With all due respect to Sasha Banks and her well-earned moniker, Vince McMahon remains “The Boss.”
Until the 70-year-old chairman of WWE decides (or is somehow forced) to step aside, he will continue to call the shots and has final say over any and everything that appears on the sports entertainment juggernaut’s programming.
[adinserter block=”1″]Despite the occasional rumor, McMahon has neither done or said anything to indicate that retirement is on his mind. To the contrary, he has in many ways become more controlling, more insanely driven to do things his way, more intent on pressing his fingerprints onto the product with age.
And yet, despite the fact that ridiculously-past-their-primes performers like Kane and Big Show continue to be featured in main event roles while a hoard of young, deserving talent gathers dust or spins their wheels, the vortex is opening.
This is the part of the article where I bring up Triple H and all of the wonderful things he has done with NXT. How he’s taken a pet project of his decrepit father-in-law and transformed it into the best thing about WWE. And how this can only bode well for the future of the industry.
“Smart” fans were on board with H’s plan practically from the get-go. At least from the point it became clear that he would be signing major international talents (Finn Balor, Hideo Itami), rewarding the indies’ most talented and hardest working stars (Seth Rollins, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, Neville), giving opportunities to others under their established names/personas (Samoa Joe, Tomasso Chiampa, Johnny Gargano), AND allowing women’s wrestling a chance to shine brighter than ever (Banks, Charlotte, Becky Lynch, Bayley).
All of this while developing a host of previously lesser-known players (Tyler Breeze, Baron Corbin, The Vaudevillains) and providing veterans with a shot to recreate themselves (Rhyno, Zack Ryder).
Thanks to the WWE Network, the mainstream has caught on to the movement. In this age of Internet and social media, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to separate the hardcore and casual fan as it is, but I digress.
Triple H has created a sub-brand that is, by just about everyone’s account, far superior to the main brand. It doesn’t have the bigger names (by design), but the match quality, intensity-fueled atmosphere and overall storytelling aspects of NXT leaves stagnant, plodding Raw and practically-irrelevant Smackdown in the dust.
And we won’t even touch on the difference in PPV quality between the two brands.
But it all goes much further than that. As both the brainchild behind NXT and WWE’s developmental system, as well as his own on-screen role as the evil COO/big event wrestler, Triple H undoubtedly retains a great deal of influence within the company. After Vince, possibly his buddy Kevin Dunn, and, of course, his wife Stephanie McMahon herself, H is the most influential person at Titan Towers.
It is assumed and only makes sense that once Vince is gone (unless he’s a vampire), Trips and Steph will assume full control. That day can’t come soon enough for many fans and, we’re sure, wrestlers who have now been given a glimpse of what a future WWE might be like.
This isn’t to say that what NXT is now, WWE will instantly become. Because it won’t. But if you look at the state of the industry and the way things are shaping up, Triple H’s influence is going to be felt for a long time to come.
NXT – and, more generally, the evolution of WWE’s feeder system – has given young, aspiring talents around the globe something more concrete to shoot for. Not just the idea of that coveted “developmental contract,” but a blueprint for how to get there. And assurances that it CAN happen.
Underscoring this is the official word of a working agreement between WWE and EVOLVE, which will work as a feeder system for NXT, while benefiting from the use of WWE-contracted talent (similar to what Jerry Lawler’s USWA did years ago).
Triple H, while still not THE man in charge, is methodically reforming WWE from within while changing the game at the independent level. A touring NXT brand is competition – welcomed or not – for Ring of Honor, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, Chikara and other top indies.
Those promotions, as well as their top performers, and hundreds of men and women we may or may not have ever heard of, have all been put on notice. Now is the time to step up their games, because the opportunities are there.
Vince’s power is such that, technically, he could pull the plug on the EVOLVE deal right now. Hell, he could outright cancel NXT if he wanted. He could have fired John Cena yesterday and penciled Cesaro in to win the Royal Rumble, too.
Make no mistake, McMahon remains in charge. But there is a clearer hierarchy and direction within WWE now.
NXT is Triple H’s baby and here’s what everything he’s done with it represents – The Future.
That sounds as hokey as his “best for business” catchphrase, but it’s true. At this particular moment, Triple H is the gatekeeper. He controls the destinies of not just the NXT roster but an almost infinite amount of would-and will-be WWE Superstars.
The competition that has been so sorely been lacking since WCW disappeared quietly into the night is returning, albeit internally. Fans who never heard of Prince Devitt are feeling the buzz around Finn Balor. An incredibly gifted athlete formerly known as Uhaa Nation is beginning to make waves as Apollo Crews. And NXT Women’s champ Bayley, sooner or later, is going to come face-to-face with the brand’s newest oversees sensation, Asuka.
Meanwhile, fans attending, say, a PWG show in Reseda, California or a CZW show in Philly now can believe that the stars of their those promotions are under the microscope. And you can bet, the men and women on the undercards will be sharpening their saws, too.
An article published this morning on WWE.com noted that “no area has produced brighter stars than the American independent wrestling scene” for NXT talent scouts.
Could you have imagined reading something like that there, even 6 months ago?
[adinserter block=”2″]That same article spotlighted EVOLVE stars Timothy Thatcher, Johnny Gargano, “Hot Sauce” Tracy Williams, Anthony Nese, and Zack Sabre, Jr. – quoting booker (and former Ring of Honor boss) Gabe Sapolsky about each.
In the wrestling biz these days, it’s a badge of honor to be known as a Paul Heyman Guy.
Well, each and everyone of the aforementioned wrestlers in this piece either is or aspires to be a Triple H Guy.
And there are many, many more to come.