I’m going to unveil the worst kept secret this side of Mr. America’s identity and say I’m an NXT fan. Not only am I an NXT fan but I’m a bigger fan of NXT than I am WWE. Yes I hear you cry, they’re the same company you drunken fool! They are, but then again they’re not. I say that because of the vast differences in everything from presentation to the actual product between NXT and anything else WWE puts out and has done in recent years. Many wrestling fans who watch both would also say it’s currently the better product, which for something that’s supposed to be the feeder league is a pretty big statement.
Specifically NXT does something very well that is currently one of if not WWE Raw’s biggest problem, at least in my opinion. It’s that NXT has clear winners and losers in their wrestling matches, something that happens rarely on Raw due to the level Raw creative try and protect their stars with the booking.
The 2nd December NXT episode as an entire show served as a great example of how NXT do this so I’ll take it as the case study.
In last week’s episode of NXT there was no distraction, disqualification or any other kind of shenanigan filled finish. There were six matches that resulted in six losers who clearly lost their match. But it also resulted in six winners who clearly won their match and this is the key. My biggest issue with how Raw is booked right now is that’s rare for anyone to cleanly lose or win a match and that means people aren’t being helped as much as they’re not being hurt in equal parts, I appreciate this is done to protect WWE Superstars but losses don’t have to hurt too much and NXT shows how this can be the case.
Of the six matches on the show in question I would consider that two of those “losers” were NXT stars who had something to lose, the Vaudevillains and Tommaso Ciampa. Neither can be accused of looking bad as both were very competitive, back and forth matches won by top level guys. The vaudevillians were beaten by Jason Jordan and Chad Gable, a team very much on the rise and as recent champions the vaudevillians are still totally credible. Ciampa was beaten by Samoa Joe who’s in the run up to an NXT title match with Finn Balor at Takeover: London and has been booked like a machine since his debut. Due to going in as the underdog and it being a high quality, even match I’d actually make the argument Ciampa came out better than he went in, looking like a resilient, brave fighter.
Having wins in that fashion against competition of that calibre does a huge amount of good for both Joe and Jordan and Gable, making them look like top class pro wrestlers capable of winning the next match whoever it’s against and that’s the point. Going into that next match it helps creates the feeling that both competitors have a chance of winning and that’s what sells tickets. Predictability can sometimes work as a grand pay off but wrestling needs an aspect of watch to see who is going to win, that’s obvious and basic.
Two of the matches were lost by Tye Dillinger and Adam Rose, two guys who are NXT stars (in Rose’s case a WWE star) and have characters but aren’t in programs right now so win or lose, the result doesn’t really do a lot for them. What the match does though is keep then visible and keep them relevant, with both displaying their respective gimmicks on the show and reminding the fans what they’re about. On top of this, Dillinger was beaten by Baron Corbin, who is near-main event level for NXT and James Storm, who is a special attraction right now and there is really no damage nor shame in either loss. It does help Corbin and Storm though by giving them wins over recognised names keeping Corbin looking like a threat going into his Takeover match with Apollo Crews and making Storm look legitimate an matching any name value he’s coming in with. Here’s where Raw could take a page from the NXT playbook, why have stars in programs and who need to look good constantly in matches against one another when you have a roster of guys like Heath Slater and Bo Dallas? Need to make Wade Barrett look good, give him a five minute clean win against Fandango. Help Cesaro recover from his latest loss on a PPV with a competitive victory over Curtis Axel. I’m not saying construct the entire show out of these matches but I’m sure there’s room in the three hours to spread a few of them.
Finally the other matches were Nia Jax Vs Blue Pants and Emma Vs Liv Morgan, both of which I’d say fit the established star versus jobber criteria. The argument could be made that Blue Pants isn’t due to having a bit of name recognition and an established image but she’s not a regular and is literally only there at this point to make others look good. As far as the matches go, both were glorified squashes with Nia Jax totally overpowering Blue Pants in two minutes and Emma demonstrating how to be a heel all the way to the finish in three and a half minutes.
Back when Saturday Night Main Event was WWE’s (then WWF) main programming a good proportion of the matches would be superstars beating faceless jobbers, used to make them look like superstars and build them towards the next big event. While jobber matches have been used on WWE programming since, it’s only been on the C-List shows such as Heat and more to fill time than anything else. NXT have used the tactic to maximum affect as it was in the 80’s to make their stars look like stars and top tier pro wrestlers going into the next Takeover or match against other stars. In the case of Nia Jax she’s been running through jobbers since her debut which has gone a long way towards establishing her as an unstoppable force as someone with her build and style should be presented. She’s now seems to be headed to a showdown with NXT women’s champion Bayley so she needs to be looking at her strongest to be a credible threat. Emma has a match with Asuka booked and has to be built to again, be a credible threat as Asuka has been on a roll since her debut and hasn’t really been slowed thus far. Critically I use the phrase “credible threat” as I don’t think neither Jax nor Emma are winning those matches and I suspect most of the fanbase feels the same so build and presentation going in is of the utmost importance.
When it comes to jobbers it really is okay to lose, there’s no damage to be done, no image to be hurt and in the event said jobber goes on to do something significant in the future, no one will remember when they had the generic ring gear and no music. But it gives those stars wins in a ring and they can look like absolute killers if necessary as these types of matches don’t have to be competitive in the slightest. Go and check out Baron Corbin matches from a couple of months ago where he was beating guys with one move.
To come back to the Raw comparison now I’ve delved into how NXT do it, I have no issue with protecting talent via the booking of matches, that’s essential in pro wrestling. But you can’t do it in every match on every show, no one looks bad, no one looks good and you end up with one giant mid-card, something I think you’re seeing happening now. Throw in WWE’s back and forth PPV booking where if one person wins the win has to be gotten back, whether it is at the next PPV or at a Raw rematch and everyone suffers.
I appreciate certain ideas on NXT wouldn’t work on Raw, regardless of how long the show is, a primetime audience isn’t going to watch jobber matches but I think certain ideas could and would be good for the show, even if they were intermixed with what they do now. For every screwy finish, two clean ones perhaps? I know I’d be happy with that.
Hopefully I’ve made a little sense here and if so please reassure me I’m not the only one in the comments section. Otherwise I’ll be back at the weekend for WWE TLC.