Back in December I wrote a column about how NXT felt incredibly inconsequential in comparison to AEW as we headed into War Games. Like WWE’s main roster shows I was stuck with this feeling of watching a buzz of short term excitement, a writing method jolting me awake rather than keeping me engaged in the first place.
As the months went on I was noticing the level to which I cared about the characters on the other Wednesday wrestling telly show. Because yes, I watch both AEW & NXT, I enjoy both and for me it genuinely swings back and forth as to which I engaged more with. Neither is perfect, they have their pros and cons, but there is one thing they have in common: they’re not Monday Night RAW.
The bar for quality for both is so much higher than that thick, sludge of crap that I’ll never call either of them straight up bad. That said, as 2020 came to a close my personal clap-o-meter was swaying particularly one sided. NXT was offering strong matches and those jolts of excitement, however AEW was offering to take their time and make me care about the characters heading in to those moments first.
It turns out I value that incredibly highly, as I noticed in my difference in investment when those big matches took place. Winter Is Coming felt infinitely more consequential than War Games, even if the latter fully delivered on the spectacle of cage based team battles of violent fun. One set had weight, the other a series of pretty passing clouds. Perfectly fine to watch, but there was nothing for me to hold on to.
Now though? As we enter WrestleMania week so much has improved, to the point where I can happily say I’m damn well invested in NXT. I’ve said it increasingly each week on the Wrestling Headlines NXT Review, but it really does feel like every critique I had for the show is being addressed. I find myself caring about the road in front of us, that buzz feeling once again finding its weight in consequence.
This week we have two nights of TakeOver: Stand & Deliver etched before us with both cards appearing solid as hell. Most importantly for me though, the matches threaten change and a possible new era for NXT. That doesn’t necessarily mean we should walk in expecting to see major title changes, but the threat simply being there is enough for me.
That means you’ve managed to make me care, the stakes have successfully gotten over as I sit here dwelling on what the future might hold. Something I wouldn’t be doing if I wasn’t engaged with the road. It’s been great watching NXT find that focus again over the past couple of months, especially with a stronger lean towards what might be coming next.
The combination of New Year’s Evil and TakeOver: Vengeance Day being used to set the stage is really paying dividends for Stand & Deliver. NXT have spent the past 4 months making sure we care about the characters at play over these two nights: banking in on the year of badass hoss build for Raquel Gonzalez, waiting three months before firing Finn into Karrion’s Kross-hairs (shh I’m proud of that one), Adam Cole & Kyle O’Riley’s gradual build of tension to the all out brawlings of today, the long overdue Cruiserweight title unification match; all match-ups paying off that lovely investment of time.
There’s a sense of scale to this year’s grand WrestleMania week TakeOver. Raquel Gonzalez’ re-debut as Dakota Kai’s Big Mama Cool was just over a year ago, Adam Cole’s jealousy growing the moment Kyle O’Riley got that main event shine over him, Karrion Kross returning from injury and building for months to this very moment. Not one of those things are short term jolts of excitement, time’s been spent to ultimately make me care and I have to applaud it.
Not one match on the card is a straight up rematch or like for like continuation from the previous TakeOver. No third match in the series for Johnny TakeOver, or arc ending match settler for a feud we’ve grown tired of. None of that repetitive jazz, every match feels fresh with implications for the brand’s immediate future.
The best examples being both main events, as I applauded earlier, holding off on both Kross and Gonzalez has really paid off. That anticipation has built, even if the matches were expected we’ve not been rushed into them. Predictability isn’t always bad especially if you’ve spent the time building to and foreshadowing the event. Hell you can even use that expectancy to surprise with a retention, but at least there are options to be played with and that’s what taking your time grants you.
Over on RAW building Bobby Lashley so strong since the inception of the Hurt Business has led to fans talking about the possibility for the big Bobbily champion to retain against the show’s top face at the biggest show of the year. Doesn’t mean he should, but because of that investment WWE have options to choose from.
As with WrestleMania so with TakeOver. Kross and Gonzalez have been painted as legit badasses and believable threats to their championship counterparts. The difference here being that NXT has felt in need of a new era for a little while now, the tease of something new more tantalising in the current environment.
In what is still mostly promoted as a developmental brand, we’ve had the likes of Johnny Gargano, Tomasso Ciampa and Adam Cole on top for years. Then you bring back Finn Balor for a top run as well? The Irish champion has done an excellent job as NXT Champion once again, but it’s no surprise that anticipation for ‘what’s next?’ has been growing.
The folk behind NXT have done a fantastic job building Stand & Deliver to be exactly that show, a turning point to crown new faces and sail us down fresh waters. One to kick the brand into a new era, rather than reminding us how great the last one was. I feel like the Undisputed Era split really is a generational marking point, the reflective promos over the Pat Macafee feud playing in the mind as we watch Cole & O’Riley jump at each other.
I don’t believe certain talent moving on is the be all and end all idea to fix all of NXT’s problems, but having Balor, Cole, Ciampa, Gargano all lose to crown a new era? Maybe not the worst outcome in the world.
The women’s division has been their one constant, even when the brand was falling out of my favour over 2020, I made note to point out how strong that division had stood. An incredible level of depth to a stacked division that only lost two big talents to the main roster this past year in Ripley and Belair and it’s had no effect on the quality at all. If anything the momentum continuing to rise as we head into NXT’s ichiban defence against the Big Mamma Cool.
Stand & Deliver teases a change of the tide fitting of the pirate theme, whether they set sail for that course is their decision, but they’ve created positive waves in the process.
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