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Posted in: Just Business
Just Business presents #102: Chapter 5.2 ~ Maximising the WWE Network
By Samuel 'Plan
Jul 16, 2017 - 9:22:52 AM

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Just Business presents #102: Chapter 5.2 ~ Maximising the WWE Network

The last instalment of this series ended by contemplating how NXT had developed into a dedicated Network-exclusive platform for wrestlers that, in WWE-relative conventional terms, would otherwise perhaps never have stood a chance at making it to the world’s foremost promotion. The growth of NXT and of its popularity has helped contribute to a culture shift in WWE’s talent recruitment, led by Triple H, so holistic that in the next couple of years the entire main roster is set to consist primarily of talents that, as recently as five years ago, might never have been considered to have WWE in their futures.

Thus, NXT is the perfect example of how the Network has impacted the general product since Summerslam 2014: it’s all about platforms. Starting with platforms offered to individuals – as explored last time – the maximisation of the Network has since taken shape in the form of creating entire Network-exclusive brands that provide those platforms not just to one or two isolated cases but to entire cadres of world-class talents that, until the Network came along, not unlike many stars in NXT, might have otherwise never been seen in WWE; and certainly not to the prominent degree they currently are. NXT, then, was the first of its kind and, considering it actually came along before the Network, might even be called ahead of its time.

Perhaps the most radical example of this new phenomenon – of these platform brands, so to speak – has been seen just this year with the introduction of a UK Championship, and the promise of a one hour weekly show designed to promote it. Not only does the existence of this newly minted division represent the avenues opened up by WWE’s ability to now develop platform brands that constitute Network-exclusive “periphery product,” so too does it represent the global scale of the Network’s influence; an influence felt keenly even as eastward as Japan, of course.

A match like Pete Dunne vs. Mark Andrews from January’s UK Championship Tournament is a prime example of all of this. Neither man is possessed of a larger than life frame, nor should be considered conventional when looked at through a traditional WWE lens. Yet WWE, because of their ability to maximise the potential offered by the Network, provided them with a historic and meaningful platform and, suddenly, Pete Dunne has become a globally recognised name, with Andrews not too far behind. The entire complexion of both men’s potential careers, of their lives, has been changed, and without a Network that simply wouldn’t have happened. What a testament to how the gamble of the Network is paying off as well; their Semi-Final was outstanding, and wrestled at such an elite level that it garnered an organic standing ovation half-way through.

Although it is perhaps in the cruiserweights we see the Network’s most stunning achievement thus far, at least in terms of scale and longevity. From the Cruiserweight Classic (CWC), to the establishment of 205 Live, right through to the ascension of Neville, the Network has created a whole other element to WWE’s product thanks to the opportunities it presents. The cruiserweight division is therefore rife with potential must see matches that could each comfortably represent the impact that the introduction of the Network has had on the wider product.

The CWC alone has a laundry list. Rich Swann vs. TJ Perkins is perfectly indicative of the benefits of WWE using the Network to re-establish a post-Reality cruiserweight division, demonstrating the evolved cruiserweight style we are now familiar with, that so daringly eschews the stereotype so heavily established in the early 2000s. It is a renaissance match, dealing in equal parts with the technical, the speedy, the aerial, the psychological, the submission, the characters and the non-WWE legacy underpinning those characters; a legacy openly embraced.

Or perhaps Brian Kendrick vs. Kota Ibushi is a better option. Though not as comprehensive in accounting for the evolved cruiserweight style of today, it nonetheless represents the same issue on a more conceptual level. This too is a radically different kind of cruiserweight match – it’s grimy and nasty and of a spiteful disposition. Further, while Swann / Perkins evidences how the Network has come hand in hand with WWE no longer shunning unaffiliated Indy-developed continuities, Kendrick / Ibushi evidences how WWE no longer shuns unaffiliated globally developed talents. Ibushi was not under contract with WWE at the time of the CWC, nor did he sign afterward; but he was utterly integral to the evolving story of the entire tournament, and enthusiastically positioned as one of its favourites. While it’s hard to say if this phenomenon – Ibushi is not an isolated case – would have occurred even had the Network not come into existence, it is easy to identify that the phenomenon has become increasingly frequent as the Network has become increasingly predominant.

