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NXT: Are We Missing The Point? by Howie Mandella

NXT is arguably one of WWE’s best byproducts in recent history. Appealing just as much to kids as it does the beloved IWC, NXT’s popularity is boosting. I’m not sure the company quite predicted the success of NXT, especially after how much the original format was trashed and ridiculed. However fans have realized that this brand new NXT is doing something that the main roster isn’t: creating and legitimizing new stars.

A lot of people are now starting to pay heavy attention to the product, and with that comes the usual armchair criticisms of the IWC. While I believe that fans have a place to air their opinions, I also believe these opinions should be based on a logical foundation: a disclaimer that reminds everyone that while NXT may arguably be a superior show to the flagships, the talent who make it all happen are still essentially honing their craft. To which I say, is it fair to hold NXT stars to the same standard as everyone else?

I think not. Sure there are superstars on the main roster who probably deserve to be bumped down to NXT and vice versa. Sure NXT is gaining buzz because it’s fresh and the booking is logical. Sure, it can be argued that NXT itself has been elevated a few levels since Daniel Bryan and Lucky Cannon were looking like goofballs, competing in obstacle courses. However, let’s not forget that NXT and Full Sail University is simply a sample for the WWE Universe as a whole (a more accurate sample than some may think), a focus group of sorts for the work the trainers and trainees put in over at the Performance Center. Let’s not forget that we’re just witnessing a farm territory in every sense of the meaning.

“[Insert Name] will never be a star. They suck on the mic and are way too green in the ring,” “[Insert Name] just doesn’t seem to have ‘it,’” “I can’t see [Insert Name] working on the main roster,” says one of the many seemingly out-of-shape basement dwellers I’ve met going to countless NXT live events and tapings. Not to down a fan expressing their opinion, but their stance was severely flawed. First of all, they couldn’t conceive the concept that most of the NXT superstars haven’t traveled the indy circuit for years before finally getting the WWE nod. They also couldn’t conceive that fact a lot of their favorite superstars weren’t naturals to the business and had to learn the ropes (literally) as well.

I don’t blame this person for expressing opinions. I blame them for not having any sort of perspective. The sad reality is they aren’t alone. In fact, there’s a growing number of fans, who are so jaded towards the business they can’t step back and accept NXT for what it is at its core: developmental. If everyone who signs an NXT contract were ready to be compared to seasoned main roster superstars, there would be no need for the brand at all. It should be a treat to us fans that we’re witnessing the future of the industry we love grow in front of our eyes. Never before have we’ve been able to get such a detailed glimpse into how athletes can start at the Performance Center from scratch and become breakout superstars. Fans get a closer look, and to an extent, even jurisdiction into how someone gets over. Can we be a little more forgiving if one of these new prospects makes a mistake in the ring or gets tongue tied on the microphone? What purpose do the “you f***ed up” chants serve?

You can say that for every fresh trainee in NXT, there are just as many superstars with sufficient indy experience. The Samoa Joes, Finn Balors, Sami Zayns and Hideo Itamis have their place in NXT, but even the most seasoned of indy darlings come to WWE and find that they have a lot to learn. It’s no secret that psychology plays a major role in the WWE-style of match the company has patented over the years. No one in NXT is squeaky clean and perfect. Coming from someone who has been backstage at tapings and heard some of the post-match criticisms, I can tell you that everyone in NXT makes mistakes. What we all need to realize is that it’s ok.

This is the platform for them to make as many mistakes as they need to. Most of us have experienced grade school, and in every class some students catch onto concepts quicker than others. NXT is WWE’s rough draft where these guys and gals get a direct glimpse of what it’s like to work the big stages. There’s been increasing talk of NXT becoming a third brand on the same plane as RAW and Smackdown. It would never work. WWE is becoming a well-oiled machine with NXT, ensuring that new stars are constantly being molded and given the opportunity. It’s clear to the talent that all of them won’t make it to the big leagues, which just ups their motivation to work harder. However, there will be bumps in the road. We’ll be witness to talent coming and going and struggling with the growing pains of the business.It’s time we cut the students some slack and acknowledge them as such.

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