19th July; the brand extension kicks in and both Raw and Smackdown take turns drafting superstars to their shows. One of the rules in effect that night was that 6 NXT superstars would be picked. As the night unravels, we discover that 3 of those picks would be from NXT’s burgeoning women’s division; Nia Jax, Alexa Bliss and Carmella are all called upon to step up to the main roster. We, as fans, cheer as the women of tomorrow become the women of today, hailing the developmental setup. But if you take a step back and take a look at the bigger picture, as a fan of NXT in its own right, you will begin to realise that the success of these women creates problems for Triple H and his NXT setup.
At the end of the first Smackdown Live, the NXT female roster had been depleted, with the only two credible contenders in the division being Asuka and Bayley. Then came Battleground. First up on the card was Women’s champion Charlotte and Dana Brooke, facing off against Sasha Banks and a mystery partner of her choice. There were several names mentioned as being in the mix – the return of either Trish Stratus or Lita, or the debut of an NXT superstar. Namely, Bayley. The live crowd roared with approval (an argument could be made for pop of the night), and we all did the same in our own homes, as every WWE fan in sight became a hugger fanatic. Finally, all four horsewomen were on the main roster!
Another female superstar transitioning from Full Sail University to wrestling in front of 10, 15 thousand every single week, showing the marvelous work that is being done by Triple H down in developmental (admittedly, Bayley’s Battleground appearance was a one-off, but her actual promotion to the main roster is imminent). However, the work doesn’t stop there for Trips. Not only does he have to supply Raw and Smackdown with fresh new superstars, it is a necessity for him to replace those leaving his own third brand, due to the cult following it has accumulated since its inception.
NXT has become the must watch product for WWE in recent times, with some of the best storylines and matches from any WWE product of the past few years coming from the so-called “developmental program”. NXT though has far dwarfed the title of a developmental promotion. It is not meant to be challenging the likes of Raw or Smackdown in terms of viewership every week. Be that as it may, the cult following that the yellow brand has generated means that Triple H cannot completely destroy in one week, what took him years to nurture from the ground up. The man at the head of it all has brought about newfound optimism into the world of WWE, where previously there was little.
One of the things Triple H has built NXT around is the fact that women are just as competitive and athletic as the men are. He has given them ample time, original storylines and unique characters; essentially he has given them equal treatment to the men. Charlotte, Becky, Sasha and Bayley didn’t become the four horsewomen from nothing. They received that moniker by putting on outstanding matches and entertaining fans like no other woman in modern day WWE has before.
All four horsewomen have now competed on a main roster pay-per-view, which is indicative of their success in NXT. It just goes to show the hard work these four women have put in and the tutelage they have received from Triple H, and as fans we are all thrilled for them. But the hard work really begins for The Game now. Three of these wrestlers had a solid independent background behind them, and the other was daughter to one of the greatest to ever grace the squared circle. Replacing them will be possibly the toughest task he has faced since the formation of the current format of NXT.
Asuka is by far and away the best women’s wrestler on the roster right now, and can carry the brand up to the point where she inevitably gets called up. Looking at her potential opponent at the NXT Takeover special after Back to Brooklyn (which is presumably Bayley) is not exactly inspiring. Aliyah hasn’t all that long been on NXT television and when she has been, she has looked below par, at best. Mandy Rose, similarly, hasn’t all that long been on NXT TV, and thus hasn’t been built up as plausible threat yet. Liv Morgan has made only sporadic appearances since she joined in late 2014. Peyton Royce has recently returned from a hiatus, and could be a decent heel with some adept storytelling, as could Billie Kay. Overall, though, neither feel poised to make a sustained push for the Women’s Championship. Five others are currently wrestling on the house show circuit, but none are established, major players in the wrestling community.
NXT has often been praised for its aggressive recruitment drive (or criticised by hardcore independent fans) and it seems that they may have to acquire additional superstars if they are to sustain a strong women’s division within the brand. There is also the possibility of a women’s tournament in a similar vein to the Cruiserweight Classic given the latter’s critical acclaim, although that is likely a longer term option for rejuvenating the division. In the short term, the choices are few and far between.
NXT has just done a great job of hyping up the women and giving us phenomenal storylines with tremendous matches up until now, and the faith we have in Triple H and NXT has us assuming it will all be alright and the women’s division will continue to prosper for the foreseeable future. But there are tough times on the horizon for the female part of developmental, and how Triple H responds will give us the best indication yet as to whether or not he is capable of running the rapidly changing environment of the entire WWE enterprise.