Is It Time For NXT To Have A Permanent Roster?
In the recent past, WWE's COO Paul "Triple H" Levesque, the man responsible for transforming NXT from a second rate reality competition show to quite literally the hottest brand in all of sports entertainment, has gone on record saying that the black-and-yellow division has moved far past its intended mission of serving as a developmental territory along the lines of OVW and FCW, and is in fact WWE's third brand.
Of course given NXT's amazing roster of talent, superstars as good as or better than anyone on the main roster, who've wrestled all over the globe in Mexico, Japan, England and Australia for respected promotions as varied as NJPW, Ring of Honor, PROGRESS, Dragon Gate, SHIMMER and STARDOM, it would be hard to argue otherwise.
Yet still, there's one important detail that separates NXT from its big brothers Raw and Smackdown -- the revolving door of talent call-ups.
Once eagerly anticipated by fans who salivated at the idea of seeing their favorite NXT stars gain a bigger audience on live weekly cable TV, main roster call-ups have gradually become bemoaned and even dreaded as fans have vocally groaned about talent being misused or not used at all once they get the inevitable call up.
The return of WWE's brand split in 2016 dealt a major blow to NXT's roster as seven separate stars exited the brand simultaneously for the WWE Draft, leaving the weekly show in a state of peril for months until a fresh batch of new signees, primarily from the indie scene, brought new life and reinvigorated the arena at Full Sail University following Takeover: Orlando.
Since then, several other post-PPV Superstar Shakeups have led to talent leaving for varying levels of success on the main roster, but the strong enthusiasm over NXT contrasted with its admittedly poor batting average in converting its biggest names into larger main roster stars begs the question: should NXT finally have a permanent roster?
It only makes sense. Far from a league of wrestling trainees who can barely work a match, NXT has produced no less than three separate Meltzer-rated 5 star classics this year alone (rookies are normally kept off TV at the WWE Performance Center and various small Florida house shows, then given short squash matches on weekly TV until they're ready for a push).
Character work and angles in the last year have been stronger than anything on Raw and Smackdown with talent like Velveteen Dream and Nikki Cross consistently getting crowds behind them, and storyline arcs like Johnny Gargano and Tomasso Ciampa's friends-turned-enemies angle and the current Who Attacked Aliester Black? mystery serving as some of WWE's best writing ever.
Yet still, the hype over NXT exists in a bubble as little of its incredible combat sports commentary, superb production values, simple back-to-basics storytelling and logical booking organization exists on the main roster.
Characters, names, movesets and face/heel status are often changed once an NXT star moves up, and in some cases, these people are barely ever seen again outside house show tours. Why exactly then should call ups be inevitable?
Giving NXT a permanent roster can do far more good than harm. The aforementioned Nikki Cross and Velveteen Dream and are currently doing compelling character work and high-level matches that mean something, whereas on Smackdown Live! they'd probably spend more time in catering backstage than on the mic or in the ring.
Keeping them in NXT for years further could see them cement their craft and take it to the next level whilst any main roster aspirations would be a complete crapshoot. NXT could proudly stand as an in-house niche product intended for a minority of fans with acquired wrestling tastes just as craft breweries do within major beer companies.
Longterm storyline arcs could be done routinely without worry of talent being snatched away only to be under utilized elsewhere in the company, and of course the brand can be used to quell competition from emerging alternative promotions like NJPW and Ring of Honor (Takeover: MSG anyone?)
NXT's boutique approach to wrestling may not be for the masses but given the diffuse and segmented nature of modern entertainment, the black and yellow brand absolutely has an immense value, particularly for the adult portion of WWE's audience who want to watch the company's programming without being subjected to the some of its more annoying qualities - pandering to children, execessive and undeserved pushes, baffling booking decisions and overly toned-down in ring performances.
Fortunately, it appears as of late that this idea may come to fruition as the gulf between Raw/Smackdown and NXT has remained firmly intact and stars such as the aforementioned Cross, Gargano and Ciampa as well as names like Shayna Baszler, EC3, Kassius Ohno and Oney Lorkin appear to be staying put (indeed, this past Summerslam weekend marked the first time in several years when, despite Velveteen Dream's personal spandex-clad request, absolutely zero NXT stars were given a promotion).
Whether due to the main roster's already-stacked list of world class talent or some other reason, the seemingly longer NXT stretches happening now are a warm welcome. A permanent NXT roster means a permanent home for indie and international talent who want to be part of the amazingly successful WWE brand but don't necessarily fit Vince McMahon's narrow vision or want to endure a grueling, non-stop tour schedule.
It means a home for disgruntled fans who want titles to be have prestige and authority figures to be secondary to talent. It means WWE truly can be a Universe filled with different worlds that all persist within the same solar system of sports entertainment.