Pro Wrestling

7 Reasons Why NXT Is The Modern ECW Source:

Maybe you’ve heard about this little developmental wrestling organization that WWE is running down at their Performance Center in Florida. Known as NXT, it is tasked with training the next generation of WWE Superstars. From humble beginnings, it has risen in the eyes of fans everywhere to potentially be the best thing going in North American pro wrestling. It runs weekly shows that air on the WWE Network, and its Pay Per View-style events have become so popular that they’ve increased from quarterly to bi-monthly spectacles, including a massively hyped show that sold out the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn the night before SummerSlam. With all its unexpected success, NXT has certainly become the little underdog promotion that is garnering mainstream attention, and some say it’s already changed the face of wrestling forever. Which brings to mind another small independent promotion that certainly had a gigantic effect on the wrestling world, way back in the 1990’s. Indeed, it’s easy to look at NXT and make comparisons to the wrestling company that still lives in the hearts of older wrestling fans to this day, the renegade organization known as Extreme Championship Wrestling.

7. A Small, But Loyal Fanbase

The ECW fanbase was a rabid group of regulars who were fiercely invested in what they had come to see as “their” promotion. It’s a symbiotic relationship with the fan base that comes with having a wrestling organization that regularly runs shows in the same location. While ECW was ostensibly a touring promotion, it ran most of its shows in a small area around Philadelphia and New York, as opposed to the continent-spanning tours of WCW and WWE at the time. The ECW fans were so recognizable that some of them even adopted gimmicks of their own, and were recognized on ECW’s programming, and efforts were made to have the fans feel like they were part of the show. Of course, that kind of familiarity with your fans can lead to problems, and at times it seemed like the ECW crowd tried to take attention away from the product in the ring with their organized chants and imposing presence. Source:

While not quite as menacing or bloodthirsty as the ECW audience could be at times, the crowd at Full Sail University is every bit as loyal to NXT. It’s their own little underdog promotion (even if it is owned by WWE) that they’ve seen grow and evolve and have become quite attached to. In fact, when NXT Takeover: Brooklyn was announced, the fans nearly revolted, because it meant that for the first time, they wouldn’t be able to see an NXT show live from the Performance Center. We’ve even reached the point where specific fans are easily identifiable, none more than Izzy, the 8-year-old super-fan of Women’s Champion Bayley, who has been the symbol of her rise to the top of NXT. And chants? They’ve got them all, from “This is Awesome”, to “You F’d Up”, to chanting Chad Gable’s name in time with Kurt Angle’s old theme, because wrestling fans are nothing if not creative. But the most prominent one, in the vein of the old “E-C-Dub”, is always “N-X-T!” They love this little faux independent wrestling organization, and that love is returned by the performers every week. Source:

6. A Charismatic Leader

In ECW, his name was Paul Heyman, and while you may now know him as the advocate for the Mayor of Suplex City, Brock Lesnar, he truly rose to prominence as the owner and visionary behind Extreme Championship Wrestling. Seen by many as one of the smartest wrestling minds in the business, Heyman built ECW from a small independent group into a internationally-known promotion that was considered at its peak to be the legitimate #3 wrestling organization in North America behind WWE and WCW. And he did it by selling fans and wrestlers alike on his belief that you didn’t need fancy production values and big arenas, you just needed a group of people who worked hard and were absolutely loyal towards making ECW a success. He took in the misfits and the cast-offs of the larger promotions and used their desire to prove everyone wrong to unite them in a common goal, and for a while, he was incredibly successful.;jsessionid=49CAAA8D89DEC919253201664D5B06F3?r30_r1_r1:page=61 Source:

For NXT the man in charge is Triple H. Given control over the developmental system in order to prove to WWE shareholders that he could one day run the entire business, he took a ramshackle FCW promotion operating out of a warehouse and turned it into the slick, well-run, and incredibly popular NXT that exists today. And he did it, partially with money, but also with a vision of a promotion that was united behind a single concept: We Are NXT. He gave the wrestlers, the trainers, the production staff, and the fans an idea that they could all get behind, the idea of a community working together to help NXT succeed. It gave the wrestlers a sense of ownership over their own destiny, combined with the freedom to mold their own characters and do whatever it took to stand out. And behind it all stands Triple H, seen as a benevolent father figure (a “wrestledad”, if you will), dishing out hugs and handshakes after every NXT event, surrounded by an entire generation of wrestlers completely loyal to his vision.;jsessionid=BAB7BBD04B886B9ECE13243AEA9235C3?r30_r1_r1:page=3 Source:

