Jimmy Van: NXT Sparked My Renewed Interest In Wrestling

Anyone who visits Fightful.com with regularity knows that our resident Wrestling Insider Vince Russo is a little disenchanted with the business, and although he still finds things about the WWE product that he deems entertaining or even great, most of the time he feels that the product is pretty lacking creatively and has been for a while. And Russo isn’t alone; back in 2011 I planned to bring back my old site JimmyVan.com in blog form and write about the business as I used to, but WWE’s creative inefficiencies at the time – which were probably even worse than now – caused me to lose interest within a few months. But for about the last year, my interest in pro wrestling has been reinvigorated and because I’m also a long-time MMA and boxing fan, I decided the time was right to launch the first true combat sports crossover site here at Fightful.

What was it that sparked my renewed interest in wrestling? It was two things – the first was NXT which, under the creative watch of Triple H and not Vince McMahon, has become an elite product from an in-ring perspective, void of the theatrics and bullshit that the “main roster” presents weekly in a supposed effort to attractive casual fans. And the second thing was Vince McMahon’s decision, as reluctant as I’m sure he was, to allow “indy wrestlers” to shine on the big stage as Triple H had done with regularity at NXT.

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Of course, Vince had shown some open-mindedness previously with guys like CM Punk and Daniel Bryan but for the most part those wrestlers always ended up as tackle dummies for guys that McMahon perceived to be the true stars whether it be Randy Orton or Brock Lesnar or Dave Batista or funny enough, Triple H himself. In fact for years McMahon intentionally would avoid signing wrestlers known from independent organizations. But now over the last year we’ve seen Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn and Neville and Finn Balor and AJ Styles all not just get called up to the WWE roster but be featured in prevalent roles up there. And there’s no question that it’s the success of NXT, both in terms of Network viewers and live event attendance that prompted McMahon to ease up on his old school perceptions.

It’s well known that in the 1980s the WWF (at the time) was one of many territories across the US and Canada, referred to as New York. McMahon built his business by choosing to go nationwide and not respecting those territorial boundaries, and by raiding those territories of their top talent and then promoting WWF shows in those geographic regions with the previous territory’s stars on top. He was able to continually replenish his roster with experienced, veteran guys that were new to the WWF audience because nationwide cable television wasn’t yet prevalent and so most of those wrestlers previously appeared only on TV in their local market. But by the late 1990s with the WWF now a juggernaut, McMahon’s perceptions changed. Suddenly he only wanted guys that fit a certain physical mold, and he didn’t want talent from the independent circuit for various reasons – they were too small or they didn’t know how to present themselves on television or they had no ring psychology, etc. As a result, and in combination with poor creative, the company had no roster depth for many years and was unable to regularly replenish its roster with fresh top talent even with developmental territories at the time like Ohio Valley Wrestling and Florida Championship Wrestling. They had access to tons of great, experienced talent on the indy scene and in Japan and Mexico but chose to mostly ignore it. It wasn’t until McMahon gave Triple H his blessing to launch NXT that the mindset began to change.

The continued success of NXT alumni after being elevated to the main roster has allowed Triple H and his crew to have more flexibility with respect to replenishing the NXT roster with more seasoned and “WWE ready” performers known primarily from smaller organizations, and that in turn has only made NXT more popular and has only made WWE’s future that much brighter. And the recent crop of NXT signees is arguably the best yet with Samoe Joe, Austin Aries, Bobby Roode, Asuka and Shinsuke Nakamura all coming into the fold.

Whenever I see a crappy segment on WWE Raw and ask myself why I bother continuing to watch the show, I only have to watch something like Nakamura’s ring entrance at NXT Takeover Brooklyn recently to remind myself of how great wrestling can still be. The charisma, which is off the charts and matched arguably only by John Cena in the entire company. The ring presence. The understanding of the show business element of pro wrestling. And the ring style which blends elements of MMA and stiff kicks with typical high spots and choreography. Nakamura is the real deal and Triple H deserves credit for not only recruiting him, but for his willingness to put a Japanese wrestler with minimal English over for his company’s top title which again would have been unheard of on Vince McMahon’s watch. And yet Nakamura today, much like all of the talent in the territories that McMahon raided in the 1980s, is considered a new talent to the WWE audience despite the fact that he’s been wrestling since 2002. That means that when he gets called up to the main roster, WWE will be able to present new, fresh matches featuring a proven commodity just like they did with Owens, Styles, Zayn and Balor, and just like they did in another generation with Hogan, Piper, Steamboat, Ventura, Rude, Junkyard Dog, Duggan, Jake Roberts and countless others. That positive trend will continue once Joe and Roode make the main roster, and so long as the “feeder” promotions like ROH, New Japan, Evolve and TNA remain healthy, there will be no stopping this train.

Even more important than the entertainment factor with guys like Nakamura and Roode on the NXT roster is the invaluable experience and teaching that less-seasoned developmental talent is getting by working with these veterans. That mentoring and knowledge transfer is worth the price of their contracts by itself and will accelerate the learning curve for these younger talents.

What’s funny about all this is, I don’t even watch a lot of NXT. When Sean Ross Sapp asked the Fightful crew for their predictions on all of the shows two weeks ago, I didn’t even give him NXT predictions for Takeover Brooklyn because I wasn’t up to speed on all of the storylines. There are only so many hours in the day and between running a company full-time, overseeing Fightful’s development and being a father to a young child at home, there isn’t much time for NXT viewing. So I normally only get to watch the major events like Takeover in addition to Raw on Mondays. I guess that makes me somewhat of a casual fan. And as a casual fan I’ve been loving the work of Rollins and Owens and Balor and Bray Wyatt on the main roster, not to mention Nakamura and Joe and Roode in NXT as previously discussed. If WWE stays the course, Wrestlemania 33 will boast arguably the deepest talent roster in company history.

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