Just days ahead of its debut outside of the United States, the man behind World Wrestling Entertainment’s increasingly popular NXT brand speaks passionately about opportunity.
Professional wrestling is nothing if not about opportunity.
During his now nearly 25-year active wrestling career, the man known the world over as Triple H certainly made the most of his opportunities, capturing more than 20 championships, at one point carrying the company on his broad shoulders as its marquee name and ushering in the so-called Attitude Era, the company’s most financially successful period in its history.
But Paul Levesque, the man behind Triple H, didn’t stop making the most of his opportunities when his full-time in-ring career stopped. Instead, he joined the corporate side of the business, working his way
to his now current role as executive vice-president (Talent/Live Events/Creative) with the global wrestling juggernaut.
The latest “brass ring” to present itself to Levesque came in the form of NXT, a brand he devised, launched and has guided to a wrestling revolution; one that will take over London, England tomorrow as the
brand marks its first show outside of the U.S.
“This is a huge opportunity for NXT, but also for WWE,” Levesque said during a media conference call ahead of NXT Takeover in London. “This event will take place in the U.S. at 3 p.m. eastern on the WWE Network,” he said. “The pre-show will be at 2:30. It’s a much different time slot, obviously, than usual, and it’s an opportunity for the UK to sort of receive their own live pay-per-view, if you will, that emanates from the UK. It’s been a long time since the WWE, in any matter, has been there to do something like that,” Levesque added, alluding to the fact that the last time the WWE hosted a pay-per-view event in the UK was more than a decade ago when it hosted Insurrextion in 2003.
Given the opportunity to showcase his NXT brainchild around the world, and so quickly after having just taken it over less than two years ago, the significance of the UK show cannot be understated, Levesque
“For (the UK fans) to have (the event) air on the WWE Network live on prime time for them, so they don’t have to stay up till 2 or 3 in the morning to watch a WWE event, I’m hoping that this is very successful on every level,” he said. “My desire to do this is to reinvigorate that process to the world and hopefully the reaction to all of it, and to the network, is big enough that we will be doing these more and in
different markets and in local time zones.”
Following its global domination in the late 1990s and early 2000s during the Attitude Era, WWE reduced its global footprint and focused largely on running in North America, mostly in the United States. But the company’s recent growth, combined with its launch last year of its own 24-hour wrestling network, has put a renewed emphasis on once again expanding that global reach. NXT is a big part of that.
“It’s a very exciting time for NXT and what’s happening right now, the first international tour for NXT of the United Kingdom, our first international tour period for the brand, I can’t tell you how excited the talent are,” Levesque said.
Asked how NXT is so successfully able to capture the old-school elements of wrestling, while there appears to be, at times, a disconnect among talent on the main WWE rosters, Levesque likened it to comparing chocolate to vanilla.
“I don’t necessarily believe that one is better than the other,” he said. “It’s different styles. For NXT, I control the product and I don’t on the main roster,” he said, referring to the company’s flagship show, Monday Night Raw. “It’s a different philosophy and that’s OK. They both are very valid and have their place. It’s chocolate and vanilla. When we put together NXT, I get to pick the flavour.”
Levesque also admitted he’s seen suggestions being thrown around that NXT could make a nice complement to Monday Night Raw by becoming the first hour of the current three-hour show. It’s a notion he quickly dismisses.
“I’ve heard the thought, not internally, but I’ve heard it bandied about,” he said. “Look, three hours is hard. For me, if you made NXT one of those hours and if the thought would be to do it there that night, then you’re just really kind of doing a third hour,” he said. “Then it’s not NXT and it’s not different and it’s not a different brand. I think at the end of the day, three hours, no matter how you do it, is extremely difficult. It just is. I’m the first guy to admit that if I go to a movie and it’s longer than two hours, I’m looking at my watch – I don’t care how good it is – thinking ‘Boy this is long.’ ”
Levesque addressed recent online criticism of the Raw product and declining ratings by saying that company is aware of it, and taking measures to address the issues.