5. A “Feeder System” Forced To Constantly Evolve

As great as ECW was in the eyes of the fans, the simple fact of the matter is that the money was better in WCW and WWE. Due to the Monday Night Wars, both promotions were offering guaranteed contracts (up until that point a foreign concept in wrestling) and willing to pay top dollar for anyone with a shred of wrestling ability who might help tip the balance in their favor. As the largest and most visible independent promotion, ECW often saw their top talent signed away at a moment’s notice. Due to a high level of turnover, ECW was constantly forced to scour the globe and promote new talents on a regular basis. They were the first to bring in the luchadors from Mexico, including Rey Mysterio, they were the first to showcase Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, and Chris Benoit, and they were the origin of Taz, RVD, and The Dudley Boyz, all of whom became bigger stars when they made the jump to WWE and WCW. And ECW never stopped trying to make new stars, right up until the company stopped operating in 2001. Not all of them succeeded, but the effort was always there.;jsessionid=2CC7C85B39D10B8364E8853D403453C2?r30_r1_r1:page=3 Source:

NXT is, by definition, a developmental organization. The entire reason for its existence is to prepare fledgling wrestlers for the larger stage of WWE proper. As a result, every once in a while, a wave of Superstars “graduate” from NXT and head to the main roster, leaving holes that need to be filled by existing and incoming talents. As a result, NXT is always pushing new acts, refining old ones, even completely changing gimmicks on the fly, in an effort to make the members of their roster into something that can succeed when they get called up. When most of the original NXT roster left, they filled the gaps with well-known independent talents, now that most of those are headed to WWE, they’ve spent more time focusing on their plethora of tag teams while they build up some of their just-arrived wrestlers. Even the Women’s division itself has evolved, from the early days to Paige, Emma and Summer Rae, to the 4 Horsewomen, to a new group headed by Alexa Bliss, Dana Brooke, Nia Jax, and Asuka. NXT’s status as the “minor leagues” allows them to constantly shift focus to new talent as the established stars depart, refreshing the promotion on a regular basis. Source:

4. Wrestling, Not ‘Rassling

When Shane Douglas threw down the NWA Title and delivered the very first promo to establish ECW, he made it clear that they were about the “sport of professional wrestling”, turning their back on the WWE and WCW products which had embraced the “sports entertainment” mantra and eschewed the very foundation of pro wrestling, which was focused on the athletic spectacle that happened inside the squared circle. It was an easy way to win over fans that had grown disaffected with the more “cartoonish” environment of the other major promotions, for whom a cheesy soap opera-esque story line would always come secondary to a well-crafted wrestling match. ECW gained a lot of noteriety for popularizing the hardcore style, with rampant weapon use and a loose grasp of the rules of the typical wrestling match, but they always made it clear that whenever a match was happening, it was the most important thing going on. The announcers didn’t ignore matches in favor of bantering with each other or shilling for sponsors, they put all their attention on the action in the ring. Despite ECW not always employing the greatest ring technicians on the planet, the effort was always there to put on wrestling matches that the fans would appreciate. Source:

WWE has spent a long time making “wrestling” a dirty word, in an attempt to distance themselves from the public perception of pro wrestling as a haven for liars, drug addicts, and corrupt promoters. It’s probably a losing battle, but it has helped WWE become a publicly-traded company with huge profits on a yearly basis, so it’s hard to argue with them. However, that disaffected fanbase that ECW sought out still remains; fans who don’t mind a well-crafted story, but know that the climax has to be a good wrestling match. And for them, NXT has been some sort of god-send. Between the boatloads of highly skilled independent wrestlers that have been brought in, and the hiring of some of the best wrestling trainers on the planet, NXT has become a bastion of good, and often great, professional wrestling. Certainly, they’re all being trained in the WWE style, and the characters and gimmicks are all still there, but during their big events, the heavily hyped title matches on weekly shows and the Takeover specials, you can tell that the restraints are lifted, and the talent is given just one directive: go out there and have the best match you possibly can, by any means at your disposal. That’s why NXT has women’s matches that are surpassing even the men on the main roster at times, why the Takeover specials get rave reviews, and why one of the most popular chants emanating from Full Sail University is, quite simply, “This is Wrestling!” Source:

3. Career Rehabilitation For Established Stars

Something else ECW did very well was act as a sort of stopping place for wrestlers who had just left WCW or WWE and needed some time before trying to head back, possibly needing to change their character, or just needing to stay in the public eye in the hopes that a new contract would come their way from one company or the other. Mick Foley has often talked about how he went to ECW after growing disillusioned with his WCW career and how it kept him afloat and visible in the North American wrestling scene until WWE came calling. Perhaps the most notable ECW alumni is Steve Austin, who came to ECW straight out of a contentious firing from WCW and used that anger to start development of what would one day become his world-changing “Stone Cold” persona in WWE. During the later years of ECW, WWE would occasionally send lesser-used wrestlers to the promotion so they could re-invent themselves outside the spotlight and possibly return in a new gimmick. Occasionally, this last-ditch effort actually saved some careers that could have otherwise been doomed to obscurity (Al Snow being an excellent example). Source:

