We are dead on 5 months into the Wednesday Night War but its already becoming harder and harder to realistically call it a war. A war would imply that both sides have a fighting chance as they face eachother head on in battle. The reality though, is that NXT are falling way behind. Sure, they ultimately have the backing of Vince McMahon and aren't exactly going to go out of business, but they're in real danger of not even being seen as competition soon.
Only 1 ratings win. Currently on the receiving end of a 10 week AEW winning streak. Numbers dropping most weeks and when they do rise it's by a barely noticable amount.
It's still very early days in regards to the two companies televisual feud, but there must be alarm bells going off in Triple H's head with his brand clearly so far behind their only true rival. NXT has received so many plaudits over the years but this no longer seems to be enough.
So what can NXT do to close the gap with AEW?
Inject Some Star Power
Jericho, Moxley, Cody. Yes, they may be ex WWE, but everyone know them. NXT top guys are some of the best wrestlers in the world right now but that doesn't always draw views if you dont know the name. Keith Lee is a one of a kind performer, but a casual fan is likely going to know the name Chris Jericho more.
NXT, being the developmental brand, will always serve to provide the main roster with it's next big names. The question is, are they replacing them like for like? Over the years the black and gold have lost names like Kevin Owens, Samoa Joe, Finn Balor, Seth Rollins, Bobby Roode, Shinsuke Nakamura and Drew McIntyre.
The talent that they've been replaced by has never quite matched up to their star power. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love Ciampa, Gargano, Cole and Dream, but none of them hold a candle compared to their predecessors.
The best thing for NXT would be to take back some big names from the main roster, hopefully bringing RAW and SD viewers with them. Owens, Joe, Sami Zayn and Cesaro are the obvious choices, but I would go all out and send Daniel Bryan to Full Sail. D-Bry has already asked for a lighter schedule with wife Brie Bella expecting their second child, so the lack of travelling would surely appeal, as would being the top name on the brand. Bryan's move would also give a massive run to anyone he steps in the ring with.
Somebody as green as The Velveteen Dream would surely benefit from a program with the bearded one. Adam Cole vs Bryan on paper is a MOTY candidate, the same thing can be said of Gargano v Bryan. Whether face or heel, Bryan is one of the most popular superstars that WWE have, as well as being one of the best natural wrestlers in the world. This move would undoubtedly get eyes on the product, curious to see what Bryan can do with a whole host of new faces and dream match potential.
Give Us Something Fresh
One thing that NXT can't really do too much about, is combating the excitement behind AEW's brand new product. NXT has been going for 10 years now and has become an established part of WWE. As consistently good as the in ring action has been over those years, something that NXT pride themselves on, there is naturally always a point in anything where interest starts to fade a little.
That moment for NXT came about as soon as AEW aired it's very first episode of Dynamite on TNT. All of a sudden we had something new - fresh faces, a new set, new presentation, new commentators, new fans and an entirely new style. Those who had been feeling alienated by WWE's constant push of the wrong stars and the overwhelming sense that Vince McMahon doesn't value their opinions, suddenly had an alternative.
WWE have been the big dog in town for 20 odd years now. In fact, they've been the only dog in town. TNA/Impact tried and failed, but ultimately fell short after trying to cram half of WWE's former roster onto their programming. AEW however feels like a genuine threat. Yes they started off by positioning Chris Jericho, a WWE legend, as their first champion but this was 100% the right call. It got eyes on the product because even the most casual fan knows exactly who Y2J is, and it provided an air of legitimacy to the upstart promotion.
Jericho dropped the belt recently to Jon Moxley, another former WWE talent, but the difference is that AEW have a roster full of believable challengers. WWE can put the belt on as many Fiends, Rollins and KO's as they want, but the fans know it's only ever a matter of time before Roman and Lesnar recapture the gold. It's not exciting. It's not enjoyable. You know what is though? Darby Allin. Scorpio Sky. MJF. Cody. PAC...
