I quite liked the first edition of WWE NXT this past Tuesday on Syfy. While it had its flaws, the show was considerably more entertaining than what ECW was offering in the same time slot for the last couple years. More importantly, it felt original – a trait missing from WWE’s overall product for years.

WWE took some of the best traits of its old Tough Enough series, UFC’s the Ultimate Fighter and its own successful shows, like Raw and Smackdown, and combined them to create a show that was entertaining for mainstream fans who are primarily concerned with watching established WWE stars on their televisions, and compelling on a different level for closer observers of the wrestling industry.

The most interesting part of the show, for me, was when the rookies were put on the spot to cut a promo without any scripting throughout the show. Some delivered. Some stumbled. But it was fascinating, in a way, watching the rookies get their education on live TV. I also quite liked the video packages that introduced some of the rookies to us.

Ironically, those "innovations" of NXT – unscripted promos and video packages designed to get over wrestlers’ personalities – are two things that many fans have been calling on WWE to do more of on its main shows for years.

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TNA still has a lot of problems, but one of the most refreshing changes implemented by the new Hogan/Bischoff regime has been a gradual shift away from scripted promos. That’s not to say that wrestlers should be given a microphone without any direction whatsoever. But rather, they should be given some bullet points that they should try to communicate in their own voices. That’s how it was done for decades before WWE moved toward scripting every word that wrestlers say. Indeed, sometimes that philosophy leads to cleaner, better-worded and more dramatic promos. But it also leads to wrestlers not believing in what they’re saying, and instead just racking their minds to remember their lines. More importantly, it leads to every wrestler sounding exactly the same. One of my greatest joys in watching wrestling these days is watching Ric Flair be Ric Flair – something he wasn’t allowed to be during most of his last WWE run.

One of the other fascinating aspects of the new NXT program may be completely unintentional. That is how the show has exposed the shortcomings of WWE’s developmental system. That one-second clip of the entire NXT rookie roster standing together that’s aired on the commercials tells you all you need to know about why WWE has been unable to create a steady stream of stars ever since Jim Ross was replaced as WWE’s head recruiter.

With the exception of Daniel Bryan, the NXT rookies are almost interchangeable – 6-foot-two men in their mid 20s to early 30’s with bodybuilder physiques and movie star looks. And while it’s understandable that the rookies would be somewhat green in the ring, I was amazed by just how green many of them were – especially considering that some of the rookies have been in WWE’s developmental system for years. Yet, it looked like some of them had just started wrestling last week.

Even with the brief glimpses we got on Tuesday, it’s already easy to predict which NXT rookies will make it, and which will flop. I’ll talk more about Daniel Bryan in a moment, but certainly he has the tools to stick around for a while – if in a far smaller role than he may be used to from his days in Ring of Honor. David Otunga – while perhaps the greenest in the ring – definitely has star power, speaking ability and built-in mainstream recognition as the fiancée of Jennifer Hudson. I saw Heath Slater during an FCW show in a bar in the Tampa Area a couple days after WrestleMania XXIV. He showed good heel charisma then, but seems miscast as a babyface on NXT. But he may be the furthest along of the FCW bunch in his WWE-style training. In the short promo we saw from Wade Barrett at ringside in the night’s main event, he shows some good speaking ability and, certainly, tremendous size. He could do well.

Then there are the others. "South Beach party boy" Darren Young looks ridiculous and is almost insulting to wrestling fans. Michael Tarver may have some potential, but also comes off as a wannabe, and appeared to lack the confidence to succeed in WWE. We only got glimpses at the rest of the lot, but I can already tell you that muscled-up cowboy Skip Sheffield needs to go.


It’s interesting that the NXT rookie roster does not include any second-generation WWE wrestlers, especially considering how many there are in WWE’s developmental system. It’s also interesting that Kaval – the former Lo Ki of Northeast independent fame and TNA X-Division champ Senshi – was not included, as many see him as having break out star potential.

Ultimately, Tuesday’s show was about one person – Daniel Bryan. Although I anticipated that he would be heavily featured on the new WWE program – and even thought that the NXT concept may have been developed as a vehicle to showcase the American Dragon – I was still a little surprised by how much WWE focused on Bryan – even having him make a cameo on Raw the previous night.

I’ve said from the moment the former Bryan Danielson joined WWE that the company would be wise not to handle him just like any other new signing. In a post-WCW, post-ECW world, it is so rare for WWE to have the opportunity to hire someone with name recognition and an established reputation. Through his standout work in ROH, Japan and on the independent circuit, Danielson achieved just that – even capturing the Wrestling Observer’s best technical wrestler of the year award for five years straight.

Still, I don’t think WWE knew what it had on its hands until it announced that the Miz would be mentoring Bryan on NXT. The odd pairing instantly created a buzz throughout the Internet – a buzz that WWE soon caught wind of and sought to capitalize upon.

While there may not have been much thought given to pairing the internationally experienced 10-year wrestling veteran, Danielson, with the reality show winner-turned WWE comedy figure the Miz, ultimately it turned out to be a brilliant idea, as it gave Bryan a built-in storyline upon his entrance into WWE.

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The odd couple made for some intriguing television on Tuesday night – even if it was at times tone deaf. Having Michael Cole berate Bryan for being disrespectful and proclaiming that he had never heard of Bryan before he joined WWE just made Cole – WWE’s de facto number one play by play man – look like an idiot.

But for all the cheerleading that’s gone on for Bryan on the Internet – including from yours truly – I started to wonder if, indeed, he was not cut out for WWE minutes after NXT took the air. Firstly, I was blown away by just how small Bryan is. Even compared to Chris Jericho – one of the shorter wrestlers on WWE’s roster – Bryan looked tiny. I’m thrilled that WWE seems to be willing to look past Bryan’s physical limitations and give him an honest push, but you’ve got to think there is a low ceiling for the success of a wrestler of Bryan’s proportions in WWE.

But any doubts I may have had about Bryan being a good fit in WWE were removed during the main event of the first episode of NXT – Bryan taking on WWE world heavyweight champion Chris Jericho. For many fans, this was as close to a dream match as anything WWE has booked in years.

While shorter than I would have preferred, Bryan showed that he could, indeed, hold his own in the ring with most anybody in the wrestling business. The match was exciting, competitive, and dramatic.

Overall, I’d have to say the debut of the "next evolution of WWE" was a success. Now, the question is whether WWE will be able to keep the momentum of the debut show. Or like many tertiary WWE television programs over the years (ECW, Superstars, Sunday Night Heat, Velocity, Confidential, Excess, Experience, and on and on) will WWE soon lose interest in the project?

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In such cases, the shows’ ultimate failures became self-fulfilling prophecies. Ratings out of the gate weren’t where WWE wanted them to be, so – figuring nobody was watching anyway – WWE invested less resources and energy into them. And so even fewer people watched. And before you know it, Ezekiel is ECW champion..