WHY I LOVE NXT
I have loved wrestling since I was four or five years old. Hulk Hogan was my first wrestling love, and is still in my all time top 3. I have watched, to some degree or other, every major promotion that I could get my hands on over the years. Today, we have a ridiculous wealth of good wrestling, with WWE, AEW, a revitalized TNA (Impact), Ring of Honor and of course New Japan Pro Wrestling. It is then a very good time to be a wrestling fan. What re-energized my passion for wrestling however was the strange case of a promotion within a promotion. That is, NXT. NXT has been booked better than WWE proper for a pretty fair stretch, and even though the weekly show has somewhat suffered from being moved to TV, the Pay Per Views - all named Takeover - have been consistently excellent since they began in May of 2014.
NXT is proof that WWE have the talent, not only to delight and impress in the ring, but those behind the scenes who can pursue slow burn payoffs, and considered, logical booking. This is not to knock WWE; they still produce on the whole entertaining shows, occasionally veering into artistic genius, as with Bray Wyatt and John Cena's meeting at this year's WrestleMania. WWE though suffers all too often from being so large and unwieldly a machine. It is the most successful wrestling company in history and carries the burden around to not only make stars, but to make the biggest stars on the planet. Consider the unreasonable hatred directed towards John Cena and Roman Reigns, and see the negative impact of the WWE juggernaut.
NXT in contrast is happy to focus on great wrestling as the #1 aim, and not get so tied up on whether the main event stars can sell ice-creams and lunch boxes. Some of the stars of NXT I was aware of beforehand, as with Kevin Owens, Finn Balor and Sami Zayn. Others, I came to know through the promotion, as with Shinsuke Nakamura, Sasha Banks and Bayley. These six wrestlers alone are a good reason to make the case that NXT is perhaps the greatest wrestling outfit of the last decade. Let us start with Bayley and Sasha Banks. The feud that these two women had is probably my all time favourite, eclipsing other favourites like The Rock and Hulk Hogan and Chris Jericho and Shawn Michaels. The matches they had with each other, which propelled Bayley to stardom, are at the top of my list for the Wrestling is Art argument.
Looking at the women's division in NXT is as good a measure as any other for expressing what separated NXT from the main roster in WWE. Nowhere else would these incredibly talented women have gotten the chance to not only be given the same attention as the men, but to, on more than one occasion, surpass them by a large margin. Bayley vs Sasha Banks in a 30-minute Iron Man match, is poetry. This is Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey. Two fierce warriors, fighting for supremacy, to deny the inevitability of death, to keep the flame burning. This is everything good and pure and life affirming in wrestling. To see the great success that both women have seen on the main roster in the last year makes me so proud of them, to know that they are finally getting their due on the biggest stage. It is interesting that the best thing about WWE for the last several years has been the women's division, a radical departure for almost all of professional wrestling/sports entertainment. This is one area, in which WWE are unarguably leading their competition.
NXT was created as a kind of minor leagues to prepare performers with potential for the demands and challenges of the main roster, but it quickly became evident that it was in fact the superior brand in WWE. Shinsuke Nakamura, probably the most charismatic wrestler in the world right now had great success there, and while his initial entry into WWE proper was significant and at times thrilling - winning the Royal Rumble, main eventing at WrestleMania with AJ Styles - it is an atrocious crime that he has been pushed to the outskirts of the card. One hopes that he follows Finn Balor, in returning to NXT and reclaiming that magic that he had in such large quantities during his initial run. For someone who only speaks a little English, to be able to entrance English speaking audiences all around the world, is a sign of his unusual charisma. My friend Chris compares his style in NXT to that of Michael Jackson, and I think that is a very apt observation!
NXT is in good health today, with people like Adam Cole and Johnny Gargano still going strong. One hopes that they stay in the place that has been good to them, and not be tempted to try Raw and Smackdown for fear of their characters and abilities being entirely mangled by Vince McMahon's big men with muscles philosophy. It is not a coincidence that NXT was positioned into being in direct competition with the burgeoning new promotion, AEW. It is not the big time carnival fireworks of WWE that AEW should keep an eye on, but the slow, steady quality wrestling show that NXT put on. We are living through a golden age of wrestling, where competition will motivate to surpass what came before where success once bred apathy. Long live wrestling. Long live NXT.