By former Lords of Pain 205 Live reviewer, “205 Clive“.
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Clive: Welcome back to 2021’s first Brand Extension Wrestling Debate Club, with myself and good friend / sparring partner, Rance Morris, a.k.a Rey Ca$h, as your hosts. Mr Ca$h, how fares thee on this meteorologically miserable start to the year?
Rance: Well ya know, pandemic, insurrection, schizophrenic weather, and family issues notwithstanding, I’m living the dream! Just tryna get some of that good ol’ McMahon blood money. But it always good to be with you, my brother
Clive: Get those Peacock stocks in the bag, my good man! So, this time around, we’re looking at our beloved NXT. Specifically, the Undisputed Era. While we both share common ground in that the Era has run its course, our reasons for said opinion differ. Mine? Well, all members have won gold. All members have had memorable feuds throughout all divisions. And with their apparent decision to stay on NXT – a place that routinely has an in and out policy, over that of the main roster’s revolving door style booking – the Undisputed Era has nothing left to do that will see it reach the relevancy and stature it once had. Rance? Your thoughts?
Rance: Yeah man, it just feels different. NXT in its most current iteration was never meant for stars to stay longer than two years. They debuted, ran through their feuds, won or challenged for titles, had one farewell feud, and moved to Raw or Smackdown. In August, the ERA boys will have been in NXT for FOUR years! Nobody stays in NXT that long. Well, nobody but Aliyah, but I digress. So they’ve always been around. Pre-USA Network. And they’ve been in EVERY major story, match, and title picture. Even had a successful face turn. So what else is there for them to do, other than implode and fight each other?
Clive: Even with that, I don’t think there’s been much so far to tell us that is in the cards. NXT’s decision makers had the perfect opportunity to do this at New Year’s Evil. You posited that it was the thee time for Adam Cole to turn on Kyle O’Reilly. Irrespective of the title match outcome for the air guitarist extraordinaire. All we got, though, was O’Reilly’s second clean loss to Finn Balor, and Cole appearing more supportive of his stablemate. Usually by now, some foreshadowing will have presented itself that would suggest Cole may soon attack O’Reilly. But even as keen an eye as yours is for foreshadowing, you, too, struggle to see any payoff in this. The question I ask is: Has NXT missed the boat to rejuvenate and bolster Undisputed Era’s stock? Or is it too late?
Rance: Well, as WWE has shown, they only need 30 minutes and renewed interest to rejuvenate a wrestler. See Nakamura, Shinsuke. So I’m not concerned with timing. My concern, however, is reasoning. Should they rejuvenate them? Should the Undisputed ERA become the standard bearers again?
The two things that the ERA has going for them is that they’re the best collection of talent on the brand (maybe the company), and fans go bonkers for them. So maybe it’s just a necessary change of scenery that’s needed. The ERA running roughshod on Raw or Smackdown would be one of the stories of 2021. And with O’Reilly’s new-found singles success, the group is that much stronger.
Here’s a question for you, Clive. Why do you think it is that the Undisputed ERA feels like they’re at a crossroads and have possibly run their course?
Clive: Two reasons. The first being that NXT’s modus operandi doesn’t lend itself to wrestler rejuvenation, as is evidenced above. The second, that four is a big, big number to come over to either Raw or Smackdown and not only stay as a unit, but work well as one. I know main roster promotion being cursed isn’t what some in the IWC believe it to be, but it’s a tough ask for all four Undisputed Era members to come up and remain as they are, never mind book them all well. On top of that, I am one of the few who does not believe Adam Cole possesses that quality shared by other smaller wrestlers who went on to superstardom.
Rance: See, that’s interesting to me. I think I tend to disagree with both of those assessments. I think that NXT is a rejuvenation place, but only for new wrestlers or Raw or Smackdown folk coming down. Zack Ryder, Tyson Kidd, and Ember Moon come to mind. But more pertinently, stables, traditionally, are the one thing Vince normally books consistently well. Especially one that’s as seasoned, talented, and over as this one. But I think we agree on one thing. All of these potential happenings are contingent on Adam Cole breaking out into true superstardom. I think that not only he can, but he will. Much like his predecessors (Punk, Bryan, Styles, Balor), he’s the perfect mix of hype, ability, and charisma to strike big in Titan Land. If you don’t think he will, however, then this all is a moot point.
Clive: So is it fair to say, then, that what it all boils down to is if Mr Cole has enough of the above variables to gain Daddy Vince’s attention, approval, and admiration? I wonder if this is why, according to yours and my relatively seasoned wrestling fan eyes, NXT didn’t pull the trigger on huge dissension within the ranks at New Year’s Evil. One has to wonder if a main roster call up is indeed on the cards, but on hold due to an injured Bobby Fish? The three fit members’ absence in the Royal Rumble was at least mildly conspicuous. And with the Raw after the Rumble in the bag (time will tell with Smackdown still to air tomorrow), there are no signs of any immediate promotion.
With all of this in mind, is it simply the case that whatever is going on in NXT is just Uncle Paul et al treading water, pending Fish’s return to fitness? If so, will these months in no man’s land damage them in any way?
Rance: To answer your second question first, I don’t think they’re necessarily in no man’s land. Kyle O’Reilly has had a critically acclaimed pair of matches in the main event against NXT Champion Finn Balor. Adam Cole (BAY BAY) and Roderick Strong are probably headed to another Dusty Classic final. And the ERA as a whole is just months removed from the feud of the year against Pat McAfee and his Kings of NXT. So they’re not languishing. They’ve just overstayed their welcome.
With the other question, I do think they may be just in a holding pattern until Monsieur Fish returns. But I still am on the fence about them ever being “called up”. With NXT as a third brand now, on cable TV no less, they need guaranteed draws and mainstays. That’s why I think they’re still there, along with guys like Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa. So it all depends on where they see them making the most money for the company, because their “overness” with the audience has never been in question.
Clive: I suppose I agree that they have overstayed their welcome, rather than that they find themselves in no man’s land. And yes, NXT is in the business of becoming a fully fledged brand, rather than a testing ground for Raw and Smackdown. Perhaps that’s what it is. Perhaps, just like the red and blue brands, wrestlers on the black and gold will go through peaks and troughs of relevancy, use, and fan engagement.
It’s a real doozer, this one. An instance where our opinions aren’t so far apart from each other, but merge somewhere in the middle. I guess one could say this has been more of a conversation rather than a structured debate. So, in this instance, we’ll ask you, the reader, for your stance on where Undisputed Era currently finds itself. Has the outfit outstayed its welcome? Are its days at the tippy top of Wednesday nights a thing of the past? And when – or if – the Era is transferred to Raw or Smackdown, do you see it being a success?
Rance, despite our wading through the fog on this one, I still feel it was a good conversation, and one that should be posited by the IWC as a whole.
Rance: But I still won, right?
Clive: *James Harden GIF*
Well, ladies and janitors, that concludes another installment of the Brand Extension Wrestling Debate Club. Rance and I thank you for reading our old man shouting at clouds routine (some of us admittedly younger than others, wink wink). We’ll see you next time.
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