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MR. TITO STRIKES BACK - The NXT Effect: Internet Fans' Love Affair with WWE Developmental
By Mr. Tito
Mar 29, 2014 - 9:01:57 AM
As a columnist and doing this for 15+ years now here at LordsofPain.net, I'm amused at the reactions by readers to certain wrestlers and often, it's not because the wrestler is over with the overall mainstream wrestling audience. Oh no... They are the internet darlings of the moment that everybody following wrestling daily online follows, defends no matter what, and insists that they must be instantly pushed to the main event when they join the WWE.
Case in point is Bray Wyatt RIGHT NOW. For months, I heard hype on this guy as he was at NXT. Then, the WWE began the promos... NXT fans were creaming in their pants for his debut and were talking him up as if Jesus Christ returned and became a wrestler. He debuted with cool music... But when he started to wrestle or got on the mic to speak gibberish, I was like "meh". Stinking it up at SummerSlam 2013 didn't help matters either. But the WWE carried on, particularly since Wyatt is a WWE developed wrestler. They were more than willing to stick the hottest wrestler in the company, Daniel Bryan, into the Wyatt family and that angered the bigger audience of the WWE, the mainstream WWE fanbase. Wyatt then beats Daniel Bryan 100% clean at Royal Rumble 2014... Beat the hottest guy in the company, as a heel, cleanly... Now, he gets to wrestle John Cena in his first Wrestlemania match. Seriously.
Despite the guy not working for the WWE main roster for a full year, there are calls for Wyatt to defeat John Cena at Wrestlemania 30 as if his life depended on it. Like nobody has ever benefitted from giving a losing effort at Wrestlemania, right? Yeah, go see "Macho Man" Randy Savage at Wrestlemania 3 and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin at Wrestlemania 13. What happened 1 year later at the next Wrestlemania shows? Both Savage and Austin became WWE Champion. They were ready at their respective positions because of the great losing effort the year before. I guess you could also say Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania 11 and then winning the WWE Title at Wrestlemania 12, but WWE declined severely that year in business...
Point being, how is it believeable that a guy can go from being a developmental wrestler in NXT and then defeat Daniel Bryan at Royal Rumble 2014 and then John Cena at Wrestlemania 30? The 2 biggest babyface wrestlers at the biggest events of the year. Worse yet, so close together in time... What will Bray Wyatt have to chase if he has beaten both John Cena and Daniel Bryan? Early in his career, he has nothing to prove if he's already mowed through the top babyface superstars.
That's why Bray Wyatt must LOSE at Wrestlemania 30 to John Cena.
Timing is everything in pro wrestling, especially for developmental wrestlers and for anyone joining the WWE with less than a year experience under the WWE spotlight. Someone like Brock Lesnar is an exception. He was a freak of nature who had the look, the intensity of his character, the badass power moves, and the credibility of being NCAA Heavyweight Champion to matter instantly. However, WWE almost blew that one too... Remember what caused Steve Austin to walk out for a second time in 2002? For a random episode of RAW, the WWE Creative Team wanted Brock Lesnar to defeat Steve Austin cleanly in an unannounced match. That could have destroyed Lesnar with fans to randomly hotshot him over Austin.
And if you don't believe me with timing, go look at the careers of Steve Austin, Hulk Hogan, the Rock, Triple H, Mick Foley, Randy Savage, and John Cena, all time greats. WWE, for each of those wrestlers, did not have plans to immediately push those wrestler to the main event nor did they want them to defeat the top stars. Many of those guys had lower end matches on previous Wrestlemanias. Not Bray Wyatt, whose first Wrestlemania match is against the #1 star of the WWE, John Cena. And it's not like we're talking Brock Lesnar talent with Bray Wyatt. Aside from his Daniel Bryan match, which Bryan sold like a machine for, he's been unimpressive in the ring. He still has that chubby Husky Harris build and nobody can present proof that he can be a top draw. Things are easy when you're wrestling against Daniel Bryan and John Cena. Those guys are drawing huge right now for the WWE.