Over its brief existence, NXT has served much the same role as ECW did for established stars who had fallen out of the public eye and needed a chance to turn things around. Main roster talents such a Titus O’Neil, Cesaro, and Zack Ryder have all dropped into NXT for a time, both to act as coaches for the young talent and to hopefully refresh their acts without being on regular WWE television. By moving them off the main roster, it gives them some “breathing space” and a chance to distance themselves from careers that had slid into near-irrelevancy, allowing an opportunity to fans to re-embrace them when they make their return. It has also been a place for former TNA Superstars, such as Samoa Joe, Xavier Woods, and a recently-signed James Storm, to adapt to a new environment before hopefully making their way to the big stage. It even resurrected the career of Rhyno, who at one point was the hottest prospect in (coincidentally) the original ECW, but never really reached his potential in WWE before, and had been toiling on the independent circuit for several years. Source:

2. It Couldn’t Survive Without WWE

For all the things that ECW did right, the truth is, it was an independent promotion that collapsed under the weight of its success. They couldn’t compete with WWE and WCW salaries because they often couldn’t pay their wrestlers as it was. While many say ECW’s television and Pay Per View deals were necessary to allow the company to grow by allowing a wider audience to access their product, in truth the necessary increase in production costs and meddling from TNN drove the company into bankruptcy even faster. In the end, Paul Heyman was forced to beg WWE for both a job and to basically buy up the company’s debts in order for ECW’s trademarks and video library to survive. As part of WWE purchasing ECW’s intellectual property, it was revealed that Vince McMahon had actually been supplementing ECW’s bottom line for years prior to the company’s demise, to the tune of millions of dollars. In fact, if not for the support of WWE, ECW would have folded long before it did. Source:

And sadly, that is also the case of NXT, if for different reasons. Due to running a small location with minimal ticket prices, but with WWE-level production values and a state-of-the-art training center, NXT is a money-loser for WWE. They’ve started to defray costs through increased merchandising ventures and by running small tours outside of Florida (including an upcoming UK tour that will introduce NXT to a worldwide audience), but it’s unlikely that NXT is ever intended to be a source of income for WWE. The pay-off will hopefully come later, when NXT graduates are put into positions on the main roster. But in the meantime, that means that, as much as NXT stars might love the environment of their tiny little wrestling show, the goal will always be to leave and move up to WWE, where the contracts are potentially more lucrative and the crowds are even larger. Ultimately, NXT wasn’t and still isn’t expected to succeed as a legitimate promotion, it’s just a nice side benefit, and who knows how long it might continue. Source:

1. An Undeniable Ripple Effect On WWE

By focusing on a more “adult” presentation and popularizing the hardcore style of wrestling that brought foreign objects into common use, ECW is credited (and sometimes blamed) for planting the seeds that would eventually become WWE’s Attitude Era. In addition, it was ECW bringing in the luchadors that inspired WCW to copy the same idea and fueled the Cruiserweight division that would become a mainstay of their programming for much of their dominant stretch. The creative influences of ECW continued to exist even years after the promotion folding, as WWE tried to resurrect ECW on two separate occasions, first as a part of their Invasion angle in the 2001, and then again as a series of Pay Per Views which led to an attempt at making ECW a third brand along with Raw and Smackdown. Ironically, that second attempt at re-creating ECW would lead to WWE establishing the NXT brand name as a “reality show” program for showcasing their developmental system, which would be a precursor to the NXT we know and love today. Source:

If you’re still wondering what the parallel is, clearly you haven’t been watching Raw for the last few months. Thanks to NXT establishing itself as an wrestling promotion where women aren’t Divas, they are full-fledged wrestlers, WWE has been forced to re-evaluate their main roster Divas division. To that end, they attempted to start what they called a “Divas’ Revolution” this summer, even bringing up several of NXT’s most successful women. While the results have been mixed so far, there is no denying that North American women’s wrestling has reached heights never before imagined in professional wrestling history, and all thanks to the groundwork laid by NXT. In addition, NXT has put a lot of effort into developing a slew of tag teams (a sensible idea, as it allows them to showcase twice as many wrestlers in their limited TV time), and the result has paid dividends in WWE as well, with former NXT teams like The Ascension and Lucha Dragons (and NXT alumni Big E and Xavier Woods as part of The New Day) helping supplement a fairly stacked tag division on Raw. With NXT’s women’s division set to face at least a minor lull while they introduce new talent, the wrestling world waits with bated breath to see what influence NXT will have in the future. Source:
Stephen Randle

Stephen Randle

Stephen Randle is an avid wrestling and film fan. He's been writing about WWE, movies, and video games for Goliath since 2015.