THS: Did NXT Kill the Underdog Champion? Submitted by The High Spot on 09/22/2018 at 01:51 PM
By J.D. Bachman
I love NXT.
I wanted to make that perfectly clear before going any further, as this isn’t meant to be a way to diminish how far that particular brand has come. Since their first Takeover event in 2014, NXT has given a specific niche of wrestling fans who are bored with the flagship shows something to look forward to every week. (Assuming they aren’t watching Ring of Honor, New Japan, or more recently, the revival of Impact Wrestling)
However, before Takeover took place in May of that year, something else incredible happened: Daniel Bryan defeated Triple H, then Randy Orton and Batista, to become the World Champion at Wrestlemania 30. He was the self-made underdog that fans grew to love and get behind through his eventual triumph over The Authority, as he beat the odds, much to everyone's surprise.
Before that, your list of underdog champions that stray from the mold that Vince McMahon so feverishly sweats over in excitement are quite small: Rey Mysterio, C.M. Punk, Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, and even as far back as Bret Hart, after Vince finally realized that ‘Lex Luger: American Hero’, wasn’t getting over as Hogan's replacement. These types of champions have been far and few between, and quite frankly, it’s something we just don’t see any more.
You could argue recent title runs by A.J. Styles, Seth Rollins and Finn Balor (before injuries) are examples of champions that aren’t in Vince’s muscular mold, but these guys were long established beforehand in other promotions and other factions -- and specifically for Balor, this came in NXT – which brings us full circle.
NXT has become so popular, that by the time you’re ready to be called up to the main roster, you’re already pretty well-known. There doesn’t really exist much of an ‘underdog’ element in these performers anymore, especially if you take a look at the most recent transitions over the past couple of years:
There’s more to name, but the pattern that exists is that by the time these performers made their first appearances on Raw or Smackdown, they were already well-developed, well-known, and popular amongst fans. We haven’t had a true underdog story in some time, because nobody on the main roster worthy of a world championship run can be considered an underdog at the moment.
To coin baseball terminology, the WWE have created a farm-system, where those in the “minor” league are just as good, if not better, than those in the “majors”. This creates a fundamental problem if ever an underdog story were to be created by writing staff.
However, there is an inkling of hope with this up-and-coming class of NXT talents:
Aleister Black has been impressive in his NXT run, has captured gold, and is due for a main roster push soon. However, his gimmick is nothing more than a watered down, family-friendly Satanist, which I personally love, but I don’t know if corporate brass would see him as championship material. Adam Cole, Tommaso Ciampa, Velveteen Dream, Ricochet, Pete Dunn, Nikki Cross, Kairi Sane, and especially Dakota Kai and Johnny Gargano -- all have explosive, world championship-level talent. However, neither of these talents truly fit the mold of the champion we’ve been accustomed to with the likes of Reigns, Lesnar, Mahal, Orton, Cena, and others over the recent years.
If WWE management can’t even handle the crowd cheering for a Becky Lynch heel turn without blowing a gasket, I have little faith that they would utilize these talents properly on the main roster, much less think of putting them into a world title picture. As we’ve seen with Rusev, management is quick to dismiss talents that get over with fans organically, and between that toxic mentality, as well as the rise of NXT, the story of the underdog champion in the WWE could be one that is finished for good.