When NXT Takeover: The End took place a few months ago, the main event featuring Finn Balor and Samoa Joe, the notion of NXT being a developmental territory for WWE was dispelled. This has been validated with the additions of Nia Jax, Alexa Bliss, Eva Marie, Mojo Rawley, American Alpha, Carmella and Finn Balor to the ‘main’ roster. However, with all these additions to the Smackdown and Raw brands, it is interesting that a term that continues to be used for a number of these men and women is ‘called up’.
Wrestling fans who follow mainstream sports know that there are developmental systems in sports such as hockey, baseball and basketball, where young up and coming talent are provided the chance to hone their craft and show when they are ready to make it to the next level. For hockey players playing in major junior, college or the American Hockey League, the idea is to make it to the NHL. In baseball, each tier, single A, double A or triple A, is a step along the way to being called up to the Major League club. For basketball, making it to the NBA could consist of being called up from a D-league team or a team competing outside the United States. Each sport has its designated developmental system in place to help refine their aspiring young talent.
When it comes to WWE, for years and years they developed their talent in such promotions as HWA, OVW and FCW, which later became NXT. Notable independent stars such as Seth Rollins, Cesaro, Dean Ambrose, Neville and Sami Zayn, to name just a few, were all refined in the ring, but needed to learn the ‘WWE style’ before being ‘brought up’ to the main roster. However, of late, there has been a shift in the vision for NXT. It has been clear with the additions of notable former TNA, NJPW and Pro Wrestling Noah talent that the company doesn’t necessarily see it as simply developmental any longer. Now, NXT appears to simply sprinkle in a few men and women that are still developing.
The most recent NXT Takeover event in Brooklyn once again put on an excellent event. There was freedom for the performers, and an opportunity to watch great wrestling take place while stories were being told in the ring. Look no farther than the NXT tag team championship match between Johnny Gargano, Tommaso Ciampa and The Revival. There was storytelling, artistry in the ring, and most of all wrestling that WWE could be proud of being tied to.
This was NXT and this was the WWE. It’s hard to watch that match and say that any of these men were still a part of a developmental system. As a fan of not just the WWE, but of all wrestling, I can say that I stood five feet from Johnny Gargano once during an independent show in the Greater Toronto Area and knew he is just as convincing before a smaller crowd as he was in front of the 15,000 fans that sold out the Barclays Centre. I was fortunate enough to see Tommaso Ciampa rip apart a Ring of Honor ring in a small community centre in Toronto, and he did as much damage to that ring there as he did in front of the live crowd in Brooklyn.
In watching these men, they were just as engaging in front of a crowd of 200 or 1000 as they were in front of that larger crowd. Both Gargano and Ciampa have been working on their craft for over 10 years, so to describe them as unknown talent that burst onto the scene during the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic last fall wouldn’t be accurate. In just over a year since then, both men have earned more and more recognition and have become a vital part of the NXT tag team division. However, both men are just as compelling in singles action. Having had the fortune of watching Tommaso Ciampa and Jay Lethal take each other to the limit during their time together in ROH, or watching Johnny Gargano and Eric Young square off against one another for Smash Wrestling, it was safe to say that neither one of these two men were in need of development.
When these men and women are called upon to perform, it’s hard to say that they need to be refined. Someone believes in them, and their years of service developing their craft is a badge of honor. Many of the men and women that are a part of the Smackdown and Raw brand may have been rewarded with being added to those rosters, but there is still ‘development’ to be made there. One talent that has toiled for quite some time in NXT and hasn’t been given the chance to shine is none other than Niagara Falls, Ontario native Tye Dillinger. In speaking with Eric Young a couple of months ago, he said when he was training Dillinger years ago that he could tell right away that there was something special about him. Young said he could show Dillinger once, and he would be able to pick it up right away with no additional instruction needed. As we see Dillinger now as ‘the Perfect 10,’ he has a character that the fans are over the moon for when he comes out to the ring. His work in refined and his talent is unmistakable. It is hard to watch him compete and think that Dillinger is still in need of ‘development’. What does the future hold for someone like Tye?
Several names that are part of the NXT roster, though still relatively unknown, have guidance and are assured to be built up to succeed. The Authors of Pain legitimately have the fighting background to validate their booking as massive heels that are frightening and imposing figures. With Paul Ellering guiding them, they are assured of a mouth piece that will do for them what he did for the Road Warriors years ago.
The NXT brand isn’t developmental anymore, but rather a system that has taken top talent from other promotions around the world and provided them with the outlet to continue to do what they were always good at, but in a WWE ring. For all the criticism that the company has received about their main brand, the NXT one is able to appeal to the cynical fan. Fans were familiar with these men and women and their accomplishments, and are more and more enticed by the idea that these names are now associated with WWE. Whether it was Kenta, Shinsuke Nakamura, Samoa Joe, Austin Aries, Bobby Roode, Asuka (formerly Kana) or potentially Eric Young, each of those names are established performers that have committed a great deal of time and effort to earning a name for themselves. Their skillset is well known, and it is doubtful they’d be brought in to NXT just to enhance the other talent on the roster.
The likes of D’Angelo Dawkins and Sawyer Fulton have been on the NXT roster for many years, and it is unclear if they will be used more. Does that still in some respects make NXT a developmental system? Well, not exactly. If we consider recent comments by Daniel Bryan, he believes that the likes of Finn Balor, Samoa Joe and Shinsuke Nakamura should have been up on the main roster months ago because there was nothing for any of them to ‘develop’. Yet, as recently as a month ago, the draft stated that the respective GMs were ‘calling up’ talent from the NXT roster.
The one benefit that NXT has that other independent promotions do not necessarily do is being able to tour, perform in front of a televised audience and have trainers observing their performances on a day to day basis. This was most evident on the Breaking Ground network special on the WWE Network. In watching that special, it would be easy to presume that NXT is a developmental system, however, when we consider the likes of Bayley, Sasha Banks and Apollo Crews, each of them had an independent wrestling background that gave them the foundation to earn a name for themselves. Even the names that came in second place in the Tough Enough competition, such as Amanda (now competing as Mandy Rose) or the recently released ZZ, along with aspiring talent that were eliminated earlier such as Patrick Clark has had their time to develop.
At times, it almost appears as though NXT is trying to be everything to everybody. On one hand it is showcasing notable talent that compete on major events like the Takeover specials, but it also attempts to reload and bring in relatively unknown independent talent such as Ember Moon, Billie Kay, Peyton Royce and Oney Lorcan, who was known as Biff Busick on the independent scene because of their body of work. It almost appears as though NXT, much like Raw and Smackdown, are attempting to develop a tier system for their talent. There will be the notable stars, there will be enhancement talent who will stand in the ring and get pummelled, and there will be mid card talent that provides a different level of talent for fans to watch.
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