This week on The Right Side of the Pond, my venerable colleagues Maverick and Mazza sit down to discuss their thoughts and feelings on the first month of NXT UK’s existence – its characters, performers, strengths and potential future.
You can catch their thoughts in just a couple of hours exclusively on Lords of Pain Radio, where The Right Side of the Pond (TRSOTP) airs every single Friday. While I had to skip this week’s show, I did want to share some feelings of my own about the introduction of NXT UK and, more specifically, what I believe it helps signal when it comes to the future of WWE.
‘Shared universe’ is a term you will hear or have heard, read or have read many times in my columns and during my podcast appearances. We’re particularly fond of it on TRSOTP. There’s a reason for that. It’s a term that has entered the popular lexicon since Marvel Studios rose to prominence and created a system of movie-making in which a diverse cast of characters and, more presciently, a diverse cast of franchises all exist inside of the same fictional space and, on very special occasions, bump into one another.
WWE television operates best when pursuing just such a method, when shows like Monday Night Raw (MNR) and Smackdown Live (SDL) aren’t rigidly compartmentalised.
“Ok guys, Segment A is for Feud 1, Segment B is for Feud 2…” and so on – there’s no imagination in such formulaic thinking. Time and again it is how their television plays out and time and again it prevents WWE’s product from setting alight with vibrant, energetic creative vision. Shared universe is what helped propel Eras like Attitude to such popular success and the New Generation to such undervalued existence. The rise of Daniel Bryan between Summerslam 2013 and WrestleMania XXX was another slighter timeframe that boasted the method (to a lesser degree, admittedly).
With the introduction of NXT UK – and for what it’s worth, had I more time, I imagine I would be thoroughly enjoying the experience of not only having a UK-specific cast of characters enacting an array of weekly storylines all their own but also the opportunity to consume that product at an hour decent to humankind! – WWE continues to demonstrate the ever-more expansive nature of their company. That is because NXT UK is simply the latest addition to a line of shows that I have, in my column series of last summer #102, the official follow-up to my book 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die, labelled peripheral products.
NXT UK, its US antecedent and 205 Live all operate with their own rosters of talent, largely partitioned off from the rest of WWE’s fictional universe. Sometimes, there is a cross-over; see the likes of Seth Rollins invading Takeover: San Antonio, Drew Gulak helping to assault The Shield on MNR or UK Champion Pete Dunne competing in the upcoming War Games Match. There are even signs those partitions are weakening, what with the decision to utilise 205 Live General Manager Drake Maverick as the manager of newly crowned MNR Tag Team Champions AOP and Lio Rush being put in a comparative position alongside Bobby Lashley.
As NXT UK heralds the continued expansion of these products, the rumour mill swirling about the introduction of a new all-women’s weekly show and murmurs to be heard of a potential NXT Germany to boot, it is clear that WWE’s overall universe isn’t going to stop growing any time soon.
Ultimately, though, it has clearly been the case that these peripheral products were to be kept away from WWE’s main roster and its fictional universe, in spite of them operating with more sharply defined roster positioning, superior creative output and generally greater faith in the stars of today.
It makes sense to keep these shows separate from everything else. With a roster too large for the likes of MNR and SDL already in place, introducing stars from other franchises seems to only invite further disaster, does it not? Further, WWE may continue to focus on ensuring these peripheral products do not lose sight of their primary purposes: in the case of NXT and NXT UK at least, being to develop talent. There is logic to that.
I’m a fan though, like you, and I’m a little fatigued with being asked to ‘think like a promoter.’ As a result, I won’t deny the fact that there is something deeply tempting about the concept of seeing those partitions between franchises be torn down so that stars from NXT, NXT UK, 205 Live and any future new franchises like them can come to engage with the characters that define the main roster’s fictional universe, at least on very special occasions. Such cross-over events would become gargantuan shows that might put some people off the concept on paper, let alone in practice. Let’s be frank here though folks; we’re living in Age Gargantua with WWE now anyway, so why not try and get something out of it?
Consider that the faddy nature of the ‘Big Two’ shows is largely absent from an NXT brand with a clear top tier of talent (Ciampa, Gargano, Black) and a clear secondary tier just underneath it (the Undisputed Era, Velveteen Dream, Ricochet). The same can be said for 205 Live, that since the departure of both Neville and Enzo Amore has come to orbit around Mustafa Ali, Cedric Alexander, Buddy Murphy and Drew Gulak. Impressively, even in only as few as five episodes, NXT UK has achieved the same sense of roster positioning too – though some of that is owed to the gradual ice-breaking that has come as we have gotten to know now ‘veteran’ NXT UK talents since the title tournament of January 2017.
This clarity lends itself well to the current season in particular, in which the resident super-show is, of course, Survivor Series. Knowing the clear top dogs of these franchises makes it easy to match them against main roster counterparts, or even counterparts among themselves. The sometimes self-aware creative style of WWE’s storytelling lends itself equally well to rosters competing in turf wars, and the prospect of these franchises colliding – be it overtly against each other or against the main roster – offers up combinations of character and story that are too good to be turning a nose up to.
Funnily enough, despite being 1000 words deep into this giddy little aside about the current state of WWE’s expanding empire and the unique opportunities it provides creatively, deep down inside I think I’d rather them focus on strengthening their main roster creative before getting carried away with some post-modern, brand-identity fuelled version of 1997’s curiously seductive ‘Gang Wars’ storyline. Besides, I hate these over-long Big Four shows and the fewer sores we get like Crown Jewel the better.
But would once a year really hurt so bad?
Tell me that the cruiserweights wouldn’t put on a hell of a Traditional 5 on 5 Survivor Series Match. Tell me that the idea of NXT vs. NXT UK isn’t enticing, a more believable, grittier take on the age-old story of SDL being ‘tired’ of being the ‘B Show.’ I hesitate to write it for fear he will see it, but even my good friend Maverick’s aging suggestion of an NXT Invasion of some form isn’t sounding too terrible right now.
Survivor Series has really found its feet over the course of the last four years, and at least half of that is, to my mind, because of its adoption of the so-far successful brand vs. brand theme. Shared universe is always good, there are more franchises in WWE than ever before and these days they do so like to go big or go home. So I say, just this once, just every November – hell, even for just one November – go really big and let these peripheral products, these alternative franchises, take up a hard-earned share of the spotlight for a season.
Give me some proper shared universe – can anyone say ‘Ultimate Survivor Match’?!
…my god, what am I suggesting? Is the creative so bad now that I’m reverting to championing Maverick’s ideas?!
Be sure to tune into The Right Side of the Pond later on tonight (or on demand, of course!) to hear more of those ideas, as well as Mav’s and Mazza’s opinions about the great start NXT UK has gotten off to!
Until then, if you have any thoughts on the idea of WWE’s peripheral products becoming a more involved part of Survivor Series in particular, or any general opinions about NXT UK, NXT or 205 Live, let them be known in the comments below, over on social media or even by signing up to our own LOPForums, where TRSOTP and every other LOP Radio show has its very own discussion thread for you to throw some responses our way without the limitations of Twitter or Facebook; just click here to sign up!
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