Welcome one and all to a special edition of the NXT Spotlight here at TJRWrestling. This week and next week, the WWE Network is showing two NXT live events from Japan and Australia that took place earlier this month in the normal NXT TV spot. So since I have the next two weeks off from normal recapping duties, I figured I’d take some of that time to take a look back at 2016 for NXT and also what I look forward to/predict for the Yellow & Black for 2017. I’ll take five examples of each

2016: The Year That Was

– NXT Takeover: Dallas – The Peak of NXT?

Although NXT is still thriving and doing numerous live events across the globe, all typically received with fanfare and praise, the rabid frenzy that came with immediate sell out shows and every event seemingly having a must see moment to it seems like it’s been lost. So it’s hard not to look back to 48 hours before WrestleMania 32 and wonder if that was as good as NXT will ever be. When the least appealing match on the card is Austin Aries official in-ring debut against a very good Baron Corbin, that tells you how good that show is. There were so many shocking and memorable moments on that card, from American Alpha’s feel good moment of capturing the tag titles, to Bayley passing out and losing her beloved Women’s title to Asuka, to the beyond highly anticipated debut of Shinsuke Nakamura mixed with Sami Zayn’s much deserved swan song, to the dream main event of Finn Balor vs. Samoa Joe. There was nothing not to love about this show. When you look at how the roster has changed since this show, to me it becomes warranted to wonder if NXT will ever get to that fever pitch again.

– The Main Roster Raids NXT

Yes, the NXT Takeover events are still selling out immediately, but the live events not so much. For the overseas tour they just came back from, there were multiple reports of shows advertising buy one, get one free promotions for tickets. I went to one of NXT’s original live events in Austin, Texas that sold out immediately and now they have a live event in Dallas, in a smaller venue than what I saw them in Austin in, and there are still plenty of tickets left for the Dallas show. So the buzz has worn off a little bit. I think a lot of that had to do with the massive purge the roster endured due to the WWE Draft. The brand may be carried by the likes of Joe, Nakamura, Roode, & DIY but there is nowhere near the depth there was a year ago, and the women’s division has still not recovered almost 6 months later. Not only did they lose their biggest star in Balor and their hottest tag team in American Alpha, but they lost some of the backbone as well. Apollo Crews had not yet reached his potential before being drafted, Mojo Rawley being drafted ensured that The Hype Bros would not be sticking around to help fill the void left by Alpha, and the women’s division was gutted when it lost Nia Jax, Carmella, & Alexa Bliss. NXT has managed to stay top heavy and make their Takeover events meaningful, but ever since the draft, they haven’t been able to do much else with the roster they were left with.

– Asuka: The One Woman Wrecking Machine

There was plenty of hype and anticipation for the debut of Asuka to NXT, rightfully so as her legacy in Japan was unmatched. Then when she tore through Bayley not once, but twice in spirited contests, there was no doubt who was going to be leading the next generation of women superstars. Men proudly sport her masks in support and women watch in awe at one of their own being a legit ass kicking machine. Asuka has been hamstrung a bit in the second half of the year with a lack of talent on her level, because quite frankly no one is on her level now. In fact, when Mickie James showed up for a one off appearance at Takeover: Toronto, the fact that Mickie was still at the top of her game and could give Asuka some trouble, was enough to get her a new full time deal with WWE. For as much praise will be heaped upon Shinsuke Nakamura and Samoa Joe for what they did in 2016, Asuka’s name deserves to be mentioned right at the top with them.

– The Reinvention of Samoa Joe

For everything said about how A.J. Styles has changed everything in WWE with the year he’s had and how he’s more popular than ever before, despite being the Franchise of TNA, one can point at Samoa Joe and say the exact same thing. TNA may have had some bumps in the road with Styles, namely making him a Ric Flair clone and the Claire Lynch angle, but TNA just flat out failed with Samoa Joe. He should’ve been what Styles was, but when Kurt Angle came aboard, that all changed. You can argue whether TNA made the right call or not, there are definitely arguments for both sides, but the fact remains that Joe was never the same after that. Then, after he turned heel on Finn Balor, Samoa Joe walked into 2016 a new man and proceeded to have the best year of his career. He only had two feuds, but no matter what situation Joe was in, he delivered both on the mic and in the ring. His no nonsense approach brought a breath of fresh air to his character and he has never looked more comfortable in the ring. Most will say that Nakamura is the MVP of NXT, but for my money it’s Samoa Joe.

– TNA’s Garbage is NXT’s Treasure

I hate calling the likes of Bobby Roode, Eric Young, Samoa Joe, & Austin Aries garbage, because clearly they are not. However, when you look at how TNA consistantly didn’t know how to book them properly (don’t forget all four were their world champion at some point, and not any better for it), it truly is amazing how WWE can bring them in and in a moment’s notice make them household names. Joe already got his own paragraph, but look at how one simple word, GLORIOUS, has turned Roode into a phenomenon. Eric Young is now in charge of one of the most interesting acts in all of NXT right now, Sanity. The fact he hasn’t yet been on the mic, where he excels, to explain the actions and mindset behind Sanity makes him even more interesting. Aries was derailed by an unfortunate turn of events for both him and Hideo Itami, but he was well on his way to becoming the true star that he is, as he had fully embraced his heel turn and was starting to churn out fantastic matches again. It’s a wonder where NXT would be right now if WWE hadn’t been able to bring these guys in, or if TNA knew what to do with them in the first place.

