I’m a lapsed fan…

I’ve been a prowrestling fan for a large portion of my life, however considering the directions that the business & really, WWE moreso in general have taken, I’m finding myself more and more sitting here on the outside, looking in on a business I used to live & breathe almost 24/7. I’ve heard guys like Dave Scherer & Mike Johnson on PWInsider.com speak of the lapsed fan who checks in from time to time and continues to leave again for one reason or another & I’ve now come to the conclusion that that group now includes me.

For us lapsed fans, we WANT to like the product, but there’s just a number of bad decisions whether it’s from a talent, creative or any other number of reasons that continue to turn us off from the product. I had been hoping that a return of fans to the arenas might change my stance, but even that doesn’t seem to make a difference to me now. Is it talent? Oh my God, yes! Is it just talent issues? Of course it’s not. Creative storytelling is certainly involved as well.

So how did I get here?

Well, if you’ve been reading this site for any length of time, you should know that WWE’s main product had turned me off quite a few years ago, but then came NXT. So I poured my heart & soul (and hard-earned $$) into that product. When I first started watching NXT, it was this new, exciting developmental brand for WWE that only existed on the WWE Network. All of the talent were either being trained by WWE or had existed somewhere else and were recently brought in to “learn the WWE style” as they like to put it, all before being eventually moved on up to the main roster shows (Raw or Smackdown). The whole thing was proposed by Triple H as a way for WWE to have a training facility and prepare the next generation of wrestlers for WWE.

Training happened at the WWE Performance Center with television being recorded from Full Sail University, where students down at Full Sail would get hands-on training on what went into a typical production of a WWE television series. A lot of Full Sail graduates would eventually go on to take positions working for WWE as camera operators, video editors & such. It was a win-win all around for both WWE & Full Sail University!

The early days even saw a few main roster talents going down to work with younger, inexperienced talent on a weekly basis on tv. Natalya Neidhart, Tyson Kidd & Cesaro are the first to come to mind, but there were other appearances in the early days as well. Some of the earlier personalities to make names for themselves in those early days were Sami Zayn (formerly El Generico from Ring of Honor), Kassius Ohno (formerly Chris Hero from Ring of Honor), Tyler Breeze, Alexander Rusev – yes, he had a first name!, Charlotte Flair, Bayley, Sasha Banks, & Becky Lynch. Even the trio known as The Shield on the main roster of Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns & Dean Ambrose were products that had made their way through a very early version of NXT after Florida Championship Wrestling was renamed & relocated to the Performance Center.

As NXT began getting more viewers from now being seen on the WWE Network, Triple H started looking around to hire talent from all over the indy scene. So in came Finn Balor (formerly Prince Devit from New Japan Pro Wrestling), Apollo Crews (Uhaa Nation from Dragon Gate USA), Enzo Amore, Colin Cassady (or Big Cass) and Kevin Owens (Kevin Steen from Ring of Honor). During this time, I had been recording a weekly podcast for PWInsider along with TJ Parsons & Scott Tison called Yes and No Radio, where we would recap the weekly tv show and give our thoughts. NXT also started producing their own quarterly events called TakeOver, which also aired on the WWE Network, and we would also give our thoughts on those as well. The format back then was fairly simple…as in the way that WWE had been produced in the past: the weekly television shows were largely packed with matches pitting the stars of NXT against enhancement talent who were really there to make the stars look good, while the announcers did the job of explaining current feuds, and then there would be a main event match that would feature actual, competitive matches or an interview segment that would lead to a match to take place either the following week or weeks later at TakeOver.

“It started as a whisper, until you screamed it at the top of your lungs. We gained momentum, you made us unstoppable. We had a vision for change, you made it a revolution. We told you ‘We are the future.” Until you told us, ‘The Future Is Now!’ WE ARE NXT!”

– Paul “Triple H” Levesque, August 22, 2015, NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn

By the time the summer of 2015 rolled around, NXT had been catching on so much so that WWE decided to package the TakeOver specials with Pay Per Views & for the first time, TakeOver was going on the road. First stop: Brooklyn, New York, to the new home of the re-christened, Brooklyn Nets…the Barclays Center. TJ, Scott & I all went and met up along with some friends & listeners of the podcast and had a blast! If you don’t know about this show…seek it out on Peacock, it’s well worth a watch!

Since that show, I made myself a promise to attempt to attend any and all NXT-branded house shows or TakeOver events that happened to come to my area here in New Jersey. And I kept that promise too…attending a couple house shows in Asbury Park, NJ at the Asbury Park Convention Hall and also attending TakeOver: Brooklyn III & IV along with TakeOver: Philadelphia. Brooklyn II coincided with a family event and TakeOver: New York, on the eve of WrestleMania 35, was just too astronomically expensive to get tickets for. But through the years, I’ve been there to see all the big names who have made their way through NXT: Johnny Gargano, Tommaso Ciampa, the Glorious Bobby Roode, Shinsuke Nakamura, Finn Balor, Andrade “Cien” Almas, Samoa Joe, the Authors of Pain, American Alpha, the Velveteen Dream, Aleister Black, Ricochet, Asuka, Ember Moon, Kairi Sane, Shayna Baszler…you name ’em…I’ve seen them all live!

