On Saturday, June 4, Bron Breakker defeated Joe Gacy to retain the NXT Championship at NXT In Your House. The event streamed on Peacock, a service I use to stream old episodes of Columbo, WCW Thunder, and, when I need to question the purpose of life itself, WWE Premium Live Events.
At the risk of sounding like I’m bad at my job, I had no clue that NXT In Your House had happened until a 90 second clip advertising NXT 2.0 — which is “As close as it gets,” whatever that means — showed Breakker beat Gacy. “That’s cool,” I thought, “justice for Bron’s father, who can finally run for the local school board in peace.”
Then I thought about it a little more and was like, “Hey, whose fault is it that I didn’t know NXT rocked The ‘Cock over the weekend, mine or WWE’s?”
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The fact that I’m even willing to entertain the notion that I somehow fucked up in not knowing that Tony D’Angelo and his two associates, Two Dimes and Stacks, were wrestling Legado del Fantasma is pretty generous of me. Yes, I spent my Saturday night watching the 1986 Japanese surrealist classic To Sleep So as to Dream and wincing as my friend ran headlong into the sword of an angry dog in a cloak in Elden Ring, but I am someone who keeps an eye on WWE and generally has a better grasp of when shows like Hell in a Cell are happening than I do what day of the week it is, and as a member of the wrestling media I am a part of NXT’s second-most coveted demographic after the early bird special crowd.
WWE probably advertised In Your House on Monday and Friday, and I probably missed it because I was busy tweeting. But on Saturday night, all of the people I follow on Twitter were doing the same thing I was: not tweeting about NXT 2.0.
When WWE transitioned the brand from Triple H’s vision of independent wrestling to Vince McMahon’s vision of what a syndicated WWF show would look like some 30 years in the future, Fanfyte ran a couple of pieces that eulogized the concept of the “black and gold brand.” As a fan I had bailed on NXT shortly after Shinsuke Nakamura’s call-up, and as a journalist I did not have to cover NXT once it became clear that AEW was going to win the so-called Wednesday Night War, so I never latched on to NXT as an identity. Clearly, WWE didn’t either.
It’s tough to call NXT 2.0 a disaster based on sheer economics — the show commands a television rights fee regardless of how many people are watching what could just as easily function as internal material for developmental purposes, and if USA Network doesn’t go for paying for the privilege of airing Performance Center Live, its parent company, NBC Universal, could easily fold it into their WWE Network package, sending NXT back to where it started.
But NXT 2.0 is a failure. I’d be hard pressed to define the brand’s purpose beyond putting a smile on the face of WWE’s monopoly, but rather than see the spoils of that monopoly slip through their fingers, they’ve basically opened up their fist and let everything worth keeping go. There’s a fair amount of derision towards NXT’s one time rival AEW, even in kayfabe, for picking up a number of ex-WWE talent from NXT or elsewhere, but the results have mostly been worth the knock.
One particular case is that of Stokely Hathaway, the former Malcolm Bivens. Released by NXT after he turned down a contract extension, Hathaway waited out his 30 day non-compete clause and debuted on Double or Nothing within hours of its expiration, serving as the publicist for Jade Cargill and the Baddies, Kiera Hogan and Red Velvet.
Prior to this, Hathaway, as Malcolm Bivens, was the mouthpiece of Diamond Mine, a fight-team style stable that can best be described as “The Blackpool Combat Club without creative support.” Hathaway and Diamond Mine’s core members, Roderick Strong, the Creed Brothers, and Ivy Nile, successfully navigated the sudden merger of the Cruiserweight and North American Championships, Strong’s demotion from NXT’s upper echelons to stepping stone, multiple releases, wasted bookings of Nile on things like the Women’s Dusty Classic, questionable wait-and-see booking of the Creed Brothers and the Tag Team Championships, and a general lack of interest into a concept that a lot of work went into.
That was held together by Bivens, on the microphone, at ringside, and on Twitter. And WWE let him go. Hathaway, tweeting 15 times on an account with 75.8K followers, has averaged 4,038 likes per tweet (his first, a picture with Jade Cargill, netted 13K). NXT, tweeting 136 times between their go home show on Tuesday and the conclusion of In Your House on Saturday on an account with 1.5M followers, averaged 747 likes, much of which is weighted by In Your House tweets.
Based on that math, Stokely Hathaway should be NXT Champion right now.
I mean, ha ha, but with the caveat that it is nowhere near the entire audience for any wrestling show, Twitter can be used as a good indicator of how hot a brand or a talent is. One of NXT 2.0’s most recent releases is red hot, the brand itself is ice cold.
The Monday Night War turned wrestling into a chess match between brands, but the fact of the matter is that it is talent that bolsters the acronym, and WWE have been more than happy to undercut what was once a jewel in their crown full of stolen jewels. NXT 2.0 has been orphaned by the brand to the extent that the videos of in-ring action from Tuesday night had a lower third advertising Hell in a Cell and not its own show.
And that sucks, because even in its current husk of a husk of its former self iteration, NXT has a lot of talent that I’m interested in. The Creeds, Nile, Breakker, Wendy Choo, Io Shirai, Santos Excobar — I have watched worse wrestling than NXT 2.0 for fewer reasons (see above, re: WCW Thunder), but I have to know where to find it beyond “Tuesday nights” if the brand is going to continue running Premium Live Events.
That requires a corporate support structure that cares about the show. They do, but only when it’s time to cut someone to bolster their yearly earnings.