When Paul Triple H Levesque talks about NXT and its roster, there is genuine excitement.
And he has every reason to be excited.
All eyes will be on WWE’s developmental brand as the NXT TakeOver: Unstoppable live special on WWE Network is 8 p.m. EST Wednesday, May 20 from Full Sail Live at Full Sail University in Winter Park, near Orlando. The event comes at a point where NXT’s fan base has grown exponentially in the past few months through a grass roots approach stemming from the presentation of a quality product.
For Levesque, executive vice president of talent, live events & creative, NXT’s card at San Jose University during WrestleMania Week was a tipping point. Among those in attendance were dignitaries including WWE Chairman Vince McMahon.
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“He was blown away,” Levesque said of his father-in-law during a media conference call. “One of the things I have to say for Vince is him having faith in me and giving me the opportunity to come down here and create something and giving me the finances and support to do it. Then to say, ‘Here, I’m going to trust you. Go do this and good luck.’ Then to be able to go back to him with this product and have him go, ‘Oh yeah,’ I think we were making some waves. They saw, the WWE exec team including Vince saw the success of what we were doing from a television standpoint and a WWE Network standpoint and from NXT TakeOvers.
“They saw that. They were excited by it. There were little bits and pieces that kept boiling up... [The San Jose show], that all came together at the last minute, when there was an opportunity which arose for the facility. I jumped at the opportunity. I had to jump through a lot of hoops and convince people it was the smart thing to do. There was a lot of concern from the exec team. We had a lot of things going on WrestleMania Week.”
The former multi-time heavyweight champion turned corporate visionary pushed for the event hard and executed it.
“There were still people not convinced, but Vince not being one of them,” Levesque said. “He was on board, but he was getting a lot of pushback in some ways. In his mind, I think he was hoping it would go well. When we got to WrestleMania Week and the buzz was so big, I didn’t know he was going to come until the last minute. He just dropped me a note saying he would be by in a little bit. A lot of that exec team came and were blown away by the fans, the energy in the building and the performances that they saw and by the brand they saw in front of them. That was a game-changer a little bit for a lot of people. A lot of people came out of that saying, ‘Holy cow! Why aren’t we doing more with this?’ I said, ‘I don’t know why you’re not doing more with it. I’m doing more with it.’ A lot of people came out of there changed. It was a paradigm shift. You couldn’t have been in that building in San Jose in that arena watching that show and not think, ‘Holy s---! This is something special.’”
NXT’s impact on the main roster is felt more and more every day, from the bottom all the way to the top through the brand’s first champion, Seth Rollins, who is now WWE World champion. The NXT superstars and divas are now performing outside Central Florida and selling out live events in other parts of the country. They even have their own merchandise. Levesque is looking at 2015 as an experimental year and transitioning NXT into an international touring brand in the next year.
Levesque’s ultimate goal from the start was what is happening, which is creating the best feeder system possible. He says he is not out to put companies like Ring of Honor or Dragon Gate out of business, remarking that NXT’s success means success for the industry. Levesque used the conference call to announce the promotions of Matt Bloom to head trainer of NXT and the Performance Center and Sara Amato as assistant head coach.
“I think that is a phenomenal one-two punch,” Levesque said. “I’m very excited about the opportunity. Matt’s level of professionalism, his everything has upgraded what we do here at the Performance Center and NXT. I couldn’t be happier for him in that role. I’m excited about the future and where it’s all going to end. Sara for me, I can’t say how proud I am of her transition from talent to coach to trusted figure to everybody on this roster. Now we see her growth up to the main roster and being part of that system…”
With the positive attention NXT is receiving, Levesque says they are getting calls and contacted everyday from talent wanting an opportunity. He was asked about one free agent in particular: Samoa Joe.
