Last week, WWE unveiled it’s Name, Image & Likeness program (NIL), also known as “Next in Line”. According to a press release from World Wrestling Entertainment:
The inaugural “Next In Line” class includes athletes from 13 universities, seven NCAA conferences and four sports. In addition to the United States, the class includes representation from myriad countries spanning from Canada and Nigeria. The following 15 athletes join Olympic gold medalist Gable Steveson in WWE’s first-of-its-kind NIL program:
The resounding question is ultimately, will it pay off, or will the program ironically produce nil results? Let’s dive in.
But first, some quick hot takes
-Jeff Hardy has been released! I really hope he gets the help he needs…again. On the other hand, I foresee a Young Bucks vs. Hardy Boyz feud in the future.
-Charlotte and Andrade are STILL together! …WHO CARES? Nobody needs to know everyone else’s personal business.
–Jamie Hayter SHOULD BE A FUTURE CHAMPION. If she’s the one to dethrone Britt Baker, even before Thunder Rosa, I won’t even be mad.
-Did you watch Dynamite? If not, you should. Straight FIRE. B+ Show overall.
-I know it’s been done in Impact with Su Young, but who would be down for an AEW storyline where Abadon starts turning other women’s wrestlers into zombies and starts her own stable?
-Hook’s entrance theme is REALLY GOOD. So is Hook. This kid will be a star. Watch Rampage.
Creating WWE superstars. It’s the entire goal of this program, is it not? Much like NXT 2.0, McMahon has seemingly drifted away from signing popular Indies talent to focus on star-building from the ground up.
And this, of course, is completely fine. Many might sour on the idea because these 15 collegiate athletes never paid Indies dues, nor had the passion to start in the industry anyway. I think that’s a fruitless argument.
You don’t have to grow up living-breathing-eating professional wrestling to qualify to become a future pro wrestler. It doesn’t matter WHEN you get into the business or HOW — just that you give it 110% when you’re in it.
While many may scoff at the idea of taking collegiate athletes and turning them into wrestling talents, a lot professional wrestlers have a collegiate athletic background. Roman Reigns, Baron Corbin, Bianca Belair, etc. It makes a lot of sense when you think about it…
This is a good base. The question is, can it be done?
Does Vince McMahon Actually Create Stars?
Contrary to popular belief, McMahon’s track record at creating stars from the ground up, is not good. Let’s even take his most valuable creation: Hulk Hogan.
It wasn’t McMahon who came up with “Hulkamania”, it was Hogan himself. It wasn’t McMahon who came up with the yellow-red fast food color scheme, but Hogan via inspiration from wrestler Angelo Poffo. Furthermore, Hogan was already an AWA mainstay at the time McMahon would soon sign him to a WWF deal.
Hogan was already a fairly well-known name in the business. All McMahon did was give him the large-scale exposure with the business model he inherited from his father, Vince McMahon Sr.
…and the same goes for Roddy Piper, Andre the Giant, Randy Savage, Ted DiBiase, Jim Duggan, Curt Hennig, Jimmy Snuka, and the list goes on and on. These were well-known, established talents in their wrestling territories through the late 70s/early 80s.
Take your pick: AWA, WCCW, Mid-South Wresting, Stampede Wresting — they all have names you’ll recognize long before they inked a deal with WWF.
Now taking wrestling’s best talents to feature them in one promotion is SMART. It may have ultimately set the wrestling business back in doing so, but McMahon made a lot of money with this move.
But he didn’t CREATE any of these stars…he just gave them the exposure.
The Modern Era
Yes, this continues into the modern era.
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin was already established in WCW before his move to ECW when the true early beginnings of his “Stone Cold” gimmick would start (pre-WWF Ringmaster). Shawn Michaels was an AWA favorite before signing with WWF in 1987. Bret Hart was already a household favorite in Canada through Stampede Wrestling before signing with WWF in 1984.
Aside from The Rock, Kane, Edge, Lesnar, and Triple H (I’m not counting his WCW run as Terra Ryzin’) there isn’t many more “from scratch” superstars that McMahon had his hand in.
As of now, you could argue most current champions are McMahon creations, and perhaps maybe that’s why they have their spot. Reigns, Big E, Lynch (post-Shimmer), Orton, Flair, The Usos, Mandy Rose — these are superstars created from the ground up.
With the exception of Ciampa, Nakamura, and Matt Riddle, this is the growing trend…
When you look at the WWE roster across all three brands, not a large percentage are pure WWE-bred talents. The gamble comes in the form of potentially missing out on the next big names coming out of the Indies scene that Tony Khan will be all too happy to swoop up for AEW.
Keep in mind that NXT has failed to produce any big-name stars that weren’t already well-known and swiped from the Indies. Examples:
Kevin Owens (Steen), Sami Zayn (El Generico), Seth Rollins (Tyler Black), Adrian Neville (PAC), Adam Cole (BAYBAY), Finn Balor (Prince Devitt), Keith Lee, Johnny Gargano, Aleister/Malakai Black (Tommy End), Samoa Joe, Tomasso Ciampa, etc….
What this comes down to is this: Does Vince McMahon still have star-making ability, and if not, did he ever truly have it in the first place?
Time will tell if this NIL program pays off. With an aging McMahon, seemingly out of touch with the pulse of the industry, I question how effective a program like this will be. You’re taking upcoming talents and telling them that this one way of professional wrestling is all you are going to learn.
Compare that with those on the Indies who become inspired by multiple styles, and by working with many opponents with different styles. It leads me to believe that in the end, the gamble will NOT pay off.
But I could be wrong. For McMahon’s, and WWE’s sake, they better hope I am.