WWE confirmed weeks of speculation this morning as NXT will air weekly on Wednesday night’s, live on USA Network at 8:00 pm EST beginning September 18. NXT will still emanate from Full Sail University in Orlando, Florida. However, it will no longer serve as fist run programming for the WWE Network. This move was made in an attempt to get a two-week head start on All Elite Wrestling’s (AEW) show on TNT, which will air live directly against NXT beginning October 2.
Wrestling insiders wondered not if but when Vince McMahon would respond to the emerging threat of AEW on television, and now we have our answer. Using NXT to cut off AEW at the pass and dilute their audience is a multifaceted, multimillion endeavor. Since 2010, NXT has been a developmental brand in main roster clothing. NXT can no longer be a prioritized training ground with the move from streaming to cable television. The fire of AEW can’t be fought with programming that isn’t on equal footing. To casual fans, developmental means minor league.
NXT will air two hours, live, every Wednesday, as opposed to filming multiple episodes once a month for a staggered release. NXT is the number one watched show on the WWE Network. Removing the show from its first run lineup could have a negative effect on the already low number of network subscribers. Every streaming service needs at least one linchpin program to succeed. Netflix has Stranger Things. Hulu has The Handmaid’s Tale. WWE Network now has…?
What is most interesting about this move is the landscape shift NXT will undertake. Vince McMahon is the primary shot caller for Raw and SmackDown while Triple H was the creative force behind the success of NXT. That was only the case because McMahon considers cable television more of a priority than streaming content. With this shift, there is no way Vince McMahon doesn’t take the creative reigns of the black and yellow brand.
Historically, McMahon doesn’t push wrestlers the physical stature of NXT Champion Adam Cole and the Undisputed Era. Popular character acts such as the talented and flamboyant Velveteen Dream go from being the belle of the ball to a second rate comedy act. The most important thing of all, NXT favors professional wrestling over sports entertainment. Storylines are engaging and straightforward. Talent means something. Wins and losses actually matter. That is the opposite of how Vince McMahon runs a television product. The NXT we used to know is gone.
Vince McMahon making presumed changes to NXT is even more of a head-scratcher considering who they are competing with. AEW is going to be a sports-orientated program where wins and losses matter. It’s precisely what diehard wrestling fans have been vigorously clamoring for ever since WWE has become a stale, homogenized version of the genre. The funny things is, NXT was WWE’s professional wrestling show tucked safely away from the prying eyes of a sports entertainment fanatic.
Having NXT’s wrestling centric product going up against AEW’s wrestling centric presentation would be the ultimate treat for wrestling enthusiasts. AEW is believed to have a better in-ring product, but NXT in its current form would have put that theory to the test. Instead of fighting fire with fire, Vince McMahon, presumably, is going to eliminate the hard-hitting wrestling aspect that makes NXT special, turn it into the same monotonous programming that has turned the audience away, and use that platform to combat the alternative program.
Change is coming to NXT in a significant way. Longer shows mean more wrestlers will be needed. Plus, with the brand jumping wild card rule in effect, big-name stars will undoubtedly appear on the show. Imagine The Miz vs. Adam Cole in a TakeOver main event for the NXT Championship? Yep, that is where things could very well be headed. Will there be an NXT draft where WWE Superstars pledge their allegiance to the new brand on the block?
If I could make one booking decision, I would get rid of 205 Live and move the cruiserweight division to NXT. It could be repackaged and hyped as something that will now only be seen on that show. It will be cool to see talents such as Matt Riddle, Johnny Gargano, and KUSHIDA performing on a bigger stage. Ultimately, NXT winning the upcoming Wednesday Night War wouldn’t be a surprise. After all, NXT is now a main roster brand of WWE.