode of either Raw or Smackdown since. There are a number of reasons for this, and I wouldn’t necessarily say they full under the typical hipster view of “NXT is far better than Raw and Smackdown and you’re a silly mark if you don’t agree”. I still feel as though Raw and Smackdown are great shows, and I’ll watch Wrestlemania and I’ll likely enjoy Wrestlemania, but let me explain why NXT is the weekly show for me: and it might be for you too.

The first reason for my choice is simply time. As a student I’m living an incredibly busy life right now, and cramming five hours of main roster content into that time is a hell of a task. NXT is obviously only an hour, and the second half of the week is always far less busy for me, so the Wednesday night timeslot works perfectly. Raw and Smackdown are all over social media so it isn’t like I can avoid spoilers and watch them a few days later.

The length of these shows also plays a large part in how much I enjoy them. I find an hour to be a perfect length for a wrestling show. Even by the end of the hour on NXT some weeks I’m beginning to feel a little tired or bored. Smackdown being double the length and Raw triple the length makes them a lot harder to watch and on top of that they both have ad breaks, unlike NXT.

Due to the lengths of these shows, they simply have a different feel surrounding them. Raw and Smackdown at times can feel like they are just trying to fill up time. The major focuses of the show appear every week, while appearing multiple times throughout the show with long drawn out matches and promo segments. Meanwhile, on NXT there is so much talent but with such little time each week, their stars aren’t as over exposed. You don’t get sick of the NXT roster because you see enough of them to be impressed, but little enough to want more at the end of each week.

NXT has an almost simplistic approach. Some storylines such as the ongoing feud between Johnny Gargano and Tomaso Ciampa are more nuanced, but generally there are three or four rivalries going on at once, over simple reasons rather than over complicated soap opera style motives. This makes everything so much easier to follow and with less to focus on, the viewers’ attention and interest is less spread about.

Character development in NXT is far more focused and detailed than the majority of the main roster. Just look at current NXT Champion Cien Almas. Almas debuted as an exciting babyface but struggled to get over with the crowd. While this was a legitimate struggle for the NXT staff at the beginning, it has actually aided his development. Almas then transitioned slowly into a heel character, however struggled to attain the success he was aiming for. The introduction of his new manager Zelina Vega helped the Mexican superstar and since then Almas’s fortunes have improved, leading to him winning the NXT Championship and he will now go on to main event Takeover New Orleans against Aleister Black.

Of course NXT doesn’t maintain a consistent roster. Superstars will be called up to Raw or Smackdown and wrestlers from the performance centre and the Indies will come in to replace them. This gives everything a far fresher feel. Those coming in are far less exposed and they’ll likely spend anything from a few months, to a year or two on the NXT roster. Of course the lesser TV time helps aid this aspect.

Some fans may argue NXT produces better quality wrestling, although I wouldn’t be one of them. I think both sides produce similar quality, however, NXT shows are always going to stick out far more. Again, the over exposure of main roster talent makes everything a bit more predictable. You know what moves they’ll hit, you’ve seen storyline arches coming from a mile away, it’s not rocket science. Then you have NXT, they host their takeover events far less than the main roster host pay per views, and they go similarly to the weekly TV, far less time. This can only help good matches stick out more, because they aren’t coming in the middle of a five hour show, which has already partially worn down the viewer.

NXT’s extra focus on the tag team division is something I really appreciate. Many of the tag teams on the main roster are an afterthought, Smackdown is slightly better at giving them significant storylines but both cannot lay a glove on the way NXT produce their tag team content. Sanity, The Authors of Pain, TM61 and The Undisputed Era are all following in the footsteps of American Alpha, The Revival and the Ascension’s achievements on NXT. One thing the former three teams all have in common is their misuse on Raw and Smackdown. Tag teams are always a major focus of NXT’s product; in fact they’ve got the ‘Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic’ and even main evented a takeover event in the past year.

NXT allows some of their competitors to take risks. It’s worth keeping in mind that the brand is still technically a developmental territory. The like of Patrick Clark are allowed to try out gimmicks and characters – if it doesn’t go well then so be it, back to the drawing board – if it does go well you get the unique excellence of ‘The Velveteen Dream’. Sometimes it feels like main roster wrestlers are under such immense pressure, they just can’t be as out there and creative as those in NXT are afforded the opportunity to be.

Finally, you have the Triple H effect, versus the Vince McMahon effect. Both clearly have different ways they want to build and produce the product. It’s isn’t necessarily a fair comparison. Of course the HHH approach is going to feel fresh and new, because that’s exactly what it is. For however long you’ve been a fan of WWE, you’ve been watching a Vince McMahon product. For myself that is almost 20 years. Over time you’re bound to grow a little bit tired of the way he does things. However, even taking that into account, I simply feel, especially when looking at some of the tournaments HHH has been in charge of, that his style is more up my alley. More competition based, a little more gritty and taking far more risks, rather than playing it safe.

Watching both Raw and Smackdown, especially in full, really isn’t the best option for someone leading a fast lifestyle such as myself. Even if I had more time however, I doubt that I’d wish to spend such large amounts of my free time watching shows that genuinely come off as largely filler content. The main roster shows may be for some, and I still at least watch big events and skim the highlights of each weekly show, but I simply cannot devote such a large amount of time to shows that fail to produce the same quality of character development, storyline progression and overall meaningful television as a show with a fraction of the time to do so.

NXT might not be the only show I watch in full though, I’ve made a point of watching 205 Live each week since Drake Maverick’s introduction and it’s slowly beginning to earn the same reputation within my head as NXT.

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