On Dec. 19, NXT UK kicked off with an absolute mauling. The beloved Mae Young Classic star, Toni Storm, dismantled Charlie Morgan in a match that made Morgan look like a glorified jobber. We get it. This was Storm’s triumphant return from injury. WWE brass wanted their household name to return with a bang.
However, instead of returning with a scintillating display of competition and athleticism, audiences were greeted to a mild beat down that lacked passion. It left both the NXT UK universe and Morgan herself looking rather flat.
This is the WWE’s bread and butter – creating larger-than-life characters built on a resume of sheer dominance. While this approach can appeal to most, it leaves little room for nuance. In this game plan, there is no space for a back and forth exchange between competitors when you are at the risk of accidentally promoting a challenger higher than your star.
The “squash and move on” is a time honored and safe tradition that works when you’re using all in-house talent. It gets murkier, however, when promoting wrestlers who have made names for themselves as indie stars.
Discerning fans, especially in the UK, know that Morgan is an absolute beast. They know what an impassioned match from Morgan looks like. They also know that Storm’s sub-four-minute dispatching of her was not what the former Pro Wrestling: EVE Champion made her name on.
This is not to say Storm should not have won the match. It is to say that taking successful, established acts and purposefully under-utilizing them seems like a dangerous game. It’s a game that wreaks of favoritism and telegraphs who the WWE believes is worth investing their time and energy into.
Morgan and Storm have met before, for the Progress Women’s Championship no less, just earlier this year. The back and forth affair contained plenty of thrilling action and character, a couple of attributes their NXT UK bout sorely lacked.
With the continued expansion of the NXT brand, the WWE showcases that they are prepared to take risks in cultivating indie and developmental talent to create a stronger product. While they continue to innovate, they should look at their star-making model.
The game has changed. No longer are fans content with overpowered brutes showing their stuff for easy applause. Fans want a showcase of skill and storytelling. Allowing an indie star like Morgan to showcase her true wrestling ability in a losing effort does not devalue Morgan nor Storm, but instead enhances both wrestlers, the product and the audience’s respect of the promotion.
It’s not enough just to grab indie names. The WWE must recognize what made these talents special in the first place and nurture them instead of simply using them as cannon fodder for their one big get.