|NXT is Levesque's baby, and it shows compared to the main roster|
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Of course, the differences between supposed developmental system and big show could be why NXT is so insufficient as a feeder league, to be honest. How many times does a wrestler or wrestlers come up from NXT smoking hot only to get the brakes put on them? Not all of them do, but one would think that a real developmental territory would do less to pop its own stories and more to get each superstar it grooms ready for Vince McMahon's grind. What makes NXT so different? I count five major reasons.
1. Vince McMahon is nowhere near it — Again, I'm not projecting objective quality via the things I like or don't like to "Bad Cop" McMahon and "Good Cop" Paul Levesque (aka Triple H). I'm not sure how much influence Levesque has on the main product, and what angles there are attributed to him. That being said, I'm fairly certain what creative decisions can be attributed to McMahon in NXT, mainly because I know he's got no influence over that product whatsoever. How could he? He's got RAW, Smackdown, and his resurgent XFL to take care of. Meanwhile, Levesque, Shawn Michaels, and whoever else they got in the braintrust in NXT are doing a fine job running a show that differentiates itself from the main roster. Whether or not one thinks it's a good thing, McMahon's influence is only filtered through the things that NXT creative has learned from him. Meanwhile, Levesque's love for the Southern territories, Michaels' heart-on-sleeve emotional storytelling, and the distinct lack of desire for someone to be thoroughly humiliated on a weekly basis shine through.
Additionally, while NXT has time for Big Boy SZN (as seen most recently with Lars Sullivan's slot challenging Aleister Black at Takeover: Chicago II), size seems to matter not. I mean, while it doesn't matter as much as one might think on the main roster, let me note that it wouldn't take every single other plan falling through for Daniel Bryan to get a headline slot at a Takeover: Brooklyn like it did for WrestleMania XXX (and it should be noted that Bryan is reportedly one of McMahon's favorite dudes on the roster!). Again, this isn't a statement of judgment on the objective quality, but it's clear that the philosophies of Levesque and company at Full Sail/the Performance Center and of McMahon and his team on the road and on cable TV are decidedly different, and it shows.
2. It doesn't have to please shareholders or sponsors — Modern WWE is a far different beast than it was even in the Attitude Era, because McMahon doesn't really have all the clout anymore. While he's definitely the final word on what goes on RAW or Smackdown, he still has to do so with the respect of the shareholders and sponsors. WWE going corporate put so many restrictions on McMahon, and he still found ways to test them and run afoul of them. For example, during the Nexus debut when Bryan choked Justin Roberts with his own tie, it caused so much ire with sponsors that it caused him to get fired from the company for a few months. NXT doesn't have that problem. While it is still beholden to the limits of good taste and such, it doesn't have to sell ad space. The shareholders probably see it as some pet project for development. Being contained completely within WWE's in-house structure for broadcast gives them so much latitude, even with a character like Velveteen Dream.
3. It doesn't have the main roster's time demands — This one is almost self-explanatory. When you have one hour most weeks to fill, three-and-a-half hours one week out of ten, it's going to put less of a tax on your creative process than if you have to fill eight hours most weeks and 12-14 once a week every month.
4. It doesn't have to make money — I'm not privy to NXT's books right now. I don't know if it's in the black now after years of establishment, increased touring, or even rights money from Hulu, if that's even a thing. I do know that right around the time it started doing house show tours that it was losing money as an entity, and yet it never seemed like it was on the chopping block. Being able to write yourself off as necessary overhead while getting to do the same things you do with the pressure to make money is so freeing. While Levesque's duties on the main roster, along with McMahon's and everyone else's there, hinge on trying to be as profitable as possible, NXT can exist as a passion project that operates in the red. It's the closest thing that wrestling has to a public-funded arts project, and that won't change now that WWE is expected be raking in that scrilla with its new TV rights deals for the main roster.
5. No one overstays their welcome — I don't know about you, but I'm fucking sick of Dolph Ziggler. Even now that Drew McIntyre has freshened up his act, if Ziggler fucked off to do comedy for a few years, I wouldn't hate it because he's just so stale. Whether that's his fault or the company's fault (or any combination on the spectrum of blame) is immaterial. The fact is that he's just a dessicated turd who takes up space on weekly programming. Realistically, the only place he can go to freshen up is away from wrestling, since he's reached the pinnacle in WWE and thus would command big bucks to any other promotion. Since World Championship Wrestling is a thing that died in 2001, Ziggler would have either hustle more than he's doing now to make the money he's making or leave wrestling for something with a higher ceiling for payment.
NXT, however, doesn't have that problem. A wrestler stays in the territory for however long they have something to do there, and then once they have no stories left to tell, they get to go to the main roster. Whether that person's stay is short like, say McIntyre's or if it's a long engagement like Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa, it's finite, which is more than you can say for anyone on the main roster unless a future endeavorment is in play. The pool has near infinite refreshes, so it doesn't matter if a wrestler is like Ziggler who just doesn't know how to reinvent themselves or if they're like Chris Jericho and know reinvention or someone like John Cena whose shtick doesn't seem to get old.
So all of those things make NXT a recipe for success as a boutique promotion, and if you look at it as such, it's hard to qualify it as anything but a smash hit, at least in the critical sense. That being said, what has the stated goal always been? Has it been to be Levesque's vanity play, or is it just a developmental promotion to get wrestlers ready for RAW and Smackdown? If the answer is the latter, then maybe NXT isn't the success that people think it is. Spending a residence in NXT to prepare for the meat grinder that is McMahon's main roster is like backpacking across Europe after college in preparation for entering the workforce. Then again, while preparation for main event WWE television might be a good endgame for NXT according to Vince McMahon and others at Titan Towers, at least fans like me and others who turn out for various NXT-related products, having an accessible, premium wrestling brand available just to enjoy is reason enough for it to exist in its current state.