The changing role of the ‘squash match’ is an inevitable problem for the future of WWE NXT

WWE NXT has somehow developed itself into a strobe-lit corner. It looks great and acclaim is flooding in, left, right and centre. They are offering paths that the main roster have yet to offer at all, and have grown. This format is fantastic for entertainment and for business currently, but if NXT is to maintain its original purpose, its future could be somewhat troubled as a wave of new talent, and some of the most established talent on the planet, collide in the ring.

It is a situation that is confirmed by the current role of the ‘squash match’, an often underwhelming spectacle where a wrestler dominates their opponent to promote their strength and defeating them in little time. On the main roster shows, this is a disappointing showing, over in two minutes, and a cheap way of promoting talent and their finishing move. However, on NXT, this was far more justified, and until the rise of live events such as NXT Arrival and the subsequent TakeOvers, were the very building blocks of WWE NXT, due to the additional context of what the show meant. WWE NXT began as a documentation of watching individuals develop.

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From thirty-second matches, to winning a trophy at Wrestlemania. Not bad.

While a compromise might be made so that the very lowest quality matches might not be broadcast, one would watch the wrestlers improve in real time, en route to the main roster. One key example comes with Baron Corbin who began with sub-minute squash matches, closing on his finish move, there both to be a documentation of a new move in his arsenal, and emphasis of what was to come. The length of his matches grew, and he would go on to debut in the main roster with a victory at Wrestlemania. Dana Brooke is also an interesting example, as in the shade of the rise of the women’s division, received a fair amount of ridicule upon arrival, but functioning as an apprentice of Emma, she has improved.

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In being an apprentice, but being in character, Dana Brooke could be a trainee in plain site, and is developing well. However, could Emma being her mentor still been justified if Emma were in revolutionary matches of her own, or ‘match of the year’ candidates?

Brooke interests me most because she appears to be the final inductee to follow this process of training – the last person to solely be offered a ring and an opponent, even she faced the difficulty of being underneath the now fully formed NXT Women’s Division. She might not be massively accomplished, but her conundrums as the company appears to run away without her, make her interesting to watch. Since the spectacular growth of NXT, the focus has shifted from the evolution of the newbies, and more to the development of the company. First the foundations were laid for the ‘Women’s Revolution’. Then they sold out the Brooklyn Centre for a PPV, having broadcast beforehand from the minuscule Full Sail. Then came the first Women’s Iron Man match. Next came their first PPV overseas, selling out Wembley Arena at the climax of a sold-out UK tour. The list will clearly go on.

At this point, the majority of the NXT stars that have developed alongside this process have graduated to the main roster, or have left the company. Here, NXT face a problem, because it has built a large and complex enough promotion that it is no longer fitting for fresh, new and inexperienced talent. This offers them two options:

  1. NXT can either ditch the ‘developmental’ label entirely, and branch out to bigger and better things. Expansion and places new is inevitably tempting, and precisely where they are heading with the WWE Cruiserweight Series (a tournament that seeks to overlap between both NXT, the main roster and beyond), which reaches out to established wrestlers from overseas and indie promotions – a door opened by the arrival of Japanese stars Asuka and Shinsuke Nakamura.

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    Names don’t get much bigger than Nakamura, so how can new, fresh talent be expected to face up to him?
  2. In the opposite direction, NXT can downsize the setting in which it works to make it more appropriate for new trainees, and for there to be a new wave of talent that undergoes the same process. A new season so to speak. This of course returns them back to the original intention, but lowers the expectation levels when it comes to entertainment for viewers, and profitability for WWE.

The NXT squash match now sticks out like a sore thumb as something inferior due to the arrival of well known talent (such as Shinsuke Nakamura and Austin Aries) – NXT is attempting to implement both options above. The fact that these stand out so much goes to show that the promotion knows what it wants to do, but cannot achieve it all simultaneously as new talent hits a totally counterintuitive training ground, as their presence is no longer so entertaining when the developmental novelty is so engulfed.

How do you think that WWE NXT should effectively separate the world-renowned talent from the trainees so not to seem out of place? Or perhaps you don’t find it a problem at all? Leave your comments below.

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