ORLANDO – Legendary Canadian wrestler Bret (The Hitman) Hart said it best when describing his Hitman wrestling character as “the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be.”
Hart could have also been describing World Wrestling Entertainment’s NXT Performance Center with those now famous words. Quite frankly, it is.
As part of its Royal Rumble weekend, WWE invited international media to tour the world-class, state-of-the-art training facility, where it now trains all of its new talent.
The facility — complete with a green screen room for promos, a fitness centre devised by WWE legend and current executive Paul (Triple H) Levesque, seven rings, a staffed medical facility and live camera feeds in the offices of WWE Chairman Vince McMahon and Levesque — has already churned out stars like Quebec’s Kevin Owens, Neville, Sasha Banks, Charlotte, Sami Zayn and many others.
After visiting the locker room and training facility of the National Football League’s New York Giants, Levesque envisioned a facility to house the many needs of pro wrestlers, a 365-days-a-year career, and a place where WWE could train its future talent from the ground up.
The impressive centre, which opened in July 2013, sees round-the-clock use by WWE, as it acts as both a training facility and a place to nurse injured stars back to health. In fact, it’s been a busy time on that front as several big-name performers including former WWE World Heavyweight champ Seth Rollins, company posterboy John Cena, Daniel Bryan, Sting, Cesaro and others have all seen time there recently due to injury.
Injured stars, and healthy ones, have access to hot and cold tubs, a physical therapist and an athletic trainer.
The centre’s head coach is Matt Bloom, a longtime wrestling star himself, who wrestled under the name Tensai and Albert, or A-Train, among other monikers.
Bloom cites the rigors of wrestling and its year-round schedule for injuries.
“I’ve been blessed enough to play a lot of sports,” Bloom said. “And every sport I played in had an off-season. We don’t have an off-season. You’ve got to take care of your bodies. What we do is high stress, high physical demand on the body. We’re doing a better job of making sure our talent takes care of their bodies outside of the ring.”
The training centre, Bloom said, is where talent can make or break their careers.
“It’s all very sports specific to what we do in the ring. I tell our talent the harder that you work in here, the longer your career will be out there,” Bloom said.
NXT talent will work out at the facility anywhere from five to six days a week, up to two hours at a time, while also working live events on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
On this day, as the media tours the facility, no fewer than a dozen wrestlers in training are in the ring, being put through the paces, repeating the same move, dozens of times.
“I wish I had this,” Bloom said of the facility. “I started training at a boxing gym in a boxing ring in a smaller warehouse with a fan in the window.”
Levesque himself is also at the centre for a workout, posing with media for a photo before resuming his workout.
Every wall of the facility pays homage to the company’s past, with posters of legends and events, even the original bell used during the inaugural WrestleMania at Madison Square Garden in 1985.
Media were even afforded the opportunity to make official NXT ring entrances, with the aforementioned trainees cheering and booing them on.
Sarah Stock, a Winnipeg native who is now one of the trainers at NXT, said she was drawn to the facility after a 13-year career as an active wrestler working all over the world.
“I suppose some of the qualities you need are knowledge of (wrestling), the ability to share that knowledge, which is another skill in itself, and just a real passion for what we do here,” Stock said. “That’s what brought me here. It’s a sport, an art and something that I have always been interested in.”
NXT’s current women’s champion Bayley, arguably the most popular female wrestler in the world since Toronto native Trish Stratus’s prime, was also at the facility.
“I probably owe everything to what I’ve learned since I got here,” she told media. “When I first started with NXT, I had wrestled on the independents for about four years or so but it was just wrestling, that was really all I knew. I knew I loved it and I knew I wanted to get better, but it wasn’t until I got here that they really started to tell me I needed to be a performer and I needed to be able to put on shows and work the cameras and just be larger than life.”
Bloom had nothing but praise for Bayley and what she’s accomplished at the facility and with NXT.
“She’s one of a kind,” Bloom said. “She has a desire to be the best. When I see video from when Bayley got here to what she is now, she’s totally transformed herself.”
Bayley, who remembers working in front of crowds numbering about a dozen when NXT started, credits the closeness of the group to its success. “We are such a family here. It’s such a huge thing with how successful it’s been so far. Everybody wants everyone to succeed.”
Now that NXT is selling out its live events, has a home on the WWE Network, has hosted specials and is breaking into international markets, there appears to be nowhere to go but up, Bloom said.
“I think (NXT could) be a fully functional third brand under the umbrella of WWE where we’re travelling – possibly running two groups, an A and B team – that travels consistently outside of Florida every weekend and also running our home base inside of Florida,” he said. “We have the talent to do it. Right now we have 75 people from all over the world and there are some studs, men and women, who are ready to debut.”