NXT is set to air one of its most important editions of NXT on USA this Wednesday, with Tommaso Ciampa battling Johnny Gargano in a match that Paul “Triple H” Levesque believes will serve as the end of the story between the two long-term rivals.
The Ciampa-Gargano bout is being promoted as “Blackheart vs. Rebel Heart: One Final Beat.” After WWE delivered creative presentations of The Undertaker-AJ Styles in a “Boneyard” match at WrestleMania, as well as John Cena-Bray Wyatt in the “Firefly Fun House,” it will be especially interesting to see what is in store for NXT’s premiere program.
“This week is the culmination of the Ciampa-Gargano rivalry,” said Levesque, who is WWE’s Executive Vice President of Global Talent Strategy & Development. “That will be spectacular, I guarantee it.”
NXT continues to bring matches originally intended for TakeOver: Tampa to the USA Network, and one that stands out is the ladder match to determine the number one contender for the NXT Women’s Championship—now held by Charlotte Flair.
The women’s division in NXT features some of the most talented rising stars in wrestling and offers remarkable depth. Wednesday’s ladder match includes Chelsea Green, Tegan Nox, Candice LeRae, Mia Yim, Dakota Kai and Io Shirai, a collection of wrestlers who would star—and, in some cases, already have—for any promotion in the world.
“These women are going to be dominating the business for a long time to come,” said Levesque. “There is such depth, and we’re creating new talent. That bodes well for women in the sport. The deeper that bench is, the more we’ll see young girls who want to do this when they grow up. Ten years from now, there will be women saying that Tegan Nox, Dakota Kai and Xia Li inspired them. That’s really exciting to think about.”
NXT is unique in that it competes against a brand-new entity in All Elite Wrestling. No other wrestling shows run when Raw or SmackDown are on the air. Though NXT has had a Wednesday night timeslot since 2015, its previous home was streaming on the WWE Network. The decision to move to cable on the USA Network was done to enhance its own talent as well as take eyes off AEW.
AEW has its own collection of stars, and has more than held its own against NXT. AEW’s Dynamite has won the Wednesday night ratings battle for the past 14 weeks, but Levesque, who was part of WWE when Raw lost for 83 consecutive weeks to WCW’s Nitro before seizing control of the ratings, refuses to panic.
“I’m a believer in the long-term game,” said Levesque. “You create the right product, and over time, people will find it. I think back to Monday nights years ago, and it looks different now, but there were periods of time when WWE was putting on much better shows and the content was much better, but we were still getting beat. We were not winning ‘the war,’ but we stayed true to who we were.
“If it’s a flash and it’s exciting at first but you can’t maintain it, then it loses that pizzazz. It’s long-term duration, for me, that’s how you win. I’ve been saying it since the beginning—I’m not concerned about those numbers week-to-week. It’s about trying to put out the best show you can every week.”
Levesque wants NXT to create its own brand of stars, which it is in the process of doing with Keith Lee, who successfully defended his North American Championship last week against Dominik Dijakovic and Damian Priest.
“It’s funny, people often look at Keith Lee and say, ‘I knew he was going to be a star when I saw him in the indies,’” said Levesque. “Well, I did, too. And look at where he is now compared to where he was a year ago—he’s a different guy at a technical level. Charisma, performance, a lot of those things were there, but it’s the subtleties of what he does with them. He’s becoming a real bona fide mainstream star.
“Part of the beauty of all this is the ability to see someone before they’re headlining WrestleMania. That’s part of the excitement, being ahead of the curve, and we’re seeing that with Keith Lee.”
Wrestling fans seeking to stay ahead of the curve will want to follow the progress of the newly signed Killer Kross in NXT.
“The first time you see him, you know right away that he’s something special,” said Levesque. “It’s been a long path for him to get where he is. He is a unique talent that combines what he does in the ring with his charisma and his intelligence. I’m excited for him to be here.”
There was a collective wave of disappointment throughout NXT when it lost its signature TakeOver event during WrestleMania weekend, but Levesque immediately saw a chance to enhance his weekly broadcast.
“From our end, this came down to a necessity standpoint,” said Levesque. “Adding another standalone event would have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. As soon as the opportunity came to break up TakeOver and put it in the weekly program, I jumped all over it. It’s a fit for all the right reasons.
“It’s been a unique time, but our goal is to put out the best product we can. While there is that competitive nature in normal times, right now it’s just about giving people an escape and a release.”