Examining State of WWE NXT Brand After Departure of Shinsuke Nakamura and Others

Ryan Dilbert@@ryandilbertWWE Lead WriterApril 7, 2017

Credit: WWE.com

WWE NXT is once again left ransacked by an exodus of talent.

Following the post-WrestleMania wave of call-ups, the third brand finds itself without Shinsuke Nakamura, Tye Dillinger and The Revival. That means the wrestlers who claimed the 2016 NXT Year-End Awards for Match of the Year and Tag Team of the Year (The Revival) and Male Competitor of the Year and Overall Competitor of the Year (Nakamura) are gone.

And more moves are likely on the way as next Monday's Raw will feature what is dubbed the "Superstar Shake-Up."

NXT, which had been in transition since last year's draft, will again have to recover from a loss in star power. It will again have to replace brand keystones. 

But the brand will be fine in time. It always is.

Finn Balor exited. Sami Zayn moved to the main roster. Sasha Banks and Bayley left Full Sail University. Each time, fresh faces emerged to carry the NXT torch.

The brand is poised to reload and reinvent itself once more. It will do so on the strength of its women's division and two stars are in the midst of their second go-round with WWE.

Women's Division

For a long time, it was Asuka and everyone else.

The Japanese gladiator and NXT women's champ didn't have foes on her level. Raw talents like Mandy Rose and Liv Morgan filled much of the division. They were rookies still working on their swings while Asuka was busy crushing home runs.   

The women's division has improved dramatically, though, in recent months. As Will Pruett of ProWrestling.net pointed out, two key additions have helped with that:

Ruby Riot (formerly Heidi Lovelace) and Nikki Cross are both skilled, fierce brawlers with ample experience on the independent circuit. They could be quality options as midcard acts or title contenders.

Peyton Royce and Billie Kay have been fun as NXT's resident bullies. Neither is a top-flight performer, but both can be key parts of a strong storyline. 

Ember Moon, though, is the division's difference-maker. She has the presence and in-ring acumen to take over as the face of NXT women's wrestling when Asuka exits. And like her TakeOver: Orlando opponent, she is a star who can occupy the top tiers of the card.

The Asuka-Moon rivalry can be for NXT what Bayley vs. Banks was in 2015.

The future beyond that looks bright as well. Rose is a more talented version of what WWE wanted Eva Marie to be. Aliyah and Morgan both have the energy and charisma to make it once they can shake off their greenness. 

Tag Team Division

The Revival's departure was the equivalent of removing one of the division's limbs.

Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson were the heart and soul of the NXT tag team scenes. As champions, they helped Enzo Amore and Big Cass reach their potential, elevated American Alpha and helped #DIY create great pathos. 

The Authors of Pain aren't nearly as polished as The Revival. The black-clad behemoths have done extremely well in their last two TakeOver bouts, but they don't have the experience to be ring generals at this point.

Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa of #DIY can play that role as challengers, though.

The rest of the division is less proven. Heavy Machinery is a powerhouse squad on the rise. TM-61 is an athletic duo with decent babyface appeal. Either pairing could become viable options as champs, but they both have work to do.

Beyond that, NXT is still in search of standout teams.

That's the area of the roster that has yet to reload after last year's roster moves. American Alpha, The Vaudevillains and The Hype Bros all left for SmackDown at the same time. The Ascension moved on from Full Sail in 2014. 

Even if one of Raw or SmackDown's teams heads back to the brand in the Superstar Shake-Up, the tag division is where NXT has to focus on improving most moving forward.

NXT Championship Picture

The main event scene has changed faces a ton in the past two years.

None of the wrestlers to headline a TakeOver in 2016 are still with the brand. Balor and Joe are on Raw; Nakamura is on SmackDown. And every man to hold the NXT title before Bobby Roode is competing on the main roster now.

Roode is a good fit as the flag-bearer of the brand. He appeals to diehard fans and has cache with them thanks to his long Impact Wrestling tenure. 

He can provide quality main event bouts, sell the hell out of a match on the mic and wields enough star power to help sell tickets when NXT tours.  

Newly signed Aleister Black is an intriguing addition who will be a significant piece of the puzzle. He has a great look, has hammer-like strikes and big-time presence to boot.  

Indy wrestler Gran Akuma is among those high on Black:

It will take some time to introduce the sinister Dutchman, though. While NXT builds him as the next contender, it will have two familiar faces to showcase.

Drew McIntyre has re-signed with the company, as he noted after TakeOver: Orlando. The former intercontinental champ and Impact Wrestling world titleholder will huge for the brand.

After being severely underused at WWE the first time around, he will be a big part of what unfolds at Full Sail University.

The same goes for Kassius Ohno. The former Chris Hero left the company just as NXT was taking off. He gained major momentum on the indies and is now back, ready to deliver top-notch matches night in and night out.

Both Ohno and McIntyre would thrive as champion. At the very least, they will be reliable workhorses for NXT while the next generation of stars develop. Killain Dain needs time to tap into his potential. The fun-loving No Way Jose does as well. 

Top-ranked prospects like Andrade "Cien" Almas and Hideo Itami are likely poised to leave NXT before long. That will leave more open spaces on center stage, be it for Dain or some other emerging star. 

The landscape of NXT sure looks a lot different, but its self-healing mechanisms remain the same.

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