HomeWrestlingHow NXT Went From A Gameshow To A Phenomenon

How NXT Went From A Gameshow To A Phenomenon

The date is the 16th of February, 2010.

 WWECW has aired its final episode, yet the WWE still has a timeslot on TV.  How would they replace this failed brand.  

With NXT.

As everyone knows, though, this isn’t the same NXT that is on air today, although it was still advertised as the future of the WWE.  8 ‘rookies’ would be partnered up with 8 current WWE superstars and over the course of the season take part in matches and challenges, with the contestants being voted off one-by-one until the eventual winner would win a contract and a WWE Championship shot. Many had wished for this to be the successor to Tough Enough.  Instead of complete rookies though, we were getting fully trained wrestlers, including a renamed independent wrestler by the name of Bryan Danielson. Wonder what ever happened to him …

This wasn’t Tough Enough though.  The crowd were not accepting this new concept with open arms.  Yes, the series had matches that entertained, but they were few and far between the key carrying contests, assault courses and Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em battles.  The WWE tried to give each weekly episode meaning by giving rewards to the winners of these competitions. Main event matches, slots on WWE talk shows and immunity from elimination’. 

Fun Fact No.1: if you search NXT on google, the blurb still states: 

‘With the help of mentors from WWE’s Raw and SmackDown, amateur male and female wrestlers compete against each other to become WWE’s next breakout star.’

Five seasons followed this format, 3 all male, 1 female and one ‘past and present’ rookies’ seasons.  The emphasis on match-ups shifted more towards challenges, promos and storylines. Matches still took place but with less focus. Not to say that wrestlers didn’t benefit from the exposure.  Such superstars as Bray Wyatt (formly Husky Harris), Titus O’Neil, AJ Lee, Naomi, Fandango (formly Johnny Curtis) and previously mentioned Daniel Bryan.

Change was afoot though. WWE had withdrawn its developmental talent from FCW and everyone wanted change. 

Fun Fact No.2: WWE had planned a 6th season for the game show, featuring Big E, Jinder Mahal, Xavier Woods and Seth Rollins.

NXT the game show was dead. It was time for the ArRIVAL of NXT the brand. Moving production to the permanent home of Full Sail University and onto the WWE Network, a new development show was established. One of the most important factors was that now full control of the brand was handed over to HHH. The only resemblance to the previous incarnation was the caliber of talent to feature. Cesaro, Sami Zayn, Paige, Xavier Woods and Neville (now known as PAC).  All fantastic wrestlers that made a major impact on the main roster in the following years. HHH developed a keen knack for picking out the top independent talent and nurturing them further into their career.

The conveyor belt of talent didn’t stop either.  Kevin Owens, Finn Balor, Samoa Joe, and Sami Zayn were drafted in and proceeded to tear up the rulebook on what ‘developmental’ actually meant. Shows became must-see, with TakeOver events becoming spectacles that rivaled and out-shown main-roster PPVs. Women’s wrestling was also showcased in a way that hadn’t been seen since the days of Trish Stratus and Lita first main-eventing Raw. The four horsewomen of Charlotte, Becky, Sasha and Bayley defied expectations.

This is sports entertainment though, right?  The beauty of the whole thing is that the storylines were kept simple.  Sure, the wrestling did the talking, but there was an underlying narrative that kept everything moving along. No divorces or marriages, but the stories in the realms of reality, be in hatred of each other, jealousy or being tired of a tag-team partners knack of losing.

Fun Fact No. 3 – NXT, the brand, has produced 15 world champions (men and women).

Today, NXT has become mainstream.  Moving from being a WWE Network Exclusive to a two-hour show on the USA Network. TakeOver events travel around North America (and once to London), giving us matches we don’t get from Raw and Smackdown (WARGAMES!) The quality is always must see, producing numerous 5 star matches for our viewing pleasure.  In 2019, NXT took part in Survivor Series for the first time and stole the show. In fact, from that weekend, you could argue that the names Rhea Ripley and Keith Lee became more prevalent than many Raw and Smackdown superstars.

The main goal of development was to get promoted to the touring brands. Not anymore.  The success of NXT has grown to a level that superstars actively wish to stay on the brand. Some even get sent back to Full Sail to further develop their characters and take them in new, untold directions within the company.  Finn Balor’s recent heel run this the best example of this. 

We can’t finish without pointing out the dozens of talents that have come through the attached Performance Center. Without these first-class facilities, we wouldn’t have names such as Bianca Belair, The Velveteen Dream and even Charlotte Flair gracing the squared circle for our enjoyment. 

NXT is arguably the hottest brand on the planet. Some of us have known this for a while.  Everyone knows this now.

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You can find me on Twitter @TDWalton. Thanks for reading.


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