Although, what about everything that has come after the CWC? If the maximisation of the Network’s potential, and its heaviest impact on WWE, is the development of these platform brands, and the resultant creation of a peripheral product, perhaps we should instead turn to 205 Live for a must see representation; most specifically, to the incredible work of Cruiserweight Champion Neville, who alone has compiled as many potentially must see bouts as the entire CWC did from a field of 32 competitors.

With WrestleMania 33 as my cut-off for this mini-series, I have to turn to Neville vs. Jack Gallagher from Fastlane 2017. Not only is this another completely different style of cruiserweight match once again, so too is it an example of how much Neville has benefitted from having the platform of 205 Live on which to develop. His performance is a powerful piece of characterisation, with his disdain and contempt for his challenger palpable. What’s more, it was the best match on that event’s card, representing just how 205 Live went from post-CWC disappointment to providing the match of the night on any given Monday Night Raw (MNR) pay-per-view; the Network-exclusive show’s contributions to the flagship brand have become invaluable, and once again possible only because of the Network.

We can see clearly, then, just how sweeping the impact of the Network has been, from its formative stages providing platforms for one or two individuals to argue a case for themselves among fans, to developing an entire peripheral product through the guise of platform brands, each separate from but inextricably linked to the main roster product of both MNR and Smackdown Live (SDL). None of the matches mentioned thus far, however, really, to my mind, comprehensively bring all of this growth together in a single pinnacle instance.

But Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn at Battleground 2016 most certainly does, and would be my pick for a must see match representative of the impact of the Network on WWE’s general product. Their clash at Battleground was the climax of their evolving feud, which began, of course, in one of the aforementioned platform brands; specifically, the flagship platform brand that is NXT. What’s more, the continuity WWE carried over from their interactions in NXT wasn’t first established there, but in turn had been carried over from their history on the Indy circuit: an indicator of the less-insular approach WWE now take, that rose to prominence in tandem with the growth of the Network.

While a WWE without the Network might one day have staged a Zayn / Owens feud, I have nothing but confidence in saying that such a feud would have looked nothing like the one we got were it not for the Network and the opportunities it has provided; not just in establishing and carrying over elements from NXT, but also in how a more online-centred approach has only encouraged WWE to once again open its borders, remove its blinkers and embrace the wider wrestling world. Doing so has only benefitted their product, with the climactic feud-ender between Owens and Zayn, which just so happens to be their best effort together in WWE too, a prime example of how.

Where WWE go next with the Network is hard to tell, but I would expect only more of the same. We still have the promise of a weekly UK show set to be fulfilled. NXT will no doubt continue to grow in its own right too, as will 205 Live. We also have the small matter of the Mae Young Classic in a few months time, and who knows where that might lead for the women of WWE. Perhaps the female contingent will be next in line to get a platform brand of their own, so that they too can come to contribute further to the peripheral product the Network has developed.

Regardless of whether that becomes the case or not, though, when I consider what has come to inform WWE since Summerslam 2014 I am obligated to account for the Women’s Revolution, and next week’s chapter will seek to do just that as I look back over the last two and a half years in an attempt to make sense of the often divisive events that have led the women from being a sideshow to, oftentimes, show-stealers.

Until then, feel free to share your own thoughts on this week’s issues and the matches discussed in both halves of Chapter 5 in the comments below or over on social media!

This mini-series is a spin-off of my first book, 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die, spawned from the acclaimed LOP column series of the same name. So for more of the same, click below to pick up your paperback or e-book copy today!

Click here to pick up your copy of 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die from Amazon.com

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