NXT’s big 200
Feb. 16, 2010. I remember it like it was yesterday. I had just completed my commentary obligations for the final episode of ECW on Syfy when those of us associated with the brand were pulled aside by WWE officials and informed that a new show would be taking its place—WWE NXT. We heard the show would be like no other, a brand new concept aimed at highlighting young competitors fresh out of WWE’s Developmental System to be paired up with WWE Superstars in an NXT Rookie/WWE Pro type of relationship. Those on the show would be eliminated weekly with the winner earning a contract as a full-time WWE Superstar.
Naturally, some of us had our doubts about whether or not the concept would work, but nearly four years later and with our 200th episode in the history books, I think it’s safe to say that not only has the concept been successful, the show has created a who’s who of current WWE Superstars and Divas.
“I remember looking at the other seven competitors at the beginning of the series and knowing I wasn’t going to let any of them beat me,” Bad News Barrett told WWE.com.
Alongside his assigned WWE Pro, Chris Jericho, Barrett won the first season of NXT. How much momentum did the show give him? The former bare-knuckle fighter would go on to form the rebel groups known as the Nexus and the Corre, in addition to capturing the Intercontinental Championship.
“As far as we knew, only the winner would get a WWE contract. I was 100 percent confident of winning and I would have resorted to any tactics necessary to ensure that happened,” he said.
But Barrett’s first-season win didn’t necessarily close the door on the careers of its other competitors. Who else spent time on the inaugural episode? Heath Slater, Justin Gabriel, David Otunga, Ryback, Darren Young and, YES!, even Daniel Bryan.
As a developmental prospect myself at the time of NXT’s emergence, the show’s buzz really created a renewed drive for aspiring Superstars. We trained every day for the opportunity to make it to WWE, but NXT opened up the gates of opportunity, making the light at the end of the tunnel that much brighter. When I finally made it onto seasons four and five of the show, there was a nervous excitement involved. The other NXT Rookies and I were excited to be competing in front of WWE crowds, but we were never quite sure what kind of curve was going to be thrown our way. One week could be a jousting competition while the next was wrestling trivia.
“I remember we had a kissing contest with Michelle McCool and we’re thinking about it the whole day,” recalled season two competitor Alex Riley. “When we were in the ring, they brought out a totally different woman for us to kiss. Honestly, I enjoyed not having things planned out; it felt like a true competition.”
Speaking of true competition, the show’s ever-changing nature invited another new concept to the mix. NXT season three was not contested by male Rookies, but impassioned young Divas. It’s amazing to think that the third season of NXT produced current WWE Divas Aksana, WWE Divas Champion AJ Lee, eventual winner Kaitlyn and Naomi. While the competitors might have changed, the unpredictability of the show remained the same.
“I remember breaking it down with Michael Cole, getting real funky and winning the dance off challenge,” Naomi recalled. Fast-forward to today where she has since become one-half of The Funkadactyls and a certified reality television star as part of the cast of E!’s “Total Divas.”
“I met my tag team partner on NXT,” said one-half of The Prime Time Players, Darren Young. "Having the opportunity to be a part of the first season of NXT was such a fun experience. I developed great relationships with my peers and I learned how to be a better performer week after week. Later on, I had the opportunity to get ‘Redemption’ on season five of NXT. This time around, Titus O’Neil and I were initially enemies on the show who would eventually become close allies.
I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to be a part of NXT’s seasonal format, but in June 2012, I was equally lucky to be part of the show’s new look. Gone were the special challenges, the eliminations and the competition between a select few men and women. Now we had a show that would consist solely of Developmental System talent in their own environment. I was extremely proud to call the finals of the first NXT Championship tournament which saw Seth Rollins become the inaugural NXT Champion.
“I remember the chip on my shoulder. Feeling every day like I had something to prove to someone,” said Shield member Rollins. “Whether it be my peers in NXT, the NXT trainers, the WWE Superstars, or the WWE brass; I remember pushing myself in that vein to be better than I was the day before.”
One of NXT’s most popular champions and current Intercontinental Champion Big E Langston reminisced on the special environment of the NXT Arena.
“The fans in attendance comprise one of the most unique crowds you'll find for aWWE show. Their vocal support was a big reason I made it to the main roster,” Langston said.
As an in-ring competitor, commentator and ring announcer for the show, I’ve enjoyed the unpredictable environment of NXT. I’m equally confident that today’s stars like Sami Zayn, Adrian Neville, The Ascension, Paige, Bo Dallas and others will all spearhead a charge of household recognition like those before them. The coolest part? We get to watch it all happen one week at a time.
“I think NXT has been a great tool,” NXT announcer William Regal told WWE.com. “During the early seasons of the show, there was good and bad but sometimes you watched it just to see the bad stuff. Some of it was downright diabolical rubbish. But some people excelled in that environment and became valuable members of the WWE roster. Now, it’s just a spectacular show.”
Happy 200, NXT!