I was there when Bayley FINALLY became NXT Womens’ Champion, I saw Finn Balor defend the NXT Championship in a ladder match against Kevin Owens, I saw a teary Kairi Sane defeat Shayna Baszler for the NXT Womens’ Championship, Drew McIntyre defeat Bobby Roode for the NXT Championship, Pete Dunne & Wolfgang vs. Tyler Bate & Trent Seven – otherwise known as Mustache Mountain. I was also there for the debut of Kyle O’Reilly, Bobby Fish & Adam Cole (Bay Bay!)…who would later be known as the Undisputed Era. And it’s probably regarding this group…stable, if you will…that has probably been the biggest part of my change in attitude with NXT.

You can go back and listen to any number of Scott & my Hey Yo! Radio episodes, and hear us perk up when talking about this group (who would later be joined by Roderick Strong). The night that Cole, O’Reilly & Fish debuted in Brooklyn at TakeOver: Brooklyn III, I was joined by my friend Rich. We had heard of the guys as being known as reDRagon in Ring of Honor, but we really didn’t “KNOW” them. However, we seemed to be in the minority that night…because a LOT of the live crowd certainly knew who they were, as we were serenaded back to the subway by chants of “ADAM COLE…BAY BAY!” for what seemed like an eternity. One thing was for certain…these guys were over right out of the gate!

As time went on, Roderick Strong turned on his tag partner for the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic in the final to join the Undisputed Era and now the group was complete. These guys were a solid group who took no prisoners and accomplished what they called “The Prophecy”…Kyle & Bobby captured the NXT Tag Team Titles, Roderick Strong won the North American TItle and Adam was NXT Champion…for an unprecedented 403 days! But these guys were more than just champions…when they each spoke, you believed what they were saying. We’ve praised Adam Cole over & over again on Hey Yo! Radio, about how he would cut promos with conviction…that you believed he spoke from the heart and truly believed in whatever it was he was saying. Not only did he believe what he was saying, but he made you believe what he was saying, and that they were truly his words and not some script that had been written for him to deliver.

War Games, a staple match of the NWA when it was being presented by Jim Crocket Promotions, was a match that was conceived by Dusty Rhodes to showcase their top heel faction, the 4 Horsemen (Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Lex Luger & Tully Blanchard). When the Undisputed Era were formed, I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the War Games match returned to prominence within NXT to showcase the Undisputed Era.

Each year, when it became time for the War Games match to return, the Undisputed Era were magically always plugged into that match against makeshift teams of opponents who happened to be feuding with the Era during that timeframe. Through 4 years of the event, the Era would emerge victorious only twice. But they’ve each certainly been great matches to seek out!

When the NXT UK brand started, and a 4-man group known as Imperium took center stage, consisting of then-NXT UK Champion, Walter, Marcel Barthel, Fabian Aichner & Alexander Wolfe, it only seemed natural that one of these years, that War Games would pit the two factions against one another. Unfortunately, that dream match will never come to be, since following Adam Cole’s loss of the NXT Championship & Kyle O’Reilly’s pursuit of the title, which caused a divide between Cole & O’Reilly, the Undisputed Era is no more. Bobby Fish has been released from the company and the recent news surrounding Cole is that he’s wrestled his last match for WWE as well.

While I cite the dissolution & eventual dismissal of the Undisputed Era as a major reason in my change of heart, A few other direction changes within the last year can also be credited as well. First, following her victory in the 2020 Womens Royal Rumble match, after teasing who she might be selecting as her opponent at WrestleMania 36, she decided to take on NXT Womens’ Champion, Rhea Ripley for her title. A fine choice, since these two are quite capable of putting on some great matches. Where my problem arises here is the outcome of the WrestleMania match. This match could have been used to bring Rhea up to Charlotte’s level, thus giving credibility to Rhea Ripley and the NXT brand as whole since someone in the “developmental brand” was able to defeat the greatest women’s wrestler of the modern era, but instead, WWE decided just as they always do…to put the title on Charlotte and run with it. So Rhea was unable to overcome Charlotte and now Charlotte was showcased on NXT television each week. Charlotte Flair had been a member of the NXT roster a number of years prior, but since being moved up to the main roster, had changed her look, became a much more polished performer and by the time she had won the NXT Womens Title for a second time here, she just didn’t belong on the more gritty, hard-nosed developmental territory of WWE and her presence made the other stars of the brand seem far lesser than they had before she came back. So while her presence may have brought more eyes to the brand (I’m not sure that she actually did), the NXT Womens division, which had been a staple of NXT from it’s inception, had taken a hit and especially Rhea Ripley took upwards of a year to get back to the stature that she had been previously viewed as a competitor.

Second, with Adam Cole losing the NXT Championship to Keith Lee and then Lee dropping the title only a few weeks later to newcomer, Karrion Kross, it made Lee’s feat of defeating the longest-reigning NXT Champion of all time, along with becoming the first dual-singles Champion in NXT history (having also held NXT North American Champion at the same time) a bit more of a footnote than it should have been.

