By Keith Elliot Greenberg
It’s gritty and edgy, a precarious journey over the precipice for both participants and observers.
For those who’ve been following NXT -- the WWE series scheduled to debut on USA this Wednesday -- it started as an underground obsession and has quickly risen into WWE’s third global brand.
Now, the curtain is being lifted in primetime and this will be a side of WWE many have never seen before -- an alternative type of action featuring larger-than-life Superstars ready to make their cable TV debut.
Johnny Gargano (Credit: WWE)
An Electrifying Past
As with every great trend, NXT started quietly, featuring gifted athletes recruited from a variety of sports around the world. Operating out of Florida’s Full Sail University, NXT quickly earned its cult status by presenting some of the most intense matches in WWE’s history.
By 2015, NXT had attracted enough of a fan base that it could no longer be confined to the Sunshine State. Its NXT TakeOver events, streamed on WWE Network and generally staged at a large arena the weekend of a major WWE pay-per-view in the same city, became distinguished for presenting classic confrontations from the opening match to the main event.
Among these timeless series: Finn Balor vs. Samoa Joe in 2015 and 2016, Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa in 2018, and Gargano vs. Adam Cole over the past year.
The Velveteen Dream (Credit: WWE)
Stars You’ll Never Forget
Today’s current NXT roster embodies the spirit, resolve and audacity that personifies the brand.
Gargano, one of WWE’s most inspirational figures, has participated in more NXT TakeOvers than any other combatant. Long told that he lacked the size to become a superstar, Gargano throws himself into every match with a zeal to prove his detractors wrong.
Known as “Johnny Wrestling,” Gargano views his vocation in the most emotional terms. The NXT roster includes his wife, Candice LeRae, and Ciampa, his closest friend (who has also been his most bitter enemy).
NXT Champion Adam Cole -- one of the most charismatic performers in sports-entertainment -- is part of a technically-skilled-but-ruthless faction called the Undisputed ERA, along with NXT Tag Team Champions Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly.
On NXT’s debut show on USA, the fourth component of the Undisputed ERA, Roderick Strong, hopes to ensure that every member of the team is adorned with gold, as he challenges NXT North American Champion, The Velveteen Dream.
Unlike many who gained their experience elsewhere, the Dream, whose style evokes a pop singer of another era, is a homegrown product who appears to embody NXT in its purest form.
Io Shirai (Credit: WWE)
From MMA to NXT
In another contest broadcast this Wednesday, Io Shirai, Bianca Belair, Candice LeRea, and Mia Yim tangle in a Fatal 4-Way match to determine the number one contender for the NXT Women’s Championship – held by Shayna Baszler, a former MMA fighter who is arguably the most intimidating presence in WWE.
Another ex-MMA competitor, Matt Riddle appears laid-back, fighting barefoot and speaking with an amused demeanor, until he slaps on his treacherous Bromission finisher.
Viewers of Monday Night Raw -- seen Mondays on USA at 8/7c -- are already familiar with the Street Profits, former NXT Tag Team Champs Montez Ford and Angelo Dawkins, whose backstage witticisms are balanced by an explosive arsenal that’s crucial to navigate the brand’s tempestuous terrain.
Like the first episode of Monday Night Raw in 1993, the inaugural NXT program on USA is destined to be remembered as a landmark moment. There will be passion and wrath, menace and savagery, authenticity and a vigorous dose of insubordination.
Don’t miss NXT’s debut on USA Network, Wednesday, Sept. 18 at 8/7c!
MORE: 10 WWE Superstars Who Came from NXT