Gutteridge's Blog: The NXT Big Thing – One Year On
By Darren Gutteridge
June 21 - a day famous for marking the summer solstice, and the birthday of future King of England Prince William, actor Chris Pratt, Killers frontman Brandon Flowers and, errr, singer (?) Rebecca Black. But perhaps above all these things, in 2012, eleven years to the day that the first series of Tough Enough aired on MTV, June 21 marked the debut of NXT Season 6 on UK TV. And here we are, a year on from the new look NXT kicking off with Bo Dallas vs. Rick Victor, and I think it’s safe to say the show has been a massive success.
Anyone who has watched NXT throughout the year can tell you that the show has improved gradually from the opening weeks. A lot of establishing work needed to happen when the show debuted – episodes would often times be comprised entirely of promos and squash matches. Main roster guys were made to share the load with the new guys while they found their footing. Eventually, however, after the groundwork had been laid, the show started to take on a life of it’s own. Main roster guys started to become scarce, usually brought in only to elevate the rookies they worked with. Jim Ross was slowly removed from the commentary table to allow William Regal and Byron Saxton, and later Regal and Tony Dawson, to become the voices of the show.
And, for the most part, the developmental guys flourished. People looking for evidence of the shows success as a springboard to the main roster need look no further than the two NXT champions who between them reigned for (almost) the entire year – Seth Rollins and Big E Langston. Rollins, alongside Dean Ambrose and fellow NXT regular Roman Reigns, are tearing up the main roster as The Shield, and Big E has been putting in strong work as Dolph Ziggler’s muscle, having his debut match at WrestleMania 29. Other NXT standout Bray Wyatt is soon to join them on the road, and I have every faith he’ll match (or surpass) their achievements. That’s not even mentioning the small role NXT played in re-launching guys like Curtis Axel and Fandango, who were kept ticking over on the show during their days as Michael McGillicutty and Johnny Curtis.
That’s not to say they are the only success stories of the first year. Guys like Kassius Ohno, Corey Graves, Adrian Neville, and Leo Kruger have contributed to what many are calling "the best hour of wrestling on TV". Once characters were sorted, and titles dished out, creative gave the wrestlers interesting, well thought out storylines, often given lengths of development time rarely seen on Raw and Smackdown. There have even been glimmers of hope for the Divas division, in the form of Paige and Summer Rae, who both got over with the Full Sail crowd thanks to a slowly built rivalry.
The program hasn’t been short of problems and mistakes though. As much as Big E and Rollins have made the successful leap to the main roster, Bo Dallas did not fair as well (and has found hostility on his return to Florida). It’s also peculiar that in a full calendar year, only three guys have made the jump to from NXT to Raw and stayed there. Guys like Ohno, Kruger and Conor O’Brian have been on the show from day one, and yet WWE still feels they aren’t main roster ready. It may be that they haven’t found a place for them to slot in, so it’s better for them to stay in Florida and not suffer a similar fate to Dallas, but it can’t be good for a guy’s morale if he’s doing good things on NXT, and not getting the promotion.
All that being said, I still believe the show has shown its worth over the past year, and was something of a masterstroke by WWE. While the "brand new" factor has been removed from main roster debuts (for those who watch NXT at least), the talent now has a chance to work out every facet of their character and in-ring work well before it truly matters. There is a chance to change things up if they don’t work – Leo Kruger had a hard character reset early on, and it worked wonders for him. Had he been shipped off with his "South African Royalty" gimmick, which has since been replaced by a much better South African "poacher" act, he may have found himself "future endeavoured", or stuck on Superstars by now. My hope for the next 12 months is basically "more of the same, please." Allow the new guys to find their niche, exploit it fully, and then go on the road full time. I fully expect to write this article again in another year’s time and be talking about a whole new roster of guys, whilst singing the praises of all the current guys that have become mainstays on Raw and Smackdown.
This article also marks my one year anniversary writing for this site. Well, technically, I didn’t start until the second episode, but "One Year and One Week Strong" doesn’t work as a title. I still feel as honored and privileged as I did back then to be writing for the wrestling website I read for years. Thanks to everyone who reads my articles and follows me on Twitter, and let's hope I am still here on June 21, 2014 to write "Two Years Strong"!
Thanks for reading. If you have any thoughts on the article, add me on Twitter - @DazatheG
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