When WWE granted Orlando the hosting rights for WrestleMania 24 in 2008, it is one of the smartest and most significant moves made by the company.
Its success financially pleasing to the company and city, but no one could have envisioned the impact of that wisdom, which continues to benefit both entities — five years later — as Orlando is now home to the new WWE Performance Center where WWE is prepared to embark on a new beginning, recruiting top athletes behind the strength of this state-of-the-art center with its many offerings.
WWE and Orlando (and Orange County) celebrated the grand opening of the WWE Performance Center on Thursday, July 11. WWE is all about putting smiles on faces via shows, merchandise and community service. What better place for happiness than the Sunshine State.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott led a host of public officials at the grand opening. Executive Vice President Talent and Live Events Paul (Triple H) Levesque led a host of WWE officials. Chief Operating Officer Ken Goldstone led a host of Full Sail University officials, and Referee Jason Ayers led the officiating officials.
To see the muscular force of the WWE and NXT superstars coupled with the leadership power of WWE, NXT, Full Sail University and Florida government in one setting exemplified the magnitude of the special occasion to usher in WWE’s new journey, dubbed “A New Beginning.”
“WWE could have chosen anywhere in the world to house this new global performance center, and they chose the Sunshine State,” Scott said. “WWE is a big name in sports entertainment, so it’s fitting that they have chosen to take a one-way ticket to Florida to grow their business.”
Levesque said: “Florida is such a great location for WWE with the business initiatives that the Governor has made in making it such a business friendly state. We have so many fans here in the state. We’ve been here for WrestleManias. We’d love to be here for more WrestleManias. We’d love to be here for more programming.
“It’s a great opportunity for us, and for our fans globally to come here for events like WrestleMania. Orlando and the Florida region are already a massive attraction to the world. Adding WWE to that makes it that much bigger of an attraction.”
With more staffing — including a hands-on medical team — the WWE Performance Center creates jobs, and creating jobs is a top priority in the Florida political landscape. Scott and Orange County Commissioner Jennifer Thompson proudly spoke during the grand opening. Preceding that was a tour of the lavish facility, led by Levesque.
Following the tour, NXT superstars and divas stood behind the main ring as guest speakers including Scott, Levesque, Thompson, Goldstone, WWE Executive Vice President Creative Stephanie McMahon, Dr. Joseph Maroon, WWE superstar Sheamus and highly-educated NXT superstar Xavier Woods said a few impactful words.
Legends Billy Gunn, Michael Hayes, Steve Keirn, Dusty Rhodes, Jim Ross, Sgt. Slaughter, Norman Smiley, Terry Taylor and Larry Zbyszko attended as did current WWE superstars Antonio Cesaro, Mark Henry, Paul Heyman, Big Show, Brodus Clay, Tensai, Sheamus, Dolph Ziggler and divas Natalya Neidhart, the Bella Twins, AJ Lee and the Funkadactyls (Cameron and Naomi). WWE announcer Michael Cole hosted the festivities.
• WWE style opening
Instead of a ribbon cutting to end the affair and open the facility, Scott and Thompson participated in a bell ringing along with Levesque, Goldstone, McMahon and WWE Senior Vice President of Special Events John Saboor.
Levesque, whose vision for the WWE Performance Center was inspired by the Timex Performance Center, the main headquarters and practice facility of the New York Giants at the Meadowlands Sports Complex, where WWE held WrestleMania 29. The WWE Performance Center is above and beyond most, if not all, pro sports teams’ centers.
Levesque asked McMahon, his associate and wife, to ring the bell, the historic original Madison Square Garden bell, and she obliged in an emotional bell ringing. MSG was the company’s home staple, before it grew national and international.
During that growth spurt, Florida’s fan base and community leaders have been good to WWE and vice-versa.
Florida hosted two WrestleManias including WrestleMania 28 (Rock vs. Cena) at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens.
WrestleMania 24 at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando was the first WrestleMania in Florida.
At the Citrus Bowl, it was the second WrestleMania outdoors. Miami was the third.
• WWE tag teams with Orlando
Furthermore, WrestleMania 24 also marked a career springboard for Orlando’s John Saboor, then president of the Central Florida Sports Commission.
WWE was so impressed with Saboor’s efforts to lure WrestleMania to Orlando and the organization for the WrestleMania Week activities, the company hired him to spearhead the search of potential host cities for WrestleMania and work with those fortunate enough to land the very lucrative sports entertainment spectacular.
“John Saboor in our company — sorry Shawn Michaels — is known as Mr. WrestleMania,” McMahon said, “because John Saboor has really been able to create this comprehensive package for WrestleMania, working with the sports visitation bureaus, the local governments, working with all the different pieces to bring it all together. John’s been incredible, and he’s an incredible asset to our team.”
Not forgetting his business roots, Saboor also saw the potential Orlando presented to be a major player in other areas within WWE’s evolution.
WrestleMania is a tourist destination —a national and international attraction —as is Orlando.
Enter Full Sail University.
In May 2012, WWE and Full Sail University forged an innovative partnership that moved the NXT tapings to Full Sail Live, the university’s state-of-the-art performance venue. Full Sail students gained practical experience working with the WWE production team in various areas. WWE created a student scholarship fund.
