The Intercontinental Belt and I have had the ridiculously good fortune (yeah…I know you are jealous!) to have gone to likely over 10 NXT house shows in such exotic locations like Largo, Florida. While these house shows have evolved over the years, I haven’t really evolved in my understanding of what NXT is; it’s a developmental league, right? I go to NXT shows with the expectation of seeing young talent or newbies trying out different moves, characters and partners. Sure I’ve been treated with the occasional older superstar, main roster reclamation project or independent master, but mostly my expectation has been accurate. However, since hearing the crowd loudly booing and jeering one young man at my last show, the 30 year old former football star, Baron Corbin, I’ve been left wondering, what is it that other people expect when they go to an NXT show?
I have never expected to see the talent and athleticism of Ring of Honor, Evolve or Shimmer when I go to NXT. I’ve always thought of the the majority of the performers as students learning how to wrestle while the experienced wrestlers were learning acting or how to play up to the cameras. However, I’m wondering if other people have much higher expectations and are going wanting to see something they view as on par with the main roster or possibly better? Certainly NXT has been changing since I started attending shows,. Now NXT sports huge names on their roster; Samoa Joe, Kevin Owens, Finn Balor and Sami Zayn to name a few. Just even one of these wrestlers could be the “face that runs the place” in almost any other wrestling company, but NXT has all four of them. In addition, the women of NXT have clearly surpassed the women of the main roster in skill level and kayfabe. All of this has likely contributed to a possible sea change in crowd expectations.
Yet I’m left wondering if something else has also happened to push NXT into another class of high expectations. The WWE seems to have found a way to make a more palatable version of an independent wrestling show. After all, there is a certain barrier a WWE fan has to cross when they go to a house show of a local production. They need to stop thinking in pyrotechnics, 10 minute promos, 5 to 10 minute matches, disqualification gimmicks and announcer table mash ups. While all of that is a lot fun, it’s not likely to occur at an independent promotion. Instead, “indie” shows have much longer matches, are much faster paced with a higher degree of athleticism, a lot less talking, real tables and chairs (and who knows what else) and no fancy lighting, seating or staging. NXT on the other hand keeps to the WWE fun formula especially if you attend one of their TV tapings in Orlando or a pay per view. I mean even the sides of the ring have digital displays! Basically, a fan at an NXT show is treated to the feel of seeing something “not corporate” while still getting most of the glitz of the WWE machine.
While I’ll likely always love attending an NXT show, I can’t put it on par with seeing an independent promotion. I actually expect more out of seeing an “indie” than I do out of seeing NXT, a league meant at least partially for training new wrestlers. For me, NXT is about seeing the Baron Corbin’s, the Dana Brooke’s and the Tyler Breeze’s; the wrestlers who are still developing. That is why you won’t catch me booing Baron Corbin anytime soon, as I think it’s been amazing to watch him improve and grow over the past few years. I know that my view likely is narrow and only captures a sliver of what NXT actually represents. So I pose that question to you reader, what is NXT anyway?