Triple Hspoke with Sports Illustrated to discuss WWE’s global expansion, as well as the qualities that make the coaches at the Performance Center such a critical component of success.
Paul “Triple H” Levesque has been off television since his WrestleMania 33 match against Seth Rollins, but “The Game”–who serves as WWE’s Executive Vice President of Talent, Live Events, and Creative–is guiding the company through another successful trip of the United Kingdom, including last week’s NXT show in Norwich, England.
“We are now recruiting globally in a way we have never done before,” said Levesque. “I want to find the best talent from everywhere in the world. In the last few years, you’ve seen us much more aggressively recruiting internationally, whether that be Singapore or Malaysia, Germany or England, or Australia or Dubai. We’re creating pathways for talent to make it to the WWE.”
WWE just held try-outs in Dubai and London. Levesque noted that the United Kingdom Championship Tournament was successful enough as a standalone to generate its own show, which Jim Ross and Nigel McGuinness will announce once the program debuts on the WWE Network.
“That pathway in the U.K. is very easy to replicate globally,” explained Levesque. “This allows fans of those talents to see talent evolve and grow into NXT and beyond, and that localizes content. So, no matter where your home is, there is now a clear pathway to get to the WWE. The world is a big place, and I can’t wait to get to every corner to find the best talent in the world.
“For me, why would I not want to recruit from the entire globe? There is a massive amount of skilled, dedicated, and passionate people out there, and we just need to give them the path. If we teach them how to get here, they will come. I am a big believer that WWE is the greatest form of entertainment in the world, and I want to show that to the world, but I also want there to be a way for people across the globe to get here.”
The Performance Center is also a point of pride for Levesque. WWE’s official training center houses 100 different perspective talents from all over the world, as 40 percent is international, spread across 22 different countries and speaking 16 native languages.
Critics have claimed the Performance Center’s style is robotic and lacks the individuality needed to succeed in pro wrestling. When asked, Levesque was happy to address the subject.
“The misconception is always the same, and it’s absolutely wrong,” said Levesque. “We are looking to make our talent as diverse as possible. People say everyone is wearing the same thing and training the same way. Yet they are not training the same way. We are grouping people together to work on building certain skills. The core of what we do is the same – yes, you have to learn the same skills, techniques, and foundation when you start. Then we set you up with people to develop your characters. We want the talent to develop their character, and our job is to help harness the character. We want them, every single one of them, to be unique and have their own feel.
“Yes, we are all wearing the same WWE gear. That is because, when you’re here, we’re all the same. No one is above anybody else, and we’re all here to learn. We are a team and a family. What we do in the WWE is a partnership–it’s a partnership with the guy across from you, and a partnership with everybody here. One of the pieces of the Performance Center that makes me so proud is when somebody succeeds here, the whole place goes nuts for them. They’re all here to help each other succeed. When you can build that type of climate, it shows our culture within this place is right to develop and to cultivate the best talent possible.”
The Performance Center, which only turns four years old this July, has produced main roster talent such as Enzo Amore, Big Cass, and Baron Corbin. An integral component of its success is the coaching. Levesque has a team of coaches that include head coach Matt Bloom, as well as Steve Corino, Norman Smiley, Terry Taylor, Sara Amato, Robbie Brookside, Scott Taylor, and Adam Pearce.
“What makes a successful coach?” asked Levesque. “The coaching process is very difficult. Just because you were talented in this business does not mean you will be gifted at teaching it. Great players don’t always make great coaches, and great coaches weren’t always great players. We’ve worked to find a very diverse group, focusing in on who connects best with people and who gives the right message, and then connecting a coach with the message they are best at conveying.
“For example, Norman Smiley is one of our best beginner training coaches. Norman is one of our most trusted and valuables coaches. His work is incredibly important in formulating the building blocks to create success in the ring, so it is essential to build a strong foundation. That’s Norman’s wheelhouse – areas like the movements, the rolling, and how to protect yourself at all times. So you find the right people that have that right connection with the talent, you narrow in on the area where they are exceptionally talented at coaching, and you then have them work in that facet.”
Levesque noted that, despite the constant travel and a work schedule that some would think is spinning with reckless abandon, he is rejuvenated upon walking into the Performance Center.
“I’m here every two or three weeks, and I like to take a couple hours to come here and train,” said Levesque. “It’s motivating to see all the athletes maximizing their ability in the gym. The future is now. All of these talents at the Performance Center are the future.
