The Secret To WWE's NXT Success Is A Bunch Of Rowdy Floridians
"We literally have the best fans in all of wrestling."
At first glance, spending a Wednesday night in the suburbs of Orlando, Florida doesn't sound all that exciting. But if the particular suburb you find yourself in happens to be Winter Park that all changes. It's there that Full Sail University, the home of WWE's NXT brand, is broadcasting its weekly, live two-hour show, which showcases the talent WWE is planning to bank on for the future.
It's evident to anyone who watched the weekly NXT shows on the WWE Network, before it moved to USA, that the energy inside the small studio at Full Sail was different. To the couple hundred fans packed into the bleachers lining the walls, NXT is home. It's a brand of wrestling they'd followed since its infancy, turning out week-after-week to cheer on the wrestlers trying to make a name for themselves.
And when you're in the room as the cameras start rolling and the crowd chants "NXT" endlessly, it's hard not getting caught up in that excitement. This is a crowd that's not like the typical group of fans you'd see at a Raw or Smackdown taping. These are people who care less about the frills associated with typical WWE programming and more about the athletic contests in the ring. It's that fan, the ones that line up weekly at Full Sail, who have become the driving force in NXT finding its identity.
"I think part of it is that this was the groundswell of fans saying, 'This is what we wanted,' and we gave it to them. If you are a hardcore fan, Raw and Smackdown are very much pop music," executive vice president of talent, live events, and creative Paul Levesque (Triple H) explained. "And it's built to attract the masses. And in NXT, we want to appeal to a little bit everybody, but we're there for the passionate fan: the fan that is really into this."
Now, with NXT's transition to weekly live events on cable, that passionate group of fans is more important than ever as they are the representatives of the brand to a much larger group of viewers. Luckily, it's a task those who wrestle in NXT think the crowd is up for. After all, to NXT's superstars, the group that packs Full Sail every week is as vital to the success of the show as they are.
"I think that is maybe the most important component of NXT's success. I've had people come to NXT shows who don't watch wrestling, and they'll go there, and they'll go, 'That was so much fun. Those fans are crazy, I want to go do that again,'" NXT Champion Adam Cole told GameSpot. "That relationship, everyone here, is very aware of it and very aware of how important it is."
It's that relationship that has made those who perform in NXT, which was initially considered a show that prepared wrestlers to debut on Raw or Smackdown, see a future where they stay put on the brand. "When I went out there and I said I'm NXT for life, I meant that my heart is here in NXT. I love this place," Johnny Gargano said. "I think Full Sail and that crowd are as big a part of the show as I am, as big a part of the show as Adam Cole is, as big a part of the show as Triple H is. I think they are such a special ingredient."
Of course, that doesn't mean NXT will always keep its flag planted at Full Sail University. With Raw and Smackdown touring weekly--as well as NXT's Wednesday night competition All Elite Wrestling--it's not hard to imagine a future where NXT takes its show on the road more regularly. Until that day comes, though, Wednesday nights in Winter Park, Florida are going to continue to be very rowdy thanks to the NXT faithful and the superstars wouldn't have it any other way.
"We literally have the best fans in all of wrestling," Candice LeRae said. "They're so passionate about what we do, and it makes it so much more rewarding for us to go out there and like sacrifice everything."
NXT airs Wednesday nights on USA.
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