Is 2013 a good time to be a WWE fan? There’s no denying that there’s a different feel about wrestling’s number one promotion these days. Thanks to some subtle changes in how WWE develops and nurtures talent, the product is arguably in the best shape it has been for a long time. With this in mind, consider the following three points as strong signs of progress…
More opportunities for independent talent
Ever since he dropped his famous pipe-bomb promo, CM Punk will go down in wrestling history for paving the way for independent wrestlers to reach the top in WWE. This is significant because of the stigma previously attached to wrestlers with independent wrestling experience. Following Punk, Daniel Bryan has now risen through the ranks to become the number one babyface in the company in the absence of John Cena.
Arguably the number one wrestler in the world today, Bryan’s prominence on Raw backstage segments along with stellar matches with fellow independent standouts such as Antonio Cesaro, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose demonstrates WWE’s increased faith in performers from the independent circuit. Having experienced workers in the ring emphasizes the difference in quality between independent wrestlers and other talent in the roster.
It’s a far cry from when Bryan debuted on NXT. The man known as the American Dragon was criticized by WWE commentator Michael Cole for being an internet darling and wrestling at bingo halls in front of small crowds. This mentality suggested that a wrestler’s experience of the independent scene paled in comparison with the ‘elite’ level with WWE and that such performers would have to unlearn their ‘mistakes’ in order to adapt to the WWE style of wrestling.
In fact, independent wrestlers have made the effort to hone their craft across North America and around the world. This gives them the advantage of experience; a creative and cultural awareness that former football players or bodybuilders would lack. The rise of the independent wrestler is as significant as Kurt Angle’s arrival which helped to legitimize professional wrestling in the eyes of talent with an amateur wrestling background. This paved the way for the likes of Brock Lesnar, Dolph Ziggler and Jack Swagger who were able to pursue opportunity in the business of professional wresting. It makes sense that when WWE scouts for talent, there is now a wider pool to choose from and that can only be a good thing for their roster.
Admittedly this policy will change in the future as WWE looks to develop its own pool of talent exclusively within the company. However, the fact remains that current Superstars with an independent background are being given a chance to shine in the main roster. Though independent talent must first learn the ways of WWE, at least they are being given a better opportunity to succeed than in recent years.
The quiet revolution of NXT
When NXT first debuted in 2010, it was boasted that the program would revolutionize sports entertainment. Though it did build a platform for the likes of Wade Barrett to gain notoriety, the program itself failed to deliver on such a bold promise. Subjecting roster hopefuls to infantile challenges, such as keg carrying, it was no wonder that the gradual decline of the show’s ratings meant that it could not sustain regular television coverage in the US.
However, a shrewd business move saw the Florida Championship Wrestling developmental territory rebranded as NXT Wrestling in August 2012. Relocating to Full Sail University, NXT now prospers as the proving ground for future WWE Superstars.
NXT boasts a strong administrative set up involving successful industry veterans, such as Dusty Rhodes, Gerald Brisco and William Regal. Add to that wrestling trainers with many years of experience between them – such as Bill Demott, Sara Del Rey and Joey Mercury – and you have an excellent team in place to guide the next generation of WWE Superstars. The launch of the WWE Performance Center will certainly boost the development of WWE’s future talent and they now have access to cutting edge facilities to help them improve every aspect of their wrestling abilities.
Roster depth was a real challenge for WWE a few years ago, but with time, investment and patience there are now plenty of wrestlers who are refining their skills in developmental before receiving their long-awaited call up to the main roster. A rich vein of performers are waiting to explode onto the bigger stage. This includes the likes of Paige, Emma, Adrian Neville, Kassius Ohno and Sami Zayn. The beauty of NXT is that it provides the trainees with a chance to hone their abilities to tell compelling stories in and outside of the ring in advance of their main roster debut.
No longer detrimental but developmental in its truest sense – NXT can lay claim to being the ultimate proving ground in sports entertainment. A quiet revolution in which NXT has gone full circle; dropping gimmicky contests in favor of in-ring competition and world-class development for the future of WWE.
Nowadays, there is a greater emphasis on characters and personas in WWE compared to recent years. There is a huge difference between Johnny Curtis and Fandango. Michael McGillicutty and Curtis Axel. Husky Harris and Bray Wyatt. The difference is not just in their names, but also their overall presentation. Before their re-debuts, all three performers suffered from being introduced with bland ring names and personalities which were barely distinguishable from others in the roster. It’s easier to sum up their characters for viewers: a refined dancer, the heir to wrestling royalty and a sinister preacher.
Bray Wyatt and Axel Curtis paid their dues coming up through the ranks with ridiculous stage names. And take the example of Johnny Curtis who won NXT season four. Little did he know that his Smackdown debut would see him spouting clichés – spilt milk, anyone? – while acting them out in some rather questionable vignettes. Then when he did finally debut he was squashed by Mark Henry in the midst of his ‘Hall of Pain’ gimmick. Thankfully he stands a better chance of success through adopting the Fandango character who is a world away from his previous persona.
With its commercial, financial and marketing muscle the future of WWE was never in doubt. However, by creating more unique characters, plus investment in independent and future talent this can only enhance the quality of the product and give people more reasons to watch WWE. A huge amount of responsibility rests on the broad shoulders of WWE Superstars. Hopefully with better facilities and more opportunities, the talent of tomorrow will develop into today’s main event stars.