Take a journey with me back to 2014. NXT is finally finding its stride and entering the Arrival/Takeover era. Mixed in with the homegrown talent are a collection of huge indie/Japanese stars, signed and renamed. They are the “NXT 5”: Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, Neville, Hideo Itami, and Finn Balor. They’re the five, and that’s the primary indie presence in WWE.
It sounds like another lifetime now.
Every conversation about an indie star eventually pivots toward whether or not they’ll sign with WWE. It’s hard to blame anyone for this; over the past few years, NXT has pretty much become “the best of the indies/NJPW/TNA fight over the NXT Championship and then get called up.”
On an already-overfilled roster and with the death of “spring cleaning” post-Mania releases, the burden of these signings is felt heavier and heavier each time. There just isn’t room, isn’t time, isn’t bandwidth for everybody in the wrestling world to be crammed onto these few shows that can’t even use their current rosters right.
What do Keith Lee and Matt Riddle have room to do in NXT right now? Well, that’s not a problem, we’re due to call some folks up soon anyway. But then what do you do on the bloated main roster with EC3? Velveteen Dream? Aleister Black? These are all amazing wrestlers, obviously, but when you shove too many un-ignore-able people into a small enough space, people get lost, fans get mad. People aren’t getting let go to accommodate this.
There’s no release valve. Something here will eventually have to explode.
Obviously, signing is the wrestlers’ prerogative. It’s not like WWE is putting a gun to their heads, and I can’t blame them for taking deals. In a business designed to bang up your body, you have to make your money while you can. I’ll never fault the worker for doing what’s best for them. (Like a union.)
It’s just sad to watch the biggest name in town vacuum up talent just to keep it from others. Aside from “oh my god if X is in WWE that means they can have a dream match with Y,” it hurts the viewer as well as, obviously, the smaller companies.
WWE wants to be the only game in town, as corporations all do by default. That doesn’t make it good. And the days of the NXT 5, of some sort of direction and some sort of escape plan, are apparently long gone.
–Bobby Murphy (@RobertJMurph)
Image courtesy WWE.com