Instead of WASTING the Shield with Kane/New Age Outlaws (guys with combined ages of almost 150), do a rematch with the Wyatt Family. That's the perfect way to showcase all 6 wrestlers who are under 2 years experience with the main WWE roster. Their match at Elimination Chamber delivered for the most part and they could probably do a better job with a rematch. Furthermore, the WWE is super high on both Bray Wyatt and Roman Reigns. Feature them, again, in the ring and then spin off a strong midcard one-on-one feud with Reigns/Wyatt after Wrestlemania. They could grow together while giving the WWE a clear added attraction in the midcard. As they are developing, the WWE could get the last mileage they can from John Cena, Randy Orton, Batista, and Daniel Bryan in the main event (see my Cena/Bryan = NEW Mega Powers column). WWE could utilize the next tier as the guys to elevate Reigns and Wyatt, such as Sheamus, Alberto Del Rio, Dolph Ziggler, etc., with time. And yes, make that Intercontinental Title look strong.
Could you imagine if Bray Wyatt and Roman Reigns fought in a Ladder Match at SummerSlam 2014 for the Intercontinental Title? It was a good enough idea for Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon at Wrestlemania 10 and Rock vs. Triple H at SummerSlam 1999... Hey, didn't 3 of those guys go on to win the WWE Title in the following years after those big matches? Razor Ramon should have been a much bigger star had it not been for personal demons causing a lack of trust to be the top guy.
WWE isn't letting their developmental guys gain a following as midcarders as they used to. The Stephanie/Triple H led Creative Team is giving into Vince McMahon's impatience. In the past, Vince had many wrestling minds that he could depend on for advice such as Jim Ross, Pat Patterson, Gerald Briscoe, and a host of others with actual wrestling experience. They knew that pro wrestling was all about TIMING and probably advised Vince on what they heard from the crowds and good storyline development for a wrestler. They probably preached "patience" to Vince. Now, not so much... Because WWE Creative is SO POOR and not getting wrestlers over, Vince wants more wrestlers to throw at the wall to see if anything sticks. For over a decade now, we've seen many WWE developmental wrestlers come and go with early World Title pushes or reigns that ruined them. This is what happens when you let family run things instead of experienced professionals.
Worse yet, many fans on the internet are the WWE's biggest enablers...
Right now, the NXT developmental system is producing many internet darlings. If anybody wrestled on the NXT shows, they are instant favorites of many online. Bray Wyatt is a perfect example... He failed as Husky Harris and created the new Bray Wyatt gimmick on NXT. NXT viewers, who were addicted to that brand due to it being an alternative to the WWE, saw the Wyatt gimmick debut and fell in love... By the time Wyatt made it to the WWE, there were instant cries to push him as a Main Eventer. Because Wyatt is a product of the developmental system and a self-made WWE guy, the McMahons/HHH were ready to comply. Plus, Wyatt's dad, Mike Rotunda, worked for Vince McMahon and those next generation wrestlers always get the push. I'm surprised that Bo Dallas hasn't joined the roster, too, with a big push. They tried during early 2013 and poor Wade Barrett still has scars from that. Bad news for him...
I call it the "NXT Effect" because WWE fans have fallen in love with NXT out of frustration with the main WWE brand. You are so sick of the WWE brand that you seek an alternative of some kind. Sure, you could watch TNA Wrestling... But that's a second rate joke. TNA is like the "WCW" of this era, in 2nd place but far behind. Then, the 3rd banana becomes the internet darling. It was Ring of Honor and in my opinion, ROH helped give both TNA and WWE some major stars. Samoa Joe should have been TNA's huge star (but they jobbed him to Angle in 2006-2007) while CM Punk and Daniel Bryan have panned out well in WWE. However, loss of talent and changes in management have hurt ROH as of late... Thus, fans have moved onto NXT as their new smaller brand to cling onto.