“We try to approach everything differently. I don’t want a cookie-cutter mold, and I don’t want to say, ‘This is what a WWE superstar is.’ We’ve gotten that reputation over time, maybe unfairly, but I’m trying to change that perception. We want men and women who have a passion to do this and a charisma to connect with the masses. The more you let people get outside of themselves and try to become something more, the more you’ll be surprised at all they can become.”
News of the Week: Frankie Kazarian is ready for War of the Worlds
The most memorable non-WWE storyline of 2017?
Christopher Daniels finally winning the Ring of Honor world title at the 14th Anniversary pay per view after starting with the company during its first PPV.
Daniels overcame the vaunted Bullet Club to defeat Adam Cole for the ROH championship.
Although “The Architect” in wrestling slang is simply a nickname for Seth Rollins, the architect who concocted this sublime storyline was Frankie Kazarian, who turned on longtime partner Daniels–the two had formed The Addiction–and joined the Bullet Club to further advance the storyline.
“I pitched the idea of me turning and joining the Bullet Club, citing the reason that Chris Daniels was selfish for abandoning The Addiction and going off on his own for the world title,” explained Kazarian. “I became the jealous little brother that didn’t get the attention his big brother received. I believed that was something people could relate to and believe–the spoiled little brother isn’t getting his way so he does something dastardly.”
The angle between Bullet Club and Christopher Daniels was reminiscent of a 1997 storyline in WCW when “Diamond” Dallas Page put a dent in the New World Order when he got the rare upper hand by turning on Kevin Nash and Scott Hall.
“The angles with Page, Hall, and Nash – and, to a lesser degree, the one with Mike Tyson, Steve Austin, and Shawn Michaels–were in the back of my mind when I threw this together,” said Kazarian. “Some other people added their touch, and I could not have been happier with the way it came out. In 2017, it’s hard to swerve these very sophisticated wrestling fans. It’s quite an accomplishment, so I was very, very happy that people were surprised. The fact that it culminated with a very deserving wrestler in Christopher Daniels winning a very prestigious world title showed that the stars aligned.”
Bullet Club is intellectual property of New Japan Pro Wrestling, but New Japan approved the angle as soon as the idea was laid out. Kazarian interfered in the world title match between Cole and Daniels, yet never physically interfered or cost Cole the match, ensuring the spotlight remained on Daniels finally capturing the world title.
“Every step of the way was calculated with pinpoint precision,” said Kazarian. “When I turned on Daniels, I never touched him. I got very cerebral with this, and I took a lot of pride in the creative. The only time I touched Christopher Daniels during this whole thing is when I rolled him back into the ring. The last thing I wanted to do was distract, or screw, or physically cost Adam Cole the match for the world title, as that would have taken away from Christopher Daniels’ moment. For me, it was all psychology and mind games. I needed to show that my connection with Christopher Daniels in The Addiction is stronger than any club, and Christopher Daniels beat Adam Cole by himself, and that’s the way it should have been.”
Kazarian takes pride in outmaneuvering the Bullet Club, but the faction is now seeking revenge. Bullet Club member “Hangman” Adam Page battles Kazarian this Friday at ROH’s War of the Worlds pay per view.
“I infiltrated the Bullet Club and put cracks in it,” said Kazarian. “I’m really the only person to get to that group in the existence of that group, so I take pride of being the one son of a b---- who cracked the infrastructure of the coolest group in wrestling.
“This Friday night will be sweet revenge. I lost my World Television title match to Marty Scurll due to Adam Page. Bullet Club was upset at what I did to them, so they sent Adam Page after me several times, with the first time being in a parking lot in Las Vegas and the second time when he threw a chair in my face during my title match with Scurll. Now it’s time to beat the hell of each other in the ring. Page is very good, he’s very underrated, but I’m better and I can’t wait to prove it in front of one of the best crowds in the world.”
Kazarian, known in the ring as the “Heavy Metal Rebel”, is also the bass player for the heavy metal band VexTemper.
“I’ve played bass guitar for the better part of 20 years,” said Kazarian. “Wrestling takes up a good portion of my time, but I started jamming with my buddies when I moved from Florida back to California. We did some covers and started writing what we thought were some pretty cool songs. We decided to take it to another level. We started playing gigs, recorded seven original songs, and we got put out on all digital formats. We’re selling merch and doing gigs, and this is something I love as much as I love pro wrestling. When I’m not doing my favorite thing, which is spending time with my wife and my son, I’m putting all my effort and energy into VexTemper. I love music and I’m enthralled by heavy metal and hard rock, and this is a very fun way to get creativity out of myself in a different way than I do in pro wrestling.”
