This environment brings a unique set of challenges, especially when many of the top names received the call-up all at once after the main roster draft not long ago. New faces have been given the opportunity to fill in these spots. A great showcase of that is NXT TakeOver Toronto airing Sunday, Nov. 19 at 8/7CT on WWE Network.
Paul “Triple H” Levesque, executive vice president of talent, creative and live events, is looking forward to the big event.
“It’s been a big build for me with this TakeOver given the shift in the talent roster with the draft and everything we have had in the last year,” he said during a media call ahead of the show.
“There have been a lot of changes that were made. So it’s interesting for me when you don’t look at all the matches and the card in general and the list of people who are on TakeOver. To see people begin to boil up. We kind of had to start our women’s division almost over — with the exception of Asuka, who is the most dominant woman we have. So it’s been a rebuilding process.”
Making history is guaranteed with TakeOver being a first for NXT in Canada, on the eve of the Survivor Series pay-per-view. The show is highlighted by Shinsuke Nakamura defending the NXT championship against Samoa Joe.
“In my opinion, it’s a classic rivalry between two stars,” Levesque added. “I say that in the biggest way I can.”
Another anticipated showdown is Mickie James stepping foot in a WWE ring for the first time in more than six years, this time against NXT women’s champion Asuka.
“I’ve seen a lot of rumors that there were other people attempted to be grabbed for this,” Levesque said. “I can assure you that is not the case.
“As we got closer to TakeOver, I wanted more time for some of our other women to percolate and grow as performers and build a reputation in their own aura, and that is what we are doing. I look at Mickie James as someone of a very high skill level, that I knew could handle it and knew would be in the shape to be able to do this. She was someone I wanted to do this. I felt like her and Asuka would tear it up. So that is where we went. I want to reinforce that Mickie was not the consolation prize for us in any way. She is the person we went after.”
In a matchup Levesque expects to be glorious, Bobby Roode and Tye Dillinger returns home to battle it out.
“Both guys being from Toronto, I have a feeling the arena will come unglued for that one,” he predicts.
“[On Dillinger’s ‘Perfect 10’ phenomenon], I think with anything it’s building a character and making it into something more. It’s not a single chant. [Steve] Austin wasn’t built on ‘What?’ Austin wasn’t built on 3:16. Austin was built on a lot of things. Same with Daniel Bryan, character and the underdog factor and him as a person, these are things you just gravitate toward. There are all kinds of components that people love to be. The 10 Factor has latched on, but the story-telling has to be right. I think when the time is right for the 10 movement to go the way I think a lot of people think it will go then it will head that way. It’s just about timing, the right storyline and everything that needs to happen. Not only the writing, but the performer that needs to capitalize the best way possible.”
The tag team division takes center stage in two important bouts. The Revival (Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder) defend the NXT tag titles against DIY (Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa).
“To me, in one of the matches that will absolutely steal the show, and thinking about it will be a match-of-the-year candidate,” Levesque said. “That match will be two out of three falls, which has kind of become a staple for NXT.”
The second Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic tournament comes to a close with TM61 (Nick Miller and Shane Thorne) facing the Authors of Pain (Rezar and Akam) with Paul Ellering.
“TM61, a young and exciting team coming up in NXT, versus the destructive Authors of Pain, I have high hopes for that one as well,” Levesque said.
“When you look at guys like the Authors of Pain only being in the Performance Center for less than two years with no experience walking through the door, it’s amazing how far they’ve come.”
Along with NXT, a passion project for Levesque has been the cruiserweights. It started with the Cruiserweight Classic, which led to a full-blown cruiserweight division on Raw. Now WWE is gearing up to launch a new show called 205 Live, premiering Tuesday Nov. 19 at 10/9CT. It will further spotlight the incredible athletes competing 205 pounds and under.
“As we talked before with the Cruiserweight Classic, the opportunity to give those cruiserweights a platform they haven’t had in a long time,” Levesque said.
“There is just so much great talent in the division. They need a platform like this. It’s something I’ve been very passionate about and working hard on. For them to have the exposure of a Monday Night Raw position to have their own platform all their own, this show will be phenomenal. I can’t wait for it to get started. I think it’s going to be very exciting. I look forward to making it as different and exciting for our fan base as they found with the Cruiserweight Classic.”
It has been quite a 2016 for WWE in general, and NXT has been a big reason for that. Levesque remains the brand’s biggest fan, speaking like a proud parent reflecting on the strides they have made.
“We created and elevated 16 performers all at once from the Performance Center, from NXT, from the NXT roster to the main roster,” he said.
“Yet we continued to put out a product that people enjoyed, continue to put out I think the same level of content. You can argue about creative issues, but we built new stars, we built new performers and been able to continue to do what we do. I try to flip that the other way and if you took the main roster and 16 stars out of that main roster and got rid of them, what would happen? To me, that’s where I go as a brand …It’s everybody coming together at NXT. There is opportunity there for talent to grow.
“TM61, the Authors of Pain, so much talent when you look at the women’s division like Ember Moon, Nikki Cross, Liv Morgan, Peyton Royce and Billie Kay. All this talent is beginning to elevate and rise like Tye Dillinger getting into a different position. Building new talent and new stars, that’s a massive team effort. It’s not easy to do. It’s a team effort from the creative side, production side and a talent side to support each other to help them grow.
“That’s what we are fostering there at the Performance Center is having all this talent come in and working as a team. Sanity coming in and creating something special with Eric Young being at the helm of it, as he is really letting his time and experience level help a Sawyer Fulton and Alexander Wolfe and Nikki and taking them to the next level. It’s a massive team effort that is really cool to see happen.
“When you can lose 16 talents and continue on the path you are on and still put on as strong a show I think we are putting on and the performances that we are doing, it’s something that roster and team that does it should be very proud of. And so should the fan base. I say it all the time that the ‘We Are NXT’ thing because I do feel they are a part of what we do. Their acceptance of what we do where a certain person is being elevated and doesn’t have the experience, but they will cut him a little bit of slack and give them time to grow and become something more. That’s really cool. I think it’s all working together to cultivate these new stars. I’m really proud of that.”
- Follow me on Twitter: @smFISHMAN.