2017: The Year That Will Be

Developmental No More

My first prediction for 2017 revolves around the stigma that NXT, despite its stars, is still a developmental brand and the goal is to be called up to Raw and Smackdown. Triple H did an interview earlier this week for ESPN, and in it he had a very interesting quote about the long term goal of NXT.

“We say that it’s developmental, but at the same time it’s a third brand — 200 events this year, specials and the weekly show itself which are one of the most popular things on the Network,” he continued. “I think over the years you’re gonna begin to see Raw is its own brand, SmackDown is its own brand, NXT — you’re gonna see people move around. It’s no longer gonna be just, this guy got called up, it’s gonna be maybe ‘this guy got moved over, she got moved here,’ and see that transference of talent.”

I don’t think it’ll be over the years, it’ll be over the months. Despite their efforts to try and naturally develop the likes of The Authors of Pain and Elias Samson, NXT at it’s core is all about the star power. Eventually, the likes of Joe and Nakamura and The Revival will all go to Raw and Smackdown and NXT won’t be left with much. There’s only so much top level indy guys left to sign. The Young Bucks, Kyle O’Reilly, & Jay Lethal have all just signed new deals with Ring of Honor. Drew Galloway, if he leaves TNA, will go straight to Raw or Smackdown. Adam Cole is really the only name left. So in order to offshoot this, NXT will need to be looked at as a 3rd, equal brand. Could we see the likes of Seth Rollins, Big E, Neville, Sami Zayn, Tyler Breeze, and more back inside the yellow ropes? I think the chances are likely by the end of the year.

Not Just A Network Exclusive

Even with all the original content and archived material that the WWE Network offers, its two biggest selling points are the PPV events and NXT. The Network is the only place you can see either. However as WWE continually sticking to the third hour for Raw has shown, TV money talks the most. At some point, USA will want a peice of the NXT pie and I would not be surprised to see a Takeover event, or maybe a live event in a special city/venue, be aired live on USA Network. This will upset a fair amount of fans I would figure, but I think in order for NXT to remain sustainable and even attempt to get back to the level it was at that I mentioned at the beginning of this column, then they need to branch out to different things. Doing something on Cable TV would be a start.

The Reinforcements

There may not be much top level indy talent available that we know of at the moment, but that doesn’t mean that NXT will be hurting to find new talent to help replinish that depth they lost out on. I fully expect Adam Cole to be NXT bound, as well as Chris Hero, who has been rumored to have signed a new deal. Even with not wanting to sign a full time contract, I feel NXT will call upon Kota Ibushi more than once in 2017 to help make marquee matchups. Hideo Itami and Austin Aries will eventually come back and hopefully rekindle their feud that had a lot of potential. That will feel like gaining two new stars for the company. With a fourth season of Lucha Underground being on shaky ground right now, there’s always the possibility of those guys being let go from their contracts and WWE having their pick of the litter. Pentagon Jr, who for my money is the single most charasmatic wrestler going right now, would be a STAR in NXT. Also, I feel 205 Live will move to Full Sail as the after Smackdown Live experiment does not look to be working. That will allow the cruiserweights to be available for NXT tapings and put them in front of crowds that are sure to appreciate them. The most important thing to note is that we are clearly in an era in WWE/NXT where anything is possible. I expect more than our fair share of surprises in NXT for 2017.

A Glorious Year

Bobby Roode will be the number one babyface in NXT at some point in 2017. If I were booking the brand, I would have him defeat Nakamura in San Antonio for the title, give him the ball and let him run with it. He should be the face of the brand. He can talk, he looks like a million bucks, he’s practically flawless in the ring, and he has the hottest gimmick going. There are so many appealing matches for him,were he to get through Nakamura, so I would hand the reigns to him and let him be the true mega superstar he can be.

Ember Moon Eclipses The Women’s Division

I am admittedly biased towards Ember Moon as she came from the Texas indy scene and I watched her grow into the wrestler she is now, under the name Athena. However, there is no denying that there is something captivating about her character in NXT and it feels like NXT is holding back on her to try and find the right time to truly unleash it on the Universe. Someone will have to dethrone Asuka for the title, and I can think of no better person than Ember. She has a finishing move that EVERYONE wants to see and instantly got her over. It will be quite the visual to see her deliver that Total Eclipse to Asuka and start a new reign in NXT. There is quite a bit of work to do in the Women’s division, but with a new star in Ember Moon leading the way, and the rumors of the Women’s Wrestling Classic coming in 2017, NXT will be able to lead the next generation of women superstars to ensure there won’t be a drop off after The Four Horsewomen.

Thanks for reading my column and feel free to send your thoughts about how NXT did in 2016 and what’ they’ll do in 2017 to me on Twitter, @KTankTMB. I appreciate all the feedback I get for the NXT Spotlight and The Match Beyond podcast. Happy New Year!