If Paul “Triple H” Levesque were a baseball general manager, he would be named Executive of the Year.
Within the last year, he has seen 16 performers elevated from NXT to the big leagues — the main WWE roster — almost all either after Wrestlemania in April or through the brand split draft in July.
And like in baseball, when talent moves up, the developmental ranks need to rebuild.
“It’s on us and imperative to keep building new stars — that’s the point of the thing, that’s what keeps it fresh,” said Levesque, WWE’s executive vice president of talent, live events and creative and the architect of NXT. “If you don’t put your finger on the pulse of what’s going on and adjust accordingly, you’re doomed. We have to be growing, evolving and changing and keep track of what’s happening out there now and what the appetite is.”
To take the analogy one step further, however, there is nothing minor league about NXT and the brand is expanding rather than taking any lumps until that new talent is ready.
NXT begins a tour of Japan and Australia next week, continues to sell out as it moves into new parts of the United States, and put on a blow-away “NXT: Takeover” event in Toronto last weekend that rivaled the main roster’s Survivor Series the next night.
Cultivating the new talent and mixing them with veterans whom in many cases have taken a step further with the WWE production behind them – see Bobby Roode’s entrance with a choir of seemingly 100 singers at “NXT Takeover: Toronto” — is what Levesque described as the “secret sauce.”
Consider this: Of the talent on Takeover, only four performers were under 30 and two of them – Johnny Gargano and Dash Wilder – have been in the business for more than a decade. The Authors of Pain are 22 and 23, respectively, and trained to be pro wrestlers at the WWE Performance Center in Florida.
“Even when you don’t necessarily look at all the matches, when you look at the list of people in Takeover, you can see people beginning to build up,” Levesque said. “We had to start the women’s division almost over, with the exception of Asuka being the most dominant woman we have. With the women still there on the active roster in NXT, we’re rebuilding.”
The rebuilding also includes bringing in new talent, many of whom has yet to be seen on television, and those who have been working diligently at the Performance Center for their turn. The most recent new class of recruits announced late last month included nine members, most notably Roderick Strong, a 13-year veteran whom many fans know from Ring of Honor.
But don’t think this transition was something that WWE didn’t see coming. The month before the draft, the NXT Takeover special in June was tagged, “The End … of the Beginning.” Yes, that was a reference to the end of the rivalry between Finn Balor and Samoa Joe with Balor moving to the main roster in the draft, but it also represented the change to “more than developmental, to being its own brand,” as Levesque described it.
“I think people said if we took 16 stars to the main roster, what would happen?” Levesque said. “As a brand, everybody is coming together in NXT. There is an opportunity for talent to grow. Building new talent and new stars is a massive team effort from the production side and the way we support each in creating something special. When you can lose 16 talents and continue to put shows on at the same level, that says something about the roster and the team behind the roster that does it.”
Levesque also credited the NXT fan base, which has fueled the brand’s growth. The renegade vibe that has long pervaded NXT’s home at Full Sail University in Florida is now apparent wherever the group tours.
“We talk about, ‘We are NXT,’” said Levesque. “There is an acceptance by our fans of the new and recognizing that I get this person is being elevated and doesn’t have the experience level so I will cut them some slack. I can give them some time to grow and become something more. It’s very cool. It’s a culture where we’re all working together, cultivating new stars and it’s something we’re really proud of.”