PRO WRESTLING: Paul Triple H Levesque talks WWE Network live special NXT TakeOver: R Evolution

WWE NXT TakeOver: R Evolution at 8 p.m. EST Thursday, Dec. 11 live on WWE Network features NXT champ Adrian Neville (left) defending the title against Sami Zayn. The action-packed show is from Full Sail Live at Full Sail University in Winter Park, near Orlando.
WWE NXT TakeOver: R Evolution at 8 p.m. EST Thursday, Dec. 11 live on WWE Network features NXT champ Adrian Neville (left) defending the title against Sami Zayn. The action-packed show is from Full Sail Live at Full Sail University in Winter Park, near Orlando. Photo Courtesy WWE

Paul Triple H Levesque is no doubt NXT’s biggest fan.

This was evident when the executive vice president of talent, live events and creative fielded questions during a media conference call Wednesday leading into WWE NXT Takeover: R Evolution 8 p.m. EST Thursday, Dec. 11 on WWE Network. The show emanates from Full Sail Live at Full Sail University in Winter Park, near Orlando.

WWE developmental takes center stage with its big live special, headlined by NXT champion Adrian Neville defending against Sami Zayn. Levesque mentioned he hopes the two bright stars are WWE superstars (and not just NXT regulars) in the next six months. Graduating to the main roster is the motivation for everyone performing on NXT Takeover: R Evolution.

Among the most anticipated parts of the event is the debut of Kevin Owens, known throughout his career as Kevin Steen. After honing his craft and paying his dues, the veteran is ready to officially make the transition into the juggernaut of sports entertainment.

“I try to keep an open dialogue with him and with all the talent coming in once they get to that higher level of doing things here,” Levesque said. “Clearly, he is at that level. It’s getting up to speed on how we do things. To be honest, there is a difference between how the crowds react. There is a difference with how the crowd reacts at Full Sail and how they are going to react in New York City at Madison Square Garden or Chicago.

“It’s different every place you go and the way we present things. The biggest thing for a lot of them is getting up to speed that we are a television show. With Finn Bálor [formerly Prince Devitt], a couple of months ago we were going through all this stuff with him, working through entrances and just camera spots and how he does things. At the end of the day he looked a little frazzled.

“I said, ‘You doing all right with this?’ He said, ‘Yeah. It’s overwhelming sometimes.’ I said, ‘Well, tell me what you are overwhelmed with.’ He just said, ‘I’ve never had anybody talk to me about production of an entrance or hitting music cues. Or hey, if you come to me this way in an entrance, I’m going to have a camera come around this way so I can pick up your face. I just walked to the ring and did what I did, and they shot it. That was the end of it.’

“We are trying to put on a platform in the biggest way possible. That’s not easy to see when you’re watching Raw or SmackDown or pay-per-view in how we present the product, but it does create a big difference with the things you see and don’t see. That’s become the process with these guys is going from just going to the ring and performing and do what you do, whether the cameras get it or not. We are a TV show. We want to get every little nuance and moment and facial reaction and every little thing to make it as big as possible. That’s probably the biggest challenge.”

The profile of NXT has grown by leaps and bounds in the past year. Mainly because of its television home on WWE Network and the positive buzz the show receives. For Levesque, NXT is more of a third entity with Raw and SmackDown than a developmental system.

Does this mean we will ever see the NXT championship defended regularly on WWE pay-per-views or big events?

“We’ve talked about various things like sometimes doing things with the kickoff with it or moving it up,” Levesque said. “I’m thrilled right now that the brand itself is getting that kind of recognition. You go back six months ago, and we weren’t getting a mention. Now we have the tag match on Raw for the last special, and we had Charlotte wrestling Nattie [on Raw on Monday]. We got a promotional package. We are hyping ourselves a lot. That’s great for me because it just helps the brand and helps people wanting to watch.

“At the end of the day, my goal is to get as many eyeballs on NXT as possible to create a buzz about the future; so when our stars from NXT come up to the main roster, they are already stars, and people are excited about what they can do. When I say people are excited about what they can do, I’m talking about the masses, too. Not just the smaller percentage who are already aware of who they were from the independents or what they’ve done in the past. I’m talking about the mass audience of Raw that watches every week or are regular fans or casual fans who have heard of them and excited about their entry into it.

“We are open to all of that. Trust me; I’m constantly making suggestions about bigger and more visible ways we can put the brand out there. It’s one step at a time. We’ll get there slowly but surely.”

Levesque described the WWE Performance Center in Orlando and everything involved with NXT as a work in progress.

“It’s constant,” he said. “Whether it is implementing an acting coach in their curriculum here, especially for people who have never been on camera before and have no onscreen presence to try to find something they can tap into to try to find themselves as a character…From a training standpoint, we are constantly trying to look for different avenues that we can help them develop and working on new things here, as far as what can even help talent on the main roster.

“With our medical staff, they all got certified in ART (Active Release Technique), which is a type of therapy. All these things that can help them grow as performers and help keep them healthy and performing.”

The visionary says from a brand standpoint his goal is to continue to make NXT its own living, breathing brand. The aim in the next year is to have the brand expand touring.

“Right now the majority of our touring is done in the Florida area, Central Florida especially and then repeating a lot of the same places,” Levesque said. “My goal to get outside, probably start in the Southeast first and go out from there. That’s a lot of work in process to put a touring organization on the ground and get it going and have it succeed. That’s the process now for me. I want to get as many eyeballs on NXT as possible and take it out on the road and show people what it is and give them an alternative brand.

“It’s just getting these guys experience, never losing site of the end goal, which is to get them to Raw and SmackDown. I’m hoping two, three or four years from now, I’m sitting backstage at WrestleMania, and every match has someone we cultivated in some way.

“That’s’ the coolest part of it to me. You’re seeing a lot of that success already, but it’s continuing to take it through the next level and for it to succeed on its own and giving these guys the best experience as possible to get them to the next level.”

- Sami Zayn challenges Adrian Neville for the NXT championship 8 p.m. EST Thursday, Dec. 11 at WWE NXT TakeOver: R Evolution on WWE Network. If Zayn doesn't win the gold, he will quit NXT.

Kevin Owens will make his much anticipated debut. Charlotte defends the NXT women’s championship against Sasha Banks. The Lucha Dragons (Kalisto and Sin Cara) battle The Vaudevillains (Aiden English and Simon Gotch) for the NXT tag championship. Finn Bálor and Hideo Itami take on The Ascension (Konnor and Viktor).

NXT superstar Corey Graves, sidelined with a concussion, will make an announcement during the NXT TakeOver: R Evolution pre-show at 7:30 p.m. EST, hosted by Renee Young with Alex Riley and Jason Albert (A-Train, Tensai).

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