“I think Samoa Joe is a phenomenal talent. He did come here a month or two ago. The thing is though a lot of people come here. A lot of people stop by the Performance Center. A lot of people have friends here. It’s not like Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens and Finn Bálor haven’t been around the world and know a lot of people. A lot of guys come down here. It is funny when it gets picked up and when it doesn’t. He is a phenomenal talent.
“Whether or not we do business together, I don’t know. I think he was impressed with what he saw. I don’t think you can come by the Performance Center and see the system that we have at Full Sail University and the level of what everyone here has been able to create and not be impressed with it. If you were sold on the brand when you come down here, you will want to be part of this. I think that is everybody. Whether or not we do business going forward, we’ll see. I don’t know. I was pretty busy when he came here. I think I spoke to him for five minutes, and it was mostly pleasantries.”
On top of all the milestones, many NXT talents even appeared on Raw and WWE main roster shows a time or two. The most recent occurred when current NXT champ Kevin Owens made an example of John Cena. He challenged the face of WWE at the WWE Elimination Chamber on May 31 on WWE Network.
However, before we get there, Owens is set to defend his gold against Sami Zayn in the main event of NXT TakeOver: Unstoppable. Levesque confirmed Zayn has been cleared by doctors and is ready to go. The father of NXT is proud of everyone associated with the brand, especially the men and women who lace up the boots with the pride of yellow and black running through their veins.
“When you look at guys like Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, they are so good. Sami is amazing to me, to take a guy out of a mask with no facials who didn’t really cut promos to be where he is today. Neville was that way. Neville was a guy who had never spoken before on camera. To get him at the comfort level he was at and getting him to feel the emotion. You go back and watch when he worked in Japan and watch him now with the emotion he displays and his ability to draw a crowd in, it’s night and day. Look at Becky Lynch’s change, since she got here. Sasha Banks, oh my God. The growth of Sasha Banks to where she is today.
“The same with Charlotte, who was somebody that walked in the door and had never been in the ring before, which is hard to believe being Ric [Flair]’s daughter. To where she is, I mean she has a little bit of an advantage genetically, but [look at her evolution]. Tyler Breeze is a guy who was a great hand and a great mechanic, but to where he is now. You can’t even begin to express how big a change that is.
“Baron Corbin is another guy. We present Baron Corbin a certain way, and we are slowly giving him more and more of what he can do. Trust me, he can already do it. He is a guy who goes from never having stepped in the ring before coming from the NFL to where he is now. It’s just amazing. I’m proud of everybody on this roster. There is not one talent. It’s all the talent.”
NXT TakeOver: Unstoppable
live on WWE Network
The NXT TakeOver: Unstoppable live special on the WWE Network is 8 p.m. EST Wednesday, May 20 from Full Sail Live at Full Sail University in Winter Park, near Orlando.
The main event is a rematch of the prior NXT TakeOver live special with NXT champ Kevin Owens against Sami Zayn.
The NXT women’s title is also on the line as The Boss Sasha Banks defends the title against Becky Lynch.
NXT tag team champs Blake and Murphy battle Enzo Amore and Big Cass Colin Cassidy with Carmella.
Finn Bálor vs. Hideo Itami vs. Tyler Breeze in an NXT Championship No.1 Contender's Triple Threat Match.
Bayley and Charlotte team against Emma and Dana Brooke.
Also, Rhyno vs. Baron Corbin.
The NXT TakeOver: Unstoppable pre-show is 7:30 p.m. with Corey Graves, Byron Saxton and Renee Young on WWE Network.
NXT on WWE Network
Catch NXT on WWE Network 8 p.m. EST Wednesdays and on-demand.
NXT on tour
NXT on NXT
Visit http://www.wwe.com/shows/wwenxt for everything NXT and tour dates.
NXT in Fort Pierce
NXT returns to Fort Pierce at the Havert L. Fenn Center on June 5.
Tickets $10, $20. There will be a meet-n-greet before the show, which is included in the ticket price. First come, first served.
Paul Levesque @TripleH
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