Takeover Takes Over Once Again
– Chris O’Mealy 5/25/17 – 10:27Pm
This past Sunday, WWE ran their Smackdown-brand pay-per-view event known as Backlash at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois. The event was headlined by Jinder Mahal Vs. Randy Orton for the WWE Championship, with Jinder capturing the prize and becoming the first Indian WWE Champion in history. The event also has an excellent United States Championship match between Kevin Owens and AJ Styles, and the in-ring debut of Shinsuke Nakamura on the main roster, who defeated Dolph Ziggler in a well-executed and exciting contest to kick off the event. Overall, Backlash was a pretty good show, even with the handicap of being a single branded PPV event. The wrestlers delivered good matches, exciting storyline advancement, and gave the live crowd their money’s worth.
However, the night before Backlash, the developmental talents of WWE, wrestling for the NXT brand, performed at the Allstate Arena, and blew the main roster event out of the water.
This isn’t something new in WWE. Ever since NXT began running TakeOver specials, often on the same weekend as a big WWE event, they have often been better than the main roster show that would follow the next evening. In some cases, the shows would be on par with each other in terms of quality. In other cases, the NXT driven show would completely outshine the talents on the main roster completely. Two perfect examples of this are the TakeOver Dallas special that aired the night before the extremely lackluster WrestleMania 32, and the first TakeOver Brooklyn special that aired before SummerSlam the year prior.
This begs the question, why is WWE allowing their supposedly developmental roster to out-perform their regular roster talents, and on a regular basis no less? The answer may seem obvious, but I feel as though there are a lot of determining factors involved.
First of all, you have to remember that the talents in NXT are there so they can compete on either Raw or Smackdown one day. Being called up to the main roster means more money, more exposure, and more worldwide fame. Competitors in NXT make a set amount of money each week, to perform on the televised events and house shows, and also to attend classes at the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida. They are honing their skills each and every day to make it to the lucrative pastures of the actual WWE brand. Being on Raw or Smackdown gives you a different contract altogether, substantially raising your pay and officially graduating you from the Performance Center. It’s like graduating college and being given your dream job the next day. This is a big deal to anyone whose dream it is to compete in the WWE. You’re finally made it to the big time. Now you have to prove yourself.
The motivation to constantly prove yourself to the powers that be should always be on display, which is why the NXT talents, when given the chance, will hit the ball out of the park every single time. They want to get noticed. They know they’re being watched at every given opportunity. Now, they’re given a spotlight to compete in front of a bigger audience, with the looming shadow of a main roster show with main roster wrestlers hovering over them. They have a lot on the line. If they do poorly, they can be rejected by both the fans and the producers who can make those important career decisions. They can’t just be good, they have to be great. So they’re going to use every second of the time given to them to work with each other and deliver a match that will make people sit up and pay attention.
It can be argued that the NXT audience is made up of a much more passionate fan base than the crowd who tunes in on Monday and Tuesday nights. This is because Raw and Smackdown have a much broader spectrum of an audience. Many casual fans will tune in to the shows they’ve known about for decades, to get their wrestling fix, and then turn the channel when the show is over. NXT can only be accessed by someone who has the WWE Network, and is passionate enough to shell out $9.99 a month for a streaming service of nearly unlimited content. As a result, more passionate fans, fans who likely watch more than just Monday Night Raw, are tuning in to NXT. These fans are familiar with the independents around the country, not to mention top talents from Japan, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and any other country with a heavy wrestling fan base. These more knowledgeable wrestling fans will watch NXT to see these talents they’ve seen all around the world enter the biggest wrestling company on the planet, and naturally want to cheer them on and see them succeed. As a result, the NXT fan-base becomes louder, more excitable, and more prone to let the WWE know who they should and shouldn’t be giving opportunities to.
The most important factor in TakeOver’s success may not even
be the wrestlers themselves. It may in fact be the mastermind driving the ship, Triple H. The son-in-law to WWE owner Vince McMahon, the semi-retired former World Champion created NXT as his pet project. NXT is his baby, and he will do whatever it takes to see it succeed. Triple H pushes the men and women of NXT to be at their very best at all times. You can hear it on the WWE Network on shows like “WWE 24” or “Breaking Ground.” Triple H is constantly giving them words of advice and encouragement, and flat-out telling them to prove that they can outshine the main roster. These talents take those words to heart every single show, and deliver time and time again.
It’s becoming a bit of a tradition that the TakeOver special you will watch on Saturday will be better than the PPV you will watch on Sunday. Whether by a little or by a lot, it will most likely be the better show. If you think about it, it makes sense. The show with the younger, hungrier wrestlers being motivated by the hungry, passionate former world champion who is destined to take over WWE someday is going to be exciting to watch every single time. However, if they’re constantly putting the main roster to shame, shouldn’t that be a problem? If there is a problem, what’s causing it and why?
I don’t personally work for the WWE, but I have friends who do (whose names I will keep anonymous for job security purposes) and based on what they’ve told me, I have a few theories.
One of them is Vince McMahon himself. While a pioneer in the business and the most successful wrestling promoter who has ever lived, Vince McMahon has been known over the years to change his mind frequently. At times, he’s changed his mind during the course of a hot angle, and altered the results of the feud, often in confusing ways. He’s also known to be very hard to win over at times, and can sometimes give up on a talent before they’ve even debuted on the main show. A perfect recent example of this
was the call-up of Tyler Breeze. After coming in hot from NXT with excellent matches and a character all his own, Breeze was relegated to losing matches on network-exclusive shows like Main Event within his first few weeks. Tyler Breeze wasn’t even given much of a roll on Smackdown following the roster split, until very recently, when his tag team with Fandango (another talented grappler who has been treading water for a long time) finally was given a push for the Tag Team Championship belts on Smackdown, which they used to their advantage. It’s not that Tyler Breeze suddenly forgot how to have good matches or a character when he arrived on Smackdown. He simply didn’t have the machine behind him the way he did in NXT, and it showed.
