WWE NXT Debuted on TV and Here's What Happened

The WWE’s development circuit just made its cable TV debut. Here’s our review.

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Casual wrestling fans who only catch glimpses of the WWE shows airing on TV have been missing out on the company’s best programming and breakout talents for years. But with NXT finally debuting on TV, the billion-dollar company’s can’t-miss cards will now be impossible to ignore. NXT had long served as the minor leagues for WWE until its programming, regularly featuring the brightest up-and-coming stars in the entire sport, began outshining the main product. Now, with the program graduating from a subscription-only streaming service to the small screen, the yellow and black brand is hoping to find a new audience—and thwart WWE’s newest competition, All Elite Wrestling.

The biggest questions about the future of NXT have largely been answered: Yes, Paul Levesque, aka Triple H, will maintain creative control and a separate team of writers, making the look and feel of NXT starkly different from Raw and SmackDown—at least for now. Similarly, it seems clear that stars will no longer be “called up” to the main roster, thus allowing NXT to develop its own central cast of characters, although they may be subject to drafts down the road. NXT also appears to be absorbing 205 Live, WWE’s cruiserweight program. And, importantly, the boundaries of NXT and WWE’s international endeavors appear to be porous; NXT UK athletes are already taking prominent positions in the emerging storylines.

In terms of both production quality, narrative coherence and in-ring athleticism, NXT has served as somewhat of a zenith on the contemporary wrestling scene. They’ve so far smartly done little to change the formula that made their show a cult favorite. In NXT there is none of the goofy and theatrical shenanigans, occasional supernatural elements, tedious interview segments or plodding backstage skits regularly seen on WWE’s bigger brands: The emphasis is clearly on the fighting. The fear was that NXT’s move from a one-hour to a two-hour slot would mean more time wasted, but none of that was to be found on its debut episode.

In order to establish itself as a new program, several plots in NXT were desperately in need of a reset so as to be legible to potential new viewers. The most drastic new advancement that occurred on Wednesday night was Roderick Strong defeating the queer-coded fan favorite Velveteen Dream for the North American Championship, thus making all four members of the former fighter’s faction title holders.

That means the Undisputed Era are now the ones to beat for every (men’s) title: Adam Cole is the Big Bad; Roddy, Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish are essentially mini-bosses. This puts NXT in the position to establish an exciting chase for an underdog babyface, likely a position to be hoisted on either Johnny Gargano or Dream.

The women’s division in NXT is packed to the brim with exciting athletes, but the story has been stuck in limbo for a while since no one can seem to beat former MMA brawler Shayna Baszler and her cronies Marina Shafir and Jessamyn Duke. Despite Baszler’s undeniable excellence as a performer, it’s becoming common to see fans on Twitter complaining that they are getting sick of seeing her win (usually by way of intervention from her friends). Candice LeRae, a beloved indie darling whose storylines in NXT had previously been frustratingly tied to her husband, the aforementioned Johnny Gargano, was established as the new number one contender after defeating Mia YimBiance Belair and Io Shirai in a fatal four-way match. Yim, Belair and Shirai are without a doubt three of the most talented women’s wrestlers in the world, and the match lit up the live crowd, which was clearly equally invested in each athlete. It could have gone any way, but it seems unlikely any of them will be able to take the belt away from Baszler until something in the landscape of the entire division shifts, meaning we might be stuck in this holding pattern for a while.

NXT also reintroduced a plethora of mid-card talents from a diversity of backgrounds, including the lovable Xia Li, the foolishly dressed Southern bruiser Cameron Grimes, the intrepid Kushida, plucky cruiserweights Oney Lorcan and Lio Rush, and a handful of others. Each character has a clear perspective and persona, easily consumable and accessible to fresh viewers. Factions are clearly going to play an important role as NXT’s plot develops, including Imperium, an import of brutes led by the gargantuan WALTER [sic], the current U.K. champion.

No major faults or flaws are detectable quite yet, aside from a glaring schedule kerfuffle that had the first hour of the new show debut on television and the second hour continue on the WWE Network—so as not to interrupt Suits, of all things! But since the ratings were high and social media engagement was lively, it’s hard to imagine this will get screwed up in the near future, as long as Vince McMahon stays far away from Levesque’s baby. 

Related: Our Fantasy AEW vs NXT Fight Card

Related: WWE Just Moved Its NXT Showcase to Directly Compete with AEW

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