KELLER’S TAKE: NXT needs a spark, and Smackdown’s roster can provide it – a three-for-three trade to invigorate both shows this summer

By Wade Keller, PWTorch editor


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NXT could use a spark. Viewership the last four weeks is up about 110,000 on average, compared to the prior four weeks on Wednesdays head-to-head with AEW. I’m not sure what NXT officials were hoping for, but there are more viewers out there available.

NXT should be aiming to average a million-plus viewers per week. NXT plugs on Raw can go only so far, though. The roster NXT has is talented, but it’s lacking right now in the NXT men’s singles top tier. It also has some talented, yet-to-be established wrestlers in need of a boost.

I propose moving three wrestlers from the main roster to NXT for at least a couple months, and perhaps until the draft. I’ll note that I do not know what plans Vince McMahon has for these three and how it would disrupt what he has in mind for them on Smackdown, but I’m betting it’s not important enough to offset the benefit to NXT, which would stand to gain more than Smackdown loses.

These three wrestlers are not essential to Smackdown now, and I think after a stint in NXT, they could end up being more valuable to Raw or Smackdown than if they stayed on Smackdown all summer.

First up is Baron Corbin. He is an NXT alum who, many believed, was “called up” too soon merely because of his size. Now that he’s an established semi-top heel in WWE, he can do more good for NXT than had he stayed longer before. He’s the type of tall, smug heel who could walk into NXT and immediately get heel heat for looking down on NXT’s top babyface stars.

For one, if NXT wants Karrion Kross to be a babyface (I can’t tell at this point, but two of the three wrestlers he beat up on Tuesday were babyfaces), Corbin could help solidify that. NXT fans would be eager to see Corbin get tossed around by Kross in an NXT Title match.

If not Kross – especially if NXT wants Kross to be a heel (and please, pick a side with him soon) or if he gets called up to Smackdown as part of my trade scenario – then Kyle O’Reilly, Finn Balor, Tommaso Ciampa, and Timothy Thatcher come to mind as good babyface opponents for Corbin whom NXT fans would enjoy seeing take it to Corbin in a feud.

Second up is Kevin Owens. He’s vastly underutilized on Smackdown, and he’s been defined down enough not to be on the short list to be a credible challenger to Roman Reigns. So give him some time away from Smackdown and ship him to NXT where, as a babyface, he has a list of great heel options to feud with.

The most attractive opponent for KO would be Adam Cole. No title needed to make NXT on Tuesday nights a destination for NXT fans longing for a bygone era of NXT when it was about wrestlers like Cole and KO having world class matches and cutting top shelf promos.

Another strong first feud option for KO would be Johnny Gargano. The build to their matches on TV would be promo gold and lead to awesome matches, too. A KO feud with Santos Escobar could elevate the profile of Escobar in a way that no feud with any current babyface in NXT could, and the matches would be great. Same goes for Isiah “Swerve” Scott and Cameron Grimes. That’s not to mention Pete Dunne and Walter.

And finally, the third wrestler I’d send over to NXT for a while is Sami Zayn. He just keeps getting beat up on Smackdown and isn’t going to do much good there other than being comedy relief. He has more value than that. He can bring his current agitating act to NXT as a heel and feud with Bronson Reed at first, giving him a boost in star-power by mixing it up on the mic and in the ring with Sami.

Sami could do 95 percent of the talking in a feud with Kushida, which would also produce good matches and elevate Kushida. Finn Balor, Ciampa, and O’Reilly are all options for Sami, too.

Smackdown would hardly be crippled by losing access to those three wrestlers. If WWE wanted to produce a trade scenario, unfortunately one of the weaknesses of NXT now is that they don’t have a lot of main-roster-ready stars ready to be weaved into top programs, but there are three that I think would work to make this trade even in terms of bodies, and a net gain for both shows and all six wrestlers: Adam Cole, Karrion Kross, and Cameron Grimes.

While several of my scenarios incorporate Kross, I’d gladly send him to Smackdown. He can be built up as a babyface opponent to challenge Reigns. He has the size and presence to be a credible opponent, especially if he’s treated like a star from the start and doesn’t go through the wringer of proving he’s worthy and has the right attitude to deserve a big push (which is standard practice for WWE, and often it hobbles momentum of new wrestlers). Kross might not be a great long-term centerpiece because of his age, lack of bumping acumen, and cartoonish one-dimensional promos. He might actually thrive working under Vince McMahon compared to NXT, where his strengths are things McMahon cares more about and his weaknesses can be camouflaged by the brighter lights and production values of Smackdown on Fox.

Adam Cole could be added and instantly move into a feud with Big E, Dominik Mysterio, or Rey Mysterio as a heel. Or as a babyface, he could battle Apollo Crews or Seth Rollins on his way to challenging Roman Reigns. This fall, he could be drafted to Raw and have a whole new set of opponents.

Third, send Cameron Grimes to Smackdown as a comedy act to fill Sami’s vacated slot. Grimes, like Sami, can produce good matches and fill TV time with promos and skits. He’s an accomplished, respected indy worker who has the ring time to be ready for a move to the larger stage this soon.

Under this scenario, both Smackdown and NXT end up with a whole new set of fresh feuds, and KO, Sami, and Corbin can be utilized much more effectively, while Kross lands where he’s a better fit and Cole finally gets the larger audience he deserves.

What do you think? Comment below or comment on Twitter: @thewadekeller


(Wade Keller is the editor and founder of the Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter, one of the longest-running insider newsletters covering the pro wrestling industry. He has been a guest on the Steve Austin Podcast 40 times, the most frequent pro wrestling-related guest on Austin’s shows over the years. He is a member of the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame as a Jim Melby award winner for “Excellence in Writing on Professional Wrestling.” He hosts the Wade Keller Pro Wrestling Podcast and Post-shows on Spreaker, formerly on Podcast One. He also hosted a weekly wrestling show for years on KFAN sports radio in Minneapolis/St. Paul in the 1990s. He also was the host of the Ultimate Insiders DVD series including in studio interviews with the Hardys and Vince Russo & Ed Ferrara, former WWE and WCW head writers.)

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