Paul Triple H Levesque sounds very much like a proud papa when discussing anything related to the company’s Performance Center in Orlando and NXT.
WWE’s Chief Operating Officer (and superstar) fielded questions leading to the WWE Network’s live two-hour special 8 p.m. EST Thursday, Feb. 27 spotlighting the developmental program, aptly named NXT ArRIVAL. Levesque has taken a very active role in the evolution of what is seen as the breeding ground for the WWE superstars of tomorrow.
The state-of-the art Performance Center is where WWE’s developmental talent trains, and he refers to the big NXT event on Feb. 27 from Full Sail Live at Full Sail University a monumental step for the business.
“I’m incredibly proud of the Performance Center,” he said. “I’m incredibly proud of the talent that we have and will have. It’s turned out some amazing talent already. The future in my opinion is very bright. I get to see these kids developing every day. I couldn’t be more excited about where we are going to be heading as a company…NXT ArRIVAL is to me an amazing opportunity for the superstars at the Performance Center, the future superstars of WWE to be able to show their craft in a way that they’ve never done before.
“The fact that WWE and Vince [McMahon] in particular is trusting NXT, the Performance Center and the talent here to be the first live in-ring product that we put out on the WWE Network; it’s an amazing opportunity and shows you the dedication and pride he takes in our developmental program.”
Correlating the pay-per-view style show with the WWE Network’s launch this week was a natural fit for Levesque. With appearances by current members of the WWE roster and legends such as Bret Hitman Hart, it captures the past, present and future of the sports entertainment juggernaut.
“People have been able to see NXT on Hulu and on the Internet but have not been able to experience fully what we do,” Levesque said. “Globally this NXT product is distributed quite a bit, but we have strategically held back NXT, which almost to a great extent has helped it, because it has such a back-draft buzz in the Internet community and social media to our fan base in general. One of the things our research shows is one of the things they were excited about seeing [on the WWE Network] was NXT. We just dropped little things here and there about talent coming from Raw and SmackDown.
“The buzz was huge. I take pride for all these kids that Vince was able to look at it saying, ‘Hey, that first week I’m going to give our fans something special. I’m going to let them see the future. I’m going to give them that glimpse into the future.’ He trusted them enough to want to do it live and make a big thing about it. That’s a testament to everyone working here, from the coaches to the talent here to everybody. Trust me, he doesn’t let anything happen or show up on the air that he doesn’t think is right.”
With NXT continuing to grow and create awareness of its product, Levesque enjoys the fact the television shows are headquartered in the intimate Full Sail University venue in Winter Park, Fla, near Orlando. This doesn’t mean more touring is ruled out.
However, he likens the dedicated and rabid fan base to that of ECW in some ways. At the same, it is viewed as a micro-version of Raw and SmackDown in giving the talent an idea of what to expect on the main roster. Levesque believes it’s important to create such an atmosphere so the up-and-coming WWE superstar isn’t overwhelmed and transitions well on the big stage.
Anticipation is at an all-time high for the performers scheduled to appear on ArRIVAL. Butterflies and drive to entertain are there.
“This [NXT ArRIVAL] is WrestleMania for them in a way,” Levesque said. “It’s the ability to step up. They 100 percent are grasping the gravity of what is in front of them. With this network launch and being the first live in-ring content and the trust we have in the handful of talent who we are putting on the show that we want to present to the world live -- not with a net, no net, but live -- they get it.
“What I’m trying to instill with them now is, ‘Great, you understand the gravity of it. Work as hard as possible, but once you get there and you’ve done all the work. It’s not going to change. Either you’re ready or you’re not. You’ve done all the work. Now have fun. Go have fun.’
“It’s what guys forget about our business. It’s what talent forgets all the time. As a performer, you forget…Vince says it’s about putting smiles on people’s faces. That’s not just the audience. What we do is supposed to have fun. When you are out there doing what we do and it’s good, it’s the most fun thing in the world to do.”
The COO is confident in his crop of athletes taking center stage at ArRIVAL. The WWE Universe may see many of them on Raw, SmackDown and pay-per-view sooner rather than later.
“There is a phenomenal group of guys and girls here,” Levesque said. “What I like to look at the Performance Center and NXT as is the on-deck circle. Then it’s just do I need a right-hander or left-hander? Do I need a hitting specialist? Do I need a pitch specialist? What do I need? What do we as a company need? Then it’s the timing of it. Yes, we do like to debut people after WrestleMania. There are a lot of eyeballs on us, and it’s a great time to do it. The excitement is there. WrestleMania in some ways is the end and the beginning all at once. It’s like going to the Super Bowl that ends the season, except the season starts the next day with Monday Night Raw.”
So in Triple H’s eyes, who is the next breakout WWE superstar from NXT?
“There is a lot of exciting talent,” Levesque said. “I know who exactly they are going to be. I just can’t tell you.”
Though I didn’t get a name, he did hint to fans that if you see a particular entertainer featured regularly, chances are increased they will be getting that potential call of a lifetime.
• Bo Dallas puts the NXT title on the line against Adrian Neville at ArRival 8 p.m. EST Thursday, Feb. 27 on the WWE Network.
Sami Zayn faces his longtime rival Cesaro, and Paige defends her women’s championship against Emma.
Look for appearances by NXT general manager John Bradshaw Layfield, John Cena and WWE tag team champions the New Age Outlaws.
A special preshow starts 7:30 p.m. EST featuring the opinionated panel of Bret Hart, Paul Heyman and Kevin Nash.
• Follow me on Twitter @smFISHMAN where I will be live-tweeting during the show.