There’s a simple truth that wrestling fans know deep in their heart: the business of professional wrestling is cyclical. There are high times and lean times, great shows and awful shows, golden eras and eras best left forgotten. Like much of the entertainment industry, professional wrestling also has to fight the good fight against technology and is part of the war to get people to leave their homes and enjoy a night out.
On a macro level, the WWE has never shied away from the adapt side of the Adapt or Die mantra (we will avoid the micro level to avoid yet another debate about John Cena). From proving that a wrestling company could go national (and eventually global) instead of being a regional territory to embracing PPV, the WWE managed to grow into the dominant brand of wrestling (what they call sports entertainment) in the world.
Over the past few years, the WWE has tried a number of things to keep their brand strong in this modern age, including tearing down the wall between superstars and fans by going all in on social media and creating their own streaming service, the WWE network.
The most interesting of these new initiatives is the reinvention of their developmental brand. The WWE will always need more talent, but with the rise of MMA, the big 4 sports still offering the potential for higher paydays and the lack of a serious national competitor, it’s not easy to find new stars to replace those reaching the end of their run.
NXT aims to solve that. Simply put, it’s the WWE farm league, a place where those athletes new to the company can get experience wrestling in front of live crowds, work on what their character is and generally become ready to make the jump to live TV.
NXT is good for the company because they don’t just have to sign folks and hope for the best. It’s good for athletes who are – due to injury, worries about concussions or a lack of passion for their sport – looking for a new career direction. And it’s good for fans, who not only have another wrestling show to follow, but also get a new live experience to check out as NXT expands as a touring brand.
Houston got its first chance to see the stars of tomorrow as NXT made its very first trip to Texas, ahead of Sunday’s big PPV event Night of Champions over at the Toyota Center. This felt like something special, and not just because seeing wrestling at Revention is a thing that hasn’t happened since ECW still existed.
There’s an excitement about NXT among the more heavily invested wrestling fans. The talents are younger, the matches more dynamic, the stories simpler but more engaging. The characters are more dynamic, free of the constraints of what will work in a building that holds 12,000 people. Simply put, it’s just more fun.
No one really embodies that more than NXT Women’s Champion Baylee. She may be the best pure face in the entire company, and her ability to connect with crowds both young and old is going to bring in so much money for the WWE when she makes it to television. Her persona is so upbeat and happy without feeling fake that you can’t help but root for her.
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On the men’s side of things, getting an up close look at Finn Bálor and Apollo Crews feels like getting a look at two future main eventers. Finn is the total package: he’s incredibly gifted in the ring, has a star aura about him and, you really can’t avoid mentioning this but sorry to get superficial all the same, looks amazing. (That body. That face. Swoon.) Meanwhile, Apollo Crews is a next level athlete. He looks like the type of dude that would demolish you in a bar fight, while still managing to pull off feats of agility that don’t seem possible.
You can never tell in the world of wrestling what will work and what won’t. People you think are sure successes flame out. People you think will never get the chances they deserve sometimes end up becoming the most popular guy in the company. It’s a weird business.
But for the first time in a long time, it feels like the WWE has a real future. As a wrestling fan, that’s exciting. Wrestling would survive without the WWE – there are multiple great companies running in Texas alone - but I’d miss my Monday night wrestling and monthly PPVs.
I just hope we don’t have to wait until Houston gets another PPV to get the NXT experience again.