WWE’s machine keeps on churning. Even as WrestleMania presented the culmination of a year’s of planning, storylines, and body sacrifice, they had Raw and Smackdown the next two nights, as they do all 52 weeks a year.
After what felt to me like a lackluster build up to Mania, the big event delivered the goods, and the momentum continued into WWE’s television programs this week. Every time they get on a streak of writing where the stories have logical cohesion and a three-hour Raw does not feel like more than half the show is filler, it alternately feels great, and makes you wonder why they can’t always do that.
Nevertheless, right now WWE’s cupboard is so stocked with talent that for the first time in awhile it feels like they can keep momentum up and withstand a several-month John Cena movie hiatus. There have been a lot of great acquisitions of talents from Ring of Honor/TNA/New Japan that have either refined their craft or gained notoriety with WWE fans through NXT, or debuted right away on the main roster, and over a half-dozen that WWE has molded through the performance center essentially from scratch.
Add in Kurt Angle and The Hardy Boys returning to the fold after many years away, and a solid core of veterans who never left, and WWE could be primed for a great run for several years if they play their cards right.
Kevin Owens, Finn Balor, Seth Rollins, Sami Zayn, Bobby Roode, Asuka, Shinsuke Nakamura, Samoa Joe, and AJ Styles all had a degree of notoriety for their worldwide accomplishments before entering WWE. All of them but Styles passed through NXT as champions (Asuka and Roode are still there). It’s hard to know to what extent their in-ring and microphone performance abilities were molded at the performance center, but their statuses were undeniably elevated by their time in NXT. There are endless combinations of where their stories can go from here.
On Smackdown Tuesday, Nakamura made his main roster debut, which many felt was long overdue. That being said, look at the reaction he got! Just from making his way to the ring, with a violinist playing his theme:
With his charisma and in-ring ability, Nakamura has the potential to be a Shawn Michaels level talent for WWE. When he is on the screen you just can’t take your eyes of him. Pretty please let a renewed feud with AJ Styles happen sooner than later.
Every time Triple H gives the same quotes about NXT and the performance center, a collection of big wrestling fans on social media rolls their eyes, and mentions the names above as people who were already successful, and known to them. Triple H might as well be playing Mad Libs in these pieces now, and writers keep lapping it up without credulity.
There’s an element of truth to that fatigue, but Triple H does indeed deserve a lot of credit for tapping into WWE’s extensive resources and not only giving these wrestlers a platform to enter the main roster with in-company viability, but making a standalone brand worth watching by stream and paying money to see in person.
And it’s not just these talents who have come out of NXT. A lot were developed in-house.
Roman Reigns, Braun Strowman, Enzo Amore, and Big Cass are talents who are directly attributable to NXT. I know I’ve complained extensively about Roman Reigns in this space, but over the last eight months are so they are booking him perfectly as what a heel needs to be in 2017 — every time he steps out there you want to see him get his ass whipped.
Arguably the most significant success and influence NXT has had is with the women — while a few of Sasha Banks, Charlotte Flair, Bayley, Becky Lynch, Alexa Bliss, and Nia Jax had been around the Indies, all of them spent a good chunk of time in NXT and were known by the WWE audience upon their debuts in ways that would not have been nearly as notable in years past.
Throw in the cruiserweights — Neville, Jack Gallagher, Mustafa Ali, Austin Aries, and many more — who have arrived at WWE through various paths, and entertaining mainstay performers like The Miz (who has been ON FIRE this past year), Chris Jericho (ditto), and The New Day, and the roster has as much depth as it has in maybe a decade. We haven’t even mentioned champions Brock Lesnar and Randy Orton.
Exciting times should be ahead, with the Superstar Shakeup on Monday as a nice tool to shuffle the deck. Let’s hope the writers are up for the task.