Matt Bloom discusses his wrestling career, life as NXT head trainer and Finn Balor's rise to stardom
Matt Bloom is the head trainer at WWE’s Performance Center. Bloom wrestled for 20 years, from 1994-2014, and his career highlights included stops in WWE as Prince Albert – where he wrestled and lost, along with the Big Show, in a handicap match to The Undertaker at WrestleMania XIX – and a run in New Japan Pro Wrestling, where he was a two-time IWGP tag team champion. Bloom met with Sports Illustrated to discuss his role as head trainer, explained what WWE seeks in its coaches and Finn Balor's rise to stardom.
Matt Bloom’s two greatest strengths in pro wrestling are his ability to teach and his knowledge of the product in Japan.
Bloom, the head trainer at WWE’s Performance Center, also spent two years working directly with Finn Balor during his time in NXT. In addition to forging a personal friendship back during their time together in Japan–the Massachusetts-raised Bloom even converted the Ireland-born Balor into a New England Patriots fan–Bloom helped catapult Balor into the inaugural Universal championship match last year at SummerSlam.
“Wrestling is wrestling, so we never wanted Finn Balor to change what he does,” said Bloom. “We wanted Finn to learn how to work cameras, and how to carry a storyline past a tour in Japan. There is a lot of storytelling in what we do with episodic television. That’s a big part of the game, and coming here helps freshen up those skills.
“When I see Finn Balor, who I knew in Japan for a long time, and think about how hard he has worked, it’s hard not to get emotional. Now he is here working on a global platform.”
Bloom wrestled throughout his career as a plethora of different characters, including Prince Albert, Lord Tensai, Giant Bernard, and A-Train. He wrestled for 20 years, with a multitude of characters ranging from the badass to a comedy act, as well as starred internationally. Unbeknownst to Bloom, he was planning for a career in talent development.
“People always ask me, ‘What gimmick did you hate the most?’” said Bloom. “Truthfully, there was a time I could have answered that. Yet when I look back now, I realize they all served their purpose and got me to this point. If you took one away, it may have changed my whole career path. So I wouldn’t change a thing, they all served a purpose.”
The 6-foot-7-inch, 350-pound Bloom starred as a high school football player at Peabody Veterans Memorial High School, then starred as an offensive tackle and guard for Syracuse University. He enjoyed a quick cup of coffee in the NFL with the San Diego Chargers, then found his destiny in the professional wrestling ring.
“My first match was in Woburn, Massachusetts under [WWE Hall of Famer] Killer Kowalski’s tutelage against a guy by the name of Tim McNeany,” said Bloom. “That was many moons ago, and I don’t even recall who won the match, but that was the beginning of it all. That is when I knew I was addicted to it.”
Bloom, now 44, made the connection between indie rock and wrestling for NXT, as both provide fans the opportunity to become connected with talents early in their career.
“I’m a huge music fan and I used to see music groups in these halls of 700 people, then I’d see them play again years later at the Boston Garden,” said Bloom. “That’s what our fans are seeing; they’re seeing our talent at the grassroots. You see their blood, sweat, and tears as they work in front of 100 people, then 200 people, then 500, then 2,000. Then, they’re working on Raw and SmackDown. That’s what they’re working toward.”
Bloom replaced former head trainer Bill DeMott amid allegations that DeMott physically and verbally abused the talent at the Performance Center. Unlike DeMott, who was roundly criticized by students, Bloom is known for his discipline and empathy.
“Everyone in here at the Performance Center wants to become a WWE superstar,” acknowledged Bloom. “That may not happen for everyone, and I understand that. The ceiling for some may be NXT, which I believe is the hottest brand in sports entertainment. I know how hard people have to work to become successful. I’ve been around for over twenty years, and I’ve seen how hard John Cena works and I know how hard people worked to succeed in Japan because I was around it.
“What we do in here is very physical. You can get injured in here and, even worse than that, you can hurt the person you’re in the ring with, and you never want to do that. We’re able to train properly here. I’ve seen it all. My head is on a swivel, and I’m always watching. I will never ask anyone here to do something I wouldn’t do myself.”
One of the larger misconceptions in wrestling is that a coach needs to be someone who drew money in the business as a main-eventer. Bloom explained that coaches in wrestling are similar to those in other sports, and noted career success is far from the only barometer in gauging a coaches’ ability.
“A lot of people don’t understand that just because you were a great wrestler does not automatically make you a great coach., but that is true,” said Bloom. “What I’m looking for in a coach is, first of all, if they can fit into our team. This is the best team in the game.
“We have Norman Smiley, who is an encyclopedia of moves, and we also have Terry Taylor and Shawn Michaels here teaching. We have Steve Corino and Adam Pearce here. They had some companies behind them when they worked, but they never had WWE behind them, yet they still kept their names prominent around the world and accomplished that by doing it the right way. Scotty Too Hotty is Scott Taylor, and he’s a kid from Maine who did pretty well in this business. He knows what he’s doing, and he has the entertainment side of this well understood. We have an amazing team who complement each other very well.”
Bloom added that not one of the coaches, himself included, is individually as smart as the entire coaching team collectively.
“We look for character in the coaches,” added Bloom. “What type of person are you? Are you patient? How will you represent us? Do you understand that this is not a race? This is a marathon, not a sprint. We have talent here from all over the world, most of whom have relocated and left their families behind. We need our coaches to be caring and understanding toward that. We need to realize that everyone isn’t always going to grasp a concept on a particular day, so can you pick people up and dust them off so that they can understand better the next day? Also, everyone realizes that there is simply no room for complacency. That cannot exist here and it is not allowed. We know we don’t want you here if you’re not a good person. No ego and a lot of humility. No one is bigger than the team. We all complement each other so well.”
Bloom helped train Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson of The Revival, who are now working on Raw after a tremendous run in NXT, and noted that the best part of his job is seeing the talent make it on the grand stage of the WWE.
“Seeing these young guys succeed is emotional for me,” said Bloom. “It’s hard not to get emotional seeing these men and women succeed.”
An integral piece of Bloom’s success is he rules the Performance Center with fair rules and not through fear.
“You make like me, you may not,” said Bloom. “That won’t change the fact that I will treat you with respect and you will be treated fairly.”