What once used to be “ECW” chants are now “NXT” chants. Previously known as FCW, WWE’s developmental territory in Florida, now NXT has emerged as something special. Instead of remaining a local promotion for prospects to get work and test gimmicks, the launch of the WWE Network has helped the newly rebranded NXT explode. Now hardcore wrestling fans can watch WWE’s ‘minor league’ show to familiarize themselves with wrestlers who may show up on Monday Night Raw or SmackDown. While NXT may have originally been placed on the network as additional content to attract subscribers, it has given NXT the ability to create the equivalent of a ‘WWE Superstar’ (let’s call them NXT Superstars). NXT superstars are able to gain popularity amongst WWE fans before appearing on the main roster. While some of the more recently featured NXT superstars are just now getting their push, the main roster is already littered with talented NXT alumni featured in prominent spots. Emerging from the WWE’s biggest pay-per-view event of the year with the company’s most prestigious title was a former NXT superstar. That man, Seth Rollins, is the key to unlocking the door for NXT talents to become WWE Superstars.
Rollins is the keystone in building the foundation of WWE’s future. He was the first NXT champion, so it is fitting that he is the first NXT wrestler to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. After last year’s WrestleMania one would have thought Daniel Bryan would remain atop the WWE and be the face of the company, but a neck injury ruined any possibility of that. WWE basically pressed the reset button on the game by putting the belt on John Cena for his 15th reign causing fans to metaphorically throw their controllers at the system. They quickly pivoted using Paul Heyman’s maniacally magnificent mic skills and Brock Lesnar’s defeat of the The Undertaker’s WrestleMania streak to build Lesnar as unbeatable and virtually put the WWE championship on hold. Meanwhile the Shield recently broke up, leaving three key chess pieces on the board ready to build for the future.
Let’s take the chess piece metaphor a bit further. Roman Reigns was the centerpiece and guy the company clearly had pegged to promote for that top spot. Just like the King on a chess board, he was limited in his move set and WWE was doing anything they could to protect him. Dean Ambrose, the fan favorite, always there to castle and protect his King on the mic. Just like the Rook he’ll move straight ahead no matter who or what is in his way. So now we have Rollins. Like in chess, sometimes you have to sacrifice your Queen to protect your King. With two team members already pegged as faces, Seth Rollins was left to “sell out” his brothers and “buy in” to his career. Rollins was the Queen on the board, versatile enough to go anywhere and always making his presence felt. Roman Reigns won Superstar of the Year, and Dean Ambrose the fan’s hearts, but Seth Rollins carried WWE storylines more than anyone and emerged as the biggest heel in the company. Some say the Shield breakup was rushed, but WWE had methodically positioned its’ first crop of NXT SuperStars to truly transition to WWE SuperStars.
Fast-forward to WrestleMania 31 and we saw NXT alumni all over the card. The current WWE Tag Team Champions, and Tyson Kidd, dazzled on the pre-show, while Dean Ambrose starred in an Intercontinental Title Ladder match taking the biggest bump all night. Rusev and Bray Wyatt, got to go against two of the biggest names in WWE history, facing off with Cena and the Undertaker respectively. We cannot forget Roman Reigns in the main event or to cap off the show they allowed Seth Rollins to finally cash in his dinged and dented “Money In the Bank” briefcase to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
I would argue that WrestleMania 31 ended up being so spectacular because it signified the kickoff of the NXT era. On the following night’s Raw the crowd in San Jose seemed to agree chanting, “NXT…NXT…NXT” throughout the night. Kalisto finally joined Sin Cara, to début NXT’s former tag-team champions, the Lucha Dragons. It was a crowd pleasing 6 man tag match that featured 5 of 6 participants coming from NXT. Adrian Neville debuted as “Neville” and was able to captivate the crowd with his effortless handsprings and high-flying “Red Arrow” finisher.
Now some may say that it was inevitable those three guys would emerge as stars with or without NXT. For the most part that is probably true. Seth Rollins was a Ring of Honor champion; Dean Ambrose had his extreme match history as CZW champion; and Roman Reigns had his Samoan legacy ties in WWE. Rollins simultaneously being the WWE Champion, the Authority approved champion, and WWE’s biggest bad guy is what makes him so essential to future. It allows him to help this first generation of NXT talents not just remain on the main roster, but stay prominent in big time storylines and become embraced by the fans.
Rollins’ size, 6’-1” 205lbs, is another huge factor in why he is going to be so important moving forward. Kalisto and Neville dazzled the audience with their in-ring athletic ability, but they also stood out for how small they were. Kalisto even made a point to show his first hurricanrana would not work on a larger wrestler like Cesaro and instead required 800 flips and spins to bring him down. The second generation of NXT talent seems to mark a new type of wrestler as well. No longer is it mostly former bodybuilder or football player types who are mainly there for their physique or presence. It’s the actual wrestling technique which is being valued, so smaller more athletic wrestlers are dominating. Seth Rollins may seem small compared to Brock Lesnar, but put him in the ring with Neville and both guys benefit. Neville now gets a chance to show off his moves and allow the audience to believe they would work. It also allows Rollins to play big guy role and use techniques he may not normally be able to carry out on a larger wrestler. Sami Zayn (6’-1”, 205lbs), Hideo Itami (5’-9”, 185lbs), Finn Balor (5’-11”, 207lbs), and Tyler Breeze(6’-0”, 206lbs) are all around Rollins’ size and have been ready for some main card shine.
Seth Rollins is so good at being hated, especially the little things, that he should be able to get anyone cheers by taking a beating. With Rollins as the heel, it allows baby faces like Neville to go from top dog on NXT, to easily like underdog on WWE programing. I’m willing to bet Adam Rose or Bo Dallas wished they had a guy like Rollins to help them stay relevant on the main card. Rollins has been so good at getting the audience to hate him; he has even helped wrestlers like Jamie Noble and Joey Mercury become relevant. The Big Show is almost as active as the André The Giant Memorial trophy he won and Kane was publicly called out by Rollins for being so irrelevant at WrestleMania, but these guys are still visible because of Seth Rollins.
Currently there is no ceiling for how high Seth Rollins can go. Only Rollins and maybe Vince McMahon himself can predict or control that. WrestleMania Axxess showed us that NXT is ready to go on the road and keep expanding, which it is already doing. NXT is in the hands of Triple H and appears to only be getting stronger and attracting more eyeballs. This can nothing but improve the overall WWE product, making the WWE Network a must have for any wrestling hardcore. So sit back in your black leather recliners and kick your curb-stomping boots up and enjoy the ride. The NXT era is just beginning and I’m excited to watch Seth Rollins lead the way.
This appears at the end so I can drop some random and undeveloped thoughts about anything wrestling related. Both current and past timelines I am watching, however many that may be. Some may be almost complete thoughts and others will be brain farts.
- Love how the Money In the Bank briefcase had the same dents on it all year-long. When it was first used to hit Ambrose in the head, I assumed Rollins would have a new one at his next appearance.
- Miz and Mizdow walking in back to back with the same music is hilarious; Kind of like when you and a friend wanted to be the same character in a video game.
- Currently Fast Forwarding: The million replays the show of last week or ‘earlier tonight’.
- Jack Swagger went from getting fast forwarded to not even being present.
- WWE create-a-player request of the week. Tyrion Lannister and Varys tag team from Game of Thrones.