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WHAT’S N(E)XT For WWE’s Beleaguered Third Brand?

Finn Balor vs. Kevin Owens in 2015
Finn Balor vs. Kevin Owens in 2015
Finn Balor connects with a Pele kick on Kevin Owens at an NXT house show in 2015. Indie veterans such as these two men are no longer the priority for the black-and-yellow brand, per recent reports. (PHOTO BY STU SAKS)


WHEN VINCE McMAHON paid a visit to the Capitol Wrestling Center earlier this summer, there were those who met the news with curious contemplation … and others who met it with downright dread. Many believed that the Chairman’s presence in Orlando on a “scouting mission” meant that change was afoot for the yellow-and-black brand. And, in the coming weeks, that proved to be decidedly so. A rash of NXT talent was released not long after this, accompanied by rumors that McMahon and his inner circle (that includes John Laurinaitis, Bruce Prichard, and WWE President Nick Khan) had decided that it was time for NXT to change the way it was doing business.

In recent years, WWE’s third brand had become the place where hardcore fans could go to get their fix of a more streamlined WWE product—one that featured great action, fresh characters, and simple storytelling. So confident were WWE brass in the NXT product’s appeal that they decided to move the weekly NXT show from the WWE Network to the USA Network and go head to head with the debuting AEW Dynamite. The theory behind this was that the mix of the WWE name and the style of product that NXT offered would be enough to steer hardcore and casual fans away from AEW programming. This theory proved disastrously wrong.

Enough has already been written in PWI and elsewhere about the Wednesday night ratings war that it doesn’t need to be repeated here. But, simply put, WWE lost. It turned out that given the choice between an alternative WWE product or a totally alternative product from someone else, wrestling fans went with the new company. As a result, WWE quietly moved NXT to Tuesday nights and surrendered Wednesdays to the All Elite upstarts.

In the aftermath of this, WWE downplayed any real significance of the move—or, indeed, the ratings loss—but, for a man who gets angry when a sneeze gets the better of him, you can be sure that Vince McMahon did not take kindly to the defeat.

As the creative driving force behind NXT, Triple H had built the brand on delivering a product that paid homage to the past, but also very much looked towards the future. It could be said that without his direction, many of the top independent and international names who found their way to Orlando would not have had the chance to do so otherwise. As the summer of 2021 rolled around, however, the word coming out of Stamford was that those same indie and foreign talents who Triple H signed (and the creative direction that pushed them), would be forced to take the blame for NXT’s poor performance on Wednesday nights.

Fast forward to SummerSlam weekend and an interview conducted by Ariel Helwani for BT Sport. In the interview, Nick Khan confirmed that changes would indeed be coming to NXT, and would begin to appear within a matter of weeks. These changes, Khan explained, would pretty much amount to a full reboot of the brand, alongside a change in the types of wrestlers that NXT has typically been hiring. Out with the more traditional “Indie guys” and in with younger and taller talent who can be molded into the WWE archetype.

Two decades ago, WWE’s developmental system turned out two world-class wrestlers, practically from scratch, in Batista and Randy Orton. Going forward, the company wants to focus more on turning bigger, taller, and fitter individuals into superstars. (PHOTO BY GARY DINEEN)

So, what does all of this mean for NXT as we know it? In all truth, probably a massive shift. Much of NXT’s appeal has always been that it was different than its older siblings, Raw and Smackdown. To stray too far from this could prove to be a fatal decision.

Or it could be an inspired one that will freshen up a product that had grown a little stale. Takeover 36, held the night after SummerSlam, felt like a swan song for the brand in some ways. But only time will tell if it leads to bigger and better things. One thing you can be sure of, though: With roots now firmly planted in McMahon-land, change is coming. And we all wait to see what’s N(e)XT.

For more on the potential changes coming to NXT, check out the latest episode of The PWI Podcast with Al Castle and Brian R. Solomon.

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What’s The Deal With The Weekly Ratings?

What’s The Deal With The Weekly Ratings? — PWI’s Weekly and Monthly Top 10 Lists Explained

FOR ABOUT AS long as we’ve been compiling weekly and monthly wrestling ratings—online and in our magazines—we’ve been asked about the criteria used for determining them. How do we narrow each roster down to a top 10? And, for that matter, how do we choose who ranks in the overall categories?

As with our annual rankings, such as the PWI “500,” the individual rankings are primarily based on what goes on between bells and between the ropes. Per our official ratings page:

Criteria for ranking includes championships held/defended, win-loss record, push, and technical ability.

Some of those criteria are clearer than others. Championships held and defended, as well as wins and losses, are objective metrics. Push is a little more squishy and subjective, as what constitutes a push (or momentum, influence, etc.) will vary from promotion to promotion. Technical ability is another pretty tenuous way to evaluate a wrestler, even if there’s a general consensus about what solid move execution might look like. And, as we know, this is not always the case.

Evaluation becomes even trickier when comparing wrestlers from across promotions, as we do with our top three categories (Heavyweight, Women’s, and Tag Team rankings). That’s a big part of why we have a weekly and monthly ratings committee, along with a team tasked with putting together our triad of annual rankings.

When people ask how we compile the PWI “500,” I like to tell them that we’re using objective metrics, but evaluating those metrics as subjective human beings. Yes, we’ll look closely at win/loss records and lengths of championship reigns. But we’re not running some formulas through a computer programmed to spit out the list. Instead, we try to take into account the meaning behind the numbers—what they represented within a promotion and the industry at large. Randy Orton may have a poorer win-loss record than his AEW equivalent, but he may have main-evented more shows, faced tougher competition, and put on better matches.