However, hating on Vince’s decision-making in 2017 is the “cool” thing to do if you’re a wrestling fan commenting on the internet. Vince may change his mind frequently, but it’s also well-known that he has a legion of corporate yes men who often help sway his decision-making for him. One of them is WWE producer Kevin Dunn, who has been called out in dozens of shoot interviews for being the worst of the bunch. Dunn has a reputation for only wanting to please Vince, so he’ll do whatever he thinks Vince will like, and will openly bury certain talents to stay on his boss’s good side. Kevin Dunn has been called out most famously by Jim Cornette for constantly undermining wrestlers from other organizations and claiming that nothing before WWE matters. He’s also, quite laughably, been called out for trying to make WWE more than just a wrestling company, by always trying to make the wrestling itself the back-burner aspect of the shows.
One can easily see how a product without Vince or Dunn’s influence attached to it can suddenly come across as better.
Again, I don’t work there, but based on the stories I’ve heard from friends who have been there in the middle of it, it makes sense. When you have too many cooks in the kitchen, it can create a lot of chaos and misdirection. When you have one driver behind the wheel, who has all of his navigators on the same page, they will ultimately plot a course in the right direction and avoid a majority of their obstacles along the way. That’s why a special like TakeOver will end up being better than a PPV like Backlash. It’s a more organized show with a much simpler goal in mind and much more on the line to prove.
Will every TakeOver be like this? Not likely. In fact, one could argue that WrestleMania 33 this year was a better show overall than TakeOver: Orlando the previous evening. Of course, WrestleMania had a lot of trump cards, including the Hardy Boys returning and the retirement of the Undertaker, plus the atmosphere of being just being WrestleMania. Still, you can’t argue that the TakeOver special didn’t put on a heck of a show, and try pretty hard to compete with the biggest show of the year. While WrestleMania 33 was better, it didn’t leave TakeOver in the dust. TakeOver will finish in a close second. That is where the main roster talents really need to be paying attention. They need to deliver more than the developmental show does. They should be doing this every time, yet they aren’t. Which means you can find more excitement and passion in what’s ultimately considered a lesser show.
Of course, as wrestling fans, we should always be able to find something we enjoy no matter what show we’re watching. No matter what kind of wrestling you enjoy, keep watching and supporting the business I love so very, very, much.
Question and Answer
Time for some Q&A from the readers! As this is my first article, the readers in question are actually podcast followers. If you wish to submit a question, you may do so via my contact information at the bottom. I will try to answer 3-5 every article.
Q: Now that DIY has split up, who do you see stepping up in the NXT tag division? It seems to be pretty empty at the moment. (Via @thedynamicuno on Twitter)
A: The next logical choice to me is Heavy Machinery. They’ve built them up as the big Hoss types who could stand up to a larger team like the Authors of Pain. That said, NXT doesn’t really have much else to work with at the moment, with TM61 out of action, and other teams still wet behind the ears. They seem to be trying something with Tino Sabbatelli and Riddick Moss though, so maybe with a few months of buildup, they’ll have a new tag team on their hands.
Q: I’ve noticed most WWE PPVs have 1 theme song, while NXT Takeovers usually have 2-3 at least. Do you think some bands might be submitting their songs specifically for NXT? (Via @MarkJabroni on Twitter)
A: NXT seems to use music specifically for feuds, while WWE PPVs tend to use them for the whole show, and possibly incorporate the song into the main event’s feud. I’m not entirely familiar with the copyright procedures that go into gaining music for an event, but my best guess is that it’s a decision made by the NXT producers as opposed to the WWE producers. It could be a cost issue, but it’s more likely because TakeOver specials only air a few times a year, whereas WWE PPVs air sometimes twice in a month. Perhaps they are budgeted to allow X amount of songs, and they just cash a few of those in each event. In my opinion though, NXT gets the better music too. They really do like beating out the main roster shows, don’t they?
Q: NXT Takeover’s always feel so special, especially compared to the main roster shows. What is one step you think WWE could take in order to help their main shows feel as exciting and must-see as NXT? (Via Stephen on Facebook)
A: I’ve addressed a few of these thoughts already, but I think another big step WWE should take is to lessen the amount of PPVs they even put on. WWE puts on three hours of Raw, two hours of Smackdown, an hour of 205 Live, and an hour of NXT every week. That’s not including a TakeOver special or a major PPV running four hours plus a two hour pre-show! To carve out that much time weekly can be a big chore, especially when you have jobs, families, and life in general to work with. By spreading out their PPV events, they can make the events feel even more special, because they don’t happen as often. They won’t due to finances, but it’s a nice thought. At least with the WWE Network, people don’t have to shell out $49.99 a month for a lackluster show, so there’s that!
Chris O’Mealy is a former indy wrestling promoter, ring announcer, manager and referee. He is the founder and moderator of the Club Kayfabe Creative Community (http://www.ckcconline.com) and currently hosts three podcasts and writes for his own blog (http://comealy17.wordpress.com). He can be reached on Twitter @chrisomealy or emailed directly at email@example.com. You may also contact him on Facebook, but If you wish to be his Facebook friend, you must ask him first.