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PRO WRESTLING: WWE’s Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque talks NXT TakeOver, future, growth

WWE NXT TakeOver: Rival live is 8 p.m. EST Wednesday, Feb. 11 on WWE Network from Full Sail Live at Full Sail University in Winter Park, near Orlando. There is also a pre-show at 7:30 p.m. EST on WWE Network.
WWE NXT TakeOver: Rival live is 8 p.m. EST Wednesday, Feb. 11 on WWE Network from Full Sail Live at Full Sail University in Winter Park, near Orlando. There is also a pre-show at 7:30 p.m. EST on WWE Network. Courtesy WWE

NXT’s next big live special on WWE Network may be called TakeOver, but in many ways the talented crew based in Orlando has already taken over.

A prominent reason for the developmental brand’s success is Paul “Triple H” Levesque. The WWE executive vice president of talent, live events and creative had a visualization of what he wanted NXT to become, going far beyond anything the company did in grooming the superstars of tomorrow.

Levesque spoke about NXT’s growth and goals for the future heading into NXT TakeOver: Rival 8 p.m. EST Wednesday, Feb. 11 on WWE Network from Full Sail Live at Full Sail University in Winter Park, near Orlando.

That includes the roster seen each week on WWE Network hitting the road regularly outside of the Sunshine State by the end of the year and into 2016.

“It’s an exciting time for developmental and NXT,” he said. “…I think it’s no different than AA-baseball where their goal is to make it to the [big leagues]. I think everyone here, their goal is hopefully is to get up to Raw, SmackDown and WrestleMania. That’s where I want them all to go. The touring component gives them the opportunity to work and not in front of the same crowds every week. This gives them the opportunity to fully tour.

“I think we’ve created a brand successful enough right now to be taken around to a lot of different markets. We have a lot of interest in bought shows in which people are bringing us in, and we are also going tour on our own. Having that opportunity to do what we are bringing them up to speed to do at the Performance Center, but do it every day in front of a live crowd, different cities, different reactions and different mentalities. That’s a true learning component of the business is being able to do this on the fly and read the crowd and change on the fly.

“That’s what I’m getting them to do. I hope smack down in the middle of some kind of huge storyline where I got guys touring with it, Vince calls saying he wants that guy, and I have to figure out a way to take them out of it and move on. That means it’s succeeding. The more guys I can get on the main roster. My goal is to have this be as good as possible, but five years from now I want to be looking at a WrestleMania packed with guys that came out of this system.”

Live events are one thing, but Levesque doesn’t really want to see NXT on Raw and SmackDown on a consistent basis. He feels it would take away from the charm of the brand, as well as the separation of it in comparison to the main roster. NXT’s biggest fan would love to see them represented at WrestleMania, but at the same time doesn’t want to lose perspective of what the developmental program is at the end of the day. It’s a delicate balance.

Thanks to WWE Network, the superstars of NXT have gained a solid following of devoted fans. The company has taken notice and now sells merchandise of a lot of the popular names on WWE Shop. Charlotte, Sami Zayn, Tyler Breeze, Sasha Banks and Adrian Neville are just a few who have also competed at WWE live events. This has created an interesting dynamic in the NXT and main roster locker rooms.

“I think for the people down here in developmental for NXT, they couldn’t be more excited,” Levesque said. “I think when you talk about getting to the main roster and doing all these things. NXT has become this amazing place to be. Not just to be to sit and wait to get to the next level. You’re not just sitting here miserably going out of your mind. Even though there is a lot of repetition, it’s an exciting place to be, and it’s only going to get more exciting. To see the look on a talent’s face when they get their own shirt for the first time and when it sells well, all of it I think means the world to them. Part of this is making them feel confident, comfortable and feel special in a way so they can translate that and grow up to the main roster.

“If I was on the main roster and was looking at developmental with talent not just having shirts, but selling shirts and are on the upper-end of our shop numbers and all those things and creating the buzz they are, it would certainly be lighting a fire under me to figure out what I have to do. I would be thinking of how I can get to that next level and not leaving any stone unturned. I think that’s what you see. I think competition to me is one of the greatest things to come out of this. It doesn’t hurt to have a fire lit under them every now and then. I think NXT does that.”

Expectations for NXT TakeOver: Rival is high, considering the prior specials received rave reviews among audiences. The event is headlined by Owens battling Zayn for the NXT championship. The two friends and longtime rivals have met before, but never on this grand stage.

“One of the things that I like about NXT is we don’t believe the past didn’t happen,” Levesque said. “I don’t have to dwell on it or overly get into it, but I don’t want to make like it didn’t happen. To me, it’s part of that ‘Reality Era’ thing. There is this amazing 12 to 14-year story between these two guys who have this legitimate friendship that has been all over the place. They’ve taken slightly different career paths. I’m sure legitimately there have been moments of happiness, jealousy and everything else in between that every human being on the planet has.

