Nearly a year ago, I went to an NXT show in Nashville at the War Memorial Auditorium, the first of six that I would attend over the course of 2016. Finn Balor injured his ankle that night, leading to the famous “Bayley does Finn’s entrance” moment the next night in Indianapolis. Asuka gave chase to Alexa Bliss, the team that would later become DIY fought a valiant and losing effort to Blake and Murphy while American Alpha would win their match against The Revival through DQ, Billie Kay was handily squashed by Nia Jax, and Sami Zayn and Baron Corbin ended up stealing the show. Just a few days after getting laid off from my first real job, it was exactly what I needed.
A lot changes in a year and this is especially true of NXT. You can say the same for a lot of pro wrestling, especially when so much of it is so elastic these days. However, change is built into the core of NXT. As the developmental division of the WWE, so much of it is experimental, in flux. NXT is engineered to see what works and doesn’t for these potential superstars. The NXT of 2017 will not be the same as NXT of 2014, and the NXT of 2014 was very different from the NXT of 2012.
This past weekend, NXT had another show in Nashville at War Memorial. It was the third in the space of a year and my second time going to that venue for the same reason. Many of the faces from the year before were not to be seen, either called up to the main roster or back to the drawing board. In the case of The Revival, they were anchoring the Florida loop, making it the first time in eight NXT shows I haven’t seen them.
Watching the show from the balcony, the current sea change of NXT began to sank in. It was a fun show. Nikki Cross was a subtle show stealer, with her excitement for her boys in Sanity and absolute intensity in her match with Asuka and Peyton Royce. Heavy Machinery are some of the most entertaining big guys I’ve ever seen, and Elias Samson at long last started clicking for me as he stopped his match against Patrick Clark to sing about how much Clark sucks. In a way, it felt like getting reintroduced to the brand all over again, but also as a marker to see just how much has changed in that year. Gargano and Ciampa, who a year ago lost to a team who were soon to break up, returned with gold around their waist. The almost-mythical Shinsuke Nakamura turned out to be a real entity, as perfect and golden as his legend, and the previously squashed Billie Kay played an excellent second fiddle to Royce.
NXT is in a state of flux right now as it settles in to finding its new faces. That’s part of what keeps the brand so exciting and fresh, like when wrestlers would come and go during the territorial days. Watching NXT is about seeing what can change. It’s seeing how these wrestlers progress and if they’ll click into place. NXT does not emerge Athena-like out of Triple H’s head fully formed. It shifts and changes, never settling, never stagnating, and saying goodbye as often as it says hello. The NXT I saw last night is not the NXT I first saw in 2015, or even the one I saw this time a year ago, and that’s why it continues to draw me in.
Ashley Leckwold is a freelance writer based out of Atlanta who specializes in comic books, professional wrestling, and pop-punk music. Besides being regularly found at Graphic Policy and The Outhousers, you can find her at her blog and on Twitter @misskittyf.