On Sunday Feb. 10, the Ryan Center will be rocking and rolling when the grapplers, brawlers, and high-fliers of NXT take to the ring.
NXT, the developmental branch of global wrestling behemoth WWE, has been making regular stops at the Ryan Center for the last few years and showcases some of the top wrestling talent in the world.
Current NXT champion Tommaso Ciampa, a Boston native, will be quick to tell you the word “developmental” is a slight and that NXT produces the best matches, with the best entertainers, in the world today.
“A lot of people keep saying that NXT is the next generation, future stars,” said Ciampa, whose given name is Tommaso Whitney. “They’re wrong. We are the current stars. We’re the present. I am the NXT champion. I am the greatest champion in all of sports entertainment. That’s not excluding RAW and Smackdown, that’s including them. There is no getting called up. If anything those people should hope they be brought back to NXT. This is the hottest brand in the entire universe right now.”
While he speaks with a bravado and cockiness, it’s hard to tell Ciampa that he’s wrong. The last time NXT came to the Ryan Center the roster featured talents like Finn Balor, Shinsuka Nakamura, and former URI cheerleader Carmella. All three of them have since gone on to become world champions on WWE television.
The current group of stars includes a large group of wrestlers who cut their teeth working at independent companies throughout New England. Ciampa was a former champion at Xtreme Wrestling Alliance, which is based in West Warwick, and other New England stars like Oney Lorcan, Dominik Dijakovic, and Hanson, one half of the newly-crowned NXT Tag Team Champion War Raiders, all grew up, and first plied their trade, in New England.
Other performers, like Matt Riddle and Keith Lee, made their name in Rhode Island at promotions like Beyond Wrestling, which regularly runs shows in East Greenwich. It speaks to the quality of professional wrestling in New England that so much high-quality talent comes out of the region year after year.
“I love competition,” Ciampa said. “I love when all the eyes are on me. I love Matt Riddle. I love Keith Lee. I love Dominik Dijakovic. I love these guys because they’re going to continue to push me. These are guys that have proven themselves to the Rhode Island crowd. They know what they’re in store for when they see these guys on the card.”
The NXT women’s division might be the best in the world and it will be on display at the Ryan Center. With champion, and former mixed martial arts star, Shayna Baszler running through challengers left and right, this event will be a chance to see other women step up and show that they belong and deserve the title around their waist.
“This women’s evolution has been going on the last five years, and it started in NXT,” Ciampa said. “Bayley and Sasha Banks and all these great women before have raised the bar. Now we’re seeing it again. Shayna Baszler is legit. Jessmyn Duke. Now we have Bianca Belair. It’s a great group throughout. It’s what makes NXT so special. There is nothing like professional wrestling live let alone NXT. It’s the best live show that money can by.”
Since NXT debuted in its current format in 2012 it’s grown from a small company based near WWE’s main performance center in Orlando to an international touring brand that features two television shows, one based in the US and one in the United Kingdom, and boasts a roster of young talent from America to Mexico to Australia.
As it has grown, the shows have gotten bigger, the performers have gotten better, and the crowds have gotten louder. There will be thousands in attendance at the Ryan Center next Sunday, and Ciampa said that he takes great pride in knowing that he, and the NXT roster, have brought the company to this point.
“It feels good to know that NXT is accomplishing something very special,” Ciampa said. “This is something they’re going to remember forever. Our names are going to be written in the history books. It feels good to know we’re the leader in the entire industry right now.”
Tickets for the show start at $18 and can be purchased online through the Ryan Center’s website.