What the WWE Does Best - The WWE Performance Center and NXT
Posted by Wyatt Beougher on 05.25.2014
411's Wyatt Beougher explains why the WWE Performance Center and NXT are not only the best development setup that the WWE has ever had, but also why it's currently the best thing the WWE has going for it.
Introduction: So last week, we took a look back at the WWE's developmental system and how they got to where they are today, and this week, I promised that I'd explain why I believe the current development system is not only the best one that the company has ever employed, but why, in my opinion, it's actually what they're doing best right now.
The Performance Center, in all its glory
First off, let's take a closer look at what exactly WWE Developmental looks like in 2014, shall we? It's a two-part system, comprised of the WWE Performance Center and NXT. And while the two aren't mutually exclusive, they do represent two sides of the same coin, as the Performance Center provides the facilities necessary for up-and-coming WWE talent to learn the fundamentals of their craft (or, for those already experienced on the independent scene, to learn the WWE style), and NXT gives them the opportunity to showcase those fundamentals in front of a live audience and also viewers watching on the WWE Network.
So what all does the Performance Center contain? Seven full-sized rings (including one designed exclusively for practicing high-flying moves), strength and conditioning facilities, a sound stage and voiceover room, and editing and production facilities are all housed in a single location in Orlando, Florida, and just fifteen minutes down the road in Winter Park, the talent take to the ring at Full Sail Live, a part of Full Sail University, where NXT's weekly television episodes (and live specials) are taped. By comparison, while the WWE was using HWA and OVW and filming episodes of both promotions' episodes at the same time, the HWA talent had to make a roughly 90-minute commute each way, which would've made the multi-episode tapings that NXT utilizes to cut down on production costs nearly impossible.
Pre-Crisis Wyatt Family
But the reason I say that WWE's developmental system has never been better has nothing to do with cutting production costs or limiting the amount of time that talent has to spend travelling. Instead, it has everything to do with the fact that the WWE now has the ability to train all of their talent in-house, whether they're former football players like Shawne Merriman, independent standouts like El Generico and Sami Callihan, or international stars like rumored signees Prince Devitt and KENTA. Now, no matter what a signee's background may be, they can get standardized training and learn to work with a variety of other talents, something that will come in handy when they make it to the main roster. Plus, the wide variety of trainers employed at present, plus a healthy rotation of guest trainers, means that each developmental talent can get specialized training in the areas where they need it the most. Looking for an example of this working on the present WWE main roster? Look no further than the Wyatt Family, which is comprised of three guys who all spent time in Florida Championship Wrestling but came from various backgrounds - Bray Wyatt, as the son of Mike Rotunda, was immediately signed to WWE developmental, while Rowan and Harper each spent close to a decade on the independent scene prior to being signed to the WWE, with Harper (as Brody Lee) enjoying a much more notable run.
While all three spent time in Florida Championship Wrestling, they never actually started working together until it was rebranded as NXT, which was Wyatt's second stint in developmental, after he had "enjoyed" a less-than-successful run on the main roster as a member of the Nexus and New Nexus as Husky Harris. And that's where the WWE's current developmental system really shows its value - in using NXT's live audience to make the tweaks necessary to developmental talents' gimmicks to really find their niche. Wyatt was initially paired with Eli Cottonwood, but that didn't pan out especially well, so he was paired with Luke Harper, who they'd been struggling to find a televised role for since his FCW house show debut six months earlier. A month later, Rowan was added to the stable, and, in spite of him having previously been allied with Byron Saxton and James Bronson, the new trio's chemistry proved to be just what they needed to make the cult gimmick work.
This is where the awesomeness began
More recent examples of this "fine tuning" would include Wyatt's real-life brother, Bo Dallas, who played a plucky babyface and was greeted with apathy during his brief stint on the main roster and almost universally reviled by the NXT audience upon his return. After winning the NXT championship from Big E Langston, Dallas "went to Disney World" and returned portraying a clueless heel. The modified version of the gimmick caught on with the fans and Dallas has just made his main roster debut after several weeks of vignettes to build him up. Another perfect example is NXT talent CJ Parker, who is playing the same hippy gimmick that made him highly unpopular as a face, but with the slight heel tweak of calling out the fans for not recycling and driving fuel-inefficient vehicles. Parker went from being the weakest link on nearly every show that he appeared on to being one of the high points. Other recent examples include Aiden English's singing "Artiste" gimmick and Mike Dalton being repackaged as Tyler Breeze. In the past, Wyatt (as Harris) and Dallas both were sent to the main roster before finding a gimmick that actually worked, but both English and Dalton have been able to make a connection with the crowd before being sent up to the main roster, something that's paid off tremendously so far for Wyatt (and which I imagine is going to pan out much better for Dallas this time around).
And therein lies the beauty of the WWE's current developmental system - they have total control over their signees' training from the time they sign a contract, without having to worry about another promoter's usage or plans for them. For talent who aren't making a connection with the NXT fans, the WWE can delay their transition to the main roster until they fine-tune their gimmick or ring work. As previously mentioned, if a talent is weak in a particular area(s), the top-notch facilities at the Performance Center give them the ability to work on those areas and the training staff can see how those results correlate to the NXT audience. Going forward, I don't believe we'll see as many performers get called up to the main roster and fizzle out immediately; if they do, I don't think it'll have anything to do with their developmental training (instead, look back at my third and fourth columns for why I think stars will continue to fail to be made).
So that hopefully explains why I think WWE's present system for grooming their future stars is the best that it's ever been, so what about why I think that it's the thing that the WWE is doing better than anything else right now? A lot of it has to do with the fact that we shouldn't see eras like the transition from Hulkamania to the Attitude Era, where WWE tries to make guys who have been hanging around the midcard for years suddenly the most important guys on the roster. Over the past two years, the Shield and the Wyatts have been introduced perfectly and already feel like vital, important parts of the show. That way as the Cenas and Ortons pile up injuries and/or lose interest in a full-time travel schedule, there will be current roster members who realistically feel like they can take their place (obviously, John Cena's booking will continue to be a barrier for a star to be made that's on his level, but I'm still optimistic that at some point, he'll speak out and allow someone to take the torch). Also, with a need to provide content for the WWE Network, it appears as though the WWE is going to bring back Tough Enough, and if past winners are any indication, their path through developmental after each season of the show wraps will be vital to them remaining a part of the WWE for longer than their initial, show-mandated contract. Plus, I wouldn't be surprised if they utilize the Performance Center for more content in the future, as that voiceover studio could prove to be a huge asset for a blooper shows or alternate commentary in general.
In short, the WWE has a potential goldmine on its hands with the combination of the Performance Center and NXT, and so long as they keep producing young, exciting talent like those mentioned in this column, I think the WWE's future is in good hands.
Wyatt Beougher is a lifelong fan of professional wrestling who has been writing for 411 for over three years and currently hosts MMA Fact or Fiction and reviews Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.