PAWD Wrestling champion Trish Adora applies an armbar on Tony Deppen during their February 14 Iron Match. (PHOTO BY JAYLEE PHOTOGRAPHY)

Historically, we placed a great deal of weight on WWE’s place at the mountaintop. And, to some degree, we still do. The company is the industry leader throughout the world, and it will likely continue to be for quite some time. But, as a publication that has always viewed wrestling as a sport, we’ve also noted some changes in how it’s being presented. We’ve even expanded our definition of what constitutes a world championship.

The COVID-19 pandemic has leveled the playing field somewhat in that regard, making it so that WWE talent didn’t automatically wrestle dozens more matches (especially televised ones) than any other American talent. Additionally, streaming services like IWTV and WRESTLE UNIVERSE have greatly expanded the influence of independent and international pro wrestling. These changes are all reflected in our ratings.

All of these things are taken into consideration with our weekly and monthly ratings. After all, the “500,” “Women’s 100,” and “Tag Team 50” are, essentially, annual extensions of those regularly updated top 10 lists.

One fairly recent change to our rankings is the blurring and blending of gender lines. Previously, women would only appear on the overall Women’s Top 10 list. In more recent years, women have crossed those imaginary lines and thrived. Some have won heavyweight titles traditionally associated with men. Meanwhile, women’s tag team wrestling has become far more prominent, between WWE’s introduction of multiple tag championships, the revival of the Knockouts tag team belts, and the efforts of promotions like Japan’s World Wonder Ring Stardom.

As those wrestlers have thrived, PWI has tried to recognize their efforts. The “500” is once again open to women who compete in intergender matches, and our tag team rankings are no longer segregated by gender. Since opportunities for women are still fewer, we’ve opted to continue with our overall Women’s rankings, with the caveat that they focus more on women’s divisions and promotions than on any intergender competition.

Syuri & Giulia, collectively known as ALK, are, at the time of this writing, the reigning Goddess of Stardom (tag team) champs. They’ve stood out recently as one of the world’s premier tag teams, regardless of gender. (PHOTO ©STARDOM)

Is this a perfect system? Surely not. And it’ll likely continue to evolve as the old ways do. In the unlikely event that promotions like WWE, AEW, New Japan, and Lucha Libre AAA get rid of gender distinctions, we would almost certainly follow suit. Until then, we’re doing our best to reflect the current state of the industry.

To that end, we’ve continued to grow our weekly and monthly ratings by adding new categories. For example, we list the top 10 contenders to the IWTV Independent Wrestling World title and have recently added an official countrywide ranking for Australia. If you have any suggestions for our ratings page, feel free to drop me a line at

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“Punk Appears Or We Riot” (Metaphorically)

CM Punk, Starrcast 2019

“Punk Appears Or We Riot” (Metaphorically)

LOOK … CLICKBAIT HEADLINES aside, I’m not suggesting that fans will actually riot at a wrestling show in the year 2021. But the hype surrounding this Friday’s edition of Rampage—the follow-up to last week’s celebrated series premiere—has officially reached a boil. And, much as I don’t expect actual, physical unrest at the venue, All Elite Wrestling had better deliver what fans expect, or the company is going to have one upset fanbase on its hands.

Let’s take a look at the facts, shall we? The show is in CM Punk’s hometown of Chicago. The United Center holds 23,500. That’s an awfully big venue for a one-hour show in which nothing of note happens. And the fact that so much hype surrounded the announcement of the live event is another tip in the direction that the rumors are, in fact, true.

If Punk shows up on Rampage, this will be his first official wrestling appearance since his 2014 WWE departure. Even at his most popular, the former world champion was not everyone’s cup of tea. But, for the thousands of fans who still chant his name at WWE live events, his returning to the ring would be a very big deal.

CM Punk, Starrcast 2019
CM Punk fields questions at Starrcast 2019. (PHOTO BY GEORGE NAPOLITANO)

Of course, AEW hasn’t merely let fans quietly speculate about Punk’s rumored return. Instead, the company has doused gasoline all over the proverbial fire. The most obvious example has to be Darby Allin’s on-air willingness to fight “The Best In The World.” But there have been other hints.

It’s safe to say that more than a few fans purchased tickets for Rampage who may not otherwise have done so. Add to that the countless wrestling enthusiasts planning to stay in this Friday night to catch the second episode of AEW’s second cable series live, as it airs. Suffice to say, those folks wouldn’t take kindly to all this hype being for naught. The goodwill that has been earned through a particularly strong stretch of programming—one that saw Dynamite averaging more than one million viewers per week—could easily be squandered.

CM Punk reluctantly shakes the hand of “American Dragon” Bryan Danielson after their singles match at ROH Reborn: Stage One. (PHOTO BY WAYNE McCARTY)

In other words, if Punk doesn’t show up this Friday night, the company had better have something else in store, whether that’s a major title change, a huge storyline development, or another game-changing debut (Daniel Bryan, anyone?). While it’s perfectly fine to tease debuts or dream matches, this is a critical point for AEW. As the company continues to grow, reputation is important. And the last thing fans want to see is a bait-and-switch of this size.

Of course, this is all speculation at the moment. But one thing is for sure: Between Kenny Omega, Christian Cage, and Adam Page, things are already pretty crowded near the top of the card. The addition of CM Punk would make the main-event scene on Dynamite that much more competitive.

And, honestly? That might be a good thing.