The Confederate State of NXT
If there’s one thing Vince McMahon cannot accept it’s a loser.
Born in North Carolina, a former Confederate Civil War state (I know it’s more complicated than that let me continue), Vince McMahon likely watched Civil War reenactments and wondered why people were celebrating the efforts of the losers of the Civil War. At the age of 24, McMahon left the south to go work for his biological father in New York in the then called World Wide Wrestling Federation. He was surrounded by winners. He used that as his motivation to eventually grow the company into being the most profitable wrestling promotion in the world.
In 2019, the WWE faced their first national competitor since TNA Wrestling failed to expand with Hulk Hogan a decade prior in Tony Khan’s All Elite Wrestling. As is usual WWE business protocol they treated the company like they didn’t matter but also worked hard behind the scenes to try to stifle their success. Chris Jericho was given the blessing by Vince to sign with AEW only for Vince to ask him later if he could get out of the contract. Cody Runnels, son of the famous Dusty Rhodes, was not allowed to use his fathers wrestling last name until a speculated deal behind the scenes happened where Cody agreed to not allow AEW to use former WCW pay per views names in exchange of him being allowed to be known as Cody Rhodes.
But the biggest was NXT, the development promotion in WWE run by McMahon’s son in law Paul Levesque, former WWE champion Triple H, moving from a one hour Wednesday slot on the WWE Network to getting a two hour show on the USA Network to run head to head against AEW Dynamite. They even rushed to make sure the show debuted in its new two hour slot before AEW had its first episode on TNT. WWE fans pretended it was AEW who was starting this fight, even though the sensible move would have been to have NXT move to Tuesday night in the slot that used to be taken by Smackdown before it moved from USA to the Fox network. For the first time since Hulk Hogan thought TNA Wrestling was strong enough to go head to head against Raw, one of WWE’s shows would be going head to head on primetime cable against a competitor.
The Wednesday Night War
The first week of head to head would be October 2, 2019, and the debut of AEW Dynamite would garner a 0.68 18-49 key demo and 1.4 million viewers. NXT came in a distant second at 0.32 and 891,000 viewers. NXT would never have a key demo that high again. The best NXT would do against AEW would come December 18, 2019. NXT stacked the show with Adam Cole defending the NXT championship against Finn Balor to open the show and Rhea Ripley defeating Shayna Baszler in the main event to win the NXT Women’s championship. Meanwhile, Dynamite would run a strong show with a World Tag Team title defence opening the show and AEW World Heavyweight champion Chris Jericho going 10 minutes with Jungle Boy, but finished the year with a Dark Order beating all the top babyfaces angle that fell flat on its face and became an embarrassment for the company going into 2020. NXT would win that night in viewership and demo. They wouldn’t win both ever again.
In 2020, NXT would win six shows by viewers against Dynamite but lose the key demo every single week. Only twice did NXT hit a 0.25 or higher in the key demo compared to Dynamite hitting 0.25 or better for 43 weeks in 2020. Even in NXT had a higher viewership here and there (mostly backed by a very strong 50+ audience) it was clear what was the most dominant show: AEW Dynamite.
For WWE fans, this was easy to excuse. NXT was just the development brand! This despite everyone from Johnny Gargano to Triple H calling it the third brand and no longer just a farm brand for the main brands Raw and Smackdown. Probably the hardest loss for NXT came on December 9, 2020, almost a year after the Dark Order debacle episode when NXT had a definitive win against Dynamite. AEW almost hit one million viewers opposed at 995,000 with a 0.45 key demo. NXT would only muster up 659,000 with a 0.17.
The War Is Over
Come the spring of 2021, it was time for a change. NXT would move to Tuesdays. Once again the cope was in full effect as many saying it was due to the National Hockey League, despite the NHL actually moving to ESPN and TNT, a point made by WWE President and CRO Nick Khan. It was the timeslot they always should have been in. Nevertheless, this was a victory for the upstart AEW, winners of the Wednesday night timeslot for pro wrestling in North America. On the final head to head episode, NXT actually beat AEW in total viewers, a moral victory before moving to Tuesday. The first episode on Tuesday at NXT doing a respectable 805,000 with a 0.22 key demo. Dynamite on the other hand smashed the night with 1.219 million viewers and 0.44 key demo. It was pretty obvious at that point why NXT existed. It existed to hold AEW down. It failed.
