The Rise and Death of NXT

By Sean Saputo

In 2010, WWE brought to the forefront a new brand for its development called NXT, a live event/reality show hybrid that saw “the future stars of WWE” being led by pro mentors. While wrestling was involved, the participants also had to complete embarrassing tasks such as running through tires and other unnecessary competitions.

The best thing to come from the initial NXT was the Nexus, who took WWE by storm. Led by Wade Barrett, with fellow members Daniel Bryan (momentarily), Skip Sheffield (aka Ryback), David Otunga, Michael Tarver, Heath Slater, Justin Gabriel and Darren Young, they made an immediate impact, attacking John Cena and destroying the RAW set. After this, it went downhill until a savior saw what NXT could indeed be…his name, Triple H.

The show revamped in 2012 using more talent at the former Florida Championship Wrestling, which was WWE’s developmental territory. By 2014, NXT was off and running.

NXT Arrival in February 2014 was the first “Pay-Per-View” level show done by NXT, and a diamond was found.

From 2014-2019, NXT was WWE’s go-to brand. The show on the WWE Network was a one-hour show that featured great WRESTLING and storylines. Furthermore, Triple H and his team introduced new talent from the WWE Performance Center and branched out into the independent scene, signing some of the biggest named free agents such as Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, Finn Balor, Samoa Joe and Adam Cole.

Takeover shows became must-watch, and when NXT Takeover: Brooklyn came about SummerSlam weekend in 2015 at the Barclays Center, the sold-out crowd took NXT to a level that Triple H himself could’ve only dreamed of.

That night, Bayley and Sasha Banks blew the roof off the building, and from then on, there wasn’t a Takeover you wanted to miss. Every show put on at least one or two four-plus star matches, including shows that had multiple five-star matches.

I got the opportunity to witness a Takeover, NXT Takeover: New York over WrestleMania 35 weekend, and the luster of being at a Mania was incredible, but it was Takeover that stole the weekend.

The rivalries and storylines were equally as important and well put together: Gargano vs. Ciampa, Cole vs. Gargano, Balor vs. Joe, Zayn vs. Owens and many more. All kept you on the edge of your seat and had a sense of realism to them as either of the combatants could end up victorious.

In September of 2019, the NXT we all loved began to see its slow demise towards its death. NXT was moved to USA Network and was now under a two-hour window compared to the one-hour show that made everything necessary.

NXT was moved to USA Wednesday nights because Vince McMahon wanted to raise a ratings war against newcomer promotion AEW, a ratings war that, frankly. NXT was never going to win.

So why would Vince put NXT in the cross-fire of a ratings war it never needed to be in? In his old mind, it was to prove a point. While WWE’s current product is god awful outside of what Roman Reigns is involved in, he, along with Bruce Pritchard, his right-hand man, had grown jealous of what Triple H was doing. They threw the scenario of being on USA out to him, “can you do this?” and he said “yes,” but what was he going to say? When Vince asks, you have no other option.

As time went on, NXT wasn’t couldn’t win in the ratings, as the shows mirrored times like the old Monday Night Wars between RAW and Nitro. Not only that, NXT was stuck in the performance center during the pandemic with no fans.

Then came the day where Vince and his yes men made a rare visit to the Performance Center. This wasn’t a visit to see what’s going on, but rather “what can we rid from here?”

Triple H helped build so many beloved wrestlers in NXT that WWE was destined to usher in what would’ve been an epic future for the main roster. Still, out of spite, Vince, Bruce, John Laurinaitis, Nick Khan and other yes men ruined the talent immediately upon being called up.

The WWE team changed everything about the wrestlers we knew in NXT and made them almost unnoticeable. Keith Lee had his music and look changed, Karrion Kross lost to Jeff Hardy in under two minutes on RAW while still an undefeated NXT Champion, and Adam Cole was given the option to be a heel manager.

WWE has rid everything Triple H built in NXT, and few are utilized. Riddle, Damian Priest, Bianca Belair and Rhea Ripley are exceptions right now. Still, main event men/women like Aleister Black, Andrade, Lee, Kross, Ricochet, Cole, Ember Moon, Toni Storm and countless others have either been left in catering, moved on post contract or have been sent to the unemployment line due to “budget cuts.”

Now NXT operates under the term NXT 2.0, a set with bright lights and a focus on bigger, stronger, under 30 and homegrown wrestlers. The issue is that no one heard of these performers until they magically appeared. They appeared because NXT is now under the vision of Vince and Bruce.

NXT is now in the era of your Bron Breakker’s, Von Wagner’s, Tony DeAngelo’s and Mandy Rose’s, while those who were the pulse of NXT are now being pushed out the door. A show we lived for is now a developmental with wrestlers so green that it is hard to watch and NXT shows that now no longer involve the name Takeover.

Vince’s jealousy of his own son-in-law’s success has led to the death of the best wrestling show in the world. While he sees it as excellent, we all see it for what it is, and that’s Vince having to stick it to someone to show his way is better.

From Gargano vs. Cole to the NXT North American ladder match, to Gargano vs. Ciampa, Walter vs. Pete Dunne, Bayley vs. Sasha and whatever match I didn’t name, we as fans are at a loss with what was near perfection now being led by guys who are so out of touch with what the viewer wants to see.

If anybody, for one second, believes that Triple H, Shawn Michaels and that entire crew who made NXT so incredible is still in charge, look no further than a couple of weeks back when they were doing karaoke on the show. It would never happen with them in charge.

NXT as we all knew and loved is dead, and there’s no one to thank for that loss other than Vince McMahon.

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