As I mentioned above, I have been writing wrestling columns for over 15 years... During the late 1990's, I remember how loyal Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) fans were. If I dared to make any mention of ECW as a brand or any of its wrestlers, I received loads of hatemail and actual death threats. Readers were even furious when I criticized Justin Credible for being a weak ECW Champion during 2000, even though ECW on TNN ratings proved me right. They defended everything that ECW did and felt that every ECW wrestler should be main eventing in the WWE. I can remember how rabid fans were for Tazz joining the WWE. I may have been to a degree, but then I soon saw how short Tazz looked in the ring versus other WWE wrestlers. I stated that in columns and was repeatedly attacked. I would note that I was growing tired of weapons matches and called RVD a "spot machine", I was attacked... Real threats came my way by rabid internet ECW fans.
Ohio Valley Wrestling had its loyal viewers, too, especially after ECW/WCW were long gone. After the "Class of 2002", which legitimately panned out (John Cena, Brock Lesnar, Randy Orton, Batista), the WWE developmental system suffered... John Laurinaitis struggled as Jim Ross's replacement and the WWE saw a talent drop-off. In attempts to restock the depleted developmental system, Laurinaitis drafted many independent wrestlers to join the WWE. Certainly, some of them panned out, but many were overhyped and worked a style that works well in the independents and not so much with the WWE. But that didn't stop internet marks from attacking the WWE for not (a) promoting their favorite indy stars to the WWE rosters and (b) pushing them to the main event instantly. Some of the stuff I heard about Colt Cabana and how the WWE was just "wasting his main event potential" was just crazy...
But now, NXT is the latest internet darling brand. Many wrestling fans are sick and tired of the main WWE brand insomuch that they like the WWE's minor league system as their personal favorite. They cherish it... It's everything that the WWE is not... Smaller scale, different wrestlers, different announcers, and different production. Oddly enough, the brand is in the hands of former wrestlers... Gee, imagine that. Guys who used to wrestle actually know how to book a wrestling program. Fans are clinging to it and WWE is wise to exploit the love by making it a WWE Network exclusive. $9.99 WWE Network money, cha-ching!
I'm already hearing about how the current crop of NXT wrestlers would "rule the WWE" once they are promoted to the main WWE roster. Just go find a Message Board thread about NXT or a NXT hash tag on Twitter. Just sit back and laugh, while being scared at the same time. What happens in ECW, OVW, RoH, and now NXT on a smaller scale doesn't exactly translate well to a larger mainstream audience. Many don't have time or the motivation to watch beyond the main WWE shows. Furthermore, the more physical and spotty indy style doesn't receive the pops in front of 15,000 people versus what it did for several hundred in a small arena. There are many families and children attending WWE events who like to cheer on more established wrestlers . Most don't know that NXT exists other than when WWE programming advertises it. The mainstream audience wants to root for established stars and hates having newbies shoved down their throats by WWE Creative.
But if you earn the mainstream WWE fans' trust by introducing those developmental wrestlers in the midcard, build them up, and let them develop into WWE superstars, then they'll beg Vince/Triple H to put them into the main event. That's how it has always worked, with maybe Brock Lesnar as the lone exception (and he's a freak of nature). Anytime a not-so-deserving wrestler was pushed to the World Title despite the fans' wishes, fans rejected. See Randy Orton in 2004, Jack Swagger, Miz, Sheamus, Alberto Del Rio, and even CM Punk's first two World Title reigns. Mainstream WWE fans weren't begging the WWE to make Punk a champion like they were in 2011.
Anybody remember Fandango? Despite the Wrestlemania 29 victory over Chris Jericho and the music that a funny New York crowd had fun with, where is Fandango now? He's jerking the curtain in the lower midcard. For every Shield call-up, which has been successful only because they've developed together under a combined gimmick, there are many other developmental busts. Right now, Summer Rae is actually the bigger wrestler of the duo and that's bad for Fandango. He now has a career of mixed tag matches to look forward to with Santino. Imagine if the WWE gave him terrible entrance music? Yikes...
Many internet fans help induce bad booking behavior by the WWE. They are craving for a WWE alternative and find that NXT is the next best thing to the WWE right now. Thus, when they clap like seals for a NXT performer, the McMahons believe that it's the next guy to push to the main event! After all, the McMahons and Triple H loves anyone who develops under the WWE system and is a complete "yes man" to them. They'll even sacrifice their top 2 babyfaces for them, which may happen with Bray Wyatt. Right now, Vince/Triple H are looking to develop wrestlers from the ground up and not looking to the independents. They appreciate when they hear online fans loving their NXT developed guys. They'll push their own self-made WWE stars to the moon...
