Paul “Triple H” Levesque is the WWE World heavyweight champion and heading into a big main event Sunday against Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 32.
However, it’s easy to see the legendary performer is just as excited for NXT TakeOver: Dallas 10 p.m. ET Friday, April 1 on WWE Network from the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center.
The executive vice president, talent, live events and creative will watch in awe, along with other rabid fans, as the developmental brand takes center stage. The NXT live network specials have a track record for raising the bar. Levesque is expecting much of the same.
“You look at a year ago in San Jose when it was just a live event and not televised. It has grown exponentially in one year,” he said, during a media call to promote the show.
“…Starting out with Austin Aries against Baron Corbin, which I think Aries’ debut will be really exciting for fans. I think they will have a phenomenal match. I think Baron has come into his own, and it’s going to be a very exciting match. Sami Zayn faces one the most exciting things on the card Shinsuke Nakamura. Huge fan of Nakamura and have been for a long time. Really excited to see him coming into NXT and excited to see what he can do in WWE.
“Sami Zayn always continues to wow people. The championship match between the Revival and American Alpha will feature two of the best tag teams in the world. That will be exciting. A match I’ve been looking forward to since Asuka got here has been Asuka versus Bayley for the NXT women’s championship. You have two completely different styles with Bayley becoming just this consummate champion and Asuka becoming this destroyer. Don’t know any other way to describe her. Then you have the match between Finn Balor and Samoa Joe for the NXT championship. If you saw London, I can’t wait for that to take place. It’s an exciting time for NXT.”
Looking at his career outside of the ring, NXT is becoming his greatest professional accomplishment. Levesque has witnessed much of his vision realized already with the creation of the Performance Center in Orlando and the brand touring regularly. The stellar reputation of NXT has given it the confidence to cultivate recognizable talent along with relatively inexperienced signings. The mix has been beneficial for everyone involved.
“I dislike saying main roster and NXT now because I feel it kind of lessens it,” Levesque said.
“NXT is a brand on to itself. I want to present it that way. Anyone that is signed with WWE has the potential at any point in time to be on Raw or SmackDown or WrestleMania. I’m sure that’s everybody’s goal if you are in this industry. If it’s not, I would be shocked. At the same point in time, NXT is this amazing brand all on to itself. And I have a lot of guys calling now saying they want to be on NXT. That if they made it on the main roster it would be phenomenal, but if they don’t, they would just like to be at NXT.”
It’s been a delicate balance for Levesque as this particular extension of WWE evolves and expands. However, the goals have not changed in that NXT is a breeding ground and learning environment for emerging talent.
“I can tell you now there are a lot of guys and girls in NXT that if you pull the switch and make the transition they are ready to do it,” Levesque said.
“It’s timing. It’s what is needed. You can’t have 12 shortstops on a team. So the timing has to be right. The position has to be right. When you look at talent and think they are an incredible in-ring performer. Finn Balor was an amazing in-ring performer, but had never once in his life thought about a camera or a camera position prior to coming WWE. That his changed the way he has viewed the business. It’s a massive learning curve.
“I want to make sure everyone is as prepared as possible because when you get to American Airlines Arena or AT&T Stadium with 100,000 people there and cameras everywhere. I want to make sure they have every tool possible to succeed at the highest level at all times.”
The NXT product has built a dedicated fan base. Many have even gone as far as to say NXT will be better than WrestleMania. Levesque likes the competitive atmosphere the brand has created for itself.
“The great thing about NXT is if NXT puts on a phenomenal show on Friday night, it will light a fire under everyone who is competing on Sunday night,” Levesque said.
“To me, that drives people to be better. It does it across the board. Trust me, I’m going to give them the speech pushing them Friday night before they go out there and knowing I’m the guy that is going to watch and go ‘Now I got to go follow that.’ It’s a double-edge sword for me. But that’s phenomenal because it’s going to make everyone better.
“But the beautiful thing about it is remember NXT, Raw and SmackDown is all WWE. What NXT does is allows us to super serve our most hardcore fans, our biggest fans and passionate fans about what we do. Raw and SmackDown serves a very broad audience that appeal to various segments of the world. It is different populations and different age groups that cover everything. NXT allows us to super serve a very passionate fan base. That to me is the best part. There is a group of fans that want something specific, and we are going to give that to them and then some.”
Among the most anticipated moments of TakeOver is the arrival of Nakamura, who made a name for himself in New Japan Pro Wrestling.
“Nakamura just has this amazing charisma,” Levesque said.
“I’ve said this before about it being the first thing you look for in a talent. The other things you can teach, but the charisma and personality, you either have it or don’t. It’s tough to teach that sometimes. You can grow into it, but it’s tough. He just has this innate charisma and this style. It’s funny because sometimes people who have never heard of him would ask me to tell them something about him. It’s hard to describe Nakamura.
“I always hear people say he is like a Michael Jackson mixed with Freddie Mercury and hits you really hard and has this intense style. It’s tough to picture that. But it works. On paper it seems like a weird combo, but it really works. I just feel like he has this charisma that when you are done watching him you will feel you saw something special. There are certain talents that come along that I feel that way when I watch them.”
Nakamura is part of this influx of talent coming in from many prominent pro wrestling companies. These signings have developed notoriety and have been able to transition with the name they made. For Levesque, the character development process early on going into WWE and NXT is approached differently based on each case.
“With Samoa Joe, there is a value to a name and working with that name. It creates a buzz and adds excitement level with the name. I look at some of the more established talent coming, which works on a number of levels to bring them in because the younger guys that are trying to learn this business, working with a veteran is a way to grow exponentially. When you are greener than green, it’s tough to learn from each other. So when you are in with a guy with a lot of experience, it helps.
“Those guys are also willing to teach the younger guys at the same point time and engaging our fan base. When the name and excitement behind that name works for us, we will work with it that way. Sometimes people get caught up with this is what we do and we can’t get outside of that box. It’s nowhere written saying we have to do things a certain way…”
A supporter in Levesque’s corner has been WWE chairman Vince McMahon. He sets the record straight in regards to his father-in-law’s perspective and opinion of NXT.
“Talent is talent. First and foremost, Vince is a promoter,” Levesque said.
“If he looks at something and says this talent I can do something with and promote and make money with and have the company make money, he is all over it. He is a big fan of NXT. He is a big fan of what we do. He is a big fan of the people that watch it. Do we agree on guys in NXT? [Someone] I think is a phenomenal talent that he might think a little less of. That is what it is. To say Vince is not a fan of NXT is just ludicrous and not accurate, even though sources say. It’s speculation because sometimes when a talent is moved from NXT to Raw and SmackDown, they aren’t where fans would like to see them or not exactly how they thought it would go for them. Then it becomes a change for them.”
Levesque’s advice to fans is not to believe everything you read on the internet.
- NXT TakeOver: Dallas 10 p.m. ET Friday, April 1 on WWE Network. A pre-show is scheduled for 9 p.m. ET.
- Watch WrestleMania 32 7 p.m. ET Sunday, April 3 on pay-per-view and WWE Network. Pre-show starts at 5 p.m.
- WWE announced a multi-year deal with Snapchat today. To kick off the partnership, Snapchat will cover WrestleMania via a Live Story. Snickers, the official presenting sponsor of WrestleMania, will be WWE’s first-ever Snapchat story.
- Follow me on Twitter @smFISHMAN.