As NXT continues to grow in awareness and visibility, competition is at an all-time high at the WWE Performance Center. The Orlando facility houses future superstars and divas with the company just unveiling its newest recruits.
They are 11 diverse talents (four domestic and seven international) hailing from seven countries, making it the most international NXT class yet.
Among the domestic acquisitions is Levis Valenzuela Jr., a North Carolinian who began his journey into sports entertainment in 2013 at CWF Mid-Atlantic. The upstart honed his skills under the direction of Roy Wilkins and Trevor Lee. Valenzuela, who is of Dominican descent, grew up a fan. He reached a point where he was ready to pursue his dream.
“How do you not get sucked into these storylines?” he noted. “How do you not love the electricity of these larger-than-life characters? You see them on TV and want to be a part of it. I knew I wanted to be part of it at a very early age, but I went to college first with a backup plan. My training was at CWF Mid-Atlantic, there are a great group of guys over there, who are also interested in helping you out and making you better. That was a great place and experience wrestling and this industry. It was a great starting point.”
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Before even stepping in the ring, Valenzuela was a realist and attained his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. That gave him an option in case pro wrestling didn’t pan out. He taught English for two years in South Korea where he met his wife, who is from Seattle.
After returning home, he made the transition into pro wrestling. A background in collegiate ballroom dancing helped.
“When people see me as a ballroom dancer, they say, ‘You did that?,” he said. “I tell them they wouldn’t be able to move like I move. Unless you did something to keep you limber. I think it did help because I’m a very visual learner, so going into ballroom dancing I was able to see the steps and then perform them. Just like wrestling, with ballroom dancing I made sure I was healthy and in shape. Going into wrestling, it was the same concept. When you see a move performed, explain to you why you do a particular movement and step. You just become a great student and replicate what you see.”
Valenzuela believes his charisma impressed during his tryout. He found the experience intense, but the consummate athlete was up to the challenge.
“I knew it was going to be a huge opportunity,” he said. “I had to try to stand out in some way, shape or form. The entire time I tried to keep a positive outlook, tried to talk and keep a positive vibe. It worked because I’m here. I knew I had charisma, and I knew I wanted to showcase that to WWE.
“When it came to the promo or, as Dusty Rhodes describes it, the red-light district, I knew that was my time. I knew it was my opportunity to really showcase a little bit of the range I had in terms of portraying a character. When it was me and that light for a minute, it was a whole different level and focus. I made sure I made a lasting impact. Thankfully, it worked.”
Walking through the doors of the Performance Center for the first time gave the new signee a different vibe and feel. He is already learning from coaches Matt Bloom, Robbie Brookside, Billy Gunn, Dusty Rhodes, Terry Taylor and Norman Smiley, who make themselves accessible.
“It’s inspiring and surreal,” Valenzuela said. “It’s out-of-this world. This is what we do and where we want to go. To walk into the Performance Center, it’s a sense of I’ve made it. It’s surreal to drive here every day. This facility is absolutely amazing. You have 26,000 square feet, seven rings, world class training staff and trainers. They have things available that in terms of character development and training, it’s pretty ridiculous how great things are over here. Just being a part of WWE thus far and this Performance Center, it’s surreal. I don’t believe there is a better word to describe how I feel.
“…We are in the gym every single day. They want to see how our bodies react. Ring work, we observe. The class right above us gives us a chance to open eyes and open ears, have a notebook if you want. Just become a student of the craft.
“That is what it has been for us thus far. In the morning we are listening and learning. In afternoon, we are getting in better shape, whether it’s bigger, wider or slimmer. It’s benefiting all of us. In the afternoon, we get to sit there with Dusty Rhodes. Listening to Dusty Rhodes on how to communicate is fantastic. I can’t put that into words how that ridiculous that sounds. I get to talk to Dusty Rhodes. We can sit in the green room, promo room, and just work on who we are and what we are comfortable with. It’s absolutely amazing. We put in a lot of hours. We are here a very long time, but everyone is here a very long time. We are all working hard because we are all trying to perfect this craft.”
Even though the competitor has spent time in the ring, he comes to work humble and ready to learn. He says from what he understands WWE is an even playing field.
“It doesn’t matter where you came from or what you’ve done or what background you have,” Valenzuela said. “They make sure to put you in a class where some have experience and some don’t have experience. You learn each and every day. You still have to be a sponge and adjust. So all these movements, some of these things are going to be completely new to me. So I have to continue to be hungry, humble and work hard in order to try to succeed. When they get here, from Olympians to collegiate athletes, everyone starts at the same level.
“…I’m always here with open eyes, open ears, being a student. I’m a lump of clay. I’m ready to be molded into whatever they want me to be molded into. I’m just here to take in everything these great coaches have to say and incorporate it into the best of my abilities in order to be successful and make them happy.”
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