WWE wants to be like the NFL, but they are going to have to accept they are more like the NBA. Here’s what I mean. The NFL has a monopoly on American players, and as a rule, NFL players spend 3-4 years playing at the collegiate level. The NBA, on the other hand, doesn’t have a monopoly on Americans and there’s no rule regarding years spent at college. There isn’t even a standard for years played in the NBA developmental league, or D-League for short.
NXT is spoken of as if it is WWE’s equivalent to college football, but NXT is really closer to the NBA D-League, since there is no rule regarding whether or not newly acquired or reacquired talent has to play there. Sometimes, main event quality wrestlers spend time in NXT before moving on to WWE, but sometimes, they don’t, and there doesn’t appear to be a line of logic for this. For example, Finn Balor and Shinsuke Nakamura did, but A.J. Styles did not, despite all three coming from the same promotion and being at similar skill levels. Likewise, Maria returned to the main roster, albeit as a valet, but Mickie James returned in NXT. This inconsistency isn’t a problem for WWE, since the WWE, like the NBA, is fine without a set model for talent acquisition and player progression. The negative impact of this inconsistency will be felt by NXT instead.
NXT functions as a financially independent promotion. It is filmed on a separate day, at a separate location, and with separate equipment from the main roster. All that costs money, which means for NXT to not lose money, they need talent to fill seats and sell merch, but for every main event star that leaves NXT, NXT has, and will continue to have, a very difficult time refilling their main event slot, especially if main event stars can skip NXT all together. Right now, NXT’s main event stars, Bobby Roode and Asuka for example, are already main roster quality, but they can’t go to the main roster yet because NXT needs them to draw interest and fill seats. If they leave, the interest in NXT will drop until their star power is replaced, and often, by the time the star power is replaced, another star is called up, so how can this be fixed without redefining NXT’s role in the company?
I have two solutions. Firstly, put a rule in place that defines how much time new talent has to spend in NXT before moving onto WWE. This provides NXT with a fixed deadline to produce or find a replacement star so that the star power doesn’t diminish which a star gets called up, and the surprise debuts will make it must watch TV. Secondly, institute a sort of promotion-relegation system. Most of the stars NXT has “produced” were already stars due to indie work, so it wouldn’t warp the model too much to have WWE talent drop down for every star that is called up. Obviously, having a main eventer like Kevin Owens drop down would be ludicrous, but what about lesser stars Dolph Ziggler or Zach Ryder? Or even both? This will draw interest to NXT through the star power, but it will also allow NXT to have a more entertaining title picture and WWE stars having a presence in NXT will raise the bar for developmental talent and help them improve quicker.