NXT is losing the Wednesday Night War. Formerly heralded as “wrestling’s hottest brand” and revered as a beacon of light in the dark for those seeking an alternative to traditional WWE, NXT’s glory has faded and rusted by the emergence of AEW.
But how did this happen? In 2019 alone, NXT gave us wrestling’s most captivating feud in Gargano vs. Ciampa, wrestling’s hottest act’s in Ricochet, The War Raiders, and Shayna Bazler, and weekly, can’t-miss television that saw the rise of Keith Lee, Rhea Ripley, The Undisputed Era, and Io Shirai. That’s more work than any other wrestling promotion has done…well, ever.
So why has the wrestling world fallen out of love with a brand that was made to love it? We here at AIPT are going to figure it out by this Tuesday.
NXT is at a crossroads right now and their fate will be determined by which path they take this Tuesday during a Fatal-4-Way Iron Man Match for the NXT Championship. After spending the entire quarter elevating Keith Lee and Karrion Kross to the main event level, with the hopes that they would become the foundation for a new era in the promotion — both men have left the promotion for the time being. Thus, the winner of this match will carry the brand forward during these dark times and more so, will be the one to set the tone for the brand during this rebuilding phase. Our team has broken down the match for you and discuss how and why each contender should be the one to bring NXT back to its former glory.
Jay: Finn Balor is NXT’s best option right now. The only reason this match is even happening is because they’ve used the entire summer to build up Keith Lee and Karrion Kross and both are now out of the equation. They are in a period of forced reflection and reconstruction and Finn Balor is the best person to carry them through this time. He is their most marketable character considering his lengthy run on the main roster and is a proven commodity for the company.
Furthermore, Balor is, potentially, their strongest character. NXT is getting trounced by AEW for its lack of characters and lackluster storylines. Every character on AEW, whether it be Hangman, the Young Bucks, or even Marko Stunt, QT Marshall, or John Silver, every wrestler has a character and something to do within the storyline. NXT is great at making people look “cool”, but there’s no substance there right now. Balor is their best bet at changing all this. He has the most experience at big stages, knows how to captivate an audience, and can talk people into a feud. He just needs more free rein to allow him to do so and NXT may be forced to unleash him. Finn Balor is the best option to save NXT.
Shane: I truly believe that Tommaso Ciampa will win the NXT Championship on Tuesday night. Here’s why. When Ciampa turned on Johnny Gargano at NXT Takeover: Chicago, he instantly turned into one of the most compelling characters on NXT. Sure, the momentum was halted because of his injury, but when Ciampa returned almost an entire year later at NXT Takeover: Philadelphia, he once again became one of the most compelling characters on NXT. The subsequent blood feud with Johnny Gargano was must-see and the momentum from that feud carried Ciampa to the NXT Championship. One of the most compelling characters in NXT then became the most compelling champion in all of WWE.
Ciampa made the NXT Championship. “Goldie” was the center of his world and as a viewer, I knew that Ciampa would do anything to keep Goldie around his waist for as long as possible. I was at NXT Takeover: Phoenix when he defended the title against Aleister Black. The way Ciampa carried Goldie to the ring, coddled it the entire time, and held it above his head, that title meant something.
This is exactly what NXT needs again. They need a compelling character that can have a compelling title reign that will lead to compelling feuds and even more compelling matches. That is a winning formula that Tommaso Ciampa has proven he can succeed at. If NXT wants to start doing better against AEW, Ciampa is NXT’s best bet.
Patrick: Johnny Gargano has long been referred to as the heart and soul of NXT, even if right now he’s “All Heart, No Soul”. And it’s more than just a marketing gimmick — Gargano has been one of the cornerstones of the black and gold brand for five years now, clawing his way up from what was thought to be a one-off appearance in the inaugural Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, without a contract, all the way to winning the NXT Championship back in April 2019 the night before WrestleMania in a classic two out of three falls match.
Problem is, his title reign lasted a paltry 57 days, dropping the title to Adam Cole at TakeOver XXV. Now, Adam Cole is of course a worthy champion, and this was the kickoff to his record-setting 403 day reign, but a title run of less than two months for Gargano, who’s often considered the Shawn Michaels of NXT (they don’t call him Mr. TakeOver for nothing). While Karrion Kross being forced to drop the title just days after winning it (thus creating another disappointingly short babyface title reign in Keith Lee’s) is a major loss, this could be the time to give the Johnny Gargano Way another chance in the limelight. And hell, with Tommaso Ciampa back, the Forever Feud between the two could continue in earnest, with Ciampa chasing after his beloved Goldie.
Darius: Adam Cole (BAY-BAY) is the darkest of dark horses in this bout, but there’s a light shining in this darkness, and Adam Cole is that light. See, the weird thing about this match is that, to passersby, all four men in this match are heels. Gargano is inarguably so, and Ciampa just returned by attacking the loveable Jake Atlas. The two men with arguments to the contrary are Balor, who just played the good guy against Timmy Thatcher; and Cole, who just got punted by loudmouthed Pat McAfee. Cole is old reliable, the guy you allow to go in there with the outsider new guys like McAfee, the guy you give the real title reign to when Ciampa gets injured (sorry, Gargano), and the guy whose budding face run could be legitimized by a win with the fans by his side. I’m not saying he needs the win, nor that his win would result in a long reign — in fact, I’ll straight-up say that it shouldn’t — but if you’re in a panic, Cole is not the worst pick to go with as the face of your brand.
I think what NXT needs the most right now is some sense of stability. As Jay mentioned, everyone in AEW kind of has something going on, while whenever I watch NXT, it seems like the progress isn’t as structured. Keith Lee vs. Adam Cole had some semblance of a build, but when it did eventually happen, it still felt like a hotshot, and that amplified when Lee immediately dropped the North American belt. Maybe giving Cole a bit of a face run can create a shift in NXT’s biggest act, the Undisputed Era, and make both the stable and the brand feel a little less stale?
Or, and just hear me out: you give the NXT Championship to Cameron Grimes and shoot the ratings STRAIGHT TO THE MOON!
Is Darius right? Is NXT’s only hope Cameron Grimes and his fixation on the moon? Should Ciampa’s obsession with Goldie be the driving force for the brand? Can Johnny Gargano be the heart of NXT once again? Or should The Prince take back his throne?
Either way, NXT will be a can’t-miss affair this Tuesday and let us know in the comments and on Twitter which champion should be the one to take NXT forward.
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