Kazarian was born and raised in southern California, but learned the finer points of professional wrestling when he moved across the country at the age of 19 to learn from wrestling legend Walter “Killer” Kowalski at his school in Malden, Massachusetts in 1998.
Kazarian alternated between sleeping in a motel and his car until he moved a mile away from the famed Kowloon restaurant in Saugus, Massachusetts. He wrestled during the day and worked the Stop ‘n’ Shop graveyard shift overnight. Nearly 20 years later, he is ready to pursue his world championship aspirations in 2017.
“If you don’t want to be champion, you shouldn’t be in the professional wrestling business,” said Kazarian. “The Addiction is and always will be, but I’m here to create my own destiny as a singles wrestler in Ring of Honor. Whether that’s the TV title or the world title, I’m going to jump on those opportunities and grab them by the throat.”
WWE unveiled that its newest pay per view, Great Balls of Fire, will take place in Dallas on July 9th, as well as announced that Brock Lesnar will be defending the Universal championship at the show.
New Japan Pro Wrestling also made news by revealing that the much-anticipated rematch between Kazuchika Okada and Kenny Omega for the IWGP heavyweight championship will occur on June 11th in Osaka, Japan.
At opening glance, the matches share very little in common. Okada-Omega II is likely to last for an hour, while Lesnar is highly unlikely to go over the 10-minute threshold. There will be sights and scenes unforeseen in a pro wrestling ring, while Lesnar’s encounter will undoubtedly feature the German suplex on multiple different occasions.
I am not comparing the quality of the matches, as they will be so drastic in their contrast. Nevertheless, and this is mainly due to Lesnar’s part-time schedule–as well as New Japan’s long-term booking–both matches will come with great anticipation.
Lesnar is rarely on WWE programming, and every appearance he makes is meaningful. That is otherwise unheard of in 2017. If Lesnar cost less, WWE would use him more, but he knows that his price tag increases the longer that people wait to see him.
The Okada-Omega rematch is another well-told, highly anticipated story. Omega was unable to hit Okada with his One-Winged Angel finisher in the prior encounter at Wrestle Kingdom 11 this past January, so all eyes will be particularly fixed on the match whenever he attempts the maneuver.
There is a mass production of wrestling in the modern-day era, but we are fortunate to have two storylines–or, in Lesnar’s case, appearances–that are building so much genuine anticipation.
In other news…
• Cody Rhodes’ opportunity to become world champion takes place this Friday in New York City as he battles Ring of Honor champ Christopher Daniels and Jay Lethal in a triple threat match for the belt. The booking will reveal Rhodes’ future with the company–if he signs with ROH, expect a world title run no later than the PPV in June.
• Bill Goldberg’s “Gold-Burger” is officially set to debut on May 20 at the Sugar Factory in Las Vegas. Goldberg will be on hand to sign autographs, take selfies, and hand out his signature burger – which is a gold-glazed bun with double angus beef patties and melted white and yellow cheddar, topped with onion rings and served with pickles, lettuce, tomato, Sugar Factory sauce, and hand-cut fries.
Jim Cornette, the legendary professional wrestling manager, is also a noted cheeseburger aficionado. When phoned at his home in Louisiana, Cornette expressed his skepticism over the Gold-Burger:
“If they’re using real gold flakes for the bun,” said Cornette, “I’ll have to try it. He has a lot of ingredients in play there. When I put together the ‘Cornette’s Racket’ for Hughjass Burgers in Lexington, my burger was a double cheeseburger with extra American cheese, grilled onions, bacon, and fried egg. Everything needs to blend well. We’ll see if the chef can keep it all together.”
• Beginning with the “Superstar Shake-Up”, Raw has lost an incredible amount of firepower. Kevin Owens is now on SmackDown, the New Day is no longer around to piece together two or three segments, and Chris Jericho is off television to tour with his rock band, Fozzy. Braun Strowman is also out for the next month with an elbow injury, which is devastating to the three-hour–and, at times, already lackluster–Raw. Somehow, Dean Ambrose and The Miz are back feuding, again over the Intercontinental title, which we just witnessed months ago.
• I’m officially ready for the Jinder Mahal world title run. Mahal pinned Randy Orton to wrap up the six-man main event last night on SmackDown, and he will have his crack at the WWE championship on May 21 at Backlash. Hopefully Mahal can have a better run as champ than his predecessors, as both Orton and Bray Wyatt delivered bland stretches as champ void of any memorable moments.
