In its purest form, a professional wrestling show should be an episodic television show where characters are developed, stories are told, and entertaining matches are made to feel important. This ideal is not often reality; anything from a weak roster of talent to a poor creative direction to things such as corporate influence can prevent a show from firing on all cylinders. This has largely been the problem with the most widely seen wrestling program, WWE, for many years.
Fortunately, if NXT is any indication, the future of the WWE is in good hands. Run almost entirely by Paul Levesque (heir to the WWE and better known by his wrestling persona Triple H), NXT is a developmental brand where talent is molded and given opportunities to develop their personas, in-ring skills and how to build a connection with the crowd. Levesque is an old-school fan of wrestling who prefers to give audiences logical, easy to understand and relate to stories that build to intriguing matches that deliver the goods. It is a formula that will always lead to success.
Triple H also tirelessly promotes the brand, and when the WWE launched their streaming service the WWE Network in 2014, the weekly show that was only featured locally was now available for the entire world to see. The production values improved to accommodate the new, larger audience. Popular international stars were hired and prominently featured as a way to attract fans who were familiar with their work outside of WWE. But what stayed consistent was that the storytelling was direct, the characters were given a chance to develop, and talents were used in ways that maximized their effectiveness.
There are very few people that are featured regularly on NXT’s programming that I do not enjoy for one reason. Wrestlers like Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, Hideo Itami, Adrian Neville, Kalisto and Finn Balor are talents that I have enjoyed for years in smaller companies and it is great to see them get a chance on the big stage. Neville, Zayn, Kalisto and Owens have all made their presence known on WWE Raw in the last couple of months, showing what we all know; they are ready for the big time and as good as anybody on WWE’s roster. Hideo Itami got a guest appearance at Wrestlemania and was made to look good in front of over 70,000 people at the biggest show of the year.
As for Finn Balor? Well, the guy is one high profile entrance away from being the coolest dude in WWE. Because he is already the coolest guy in NXT, possessing a unique charisma, creativity and presence that transcend the need for powerful words.
Of course, is talking is your thing, there’s plenty of that to go around. Sami Zayn and Adrian Neville used their real life friendship and rivalry to tell a months long story where Zayn was pushed to become ever more desperate in order to find the strength to defeat Neville for the NXT Championship. Neville was the longest running champion in WWE at the time and had grown increasingly comfortable with cheating to keep his prize. It was a story about two good men pushed to their moral limits but ultimately coming out good in the end.
If you prefer shorter, more direct interviews, Kevin Owens is as good on the microphone as he is in the ring. And while they don’t excel in delivering quality matches, the tag team of Enzo Amore and Big Cass are incredibly gifted talkers; I would compare them to the New Age Outlaws, for fans of that tag team.
Oh, and did I mention the women’s division is just as good as the men’s? And featured with just as much respect and care?
Charlotte was the centerpiece of the NXT women in 2014, and was a good choice; she is the daughter of wrestling legend “Nature Boy” Ric Flair and possesses plenty of athleticism and charisma, and something few women carry at this point; name value. Being the daughter of Flair matters, and she has lived up to that pressure. But she also has plenty of great women to work with. Bayley is one of the most lovable babyface characters I have ever seen; she likes to have fun and give hugs, but when people underestimate her she has a lot of fight in her. And the current champion Sasha Banks is, without hyperbole, one of my ten favorite wrestlers on the planet right now.
Simply put, in NXT, the women are treated the way they should be. Talent is rewarded regardless of gender.
If you want to see current wrestling that is easy to get into and worth watching every week, I greatly recommend checking out NXT on the WWE Network or Hulu. It is a constant reminder of why I became a wrestling fan in the first place. It is good wrestling, and it is good television.