That failure felt like it was just going to be excused and disregarded and spun into a moral victory, but Vince McMahon is no failure. Vince doesn’t accept moral victories. Vince McMahon left moral victories when he moved away from North Carolina. Vince McMahon only accepts tangible victories. McMahon took a trip to the Performance Center to see what was going on with the talent in NXT.
On Friday and last night we got to see what Vince McMahon feels about the runner up of the war. On Smackdown for the first episode back in front of fans, Finn Balor made his return from NXT. Except you wouldn’t know based on commentary. Balor wasn’t once mentioned coming from NXT. It was like he left the company and just returned. Why not mention NXT? Because doing so would paint Balor as a returning loser of the war.
Next, former NXT Champion Keith Lee made his return to Monday Night Raw, berated constantly by Corey Graves on commentary. He would lose a semi competitive match against WWE Champion Bobby Lashley before being dispatched and the attention moved onto a returning Bill Goldberg. Lee is the last man to lose the NXT championship. Vince McMahon was sending a statement, but this was just an appetizer.
The main course would be the debut of current NXT Champion Karrion Kross. Without his theatrical entrance from NXT and girlfriend Scarlett Bordeaux by his side, Kross didn’t look like the man who never lost a match in NXT. He didn’t look like one of the most protected and dominant champions in recent memory. He looked like a bulked up version of Doug Walker the Nostalgia Critic in pteurges facing wrestling veteran Jeff Hardy. Hardy just finished losing to one of Jinder Mahal’s new lackies in Veer on WWE Main Event in 4:28. Hardy would end up defeating the undefeated NXT champion Kross in one minute and forty seconds, using the ropes to pin him despite Hardy being a babyface. It was a pathetic attempt to protect the big man. It would have been an unacceptable way to pin him in a 20 minute title match, let alone a throw away Raw match that was the mans big debut. Why would Vince McMahon do this to the current NXT champion?
Simple. He’s a loser. He was the champion when NXT lost the war against AEW.
NXT: The Lost Cause
All over Twitter people are saying Vince doesn’t care about NXT. It isn’t that he doesn’t care. It’s that he sees it as a complete failure despite everything he gave it. He got them a two hour timeslot on cable. He provided them appearances by Becky Lynch and AJ Styles. Adam Cole came up to the main roster and defeated Daniel Bryan on Smackdown. NXT’s women won their Survivor Series match against Raw and Smackdown and NXT Women’s champion Shayna Baszler was victorious in the main event of Survivor Series against Lynch and Bayley. He let them keep talent in NXT that likely should have been called up to strengthen the Raw and Smackdown products. He gave them Finn Balor. All of this and they couldn’t beat a newcomer to the wrestling industry and watched AEW get stronger.
People were convinced Vince didn’t see AEW as a threat anymore when Chris Jericho showed up on the Steve Austin show on the WWE Network and discussed All Elite Wrestling. It’s not that AEW wasn’t a threat. It’s that Chris Jericho, unlike NXT, is a winner. He was a winner in the Wednesday Night War. That’s more impressive to Vince McMahon. And Triple H, the man who wouldn’t even return a text to Jericho about his AEW offer, now has the stench of this loss all over him. No longer the heir of the WWE.
I don’t know what Triple H and NXT can do to wash that stench off of them, now on a Tuesday timeslot where they do the same numbers they did head to head with Dynamite. Vince McMahon is no longer giving Hunter all of the time he wants to build NXT stars. Shotzi Blackheart and Tegan Nox made their debuts on Smackdown before their NXT stories were done. Toni Storm, Aliyah, and Scarlett will likely be next. Austin Theory too probably after working a dark match on Smackdown. NXT truly is back to just being a feeder to the WWE main brands with no respect to what the brand might be trying to do with these talents. And what’s worse is anyone Vince brings up will have that odor of being the losers who lost to AEW.
NXT is the Confederate state allowed back into the WWE union despite their loss. And unlike North Carolina, there will be no statues raised to commemorate the losers of the war and their sacrifice to the company. Vince McMahon doesn’t accept losers.