So, I’m not saying that WWE executives read my column, but on February 14th of this very year, I wrote a piece that included a section on AEW vs NXT being the real main event of the upcoming wrestling battle. And now, WWE is rumoured to be calling the entire NXT roster up to cable TV to go head to head with AEW’s flagship TV program starting this fall on Wednesday nights.
Coincidence? Clearly not. Shout out to JPL, VKM, and any of my other fans in Stamford. [Call me!]
If these rumours are indeed true, (would Dave “5 Stars at the Tokyo Dome” Meltzer lead us astray?) then the wrestling landscape is going to take an even bigger bump this fall than we had all thought. But, is it one of those safe bumps, like the Joey Ryan dick-flip, or is it some crazy New Japan style neck driver bump? While my WWE default setting is skepticism, I can see a case for why this is going to be awesome, while also acknowledging that NXT has a lot to lose. This move stinks of Pettiness on Vince’s part the way Rick Martel used to stink of Arrogance.
Maybe things will be okay
One of my favorite talking points amongst my mark friends when bantering around is that NXT is run by DX and the Cliq. The Road Dogg is full time. HBK is full time. Scott Hall is down there working with the big guys. Both Nash and X-Pac are frequent guests. And, of course, the whole thing is the black and yellow baby of the Cerebral Assassin himself: Triple H. If you ever wanted to get a complete line of guys that had Vince’s ear, it would start with this bunch. Not only are they some of the best minds the business has ever seen, but Road Dogg has direct experience with USA network production as the head writer of SmackDown Live. This group knows how to make big TV wrasslin’ product and make it good.
Beyond the braintrust of NXT is the talent pool, which continues to grow as more and more workers and talents shuffle through the doors of the Performance Center. With only an hour of TV each week at present, NXT only represents a fraction of the names and faces available to work. With an added hour, more guys and gals will get screen time, which in turn allows them to get over, sell merch, and follow their dreams of main event stardom.
With all those bodies in the Performance Center, there are lots of fresh talents that could use some practice before they really know what they are doing. A first hour of NXT TV devoted to enhancement type matches, where noobs take bumps and get pinned, could be just what the doctor ordered. Let John Smith get a pile of jobs under his belt before shining him up as John “The Smith” Smithson for a big debut. There are lessons to be learned for the Japanese “young boy” system here, if we can perhaps change the name to something a little less creepy.
We have already seen superstars such as Breezango and Killian Dane make the lateral move back to NXT from the main roster, as well as some appearances from talents like Apollo Crews. It’s not unrealistic to hope that this could mean a return to the loving embrace of the King of Kings for other main roster talents that have been chewed up and left for dead after leaving the safety of Full Sail University. How much would I love a return to NXT for Bobby Roode, Chad Gable, Ember Moon, Kairi Sane and a score of others? Quite a lot, really. Even beyond names I can think of, there is an opportunity here for a Worlds Collide type of anything-can-happen feel across WWE programming. Undisputed Era vs The OC (Califffoorrrrrnia…)? Ciampa vs Rollins? Baszler vs Lynch? Book them. Book them all tomorrow.
The long and short of the optimistic take is that WWE has an opportunity to do more for their enormous roster here. More TV time, more fresh matchups, more exposure for talents, more ways to get money. Yes, Johnny Wrestling is a secret handshake for a lot of us in the wrestling community. But if my boy can get himself out there on mainstream TV and get more people invested in him and his story, I am 100% here for it.
All that, but Vince McMahon
For all my cockeyed optimism, I can’t help but hearken back to the last times Vince got his hands on wrestling brands he didn’t create: The WCW invasion and the disaster that was WWECW.
Once the Genetic Jackhammer killed his competition, his first idea was to turn WCW into its own brand within the WWE banner. This plan lasted the entire length of a Booker T vs Buff Bagwell match before he scrapped the whole thing. He rushed through an angle that saw him stacking the WCW team with his own, homemade superstars. The angle is viewed historically as both a failure and one of the biggest misses in wrasslin’ history. He couldn’t resist putting the big gold on his guy, The Rock, as soon as possible. Vince completely missed the mark with his booking of DDP. And, despite giving a few guys a chance, he basically shoveled all the WCW talents onto the Viking funeral pile next to scores of other rejected talents.
On the ECW side of things… The Zombie. Kevin Thorne. Big Daddy V. Elix Skipper. A miserable Kurt Angle. World champions Matt Hardy, Christian, and Mark Henry. Not to say that the whole affair was a wash, but it really was. Gone were all the elements of ECW that people loved: the outlaw feel, the violence, the grit of hard-edged characters like The Sandman and New Jack. In its place was a WWE main roster show like all the others, except featuring all the B-list talent that wasn’t important enough to matter for RAW or SmackDown.
So what would Vinnie Mac do with NXT? If you think the answer is anything other than doing jobs to Roman Reigns you are probably going to be disappointed. How long before we see five blue shirts, five red shirts, and five yellow shirts all lined up just waiting to eat Superman punches?
Another major cause for concern is Vince’s need to burn things down (shout out to Seth Rollins) and remake them in his own way. One of the great things about the NXT roster is that talents are allowed to figure things out, add nuance to their characters, and wrestle really good matches on TV with nothing more than a win or pride on the line. Will McMahon be able to help himself from finding the one thing he likes about a character, isolating it, and making it the sole feature of that performer moving forward? See the recent use of the Street Profits on RAW, where they never work, but instead, mug facials and spout off catchphrases. That, versus their treatment on NXT where they are becoming a really solid tag team working great matches. How much “good shit, pal” will Vince see in the worst possible takes for the NXT wrestlers we know and love?
Lastly, Vince McMahon is famous for reminding us that he is in the “entertainment business” and not the “wrasslin’ business,” which is a shame. What NXT is, for most of us that love it, is a quality, pro-wrestling show produced under the WWE umbrella. It’s matches, simple stories, interesting characters, and the absence of overbooked sports-entertainment type shenanigans. What will happen when USA demands more action on their show? It’s not end of times stuff, but it is worth a think.
AEW stays babyface
The interesting part of this whole deal from the cheap seats, from where we are all watching, is how this move will affect AEW and its perception as the “babyface” company in this wrestling face-off. So far, they have been the underdog, the little guy going up against the big monster, the company promising to be both talent and fan forward. How will they look going head up with the super-indie showcase that is NXT?
Since the move looks really, really petty on WWE’s part, I’d say this helps more than it hurts.
If NXT is going to air on the WWE Network anyway, as it will one day after its live USA broadcast, all I have to do is shift my viewing habits one day and I can watch AEW Wednesday and then NXT Thursday. Easy stuff. The ones that could get hurt are the NXT stars that are forced into this spot. The positive spin there is that Wednesday nights will now feature two rosters of the most talented wrestlers in the world competing for our eyes. Do I watch Jericho and the Bucks or Cole and DIY? Holy bleep, what a choice to have to make.
The Power of positivity
With respect to the New Day, I’m going to go into this thing ready to be happy about it. I love NXT and I’m ready to enjoy AEW. I got through the Monday Night Wars in an era before PVR’s, so I’m pretty sure that I can find a way to watch both shows today without any stress.
Shots fired in a wrestling war or WWE marking their territory on the wrestling landscape? Either way, there is a big win to be had for wrestling fans. We don’t have to divide our loyalty here. In fact, let’s watch ALL of it. Let’s support this business in whatever way we can without pitting one side against another. We can cook up inter-company dream matches again. We can make hard choices again. Mostly, we can watch more wrestling, and why would we complain about that?
That’s it for me this week. So, until The Mean Street Posse ditches the sweater vests, I’ll see you marks around the loop.