Another successful year
For the third straight year, the Barclays Center in Brooklyn was sold out as WWE fans came to witness the future of the WWE as the top stars of its developmental brand competed at TakeOver: Brooklyn III. There wasn’t a dull moment as the event opened with some high-octane action between Johnny Gargano and Andrade “Cien” Almas, we saw Nikki Cross do things we might not see any other woman do in the WWE, the dream team of Mauro Ranallo and Jim Ross were on commentary for the Aleister Black-Hideo Itami match, and possibly the shift of NXT to a more indie environment with Drew McIntyre as the new NXT Champion and the latest batch of top indie signings making their presence felt.
If you have noticed, NXT has followed a particular pattern when it comes to their developmental brand. Their tag team division is composed of the less popular indie guys paired together and a couple of their own breed of homegrown pairings.
The brand’s top title picture is mainly composed of top indie stars that have signed with the company, regardless of whether the WWE Universe may be familiar with them. Even the women’s division employs this same principle though they are still groomed in the Performance Center for further enhancement.
Guys like Johnny Gargano, Tommaso Ciampa, Aleister Black, and Kassius Ohno are so popular in the indies that they have brought their cult following all the way to NXT and people literally pay to see them live. International flavors like Andrade “Cien” Almas and Hideo Itami have so much potential on a WWE level that their upside is far beyond the best they have already produced.
Adam Cole’s arrival at TakeOver: Brooklyn III is a confirmation of this invasion as the top stars of the independent scene sign with the WWE one by one. Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly too are being groomed to become a dominant tag team despite their size as they laid waste to both the Authors of Pain and SAnitY earlier that night.
Lio Rush is yet to be seen on NXT Programming and whether or not he gets a new ring name, he certainly would click if you are a fan of flips and spots.
The United Kingdom Championship
Like the two major brands Monday Night Raw and SmackDown Live, NXT also has three major titles but is lacking a regional belt. Raw has the Intercontinental Title while SmackDown Live has the United States Title which means if NXT were to add a regional title under their brand, it makes sense to officially include the United Kingdom title to their storylines since the belt has been defended both at NXT’s tapings and TakeOver events as well.
United Kingdom Champion Pete Dunne, along with Tyler Bate, Trent Seven, Mark Andrews, Wolfgang, and Joseph Conners are currently under contract with the WWE but are spending time elsewhere in the European indie scene rather than on WWE programming. In the few times we’ve seen these wrestlers compete, they have never given us a dull match so far which is why the division is highly sought after by the fans.
The good thing about this is that the United Kingdom title does not necessarily need to have a British or any other European titleholder, given how the United States Title has basically been held by people coming from all regions around the world. It would only create a plethora of interesting storylines having a different nation representing the title.
It’s also interesting to note that some reports as of late indicate WWE pumped the brakes on their potential UK-based show focusing on the UK Championship due to financial issues in getting it going. Bringing it to NXT would allow them to capitalize on it for a much cheaper cost.
The Cruiserweight Division
The Cruiserweight Division have their own weekly show named 205 Live which airs right after SmackDown Live on top of being part of the Raw roster. Right now, viewership for both live audience and WWE Network views aren’t that impressive for a product that the WWE seems to be high on.
On top of a pointless three hour Raw which is filled in mostly by replays of happenings from the previous week or earlier in the night, not to mention advertisements, the Cruiserweight Division gets only one to two segments on Monday nights while cramming up sloppy continuations the next night on an hour of 205 Live.
Placing the Cruiserweight Division on NXT would definitely give the entire roster another title to compete for given how some of their upper card stars fall either close or under the weight limit of 205 lbs. Shall NXT dedicate two hours to weekly programming, that would give enough time to create one title feud and two mini storylines as some of the top guys qualify for the division anyway.
Besides, the uptempo ambiance of an NXT show would suit the cruiserweight division’s fast-paced action.
The potential of making NXT a third brand
Right now, NXT dedicates an hour each week for their weekly episodes having a number of episodes taped on a certain day before dividing it into airtime distribution. It takes at least two weeks or more before the next chapter to a feud is followed due to the fact that they need to alternate each storyline with the other as they also need to give exposure to their other developing talent.
