This Wednesday everyone’s favorite indie style WWE based wrestling promotion finally gets a chance to step into the national spotlight when NXT broadcasts live on USA, giving the WWE a third presence on a major cable network. This is the first time WWE has added a weekly wrestling program on something other than their own WWE network in over 20 years.
And for good reason. Primetime wrestling is a pretty risky investment. Just ask WCW. Or TNA. Or Lucha Underground. But as dicey as it might be NXT seems like a pretty safe investment given the quality, shelf life, and corporate support behind the brand. This has a good a chance as any to work. Well, this or a certain, vowel friendly promotion.
Speaking of, NXT also provides an immediate foil for the promotion that many would call their current biggest competitor, who happens to be airing their new show on the exact same night. In the minds of those many, one of them has to win. And those many are now salivating at the idea of a “Wednesday Night War”, hearkening back to the late 1990s when wrestling was all the rage.
As my brilliant Grandma used to say: somebody has to win and somebody has to lose. So who are those winners and losers? Let’s take a page out of DX’s book and break it down.
WINNER: Casual fans
To date, if you wanted to watch the best wrestling under the E’s umbrella, you were forced to pay 9.99 to watch Adam Cole and Johnny Gargano on Wednesday nights. Now, you just need to turn on USA. Sure, you’ll still have to pay to see the Takeover specials, but that’s really no different from the current WWE model. Either way, casual fans are getting more free content.
There were rumors that Fox was looking to supplement Friday Night Smackdown with NXT on their mid-tier sports network, FS1. Getting a top-flight wrestling show to anchor their Wednesday night slot would’ve put them on the map for a lot of viewers (myself included). For a cable network that’s propped up by a trio of decade long (or two, or three) running animated shows and the NFL, getting more content would’ve been a huge get.
WINNER: Independent Promotions
If this launch does, in fact, ignite a war between these two companies then you can expect overall interest in wrestling to surge. If that happens, other promotions are going to start getting some notice (think of ECW in the late 1990s). Which promotion that is remains to be said, but this rising tide should lift a lot of those other boats.
LOSER: Main roster talent
Being on the main roster is almost never a negative (almost), but the tour schedule for Raw and Smackdown are a real grind. It’s not unusual for talent to be on the road 250+ nights a year. Compare that to the NXT talent who are going to be performing in Orlando every week and you can see how some talent might be scheming to make their way down to full sail to work on Wednesdays.
WINNER: Top-flight NXT talent
Look, Johnny Gargano and Adam Cole are fantastic; they’re some of the best wrestlers on the planet. But both are billed as being smaller than me. Granted, I’m a pretty big guy, but I know Vince McMahon doesn’t want a champ who looks small standing next to a guy on the street. Giving them a promotion where they can wrestle their own style and not get buried by top talent should help them avoid the fate of some of the wrestlers who came before them.
LOSER: Previous NXT Call Ups
For every call up that’s worked (Kevin Owens, Samoa Joe, Ricochet) there are two to three that didn’t. I think it’s pretty safe to say that Aleister Black, Apollo Crews, Andrade, Kairi Sane, Asuka, Bo Dallas, Sami Zayn and Neville and many others would probably have preferred to stay in NXT and be a weekly TV star there as opposed to joining the main roster and floundering. I’m not sure every single one of them would’ve preferred to stay in NXT, but they never had the choice.
WINNER: Paul Levesque
Look, I’ve said enough about Triple H on this blog already. He’s a fascinating character with a litany of main events, title runs, and Wrestlemania moments. But this isn’t about trips, this is about his real-life personage of Paul Levesque, the man who has been running NXT to this point. With a step into prime time, Levesque will have the chance to show the world his true booking bona fides and can position himself as the guy to take over the WWE when Vince finally does the job to father time.
LOSER: NXT UK and 205 Live performers
This comes with a big caveat. If the WWE doesn’t allow for movement of performers between NXT and NXT UK/205 Live, the latter are going to be on one of the few brands with limited exposure that only exists on the WWE network. The 205 Live crew gets the worst of it, since they’ll have to keep touring with SmackDown, but unlike the main roster guys, they won’t have the notoriety that comes with performing on FOX. That said, if WWE follows through with their recent history of allowing talent to move between NXT and those brands, we could see an even longer list of winners.
WINNER AND LOSER: AEW
On one hand, it’s very possible to greatly benefit simply by being the rival of a major player. WCW was largely able to put itself on the map as the foil to the WWF. There is always going to be a big collection of fans of anything who are always going to want to go against the grain. It’s even got a TV trope: ugly hero, good looking villain. But, much like a lot of those good-looking villains, AEW is now facing down the barrel of a big, hulking Superman with a six-billion-dollar market cap on Wednesday nights. If they don’t want to end up like Josh Brolin in 2018, they’re going to have to fight like hell to stay on the right side of the ledger.