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Examining NXT as WWE's Third Brand Instead of a Developmental Territory

Tom Clark@tomclarkbrFeatured ColumnistOctober 2, 2014

Sami Zayn
Sami Zayncredit: wwe.com

NXT is WWE's developmental territory operating out of Florida.  NXT is used as the proving ground for pro wrestling talents from around the world who are looking to make a name for themselves in Vince McMahon's company.

But despite what NXT was originally meant to be, the fact is that the program itself is more than capable of standing on its own in the eyes of fans.  Indeed, NXT could very well become a viable third brand for WWE instead of a developmental territory.

The truth is this is likely not what fans expected.

After all, NXT is the perfect place for a guy to not only hone his craft but also perfect his character.  The crowds are smaller and the environment is a lot more intimate, allowing talents to really connect to the fans. In many ways, NXT has the look and feel of a small-time promotion with some money behind it and is building its fanbase.

But that was perhaps the intention all along.  Maybe NXT was supposed to have the appearance of a standalone company, one that could function independently of WWE's main roster but was still directly connected to it.  If that is the case, then all has gone according to plan.

NXT was serving its purpose; there can be no doubting that.  Bray Wyatt and The Wyatt Family of Luke Harper and Erick Rowan were all born into their gimmicks under the NXT banner.  Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins were wowing crowds long before they debuted as The Shield.

NXT was everything that fans believed it should be and more.  It was truly a dress rehearsal for WWE; if something did not work or if a guy could not get on the right track, there was always time to get it together and learn from mistakes.  

However, WWE's influence was quite evident on the presentation.  The production value, the in-ring style, the promos, all had the McMahon stamp of approval.  

So the dichotomy of a learning curve paired with the immediacy of the main roster has always existed. While it made for some very interesting times, the fact is that now NXT has come into its own.  And fans have the WWE Network to thank for that.

The WWE Network has brought NXT to the mainstream.  Now, fans outside of Florida who may have never seen the NXT product live can tune in every week.  The future stars of Raw and SmackDown are no longer under wraps, and their matches are no longer just visible on YouTube.

The future is now for WWE.

For nearly eight months, fans have been watching NXT on the WWE Network.  They have witnessed the rise of The Ascension, marveled at the talent of Sami Zayn and applauded the work of Adrian Neville.  The athleticism, the intensity, the overall drama of a top-notch WWE presentation is happening every week in a farm league promotion.

But is it really a farm league now?  Or is it something more?

The truth is that NXT is more over now than it ever was before.  More eyes on the promotion bring more respect for its performers, and some fans likely believe NXT is now not only on par with Monday Night Raw but perhaps even better.

The tremendous fan following that NXT has garnered has gone hand in hand with the company's inclusion of those new faces on Raw.  And even though the time may not be right to bring them up to the main roster, the fact is that some fans are likely growing very impatient for it to happen.

This is especially true now, in light of WWE's recent signing of Prince Devitt, Kevin Steen and Kenta.  All three men were well-established in other companies and have worked extremely hard to get the attention of WWE.  Now that they have it, they will all surely make the best of it.

And that has made fans even more anxious.

With NXT's rise in popularity and the star power currently on its roster, the fact is that the promotion's status must be reexamined.  The lines between developmental and prime time have become very blurred indeed, and now fans are faced with the very real possibility that WWE has found its newest third brand.

Whether this was intentional or not is anyone's guess.  But considering that WWE's last attempt at a new brand failed with the revamped ECW, the truth is that maybe NXT has just evolved to this point.

And perhaps fans have evolved with it.  Maybe watching and following the established stars on Raw and SmackDown is not enough now.  It could very well be that there is more excitement and more anticipation with the new crop of Superstars than with those who have already made it.  If that is indeed true, then WWE has more than a hit on their hands; they have a new third brand.

A network television deal may not ever happen for NXT, and maybe it doesn't need to.  The WWE Network could be the perfect vehicle to showcase NXT, and perhaps that's the way it needs to be.  But at this point, the conversation as to just exactly what NXT is must surely be taking place behind the scenes at WWE.

Yes, NXT is accomplishing its given task of developing new stars.  But those new stars have so much spotlight and so much fan support that they are considered by many to be on the same level as SmackDown and Raw Superstars.  If that notion persists and continues to spread among the WWE faithful, then fans could eventually see NXT rise to unimagined heights.

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