So now that I’ve said his name, let’s get onto Karrion Kross…*sigh* oh, Karrion Kross. Where do I even start? When he debuted in NXT, it was clear from day one that he was being built to be something big. He got all the gimmicks for his entrance…a smoking hot valet, amazing music along with smoke, special lighting, the whole 9 yards. And then, as they say…the the bell rang. As he took on enhancement talent, those guys did their (for the lack of a better term) jobs & put the guy over big. The problem for me is that he was built up to be this world beater, much like the way that Brock Lesnar is seen in WWE. My problem with Karrion Kross getting this treatment is that visually, he’s nowhere near as intimidating of a presence as Brock is. Brock Lesnar is a beast of a man who tosses guys around as if they’re light as a feather. Karrion Kross, though his perception may be much the same in NXT, visually, he’s just not anywhere near as stunning of a specimen as Brock is. Sizing, he seems extremely average and his work in the ring just doesn’t come off anywhere near as proficient of a worker. He appears to be very limited as both a performer and an athlete. So instead of doing the slow build with him to properly establish his dominance, they hot-shotted the title onto him, and in the match that he won the NXT Title, it was reported that he suffered a separated shoulder. So he’s forced to relinquish the title and sit out injured for 4 months.

Upon his return, he has a quick feud with then-NXT Cruiserweight Champion, Santos Escobar and then is slingshot right back into the title picture, when he defeats Finn Balor for the title. By now, it’s clear that management clearly thinks the world of this guy & I just don’t see it with him. I’ve been a wrestling fan now for about 30 years & I can smell WrestleCrap coming a mile away & that’s what this guy stinks of as far as I’m concerned. I’ve sat through some truly awful personalities, gimmicks, shows…you name it. While he’s not “David Arquette winning the Big Gold Belt” bad, he does stink of Faarooq Asad, The Lex Express or when Fatu was “making a difference”. Take your pick, it’s all pretty bad. Will he regroup like Ron Simmons did to become an Acolyte & later, a part of the APA, or will he have a celebratory night after defeating Hollywood Hogan to win the WCW Title and wash the nWo letters off the belt or become the most fun, Sumo-wrestling Samoan who likes to dance when he wears his yellow shades…I don’t know. But I can tell ya one thing…giving him his own Lord Tensai gimmick on the main roster with new music & no smoking hot valet sure won’t help him.

On top of that, WWE has also made a number of questionable releases as of late. From guys who they’ve invested months to years of television time developing like Braun Strowman, Aleister Black & Bray Wyatt. They also seemingly allowed contracts to expire without being renewed…like the aforementioned Adam Cole and Daniel Bryan. While they continue to spotlight part-timers like a 55-year old Bill Goldberg, Brock Lesnar & John Cena. Oh, and Becky Lynch just come back and squashed someone who was the biggest feel-good moment of WrestleMania 37. So I really don’t know what WWE is doing as a whole these days.

And finally, there’s been talk of a rebranding of NXT. So the gritty, hard-nosed, often dark, but serious prowrestling show that I’ve written so lovingly about over the last 5-6 years or so will all be revamped & thrown in the trash as Vince McMahon moves in to give us his vision of what he wants this show to be. The first evidence of this is the new color-splashed logo that I present here. From all of my friends who have followed the show for as long as I have, the reception isn’t a positive one, and is far more of a defeated “sigh” as the association with Full Sail University has ended and the arena that WWE built to house the NXT product during the pandemic known as the Capitol Wrestling Center will be changed with the removal of the cage barrier. The dream is over, folks!

Is there a way back?

Meanwhile, over on the other channel, CM Punk has made his long-awaited return to professional wrestling. (Now THAT’s a sentence I really never thought I’d EVER be writing) Hopefully, he’s got a handle on everything he does for that company and doesn’t become just another guy on that roster. Also working over there is Aleister Black, who I also hope can stay unique in that world. Apparently Daniel Bryan is on his way there as well (as hinted on by Punk in his interview with Tony Schiavonne the other night), who naturally, should return to using his real name of Bryan Danielson & I’m hoping is permitted to come out to Europe’s The Final Countdown, just as he had prior to his WWE run. Bray Wyatt is also apparently headed over there, though I certainly have my concerns as to what he’ll be packaged as since he obviously won’t be able to use the name or really any of the characters he developed in WWE. But only time will tell.

Truth be told, I gave AEW Rampage a try the other night, but far more of the show pushed me away from the product than it did to pull me in. Chris Jericho’s commentary for the entire hour was abysmal. While hearing Taz still talk about “yam bags” didn’t help things. Rusev, or Miro as they call him now, was ok…but I had no clue who the guy he was feuding with was or why he ran away from him after initially calling him out!?! Kenny Omega continues to annoy me…he’s like the Wish.com version of Triple H while he was the leader of Evolution, with his idiotic entourage & Lemmy Kilmister-beard. While Christian seems like he’s being used well as the Impact! Champion, though I’m sure he’ll come up short against the EVP.

Anyway, I guess I’ll be over here watching my baseball, Marvel & Star Trek as a “lapsed fan”.

Thanks for reading.

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