During the grand opening of the WWE Performance Center, Levesque presented a $10,000 check, the giant kind, to recent Full Sail University graduate Felipe Giannazzo, who worked with the WWE production team during NXT broadcasts.
Officially, Full Sail University is in Winter Park, near Downtown Orlando, within Orange County’s boundaries.
NXT, formerly FCW, is the moniker for WWE’s developmental program, training future WWE superstars and divas.
WWE’s NXT series at Full Sail Live at Full Sail University is a weekly one-hour show that broadcasts on Hulu Plus and in more than 100 countries.
WWE adoors Orlando
With WWE’s success of WrestleMania 24 in Orlando, WWE’s success of hiring Orlando’s John Saboor after WrestleMania 24 and WWE’s success of teaming with Full Sail University near Orlando, the next Orlando door opened at the WWE Performance Center.
“The WWE Performance Center represents the guaranteed future success of our company, providing the next generation of WWE superstars and divas with a world-class facility to call their home,” said Levesque, better known to fans as WWE superstar Triple H. “The venue offers our developmental talent a full training experience with real time feedback from WWE coaches, trainers and directors, giving them the resources they need to develop their talent both athletically and creatively.”
With 26,000 square-feet, seven training rings, a world-class strength and conditioning program and cutting-edge edit and production facilities, the state-of-the-art Performance Center will give WWE the ability to train more potential performers than ever before through a comprehensive program including in-ring training, physical preparedness and character development.
• WWE developmental alum impressed
WWE developmental just moved across I-4 from the three-ring facility in Tampa to the bigger and better WWE Performance Center in Orlando. Nearly 50 superstars and divas currently on the WWE roster traveled through the doors of developmental, FCW/NXT, to hone their craft.
They include Wade Barrett, Daniel Bryan, Antonio Cesaro, Brodus Clay, Johnny Curtis (Fandango), Bo Dallas, Ted DiBiase, Alberto Del Rio, Epico, Alicia Fox, Justin Gabriel, Hunico, Kaitlyn, Tyson Kidd, Big E. Langston, AJ Lee, Brad Maddox, Jinder Mahal, Curtis Axel, Drew McIntyre, Rosa Mendes, Naomi, Natalya, Titus O’Neil, David Otunga, Primo, Ricardo Rodriguez, Alex Riley, Damien Sandow, Skip Sheffield (Ryback), Heath Slater, Tamina Snuka, Jack Swagger, Jey and Jimmy Uso, Darren Young, The Shield, The Wyatt Family and Sheamus.
“This whole [new] facility has actually blown my mind,” said the Celtic Warrior Sheamus, originally from Ireland. “I’m actually envious of all the NXT superstars and divas who get an opportunity to train here.
“About six years ago, I was offered a WWE developmental contract to leave my home in Ireland, my job, my family to come over here in search of my dream in WWE. When you get a WWE contract, you’re not really thinking developmental. You’re thinking Raw; you’re thinking SmackDown. You’re thinking pay-per-views. You’re thinking WrestleMania, but you can’t run until you learn to walk. That’s exactly what developmental is for WWE.
“Developmental in Tampa in FCW at the time allowed me to perfect all my skills by being trained by the top trainers in the world.”
The developmental/training team includes Gerald Brisco, Bill DeMott, Sara Del Rey, Billy Gunn, Steve Keirn, Dusty Rhodes, Jim Ross, Norman Smiley, Ricky Steamboat and Terry Taylor.
Sheamus continued: “It gave me an opportunity to appear at WrestleMania 24 as a developmental talent where I helped put up the ring right here in Orlando and taking the ring down right after the main event of The Undertaker and Edge. I remember standing by the ring as we were taking it down and looking at the people leaving and just being in the center of that stadium. This is all I want to do. This is what I want. I want this so bad. This is why I came here. This is why I gave up so much to follow my dream.
“The WWE developmental system has allowed me to fulfill my dream. I went to WrestleMania 26 [in Glendale, Ariz] as a WWE superstar against Triple H. I went onto to capture a World championship [at WrestleMania 28 in Miami] in 18 seconds. It allowed me to travel the world, to perform in front of millions of people worldwide and hundreds of cultures around the world.
“The development system I was in to get here was great, but it was nothing compared to this. World-class training center, medical facility, pre-tapes room, commentary, a place to work on your character and seven full-sized rings with the best trainers in the world. The WWE’s future has never been so bright. It’s gleaming. It’s beaming, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
• WWE in the Sunshine State
What does the future hold for Orlando, Miami, Florida with WWE?
A WWE Hall of Fame facility?
A new Stanford?
WWE’s creed: “Never say never.”
• Video links of WWE Performance Center grand opening Thursday, July 11 in Orlando on YouTube Jim Varsallone (the jimmyv3 channel).
WWE superstar Sheamus inspirational speech
Florida Gov. Rick Scott speech
Dr. Joseph Maroon, medical director of WWE, speech
WWE executive Paul (Triple H) Levesque speech (Part 1)
WWE executive Paul (Triple H) Levesque speech (Part 2)
WWE executive Stephanie McMahon
WWE announcer Michael Cole emcee
WWE Performance Center tour start
WWE Performance Center tour