The fans who were attracted to AEW for those reasons aren't going anywhere. WWE main roster fans might not want to check out NXT when they see that Adam Cole has been champion for a very long time. Why should they believe it's any different to the poor main roster booking? What can NXT do? Drop in somebody like Killer Kross. Bring over somebody like Bryan. Do something exciting and new. Don't build Ciampa and Gargano as challengers yet again. Build new stars like Austin Theory, Isaiah 'Swerve' Scott, Keith Lee... give us more of a reason to watch than just great in ring action.
Introduce AEW Style Rankings
Ah yes, the fabled AEW rankings. As inaccurate as they may seem a lot of the time, it gives a real sense of importance to victories. If you love Darby Allin and he picks up a few wins, you genuinely believe he might get a title opportunity. Kona Reeves on the other hand, you know he isn't getting one anytime this century even if he wins 3 matches in the same month because his matches don't feel important enough.
Ask any fan of any sport in the world about the importance of league tables, rankings, performances etc and they'll all say the same thing. I love nothing more than seeing the team I support climb their way up the league table. In WWE however, wins and losses don't seen to mean a damn thing. The same guys will always get the opportunities
NXT has a great, deep roster full of installed potential and incredible talent but sometimes this can be detrimental. I love a multi man match and they are so often MOTY contenders, but my mind can't help but be drawn to the number 1 contenders ladder match coming up at NXT Takeover Tampa Bay. Chelsea Green has on TV win and is already in that match. If Io Shirai is back in time from a long injury lay off she will be too. I'll bet any money that Candice Le Rae and Tegan Nox are both in there too despite holding barely any W's to their name.
Make matches mean something. Make the fans care. Make us more invested because the competitors actually deserve their opportunity.
Take The Show On The Road
Full Sail University is a one of a kind environment, full of passionate and loyal fans who never fail to make their voices heard. Keeping the show in one location is great for the talent involved, who get a reduced schedule and don't have to spend forever on the road. Happy talent makes for a happy NXT. However the benefit of travelling around is you get the opportunity to attract new fans in that new town or occasionally a whole new country.
Different crowds react in different ways, for example a Chicago or New York crowd is almost worth watching the show for more than the in ring performances. I hadn't managed to get to any NXT UK as they were always too far away from me. Last week however they came to my neck of the woods and it gave me an opportunity to see some some talent that I didn't even know existed.
Some fans prefer to go to events rather than watching them on TV. I've spoken to people who attend hundreds of WWE house shows every year. When you watch NXT you tend to see a lot of the same fans in attendance and while it's great to see that loyalty, i can't help but think about those fans who are missing out. The USA is a HUGE country that takes sometimes days to travel across states. Taking the show to the fans not only helps get new fans involved and invested, but it also rewards the existing ones for their loyalty to the brand by letting them attend a show that isnt 500 miles away.
You can't effectively build a star like Austin Theory, who is 100% the brands future, unless people get to physically see him. I watch a hell of a lot of WWE programming, but my experience of attending Summerslam 2018 in person was absolutely unreal. Seeing someone give it there all in the ring, just a few metres away from you, makes it all the more special.
There is also the problem of production. Full Sail is a tiny venue, which may do a lot for atmosphere, but limits NXT in what it can do with the space. Brawling in the crowd? Very rarely seen. Throwing eachother off the stage? Not often. Backstage chaos? Sure, but I would like to see a different parking lot from time to time! The arena always looks a bit dark and dingy, often resembling the bingo halls of the independent scene. Fans love pyro, myself included but you aren't getting that in a room that looks to have as much height as your standard living room.
There is no doubt that NXT can be the full package. The in ring action is often far superior to anything in the world, especially AEW. They have some big names, even bigger characters and some of the most gifted athletes of all time.
The last time we saw a legitimate wrestling war between rival companies was WCW vs WWE, or WWF if you will. WCW were putting on better shows, more risque, gaming chances, causing controversy, using star power to pummel WWE in the ratings every single week. It wasn't until WWE started taking chances on superstars and listening to the fans that things finally turned in their favour. Mankind winning the world championship, edgier programming... all they need to do, is channel some of that creativity once again and take a chance.
AEW are to NXT, what WCW was to WWE in the 90's. Sort it out Hunter.