WrestleMania week has finished and the 34th edition of the Showcase of the Immortals has been consigned to the history books.
It was an event that enthralled and shocked in equal measure. Ronda Rousey electrified on her debut, transitioning from the Octagon to the squared circle with consummate ease and class. Roman Reigns was victim to an attack from the Beast Incarnate. It was brutal and at times uncomfortable to watch. A 10 year old boy named Nicholas achieved what countless WWE Hall of Famers before him couldn’t and claimed gold on the Grandest Stage of Them All.
The day before, as the Raw and Smackdown Live divisions were gearing up for a seven hour PPV packed with bright lights, big signs and Booty-Os, the NXT roster was busy delivering yet another stellar night of solid and, at times, spectacular in-ring action at Takeover: New Orleans.
This week Raw and Smackdown Live bore witness to the annual influx of stars from NXT to the main roster, as this is the tradition on those shows. It again brought into sharp focus the debate over whether NXT is superior to its bigger, brasher older brother.
The pops from the WWE Universe that greeted the arrivals of Ember Moon, Peyton Royce and the Authors of Pain further underlined fan appreciation for their work in the developmental division.
So why does NXT consistently garner more favorable reviews than WWE PPVs?
A primary factor can be found in WWEs tendency to favor lengthy video packages and promos over in-ring action. Of course, these can add to a feud and help build interest over the eventual pay-off. However, this over-reliance can often be at a detriment to the length and overall quality of the match. NXT’s creative decisions tend to favor the traditional means of storytelling in the ring during a match. The focus is on the overarching craft and skill associated with pro wrestling.
This notion was emphasized emphatically at Takeover: New Orleans in the surefire match of the year candidate between Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa. The effective build-up to the match culminated in masterful storytelling in the ring. Conversely, the billed “dream match” between AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura at Mania, though very good, seemed to be stifled both by time and creativity, with both superstars seemingly having the handbrake still on. This resulted in them maybe not fully immersing themselves in a story of drama and theatre, something they surely would’ve been afforded in NXT.
Vince McMahon still has a stronghold and a final say on everything that happens in WWE. Triple H is the main creative force at NXT. It is a passion project for him, and he treats it as such.
Triple H places huge emphasis on quality in-ring action, thus avoiding some of the more ‘gimmicky’ aspects of WWE programming.
For example, The Ascension were a dominant force in NXT, boasting a record-breaking run with the tag team titles. When they arrived on the main roster, Konnor and Viktor were ‘jobbed out’ to aging tag teams the APA and the New Age Outlaws and have recently spent their time as comic fodder on The Fashion Files.
Indeed, it could be argued that NXT talent is sometimes prematurely called up to the main roster and are poorly booked once there. There certainly seems to be a disconnect, with McMahon favoring part-time attractions such as Brock Lesnar, instead of pushing the fresh talent from NXT to the stars.
Showing huge popularity and promise in NXT, Tye Dillinger, Tyler Breeze, Apollo Crews and The Revival have thus far failed to benefit from a sustained push on the main roster.
All were tossed over the top rope in the Andre the Giant Battle Royal on the pre-show of WM34. Furthermore, Baron Corbin, though initially the benefactor of a mini push with a victory in the Battle Royal a couple of years ago, has since suffered the indignity of a failed Money in the Bank cash-in and a place in mid-card obscurity.
It could even be argued that immense, globally renowned talents Finn Balor and Shinsuke Nakamura haven’t yet fully kicked on since making the transition from NXT to the main roster. Granted, Balor was the inaugural Universal Champion until injury curtailed his progress. Since returning, he has lost to Kane to help further the Big Red Machine’s program with Braun Strowman. He also lost the high-profile triple threat for the Intercontinental Championship at ‘Mania.
Nakamura lost his first crack at gold to a (weirdly) revitalized Jinder Mahal, though his recent heel turn will surely reinvigorate and give him tons of momentum. Both, though, are examples of WWE’s mismanagement. The former fall victim to Vince McMahon’s preference for bigger superstars. The latter suffer from WWE’s desire to tap into the Indian market.
The more intimate setting of Takeover: New Orleans and all NXT produced shows arguably allows for the character of the superstar to engage with a knowledgeable fan base.
The storylines are a lot simpler, but effective, with feuds developing organically and culminating with quality in-ring action. As a result, the action is bereft of any unnecessary gimmicks and don’t feel rushed, as they sometimes do on the main roster.
As the set is deconstructed, the bright lights packed away and the Booty-Os swept from the Grandest Stage of Them All, there is a very tangible argument that NXT is the stage for the grandest action in the WWE.
Andrew Wright has previously written features for and edited the lifestyle section of LBN Daily, a local news platform in Liverpool, UK. You can follow him onTwitter: @awrig84
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