Fighting

Paul Levesque talks Cruiserweight Classic, NXT TakeOver: The End

NXT TakeOver: The End is Wednesday, June 8 on WWE Network from Full Sail Live at Full Sail University in Winter Park, near Orlando.
NXT TakeOver: The End is Wednesday, June 8 on WWE Network from Full Sail Live at Full Sail University in Winter Park, near Orlando. Photo By Jim Varsallone

WWE’s NXT strives to raise the bar and explore new territory with each of its live specials.

The buzz-worthy developmental brand has good chance of doing that once again with NXT TakeOver: The End 8 p.m. ET Wednesday, June 8 on WWE Network. The event is headlined with Samoa Joe defending the heavyweight gold against Finn Balor in NXT’s first steel cage match.

The brand’s biggest fan Paul Levesque, executive vice president for talent, live events and creative, took time out to answer questions from media ahead of what could be the final chapter in this intense feud.

“To be able to carry something seven months and have that rivalry go that long and keep it fresh and interesting, that’s a testament to the two talent,” he said.

“There has been a lot of talk about the name of this TakeOver ‘The End.” It has a lot of meanings. I think you’ll see that tomorrow as well. But when Samoa Joe and Finn Balor step into the ring for the first time in NXT history inside a steel cage, I think you can expect it to be the end.”

Since NXT’s inception there have been a number of storied feuds. However, Levesque saw the cage was another way to take the Joe versus Balor to another level. Much like other members of the WWE Universe, he is looking forward to how the marquee match plays out.

“I went to them sort of with the concept,” he said.

“You start these things with hopes they are going to go to a particular place. The business is fluid and changes all the time. That is part of what is great about it and is part of what is difficult about it. You start something and expect it to go a certain way and see how it lays out…You start making that move.

“It felt like it was right. It felt like it was the right rivalry and moment in time. Their rivalry has been going on a long time and taken various turns and twists. But getting to the point it got to right now, it felt like it needed closure.

“It felt like it needed the ended and something definitive. It felt right [for them] to be put inside the steel cage. We don’t use a lot of those things in NXT a lot. We are very judicious in their use. This is one of those cases I felt like it was the right place, right time.”

Levesque mentioned his anticipation for other matches on the card. Among them is the tag team title battle between champs American Alpha and The Revival and Austin Aries against Shinsuke Nakamura. He expects a solid debut from Adrade “Cien” Almas, who faces Tye Dillinger. The proprietor of women’s wrestling also predicts Asuka and Nia Jax to turn heads in their championship showdown.

“To me, Asuka and Nia Jax are going to be exciting,” Levesque said. “There is just this stylistically buzz saw in Asuka against this massive destroyer that is Nia Jax. The improvements [Nia] has made from however long ago she was in the ring with Bayley, as she was very green in her first high-profile match. She seems totally different and comfortable and a more polished performer now. That’s going to be an exciting match.”

During the conference call Levesque addressed developments with WWE as a whole, particularly the brand extension. On July 19, SmackDown goes live and officially separates itself from Raw. There is no telling what kind of impact this will have on the NXT roster.

“I think there will be a lot of talent needs for both rosters with the brand extension,” Levesque said.

“I read comments some people make about the potential to have that drain NXT. Some people see this as a negative saying, ‘Oh, it’s going to take away all the talent from NXT.’ I feel like it’s one of the strengths of NXT. It is kind of the secret sauce in a way where just when you start thinking this is what we have, all of a sudden the landscape changes.

“That’s the challenge for us is to rise to the occasion. It’s the challenge for the talent to rise to the occasion. NXT to me is all about opportunity. It’s what keeps the brand fresh. You have all these young, hungry talent that, whether they’ve been in the game for a while or are new to it, they are striving and scratching and clawing to make their way. This is another opportunity. If the brand extension heavily relies on NXT talent moving up to Raw and SmackDown, then it opens up a new opportunity for a lot of talent to thrive. I look forward to that challenge.”

In addition to the brand split and NXT, the consummate businessman is gearing up for the start of the Cruiserweight Classic. This inaugural tournament will unfold later this summer and feature 32 men looking to make names for themselves. Qualifying matches have been taking place at events put on by partnering companies like Evolve, Revolution Pro and Progress.

“It’s been a lot of fun and very exciting,” Levesque said. “Exciting for me in what I’m doing working with the outside groups to get a feel for what is going on outside of us in the industry and sort of support that in a way. I like having that undercurrent there where these guys have places to go. If you are trying to apply your craft outside of us, there are a lot of really cool places to work that you can do what you do in a meaningful way.

“Hopefully, you turn that into something you can do that takes care of you for the rest of your life. It’s been a fun process. I think it’s good for them, Evolve, Progress and Rev Pro. The opportunity to do those things has been huge. We are giving them massive exposure. For them to have a match in Progress for example and have us put it up on .com and push it out there and let people see it and see who these guys are. It may be the first time seeing them for a lot of people.

“The hardcore fans may be very engaged and may have seen them a lot, but there is a whole other fan base that is really into it and doesn’t know anything about it…It also gives us a better feel for them as performers. It has been a very exciting process but we are also breaking new ground. [Evolve] Gabe [Sapolsky] says it a lot. He never knows what the next day is going to bring in this thing because we are breaking new ground.

“I’m constantly thinking about what if. Then we think about it and think it through and go from there. Where this all goes? It will be interesting to see. I’m exciting about it. To me tournaments are very sport-driven so to speak from a presentation standpoint. I think that is what you will see, something different that you have ever seen before. I think it’s going to be different top-to-bottom in the way it is presented and talked about and put out there. I think in the next few weeks you will be seeing some very exciting announcements about what we are doing, who is involved and all of it. Cruiserweight Classic is one of those things I feel really has an opportunity to be this ‘Wow’ moment in the business.”

Before closing the call, Levesque reflected on the passing of boxing legend Muhammad Ali. He referred to him as a personal hero of his.

“I think his impact in the world is massive,” Levesque said. “His impact on boxing obviously is second to none. But also the personality and the character and the charisma and all those things, he self-admittedly borrowed or was inspired by guys like Gorgeous George and to a whole new level he then created grew even bigger and inspired others.

“That’s an awesome thing. It just felt like, for me, his passing was a massive thing in our industry as well. He was such a fan. He was so integral for a lot of years in what we did. He is somebody even though he wasn’t a part of our business on a day-to-day basis was such a massive influence on it. I hope his impact on us is never forgotten in the WWE landscape or sports entertainment.”

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- NXT TakeOver: The End at Full Sail

NXT TakeOver: The End special is 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 8 at Full Sail Live at Full Sail University in Winter Park, near Orlando. The event will be broadcast live on WWE Network.

NXT champ Samoa Joe vs. Finn Balor in a steel cage

NXT women’s champ Asuka vs. Nia Jax

NXT tag champs American Alpha (Chad Gable and Jason Jordan) vs. The Revival (Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson)

Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas vs. Tye Dillinger

Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Austin Aries

A live preshow will occur a half hour before the event gets underway.

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