Triple H's Recent Comments on WWE's New Approach Shed Light on the FutureApril 22, 2022
It doesn't take an expert to see that WWE has drastically changed its approach to recruiting talent and creating new stars.
The decision has provoked the ire of some fans and pro wrestlers, but it also raised many questions about the future of the business. For better or worse, we're getting to see more and more of the company's new vision; it's fascinatingly simple and a little daunting.
The most controversial aspect of this new philosophy was the move away from scouting independent wrestlers. This was initially a peculiar choice because plenty of WWE's success over the past eight years could be linked to the indie scenes and up-and-coming stars from smaller promotions.
Nevertheless, the company released a dozen NXT wrestlers in August 2021. In addition, Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter reported that an edict came down from the top to no longer scout indie talent ahead of a complete revamp. The idea was to make the roster younger and less beholden to the sensibilities that its competition fully embraced.
On Dec. 8, WWE unveiled the first class of its NIL (Name, Image & Likeness) program. The newly formed initiative would offer college athletes a clear path to becoming a superstar. Last year, Olympic gold medalist and NCAA Division I champion, Gable Steveson also signed a deal as a part of the program.
The Minnesota graduate will be the centerpiece of this new era, and one could assume he has a bright future ahead of him following a dominant career as a collegiate wrestler.
Still, it's hard to tell what that means for others who follow in his footsteps or the state of professional wrestling. Even if he succeeds, Steveson could be merely a diamond in the rough.
NXT 2.0 and the Dawn of a New Era
It had become obvious that the developmental pipeline of old was over after a failed attempt to become the third brand in the following years. As a result, NXT 2.0 debuted on Sept. 14, 2021.
By the beginning of 2022, WWE had effectively gotten rid of the last vestiges of the black-and-gold brand. Johnny Gargano chose not to renew his contract after a six-year stint that shaped NXT for many fans. If that didn't seem like the nail in the coffin, William Regal's exit definitively signaled the end of an era.
Releasing Regal shocked many fans because the longtime general manager was so integral to NXT's success. However, it made sense because the new show moved away from the use of an on-screen authority figure. Even more, the 53-year-old was a big part of the scouting process that brought in names like Gargano.
During this upheaval, many wondered what Triple H thought of it all. After all, NXT was his pet project and it briefly looked like it got ripped away from him while he was dealing with health issues.
However, the WWE executive vice president, global talent strategy and development insists that the reboot was always part of the plan after the move to network television changed everything. More to the point, he echoed the company's sentiments about indie wrestlers and the need to create new habits.
During a recent interview with Chris Vannini of The Athletic, he said: "The tryouts we did before, where there were a lot of athletes and experienced indie guys, I don't think there's any less of a 'That's a rock star, the indie stuff, half of it is, ‘He's a good in-ring performer, but the rest is a mystery. He's got bad habits I have to get him out of.' This is almost cleaner. It's a blank slate."
That particular quote may ruffle some feathers but it was also a bit telling that Triple H emphasized there will be a quick turnaround and steep learning curve.
"The numbers force us to be more regimented," he said. "We used to be like, 'Well, he's only been here a year, let's give him more time, see if he picks it up.' Now we know there's a six-month coming in the door to adapt, get rolling, and then we're looking at your aptitude for this. We know in that six months—and some won't make it that long."
That leads us to believe WWE is playing the numbers game with NIL and even NXT 2.0. This new pipeline gives them a large pool of prospects to sift through but a select few will rise to the top and stay on.
This also fits the company's current modus operandi where most of the roster is expendable if they don't have what is expected.
The Bottom Line
It's still hard to properly analyze this change of direction. It's too soon to say it won't work, and there are plenty of examples where WWE was able to mold former athletes into its biggest stars. Roman Reigns and Bianca Belair are the biggest success stories at the moment, but there are so many others.
However, it's difficult to shake this feeling that this is just more of the company's penchant for positioning itself as the center of attention instead of individuals. Consider the fact that distancing itself from indie wrestlers is a part of this troubling habit of downplaying the sweat equity that crowd created elsewhere and making everyone a blank slate. It's the same ideology that has led to many of its bizarre name changes.
Bringing in college athletes with no experience or established fanbase is a way to circumvent that process and bring in young talent that is more malleable. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does feed the narrative that WWE's style of wrestling is the best and it can make anyone who fits its aesthetic into a star.
That would lead some people to believe the process is what made its Superstars special as opposed to individuality or creativity. Honestly, it's hard to even argue with that notion because of the company's track record, but there is something to be said about how homogenous its product has become. One could say that may be because its role in creating new stars is often heavy-handed.
Still, WWE needed to change its approach. AEW, its biggest competition at the moment, has become an alternative by servicing fans of indie wrestling. It would've been foolish to keep doing the same thing that made NXT the hottest wrestling show a few years ago when more options are vying for that audience's attention now. It makes much more sense to try to differentiate its brand of wrestling again.
The developmental brand needed to pivot and this is an interesting way to go about it that fits WWE's unique position as an industry leader. It may be hard to tell if this will pan out, but it's a novel idea.
Some reservations about some of the talking points this new approach has created are warranted, but it's hard to deny this wasn't the logical next step for the company's recruiting process.