With the NXT Spotlight on hiatus for a couple weeks due to some year in review recap shows that are being shown, I thought I’d take my weekly NXT Spotlight and shine it on 2015 in my own way. 2015 was a HUGE year for NXT. From selling out 4,500 strong in San Jose during WrestleMania 31 weekend, to the successful Texas loop in September with three straight sellouts, to numerous match of the year candidates all year long. The list of success in NXT is a mile long in 2015. NXT may be a branch of the entire WWE tree, but that branch went far, far out. It’s basically it’s own entity now. With the year now complete, what can we take away from NXT’s first full calendar year on the main scene and what can WWE use from NXT to help itself get better in 2016? Let’s dive into some of those topics.

Titles Still Mean Something

I urge you to find an NXT Title Match of any kind that didn’t mean something. You won’t. Whereas in WWE, the performers are used to make the title, NXT gets it right and the title makes the performer. If there’s nothing to strive for, then why try at all? NXT made its three titles the focal point all year long and in the process, put people on the map. That’s what a title should do. NXT doesn’t job out its champions like WWE does when they’ve finally become them. We felt the pain when Enzo and Cass came up short for their quest at the tag titles. We cheered wildly when The Vaudevillians finally broke through and captured tag team gold. We grew to know both sides of Finn Balor, both as a person and as “The Demon” as he made his journey to go for the NXT Championship. We laughed, we cried, and we hugged when Bayley finally realized her dreams and won the NXT women’s title. When titles change hands in WWE, we hope that the performer who won it can bring back prestige to that certain title because it’s been tarnished for so long. When titles change hands in NXT, we know who the next big stars are and whom to officially take seriously. One of WWE’s goals in 2016 should be to take this philosophy and just get back to the basics of the business. Make the titles mean something and present the champions as such, don’t make them fodder for other storylines or job them out until it’s time to lose it to the next guy.

The Best of Both Worlds

NXT was created to be a developmental system, a breeding ground to create the next big stars to appear on Raw and Smackdown. Then Triple H started molding it into his image of what the business is, and all of the sudden signing the likes of Prince Devitt, El Generico, Kevin Steen, & Kenta sent shockwaves throughout the sport. Sure, the brand tried to continually say it was still a developmental system, but even under different names of Finn Balor, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, & Hideo Itami, there was no development needed. These guys were undeniably having match of the year contenders on a consistent basis.

However, for every Finn Balor, there’s a Bull Dempsey. For every Kevin Owens, there’s a Baron Corbin. NXT at the roots of it all, is still a developmental system. There’s nothing wrong with that either. I’m beyond excited to see the maturation of the new crop of women’s wrestlers in NXT. From Eva Marie to Nia Jax to Dana Brooke to even the likes of a Peyton Royce, it’s fun to grow with them and see them learn everything they can and apply it into matches. Look at the development of a team like Dash and Dawson. They were a throwaway team that kept working at it, was given the opportunity to grow, and now they’re the champions and getting shoutouts from hall of famers like Edge who called them his favorite tag team. It’s unfortunate to see what has become of Tyler Breeze on the main roster already, but to see how hard he worked on NXT was one of the true highlights of the year. He was always “bottom of the top, top of the bottom” material for NXT, but no matter where he was placed, or who he was designed to make look good, he got himself over. He EARNED that main roster call up. That in itself is the beauty of NXT.

Women’s Wrestling Can Thrive (And Headline)

I’ll admit it, I was a sucker for the days of Bra and Panties matches with the likes of Torrie Wilson and Stacy Keibler. I was also in my late teens and early twenties and unequivocally single. Things change and tastes change. In 2014, we got glimpses in NXT of what the “Divas Division” could become if given a shot. Paige and Emma had a great match, as did Charlotte and Natalya. Charlotte and Natalya had what might be now considered a forgotten match, but at the time was easily in the running for best women’s match ever. The Divas on the main roster however, were mired in horrible storylines, cheesy angles, and 3 minute matches on Raw that coincided with Total Divas that were actually taped months in advance. It was hard to watch. Then 2015 happened, specifically February 11th, 2015, and The Four Horsewomen of NXT kicked the door in on everything we’ve ever come to expect from women’s wresting.

Charlotte, Sasha Banks, Bayley, & Becky Lynch changed the game. They changed everything. Their Fatal 4-Way Match at Takeover: Rival was as good as it gets… until Sasha vs. Becky at Unstoppable became as good as it gets… until Sasha vs. Bayley at Brooklyn was as good as it gets… until Sasha vs. Bayley in the first ever Ironwoman Match in the first ever Women’s main evented pay per view event ever, set the new standard for women’s wrestling. You get the point. Do not let what’s happened to them on the main roster tarnish anything they did in NXT. They didn’t just change women’s wrestling, they changed wrestling period. We will look back 20 years from now at these matches and they will be as revered as Flair/Steamboat matches are today. They were that good.

The Future Is Now

It’s not just a cute slogan for a t-shirt, it’s the truth. The Future IS now. What we’re seeing in NXT under Triple H’s guidance is what WWE will become. Whether that’s 2016, 2020, 0r 2025, that future is what we’re witnessing now. When Finn Balor and Kevin Owens are headlining WrestleMania, we’ll be able to look back at The Beast in The East special from Tokyo and see where it started. When Sasha Banks is defending the Divas Title against Bayley in the main event of SummerSlam, we’ll be able to look back to October 7th, 2015 and the day when they set the standard for what women can do in this business. If there’s a crop of performers who can ever hope to achieve the greatness of what The Attitude Era was able to do, it’s the crop of NXT wrestlers, both still performing in Full Sail and having been called up to the main roster in the last couple of years. The names mentioned all throughout this article along with the likes of Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Neville, The Wyatt Family, & Roman Reigns. The possibilities are endless. Despite how creative has lacked lately, the cream always rises to the top. This talent level will not be held down.

NXT will only continue to get bigger in 2016 and i’m sure at this point next year I’ll be able to write another column talking about how NXT changed the game yet again. This is lightning in a bottle like we haven’t seen since the inception of ECW, and maybe in a way that we thought we’d never see again. This is something special, and I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us next.