“I think we just have to become more disciplined and more creative with how we do things and how we operate the shows,” he said. “We’ve had some unfortunate situations with injuries and everything else, but it’s on us to be more creative and come up with a better format, better show. We hear people’s frustrations and we in a lot of ways feel the same way. It’s fixing it and trying to fix it. It is what it is. How we fix it, we’re not 100% sure yet, but we will get there. Trust me.”
Injuries to key talent such as Randy Orton, then World Heavyweight champ Seth Rollins and Daniel Bryan, combined with the absence of longtime poster boy John Cena, have added to the pressures, but won’t force the company into promoting talent from NXT who aren’t yet ready for the pressures of the main roster, Levesque said.
“When we see Finn Balor (on the main roster) will be when everything is right for Finn to get called up,” Levesque said when asked about Balor specifically. “He has expressed to me his desire to ground himself in NXT. The thing people forget about Finn is he came from Japan where he didn’t do promos a lot. There is such a vast difference between what we do and the production level of what we do that it’s overwhelming to guys. He hasn’t been here that long and there are still a lot of things he’s picking up and growing. I see him change and grow every single time I see him and we do television: Little things that probably people watching the show wouldn’t see, the way he works a camera, the way he handles himself and presents himself. Those are all things when you look at what do putting together a television show, as opposed to guys just going to the ring, it’s a different point of view and he’s still learning that and he’s very, very aware of that.”
The problem with promoting young talent prematurely, Levesque said, comes when the injured stars return.
“I hate taking a guy as talented as Finn Balor, or anybody, and saying ‘Look, you’re the Band-Aid to hold us over until these other guys come back and then we’ll see from there.’ If we don’t have that game plan in place for when we call these guys up, and I’m not saying for everybody but especially guys like a Finn Balor, then it’s not the right time.”
While moving talent up and down to fill voids doesn’t appeal to him, sharing NXT successes and ideas with the main shows certainly does.
“There are definitely things that I see that could move up and be utilized,” he answered. “I think you see them happening, slowly but surely.”
Specifically, Levesque thinks the women’s division on the main roster could benefit from modelling itself more after the NXT women’s brand, which has been critically acclaimed as the best women’s wrestling division in any professional wrestling organization worldwide.
“I think that there’s a disconnect sometimes in the way that they’re handled (on the main roster),” Levesque said of the women’s division. “It’s tough to make that shift. It’s tough to oversee every component of the show for anybody,” he said, likening the changes now to those during his prime when talent would jump ship from WCW or ECW to join WWE.
“You saw talent come from WCW and they would make the jump over and when they got there, (fans would say) ‘It’s not the same guy.’ All of a sudden they seemed different. Then over time, they slowly got back
into their comfort zone.”
Bottom line, Levesque said, the differences between NXT and the main WWE roster remain very different, separate products for a reason.
“It’s really easy to promote something coming up in two weeks and not have to give it away,” he said referring to NXT, “but if I had six hours to write in between there, it’s tough to put that aside and say ‘Well I’m not going to do it,’ ” he said, speaking of Raw.
For now, Levesque continues to make the most of what opportunity presents him with his NXT brand, starting with NXT Takeover London on Wednesday afternoon.
“This ability for us to be able to be a global brand, NXT, and to be able to go all of these different markets all around the U.S., all around the UK and hopefully expanding out beyond that this year coming up, that experience is just so valuable to talent,” Levesque said.
Just as he once did when he broke into wrestling during a wildly popular and fast growing WWE era, Levesque can now enjoy that feeling again, but this time as the teacher and not the student.
“Being able to see talent walk out there and see that amazement in their eyes as they walk out in the UK for the first time and get that feeling, it’s just awesome,” he said.
For more, go to http://www.wwe.com/shows/wwenxt
NXT TAKEOVER LONDON, ENGLAND
NXT Championship Match
Finn Bálor (c) vs. Samoa Joe
NXT Women’s Championship Match
Bayley (c) vs. Nia Jax
NXT Tag Team Championship Match
Dash & Dawson (c) vs. Enzo Amore & Colin Cassady
Apollo Crews vs. Baron Corbin
Asuka vs. Emma