Paul “Triple H” Levesque beamed with pride watching NXT talents Sami Zayn, Tyson Kidd, Tyler Breeze and champion Adrian Neville steal the show on “Raw” on Monday night.
The performers battled on WWE’s most popular and beloved program days before they take center stage in the main event of “NXT Takeover: Fatal 4 Way” 8 p.m. EST Thursday, Sept. 11 at Full Sail Live at Full Sail University in Winter Park, near Orlando. The action-packed 2-hour special will broadcast live on WWE Network.
Given how far the company’s developmental system and its crew has come, executive vice president of talent, creative and live events has every reason to be proud.
“We took a segment of our biggest flagship show on one of our biggest nights,” Levesque said on a media conference call. “It was our season premiere, so to speak. Taking that opportunity to give NXT and those talents a platform to show what they do, to allow people to see the brand maybe if they haven’t seen it or those talents before. Use that as a way to promote the special, promote Takeover, promote the Network, it was a great opportunity.
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“Not losing perspective of it also being a feeder system. What is the best way to debut a talent? This was about promotion and giving these guys an opportunity. It’s about awareness. We have the ability to do that. We also have the ability to keep guys special, run vignettes on them and bring them in a bigger way or to cross-promote across all those platforms.
“It’s the beauty of WWE. We use all our platforms to cross-promote each other and vice versa. That’s our secret sauce in a way to be able to do all this. Just the fact we were able to get promotional spots within Raw and get that match on Raw, and we have the confidence and ability in these guys to perform at that level… They performed at a level that they belong there now. Now it’s just a matter of when do we need them? When is the right time? How do you want to bring them up, and in what way, but we can bring them up any way we want.”
NXT has evolved rapidly in just a little over a year after the opening of the WWE Performance Center. The featured stars have their own merchandise and following. They work their own live events in Florida and are given worldwide exposure thanks to programming on WWE Network. New signings such as Kevin Steen, Fergal Devitt and Kenta get presented as a big deal and have created a buzz. Levesque feels NXT is no longer perceived as a developmental.
“We are kind of in a crossroads,” he said. “We are like college football to the NFL. We are the feeder system, but we are also a brand onto itself. That’s an exciting place to be. That was always the goal with this for NXT to be its own major brand. If I had to put it in our industry, I feel like we are obviously in a much different way. We are where ECW was in a way during the ‘Monday Night War’ where it was WCW and WWE and ECW was kind of that third alternative that was a very viable and meaningful brand. Really, in a lot of ways, it was a feeder system.
“You got an opportunity to visualize the future in what you’d eventually see in WCW or the WWE at the time. This being the third special airing on the WWE Network, ‘NXT Takeover,’ and you can get this content with the pay-per-views, all for $9.99. It’s exciting. Takeover has almost become its own pay-per-view, for lack of a better term; its own special. It’s really meaningful for the brand, for our talent to work live without a net and really hone their craft. This one I think, again, takes this brand to a whole other level…”
Along with his role in the corporate sector, Levesque is also among the most accomplished superstars in WWE history and a pro wrestling fan. He finds one of his favorite things to do in sports entertainment is to sit back and watch the interaction of talents. Those who are observing new names that are making a splash and rising up the ranks.
“Everybody wants everybody to do well,” Levesque said. “They don’t want them to do too well. So to see talent when guys like that come in. They are all excited for them. Then Neville, Zayn and Tyler and Tyson go out there and kill it. Then [talent] are like, ‘Oh, man.’ It kind of lights the fire in them. It’s no different here. When we did TV the last time down here [at Full Sail] I was giving a little talk to talent about the process and the place.”
He told them. “We got three guys here who are coming in now, talking about Kenta, Fergal and Steen. These guys are ready to rock. They’re good. If I was everybody in here, I’d be upping my intensity and my game because three come in and three go out. What are you going to do to separate yourself from the pack?”
For Leveque, it’s an exciting process to see the competitiveness.
“I can only go back to the ‘Attitude Era’ or my own experience because that is all I have reference to is what I did and my experiences. It was one of the things that drove us all when you talk about the ‘Attitude Era.’ We all just wanted to be the best. If Austin went out there and did something, I could see Rock just wanting to do better than that. I was watching them both thinking, ‘I’m going to go out there and do my thing better.’
“We were just all so competitive. It’s great to see that competitive fire and help breed that competitive fire. That’s what makes people great. When you are complacent and are, ‘I’m just going to walk with my head down, hoping they don’t see me, and I’ll have a job for a long time.’ That’s the worst thing of all time.”
Triple H is thinking long-term when it comes to NXT, the big picture. He can see the potential for producing live events outside of Florida and other ideas for expansion, but when the time is right. Levesque uses likens the process to being a marathon, not a sprint. His intentions are for the brand to grow to the point where Vince McMahon watches the product saying, ‘I want this guy on Raw now!’ The sky is the limit. The future is now.
“We look at things that can be used and get over with talent and trying different things,” he said. “No matter how you want to look at him, Adam Rose is an example. We needed to make a change, and we made a change in the character. We tried it, and it worked great. ‘Let’s bring him up to the roster and try this.’
“It’s an ability to try things in a place and a level that is still understanding the difference between here in front of 600 hardcore fans that come watch us and get tickets every single time we are here and really into the brand because it’s their brand, and they feel they have ownership over it. Then in front of 10,000 people or 12,000 at Madison Square Garden or in Chicago or Philly, places where they are harder, it’s difference. It’s an opportunity to try all of it. It’s just a breeding ground to try all those things on every level.
“It’s great and gives reps to the writers to work their way up and reps to the producers that are producing segments here and learning to do them a better way so they can eventually move up to the main roster. Its camera guys, directors, producers, all of it. The guys are line-producing the shows down here who 10 years from now are going to line-produce Raw and SmackDown and WrestleMania. We are breeding all of it.”
• Watch “NXT Takeover: Fatal 4 Way” 8 p.m. EST Thursday, Sept. 11 from Full Sail Live at Full Sail University on the WWE Network.
Matches include Adrian Neville defending his NXT Championship in a fatal four-way match against Tyson Kidd, Tyler Breeze and Sami Zayn; Charlotte vs. Bayley for the NXT Women’s Championship; Enzo Amore vs. Sylvester Lefort in a hair vs. hair match; and more. Also at “NXT Takeover,” Kenta will make his NXT television debut.
• Follow Levesque on Twitter @TripleH.
• Follow me on Twitter @smFISHMAN.