By Jeff Lutz, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@JLutz82)
I’m willing to bet that WWE Chairman Vince McMahon would prefer to have Raw and Smackdown be the two most popular shows on television than have a beloved developmental brand over which he has minimal influence. Yet there McMahon was on Sunday, cashing in some of the remaining goodwill of those shows and their performers to prop up NXT, which is overflowing with goodwill and doesn’t need the boost.
There were no storyline stakes to the outcomes of Sunday’s Survivor Series matches pitting Raw vs. Smackdown vs. NXT, but that’s not to say nothing was on the line. By winning four of seven matches in which the three brands were in direct competition, NXT overshadowed the shows for which McMahon is being paid billions, took some shine off of established wrestlers who already are becoming dull in the eyes of the audience, and put into question the need for a developmental brand in the first place.
If NXT wrestlers are better than those on Raw and Smackdown, isn’t their development finished? Does NXT even need to be a thing?
Those are mostly rhetorical questions; it’s easy to see what’s going on here. McMahon and WWE had a platform to put NXT and its stars in the best possible position, to introduce and establish them to those who only watch Raw and/or Smackdown and to fans who prefer AEW on Wednesday nights, and to shift some eyes from AEW to NXT in the ongoing ratings battle. It’ll probably work, too.
But what about Raw and Smackdown? Those shows have been badly diminished and creatively misguided for months – or years, in the case of Raw – and now some of their most accomplished stars have been beaten by wrestlers we’ve been trained to believe are the equivalent of minor leaguers.
Of course, WWE does its best to present NXT wrestlers as equal to those on the main roster, an effort that reached its apex on Sunday night. But too often WWE tries to have it both ways. If NXT is equal, it should have participated in the draft last month and cultivated a roster that combines main-roster mainstays with younger wrestlers. It shouldn’t need the services of Finn Balor or Kevin Owens or any of the other main-roster wrestlers WWE has sent to Full Sail for ratings grabs in recent weeks.
WWE will go for ratings by attempting to make Adam Cole, Keith Lee, Shayna Baszler, Rhea Ripley, Roderick Strong, Tommaso Ciampa and many others must-see, mainstream, Wednesday night stars. But they already are, especially in the hands of NXT booker Triple H, which is why NXT doesn’t need to exist and why those wrestlers should be forcing out some of the dead weight on Raw and Smackdown. Triple H should come, too.
There may be a place on the roster for Baron Corbin, but he is no more worthy of television time on a flagship show than any of the wrestlers listed above. Neither are Dana Brooke, Shorty G, The IIconics, Eric Young, EC3, or Bo Dallas, among others.
You may have picked up on the fact that each of those performers once starred in NXT and were seen in similar light to NXT’s current roster, before McMahon got hold of them and either took away their strengths or became disillusioned by their inability to immediately adapt to the main roster. Even the call-ups of Ciampa, EC3, Young, Aleister Black, Johnny Gargano and others earlier this year fizzled because McMahon couldn’t capture their appeal.
The most damning moment of Survivor Series happened when Kevin Owens said that NXT doesn’t need him but Raw desperately does. He is absolutely right. NXT as a brand has more cache with fans than does any single main-roster wrestler. Owens would be a fine addition to NXT and he would probably be much more creatively fulfilled, but neither he nor anyone else on Raw or Smackdown would make or break NXT.
Bringing those positive vibes to the main roster has been a largely unattainable task for McMahon and his team of writers. They present safe, uninteresting shows on which almost nobody can break through. NXT is the definition of breakthrough, and WWE has already presented its wrestlers as better than those on Raw and Smackdown, anyway.
So scrap NXT and let the wrestlers who need development work on their craft at the Performance Center or in dark matches. Disperse the established performers on Raw and Smackdown, let Triple H influence their creative direction, and bring some freshness and goodwill to the shows that desperately need it.