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.