We’re still more than a week away from SummerSlam and things in the WWE are heating up. Several matches are set for the biggest event of the summer, and the card is shaping up to be one of the best in recent years. In particular, Raw’s Fatal Four-Way for the Universal Championship is one of the most anticipated bouts of the last decade. Kudos to WWE for creating enough superstars that any of the four competitors in that match would make a viable champion.
On the SmackDown side, you have the ascension of Shinsuke Nakamura. I’m fervently hoping that the powers that be put the belt on the King of Strong Style, and leave it there for a good while. Nakamura can be the face of the blue brand for years to come, if booked properly. Couple that with a grudge match between Kevin Owens and AJ Styles, and you are well on your way to a loaded card on Aug. 20.
With all that said, neither Raw nor SmackDown live are WWE’s best wrestling show. For that, you need to subscribe to the WWE Network and tune in on Wednesday nights. In fact, SummerSlam might not even be the best PPV of next weekend.
The Professor’s Theory: NXT is WWE’s Best Wrestling Show
Right now, the best wrestling show in the WWE lineup is NXT. The developmental brand consistently puts out a compelling product, and keeps a rabid fan base intrigued with smart booking and strong character development. Here are five big reasons that NXT outshines the main roster shows right now.
The show is only one hour long – One of the biggest problems with the main roster shows, especially Raw, is that they sometimes feel too long. SmackDown is a two-hour show, and doesn’t drag as much, but still feels a bit bloated from time to time. The three-hour Raw occasionally feels like a forced march. On the other hand, the rosters are so full on Monday and Tuesday nights that it often feels like big names are thrown into matches with little meaning, just to fill up the time. Other promising stars seem to disappear for weeks at a time, simply because there’s nothing for them to do. NXT doesn’t have that problem. Since the show is only an hour long, there’s no attempt to get every performer on the roster into every show. There are very few long recaps, and every match has meaning. When watching NXT, you never feel like you’re watching the same episode as you did the week before.
The announce team (for the most part) gives the show an old-school feel – I’m not a fan of three-man announcing booths. Raw would be better with just Michael Cole and Corey Graves. SmackDown would be better with just two announcers (but probably none of the three that actually work there now). Booker T. has become basically incomprehensible. JBL is a caricature of himself, and Byron Saxton seems to exist to give JBL someone to yell at. In NXT, Mauro Ranallo is the best play-by-play man in the industry whose last name isn’t Ross. He’s paired with Nigel McGuinness, who adds credibility and flavor to the broadcasts. Admittedly, Percy Watson doesn’t add anything of value to the show. However, instead of trying to force him into the mix, NXT sort of lets him just hang out. There are entire shows where you could forget Watson was even there. The pairing of Ranallo and McGuinness is genuinely outstanding. Their contrasting styles (and accents) lend a big-match feel to the action, and the overall feel is of an old-school, wrestling-first promotion. WWE would be wise to call this pair up to SmackDown.
The champions are special attractions every week – The three champions in NXT are Bobby Roode, Asuka and the Authors of Pain. They don’t appear on every show. However, this isn’t like Brock Lesnar not appearing on every show. Because of the one-hour format, NXT has to put out entire shows without the champs in the building, just to build the undercard. Even though the champs aren’t always on the screen, they’re always in your mind. When two tag teams are competing, the announcers make sure to mention that the goal is to get a shot at AoP. When the women wrestle, it’s to see if they can be the one to finally unseat the dominant Asuka. When the champs do show up, it’s a big deal. They’re not working in mixed tag matches with no stakes. When is the last time an NXT champion wrestled in a match without a title at stake? I can’t remember.
The storytelling is more consistent – When something happens in NXT, you know why it happened. Wrestlers cut promos to tell you why, or the announce team tells you why. In WWE, things happen that defy anyone’s explanation. Why is Bray Wyatt suddenly fixated on Finn Balor? Who destroyed the Fashion Police’s office, and why? What the hell does Day 1-ish even mean? Every story in NXT has a beginning, a middle and an end. In WWE, there’s usually at least one of those elements missing.
Tag team wrestling is as important as singles competition – As my son, Jake, pointed out, WWE seems to be where dominant NXT tag teams go to die. The Ascension, American Alpha and the Vaudevillians are just recent examples of NXT championship teams that never really resonated on the main roster. The Revival might be added to that list if they can’t stay healthy, too. WWE tends to kill the effectiveness of tag teams by either breaking them up (American Alpha, Enzo and Cass), or booking them into oblivion (Ascension, Vaudevillians). They even do it with teams that have been champions all over the world (The Club). In NXT, most of the tag teams are treated with the same respect as the top individuals. Authors of Pain are one of the top draws. TM61 was a huge fan favorite before going down to injury. SAnitY is perceived as a constant threat to everyone in the building, and even Heavy Machinery has looked like stars in their appearances. Even when NXT broke up a team like DiY, they did it when the team was red-hot, and the resulting feud would have been one of the best of the summer if both Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa hadn’t both gotten hurt. In WWE, there are usually four dominant teams – each brand’s champion, and one legitimate contender. Considering the number of talented workers on those rosters, and the amount of TV time they have to fill every week, creating deep, viable tag team divisions should be at the top of WWE’s to-do list.
If you haven’t checked out NXT yet, try a free 30-day subscription to the WWE Network, and look up some episodes from the archive. You can pick just about any episode and start a binge. They’re all good.
That’s all for now. Next time, we’ll have previews and predictions for SummerSlam and TakeOver: Brooklyn.