Fightful’s Sean Ross Sapp reported earlier today that Malcolm Bivens and Dakota Kai have been released from WWE. Both having been fixtures of NXT 2.0 (and NXT beforehand, as far as Kai is concerned), the releases are reverberating through the wrestling community as something of a dull shock — it’s never a question of if WWE will be releasing anybody in the near future, but who and why. Bivens and Kai — both of whom were among the most talented performers in the entire WWE system — aren’t necessarily the most obvious candidates for release, but they are illustrative in how NXT 2.0 fits into the company as a true feeder league for their mainline Raw and SmackDown shows.
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It’s probably not difficult to figure out why Malcolm Bivens was released — he was offered a contract extension in February and turned it down. There was still time on his original deal, and as the mouthpiece for Diamond Mine he was valuable in building Ivy Nile and the Creed Brothers as killers on the come-up, to say nothing of protecting Roderick Strong in his role as a NXT black-and-gold holdover who’ll never touch the relevance he had as a member of Undisputed Era, but is still useful as a credible veteran capable of great matches with just about anybody on a roster full of young wrestlers. With Bivens gone, Strong is the only member of Diamond Mine left who was intended for either formation of the group.
Why not use Bivens’ remaining months to shore up the credibility of Diamond Mine? The cynic in me believes it’s because WWE never really cared about Diamond Mine, who have been thoroughly, unquestionably lapped by AEW’s similar fight team stable, the Blackpool Combat Club, led by one of NXT’s most notable recent departures, William Regal. NXT shifted its goals and presentation drastically when it became NXT 2.0, merging the Cruiserweight Championship, which was on the verge of becoming something of a workhorse championship under Strong, with the North American Championship, and was not shy about bleeding Strong out for months after. When the Creed Brothers broke out and won the Dusty Classic, they were rewarded with MSK winning the NXT Tag Team Championships at Stand and Deliver, then watching those belts get put onto a newly debuted Pretty Deadly after Nash Carter’s April 6 release in the wake of allegations of abuse by former NXT talent Kimber Lee forced the titles’ vacancy.
Amidst all of this, Diamond Mine has been held together by the charisma and mic work of Bivens, perhaps most notably against WALTER/Gunther just as Imperium was making its way out the door. So then, the question: why not make Malcolm Bivens play out the string instead of scrambling for short term excuses to questions like “where’s the guy who booked the Creeds against Erik and Ivar” and long-term plans to shape and mold three wrestlers who clearly gained a lot from working with him.
The answer is pretty easy, if you think about it: NXT 2.0 is a developmental program meant to place people on Raw and SmackDown. That means that, regardless of how fans perceive him or how much better than this label Malcolm Bivens was, he was considered a developmental project. When someone you’re developing says they’re not around for the long haul, you probably don’t want to give them months of television time to either build a demo real or fuck around with. To WWE, there is always someone else.
— MALCOLM (@Malcolmvelli) April 29, 2022
It may be hard to believe that WWE would come to a similar conclusion with Dakota Kai, who has been a featured member of the NXT brand since 2015, and one of its focal points since her betrayal of Team Kick partner Tegan Nox during the 2019 WarGames match. Equally adept at playing the babyface and the heel, great no matter who she was with. So what gives?
According to Fightful Select, Kai saw the release coming and wasn’t planning on resigning with WWE, but beyond that is the issue of what NXT 2.0 is compared to its predecessor. Under Triple H, NXT was a developmental brand, but it was also a brand unto its own self. Wrestlers didn’t just stay for awhile, they could theoretically stay forever, which, with main roster call-ups being extremely hit or miss, wasn’t something NXT fans were opposed to. The NXT roster was *stacked* on the men and women’s end of the roster, and during the pandemic it felt like every time NXT lost someone — Keith Lee, Mia Yim, Dominik Dijakovic — it was without rhyme or reason.
But the rhyme and the reason was and is that NXT serves the goal of filling out the main roster. That wasn’t evident under Triple H, as it would have been a happy “accident” if the brand thrived on Wednesdays against AEW Dynamite. That mission having ended a decided failure, the only goal that makes sense is to see whether or not someone can find a role on the shows that truly matter in the sense of what moves the needle. The modus operandi of NXT 2.0 is to give someone a character, tweak it until it “works,” and run it basically risk free on national television. It’s a cocoon, and there are one of two ways to break out: vignettes for your arrival start playing on Raw or SmackDown, or news of your release hits Twitter.
Is this what happened to Dakota Kai? I don’t know, as it’s not clear if her situation is similar to Bivens’, where he actually told management that he wasn’t sticking around. She would have excelled on the main roster, given booking, but the release of any NXT or Performance Center talent suggests that there wasn’t a role, and these days nobody stays in NXT forever. Again, there is always someone else, especially with the company’s shift from signing experienced wrestlers to focusing on developing former NCAA athletes under their Next In Line program. With time, effort, and money invested in these signings, moving them through the program and into a position where they can sink or swim is a more pressing concern than to continue “developing” a known quantity.
Is WWE wrong about this? In this instance yes, but they fuck up all the time, literally every single day their business operates, and for them the loss of two performers who weren’t planning on sticking it out is a small one — while Bivens and Kai can contribute somewhere immediately when their no-compete clauses are up, individual talents don’t hurt their bottom line. They can afford to fuck up so often that they probably can’t see that they are fucking up, so their hitting on one in every twenty prospects proof that the system works.
In truth, for what they’re doing, it kind of does. It got Bivens and Kai out of contracts they weren’t renewing much faster than waiting would have, and in the future it’ll rotate talent that isn’t “WWE material” out of their system in a somewhat more efficient way than going unnoticed and unused in Terry Taylor’s class for a couple of years while living with two or three roommates in an Orlando apartment. I wouldn’t want to be somewhere I’m not wanted either, especially if that somewhere was Tuesday nights on USA.