How should Bray Wyatt be developed on WWE programming, you ask? Just let him wrestle... WWE has a thick roster of talent for him to wrestle on the midcard. He has plenty of performers to wrestle and for many months, he can prove how good of an in-ring talent that he is... Furthermore, he can try out what parts of his Wyatt family gimmick on fans... What works and what doesn't work. Remove what doesn't work... Try some things with his look as well. Sometimes, Bray looks like a slob picked up from a truckstop on the way to an arena. Sadly, WWE assumes that the entire gimmick works and the mainstream WWE fans are wrong. Sure, it might appear to work against John Cena or Bray Wyatt, but that's your top babyfaces. Anything that goes up against those two gets over. WWE should have pushed the Wyatt Family as a trio strong like they did with the Shield. Instead, they are pushing Bray as a main eventer in his first year... Why is the WWE doing this when the Shield proves how to push all 3 wrestlers well at once?
I have NOTHING against the Bray Wyatt character. I respect his dad very much, as the Varsity Club remains one of my favorite wrestling stables of all time and IRS was awesome. He does have nice size and a few dangerous looking moves (love that move he did on the outside to Bryan at Royal Rumble). If memory serves, Bray Wyatt vs. Daniel Bryan at Royal Rumble remains my "Match of the Year" candidate until another match beats it. His look could probably use some polishing and some toning while more experience in the ring handling the WWE spotlight outside of Bryan/Cena. Just be patient with the guy and HE'LL MAKE IT. But if you push him too hard and too fast, he'll be just another developmental wrestler without heat and wrestling in a 4 way for the Intercontinental Title years later.
I have nothing against NXT, either... In fact, I praise the WWE for creating a successful brand that people are willing to pay $9.99 per month to obtain. And if you enjoy it, keep enjoying it. Don't let "Old Man Tito" tell you otherwise.
But have some common sense. Stop misunderstanding the pro wrestling business. Stars are NOT made overnight or under a year. Pro wrestling is all about build up and testing out the character with TIME. The greatest wrestlers of all time didn't make it in 1 year and in fact busted when pushed too fast early on. John Cena wrestled Kurt Angle for his FIRST match in the WWE. What did that do for him for the rest of 2002? Not much... It wasn't until he lucked into his "Thug Life" gimmick and kept working hard in the ring for 2003-2004 that he became WWE Champion in 2005. See how the business works?
Go watch the WWE Network and watch the years BEFORE 2002. Observe how Steve Austin was the "Ringmaster" during 1995 or how the Rock was "Rocky Maivia" in 1996. It didn't happen overnight and there's nothing wrong with being Intercontinental Champion early in your career. In fact, you should embrace it. Go see how it took YEARS for Triple H to become "the man". He did great work as a WWE midcarder. You might not see it on WWE Network (this happened before 1983), but Hulk Hogan wasn't a top star during his first WWE run during the late 1970's, early 1980's. He was someone for Andre the Giant to whoop on... Hogan couldn't beat that guy until almost 7 years later when Hogan morphed into a true superstar with time (and Rocky 3).
I'm strongly recommending that Bray Wyatt LOSE at Wrestlemania 30, but be booked to look strong in a losing effort. He'll pick himself up and possibly get a standing ovation for a strong effort against the company's top star. Then, put the Wyatts up against the Shield again and let them feud for the next few Pay Per Views. Then, do battle with Cesaro, Big E Langston, and Roman Reigns to prove to fans who the next big superstar is. If Bray Wyatt breaks out from that group, then you have him seek revenge against John Cena. By then, Wyatt will be worthy of the Cena win and can beat him at Wrestlemania 31... Maybe even beat the Undertaker at Wrestlemania 31 while we're at it?
Take that Attitude Adjustment like a champ, Wyatt!
Comments and debates are welcome on Twitter. Bring it on. @titowrestling
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