• Eddie Edwards will be off Impact Wrestling television for the foreseeable future due to knee surgery. Edwards is in the midst of a storyline with former Wolves tag team partner Davey Richards. The two had their “Last Man Standing” match over a month ago, but the feud has built up organic momentum in the past 30 days.
“I feel like this feud is something the fans have not necessarily pushed for but it’s a feud fans hoped would happen at some point,” said Edwards. “A lot of people saw what we did in ROH against each other and I think they were excited at the chance it could happen again. Honestly, though, it was something I wanted to put off as long as possible as I thought the focus was always on Davey and I as a team with The Wolves. I thought that was how we both felt, but obviously I was wrong.
“I never thought we would get to this point, but here we are. Now there is one goal: pain. I want to make Davey pay for what he has done. Not just what he did to me or what he did to the team, but make him pay for what he did to my wife on Impact.
“This is an interesting time for us. We get to think outside the box. We get to do things that people have never seen or expected from us. Yes, we know we can wrestle and have a technical back and forth match but this now is about so much more. It’s about betrayal, it’s about jealousy, it’s about revenge, it’s about family. I’m proud of what we have been able to do but even more excited about what the future will bring. Stay tuned!”
• Davey Richards has put his heart and soul into the feud with Edwards. The rift began when Richards suffered an ACL injury last March that kept him out of action for 10 months. While Richards was on the injured list, Edwards enjoyed success as a singles star, and even won the TNA world title. Richards revealed that the feelings run far deeper than merely a wrestling storyline:
“The story is one of burials,” said Richards. “A burial of a team, a friendship, and a family. It’s a story of hopelessness, bitterness, and abandonment. I lost not only my title but my ability to walk and feed my family in a matter of 45 seconds with my injury. I saw my friend, tag partner, and brother go on to succeed without me. He was winning singles titles when my victories were walking or bending my knee. I felt abandonment and betrayal.
“Naturally, vengeance set in as the prime motivator. So now the goal is two-fold:Avenge what I feel is ultimate betrayal and overcome my own self-doubt by proving I am the best wrestler of the two. You’re dealing with two men that are very driven to be the best at what we do. Make no mistake, through the brutality, the end goal is always to prove to the other I am ‘The Alpha’. People feel that innate and sincere sense of self-pride we both have in our work, which is why our matches so easily captivate. It’s not talent–it is obsession. Obsession with the masterpiece.”
• Jim Ross officially announced his return to WWE programming, as he will join Nigel McGuinness for the commentary team for the yet-to-be-announced U.K. show on the Network. Ross is the right fit to add instant credibility to the U.K. product, which features a handful of extremely talented wrestlers–Tyler Bate, Pete Dunne, Trent Seven–that are largely unfamiliar to the majority of the American audience.
• Beyond Wrestling owner Drew Cordeiro touched on the new YouTube restrictions hampering independent professional wrestling companies. The new regulations enforce stricter rules and allow for less advertising funds, and began when advertisers saw their brands associated with videos promoting hate speech, and pro wrestling YouTube channels are also subject to the new rules.
“Long story short, we will be earning a significantly smaller amount of money every month,” said Cordeiro, who is busy organizing Beyond’s upcoming wrestling doubleheader on May 20 in Somerville, Massachusetts. “That jeopardizes our future. Without the revenues from advertisers on YouTube, we again become overly reliant on ticket sales, food, DVD, and merchandise.”
• Shane McMahon’s visit to 316 Gimmick Street in Marina Del Rey for “The Steve Austin Show” is worth the listen. Austin opened the show by asking McMahon for his reaction to his WrestleMania 33 match with A.J. Styles, which McMahon answered by providing some fascinating insight on a wrestler’s momentum:
“People wanted to see AJ in the title hunt, but the cards weren’t there,” said McMahon. “They were taking a little detour [with his booking], and you know how challenging booking can be. You can’t please everybody, but the main thing is, how do you keep momentum for people? Part of my role is to do just that. My role is to keep momentum going. I’m very happy to be in that role, it’s always been my role, and I love being able to help the process.”
• Coming attractions: John Cena returns to SI.com this Friday to discuss WrestleMania 33, Roman Reigns, and his new movie, The Wall.