“Everybody can relate to it. That’s it at the end of the day, having a story that everyone can relate to and telling it. These guys have this amazing story, so to me that’s a way better story than anything else I can come up with. It’s real, and it happened. It’s truthful. Then it’s easy for these guys to morph and get into. Is it a twist on the true story? Yeah, absolutely, but there is some stuff they can sink their teeth into that can be really something. It’s exciting for the fan base. When you look at the WWE Network as it continues to grow, the base of the WWE Network coming in is our most hardcore fans. Hardcore fans know that story or at least have heard that story. So it makes sense for me to tell it. As you tell that story, it becomes our story. Hopefully, five years from now there is a similar strain from this same story happening around the main roster or WrestleMania even.

Another anticipated match is the fatal four-way with women’s champion Charlotte putting her title on the line against Sasha Banks, Bayley and Becky Lynch. The women of NXT have impressed fans, leaving them to wonder why WWE divas on the main roster don’t get as much time to shine.

“I think it is different visions and the morphing of those visions,” Levesque said. “It’s tough to just wholesale change everything. Partly, when you look at Raw and SmackDown compared to NXT and what we do, they are a little different audiences. Some people are going to take exception to that statement, but there are a lot of casual fans that watch Raw and SmackDown. They perceive the business quite different. It takes a while to change those perceptions. I think we are doing that. We are showing what these divas can do, what our women can do.

“It’s just going to take time. It takes time for people to change how they see it. Part of it is vision, and part of that is execution. I think we will get there. I think for me there are a lot of trendsetting things going on and changing. It’s like a paradigm shift of how people view women in the world. …I think perception of how women are seen and perceived and presented is changing every day. I’m proud of NXT and that Sasha, Charlotte and all these girls that we have down here are leading the charge in that. I’m excited of where they can take it in the future.”

Triple H isn’t the only one liking what he is seeing from NXT. WWE chairman Vince McMahon has also noticed the brand’s strides.

“I’ve never sat down to watch it with him,” Levesque said of his father-in-law. “I do know he watches it. Usually, he has it on in the background, as I’m sure he will [for NXT TakeOver: Rival] while he is working until 11 or 12 at night before he goes down to the gym to train because that’s just the kind of guy he is. He is proud of it. He is excited. I think for the future, he is proud of the system and the athletes that he has here.

“…I’ve spent a lot of time side-by-side with him the last 20 years, sometimes too much. A lot of the vision of what’s happening down here is things we’ve talked about. It’s not just all these things dropping out of my head. I’ve picked up so much from him over the years of what needed to happen within developmental and what we need to do to expand the business. When I came into the office and stepped out of the ring, this was kind of what I wanted to take on. I was lucky that he gave me the opportunity to do that.

“He has given me the opportunity to do that without a massive amount of oversight, which to me is the ultimate compliment because he has the trust in me to do it. A lot of what we do down here is visions of what we should have overall. It’s one of the things that when I pitched the Performance Center I told him what we should have. This is what WWE should have. This is what our developmental should have….He agreed with it, and I knew he would because we’ve talked about it before. We’ve been on the same page. He is incredibly proud of it. He is incredibly proud of the athletes, and I think it makes him feel really good that three, five years from now we are going to be in a really good place talent-wise, business wise, all of it.”

NXT TakeOver live on WWE Network

Sami Zayn defends the NXT championship against Kevin Owens 8 p.m. EST Wednesday, Feb. 11 at NXT TakeOver: Rival live on WWE Network from Full Sail Live at Full Sail University in Winter Park, near Orlando.

Adrian Neville faces Finn Balor in the finals of the NXT No.1 contender tournament.

Charlotte defends the NXT women’s championship in a fatal four-way against Bayley, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch.

Wesley Blake and Buddy Murphy put the NXT tag team championships on the line against former champs Lucha Dragons (Kalisto and Sin Cara).

Baron Corbin battles Bull Dempsey.

There is a pre-show at 7:30 p.m. EST on WWE Network hosted by Renee Young with panelists Corey Graves, Byron Saxton and Jason Albert (A-Train/Tensai).

NXTTakeOverWWENetwork

- NXT moves to Wednesdays on WWE Network to avoid conflict with SmackDown on Thursdays on Syfy.

Visit www.WWE.com for more information.

- WWE offers WWE Network for free in February.

http://www.wwe.com/wwenetwork

- Follow Levesque on Twitter @Triple H

- Follow NXT on Twitter @WWENXT

- Follow me on Twitter @smFISHMAN

NXT in Fort Pierce

WWE NXT is 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 13 at the Havert L. Fenn Center in Fort Pierce.

http://www.stlucieco.gov/parks/fenncenter.htm

See the rising talent of NXT, the future superstars and divas of WWE.

There will be a meet-n-greet before the show, which is included in the ticket price.

nxtticketforce

http://nxttickets.ticketforce.com/venuelisting.asp

http://nxttickets.ticketforce.com/default.asp

PRO WRESTLING ON THE WEB

http://www.miamiherald.com/sports/fighting/

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