Big independent promotions are able to create weekly episodes running on the same amount of time the WWE utilizes for their main programming which means a low-cost budget production like NXT is not far from possible as well. It doesn’t necessarily have to be arenas in big cities but rather the same bingo halls or school gyms NXT live events are held in.
NXT’s home turf of Full Sail can act as the Madison Square Gardens or the Staple Centers of the Monday Night Raw and the SmackDown Live. WWE has the luxury of production equipment which means we are assured the same quality we get for the two major brands and its Pay Per Views.
Competing with the underground cult
Having one’s favorite indie wrestler on NXT programming on the road would only assure attendance from indie marks who feel like their guy deserves to be on bigger stages. Hardcore WWE fans would no longer hear ridiculous statements such as Zack Sabre Jr. being a bigger superstar than John Cena or how the Young Bucks are more over than The New Day as they can now see their favorite indie superstars compete in a WWE ring, on the same touring format an indie guy usually does in smaller promotions.
NXT now has guys like Adam Cole and Lio Rush which would definitely make a good number of indie fans come aboard, not to mention the reuniting of Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly on a WWE stage. Certain superstars such as Matt Riddle and Jeff Cobb may just create a huge pop for the indie mark as they certainly are under the WWE radar and might just be signed soon.
Plus, the WWE could definitely make some good profit out of merchandise sales upon which, the top indie stars get a good chunk of their income out of. If they could sell out merchandise the way Johnny Gargano did with his latest t-shirt, that would surely boost WWE’s profit in merchandise sales while giving their former indie talent a fair chunk when it comes to royalty.
Should NXT become a brand of regular flowing income on the road like Monday Night Raw and SmackDown Live, their indie-infused roster alone might beat both the red and blue brands in terms of viewership and attendance.
So should NXT be a main brand?
Right now, NXT is considered a brand just the same way 205 Live is despite its roster sharing some of Monday Night Raw’s airtime. NXT is still considered WWE’s developmental brand as this is where talents are being sharpened or made from scratch.
The only problem with it is the top talent of the indie scene are being raided to a point that the Performance Center no longer acts as a cultivator and farm but rather just a plain training facility you find at your local wrestling gym. The problem is, the more WWE signs indie talent to perform on NXT, the more popular the brand becomes at the expense of their own developmental talent pool.
We can’t blame the WWE since NXT has proven to get most of its revenue from the draw former indie stars generate which gives more reason for them to become a main brand just as Monday Night Raw and SmackDown Live. Same touring format, same low budget production but also good revenue just like a typical indie show but aired on national television.
The WWE has all the tools and right now which makes it just a matter of execution. Besides, a quite smaller production would be considered a small risk as well, right?
What happens to their developmental talent?
There are a lot of developmental talent we do not even see, save for some who luckily get captured training in the background of an interview with an NXT superstar. They come from all athletic backgrounds and some even have wrestling experience being no-namers in a certain small indie promotion.
The reason we don’t see most of them is because they aren’t ready just yet and their game needs to be invested on with time and patience. This way, not putting them on NXT tapings or house shows could give them more time to hone their raw skills and besides, there will always be slots for dark matches where they could perform once in a while.
Braun Strowman is an example of a success story that came out of nowhere and nothing. He literally did not do anything for NXT, but as a developmental talent, he used the time down there for focusing on training alone and the occasional enhancement gigs being part of Adam Rose’s Rosebuds.
Strowman is now considered one of the most dominant stars on the main roster as he already literally destroyed every big name star on the WWE roster. This only means that if Strowman can succeed despite never being seen on house shows and on tv tapings for NXT, it can also be possible for everyone signed to a developmental deal with the WWE.
It’s only a choice of either NXT becomes a main brand or they bring the big indie names directly up the main roster like they did with AJ Styles and Mike Kanellis (known as Mike Bennett in the indies). Regardless of the direction WWE chooses to go in regards to their developmental brand, one thing is certain…
We are going to see a little less WWE homegrowns in the years to come.
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