Something to Wrestle with Conrad Thompson
Conrad Thompson and Bruce Prichardreturn to the MLW airwaves this Friday at noon for the “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” podcast to discuss WWECW, which was when Vince McMahon created his own version of ECW.
“I hold the original ECW in very high regard,” said Thompson. “That was the height of my fandom and I have such fond memories. I even collect old ECW stuff, and I have invested a lot of time, money, and effort in doing so. I feel so close to that product. Then there is WWECW, and I have strong feelings for that, but none of them are good. I had so much hope at the original One Night Stand in 2005, and then we got the announcement in 2006 that they were going to do another ECW show and bring it back–but we knew in that first episode with the Zombie that this was not going to be what we thought.”
Thompson did note that it was not entirely bad, as the WWE version of ECW introduced wrestling fans to Kelly Kelly and Doo-rag Vince McMahon.
“Doo-rag Vince, who became ECW world champion, is something I can’t wait to hear Bruce describe,” said Thompson. “It was one thing when Vince won the WWF title in the middle of his feud with Steve Austin. The storyline was so good. Then you fast-forward half a dozen years and he’s the world champ of ECW, and that was not so well-received.
“I also want to talk about the big blowup between Paul Heyman and Vince McMahon on the plane. We’re going to hear how Vince viewed the brand, the way he positioned the brand, and how he handled the creative genius in Paul Heyman, as well as the way their relationship went south in a hurry. Bruce was on that plane, and we’ll be fortunate to listen in on what he can offer.”
Exclusive Lucha Underground clip
The Nitro Files: May 12, 1997
The Nitro Files with Eric Bischoff will delve into a moment from WCW’s Monday Nitro era. Bischoff–who was the president of WCW during the company’s most successful years–also hosts his weekly “Bischoff on Wrestling” podcast with 120 Sports’ Nick Hausman, and has also created the IRW Network, which is currently highlighting over 1,500 hours of independent wrestling. Bischoff plans to prove every week in the Nitro Files that the truth is out there.
The May 12, 1997 Nitro was live from the Baltimore Arena in Baltimore, Maryland and was the go-home show before Slamboree.
The opening match saw World Television champion Ultimo Dragon defending his title against Juventud Guerrera, following Bischoff’s philosophy to start Nitro with as much action as possible.
“I looked at the format, and still do, as a three-act play,” said Bischoff, whose Nitro was only one hour long due to the NBA playoffs also running on TNT. “You want to hook the audience with something spectacular, but you also need to build up to something else. I brought the cruiserweights in to be my mid-show transition at the one-hour mark, but we moved that up with a one-hour show. It was a great way to hook an audience and get them interested in what we were doing.”
The show teased a Bischoff interview with Sting to conclude the show, but only before a three-minute tag team match between Konnan and Hugh Morrus, who were managed by Jimmy Hart, and Alex Wright and Ice Train, who had Teddy Long in their corner.
“Oh my, I don’t even want to think about that,” Bischoff interjected. “Just hearing that match is ugly.”
Bischoff was asked about his experiences working with Teddy Long, who joined the WWE Hall of Fame this past WrestleMania weekend.
“When I was hired by WCW in the early 90’s as a C-squad announcer, Teddy became one of my better friends,” said Bischoff. “We’d do wrap-arounds and voiceovers on Friday afternoons from one in the afternoon until seven, and then Teddy and I would go out to a place called Casa la Garda. They had a great happy hour with these margaritas that you could raise fish in. We’d hang there for a couple hours every week, and he became a good friend. Teddy would even come to the house and he got to know my kids. My son had a collection of Teddy Long doo-rags. Teddy is one of the truly, truly great people in the business.”
Before Nitro concluded, The Wolfpac attacked Roddy Piper to further escalate their feud before the upcoming six-man tag at the upcoming Slamboree, featuring Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, and Syxx against Piper, Ric Flair, and Kevin Greene. As for Bischoff’s interview with Sting, it was a swerve as the Fake Sting came to the ring.
The real Sting then appeared, seeking to dish out some punishment on Bischoff, but not before Bischoff escaped through the crowd.
“I remember when I first starting getting real heat, I took it for granted,” said Bischoff. “Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage spoke to me about protecting my heat. It’s difficult to attain visceral, red-hot heat, so I listened to their advice and I drew it out.
“We knew that whomever would get their hands on me would be the beneficiary of that heat. Now I wasn’t a wrestler, so once I got my ass kicked, the audience would move on, so it was so important to draw out that heat for as long as possible.”
Tweet of the Week
Clearly, Trent wasn’t a fan.