The episode of Raw following WrestleMania is most always memorable, and Raw the night after WrestleMania 30 was certainly no exception. The Shield lived up to their “Hounds Of Justice” moniker by rescuing Daniel Bryan from actual injustice at the hands of Triple-H. Cesaro hitched his wagon to Paul Heyman, a move that can only help the “King Of Swing’s” already sizzling momentum. Perhaps every bit as important as either of these things, though, was the large presence the NXT brand had on the show.
The April 7 edition of Raw was notable for the appearances of two NXT stars: Paige (the first and, to date, only NXT Divas champion) and Alexander Rusev (with his valet, Lana, by his side). Additionally, vignettes aired for Adam Rose and former NXT champ Bo Dallas. Rusev dominated Zack Ryder in his first televised singles match on the main roster. Rose and Dallas’ vignettes were both well received. Paige made perhaps the biggest impression of the pack, putting an end to AJ Lee’s nearly 300-day WWE Divas title reign.
When AJ was interrupted by the debuting Paige, a sizable portion of the live crowd seemed to already be familiar with the self-proclaimed “Anti-Diva.” Sure, those in attendance the night after WrestleMania tend to be a hip crowd. Maybe some of those chanting for Paige had been following her since her days on the independent circuit. Still, one can’t help but get the feeling that the increased visibility of NXT (including its recent Arrival special) helped to make her debut all the more newsworthy.
Broad access to NXT programming, both through the WWE Network and Hulu, has fostered an awareness of WWE’s developmental system, which would have previously been unthinkable. Go ahead and watch the debuts of John Cena, Brock Lesnar, and Randy Orton. All three men were products of lengthy stints in WWE developmental (at the time, quartered at Ohio Valley Wrestling). All three made a big impact pretty quickly. Yet few fans seemed to have any idea who these men were when they first appeared. In a sense, they had their work cut out for them. Thanks to the weekly NXT broadcasts being available online, burgeoning stars like Paige, Rusev, and Emma have already established loyal fan bases by the time they get to compete on Raw or Smackdown.
Lest one get the idea that NXT is merely a useful tool for young wrestlers, it’s also important to consider that the brand is good for fans. The sort of wrestling on NXT broadcasts is, for the time being anyway, markedly different than what we see on Raw and Smackdown. It’s quirkier, with a diverse crop of colorful characters that are learning to express themselves in new and unusual ways. The in-ring action is often more vibrant and unpredictable. In short, it is definitely an alternative to the other, more mainstream WWE programming.
At the same time, NXT might not remain a simple alternative for much longer. As more of its stars make the leap to the main roster—Cesaro, The Wyatt Family, and The Shield all cut their teeth at NXT—the tastes of fans change, and the norm shifts. Raw and Smackdown will continue to evolve to meet the desires of fans. That’s how we have come to see someone like Daniel Bryan, who hardly considered a career in WWE years ago, as one of the faces of the company in 2014. It’s an exciting time for the company, as the new guard challenges the old guard and encourages it to step up its game. Fans who want to see into the future know where to look. WWE developmental has, for years now, been a window into the future. It just so happens that millions of people can now peer through that window on a weekly basis.
PWI Contributing Writer
@OfficialPWI Twitter Contributor