This Sunday’s Super Bowl features a compelling storyline, pitting the Patriots dynasty against the upstart Rams, in a battle to make an indelible mark in the NFL’s signature event. But they are not the only ones looking to make history.
WWE added even more excitement to this Sunday with the announcement that, for the first time in 20 years, “Halftime Heat” will return and air during intermission of Super Bowl LIII.
“This is a great opportunity for us to showcase the future,” said WWE executive Paul “Triple H” Levesque. “Our fans are thirsting for more, and it’s the perfect fit for NXT. This will be something spectacular like you’ve never seen before.”
Halftime Heat will air on the WWE Network—in addition to WWE.com, the WWE app, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter—during halftime of the Super Bowl live from the WWE Performance Center in Orlando. The show will deliver a six-man tag match between the team of NXT champion Tommaso Ciampa, Johnny Gargano, and Adam Cole against Aleister Black, Ricochet, and Velveteen Dream.
“The whole world is going to get to see the Velveteen Dream,” said Levesque, speaking exclusively with Sports Illustrated. “That is going to be spectacular.”
Levesque—WWE’s Executive Vice President of Talent, Live Events, and Creative—also revealed that the Super Bowl will serve as a chance to scout for future talent, primarily Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.
“Rob is very close with one of our stars, Mojo Rawley,” said Levesque. “We’ve met a few times, and he’s actually come down to the Performance Center and even done stuff with us at WrestleMania. He’s a great guy, an incredible player, and it’s hard not to root for him. I’ll be watching him, but that’s also because my wife is a massive Patriots fan.”
Speculation is running rampant that Gronkowski will retire from football after Sunday’s game. While Hollywood is a rumored destination for him, the possibility of life in WWE also exists for Gronk.
“Gronk has mentioned WWE before, that he loves it and said had so much fun doing it,” said Levesque. “I don’t know if it’s something he’d be seriously interested in, but that’s how the conversation started with Ronda Rousey, too. Certainly the door is open for him at WWE.”
Levesque’s ability to find the new pool of WWE stars will be on display during Halftime Heat. Ciampa, Gargano, Cole, Ricochet, Black, and the Dream are all charismatic and captivating, with each holding the potential to headline a future WrestleMania main event—or maybe even more than one.
“This is the right time to offer an alternative at halftime and see what we can do,” said Levesque, well aware that Halftime Heat represents an opportunity to expose the NXT product to new viewers and show off what the business will look like moving forward. “I know that those six talent will make people’s jaws drop open. This will be eye opening.”
During Wednesday’s NXT tapings in Orlando, Levesque met with the six men competing in this match and issued a challenge to work together to fully compel their audience.
“Our Performance Center breeds being a team,” said Levesque. “All of our talent will be there in the Performance Center on Sunday. That support and excitement will bring up everybody’s game.”
The decision to relaunch Halftime Heat was ignited by Levesque, and that spark turned into a flame after receiving the green light from WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon.
“Vince is focused on showcasing the future, and he pushed to make this happen,” said Levesque. “He was the most supportive one. This is a big opportunity to go out, in essence, and perform in front of the world.”
While this is far from the vaunted “Monday Night War” between WWE and WCW, there will be halftime competition. Musical act Maroon 5 is performing opposite Halftime Heat at the Super Bowl halftime show.
“I don’t think you’ll see moonsaults on the Super Bowl halftime stage from Maroon 5,” said Levesque. “If you’re a sports fan or sports-entertainment fan, nothing can compete with this at halftime. These are some of the best talent in the world looking to prove what they bring to the table. They’re going to put on a show like only they can. That’s not to take away from Maroon 5, but I guarantee we’re going to put on something special.”
Sunday’s Super Bowl will mark a chance for the Patriots to add to their legacy, further cementing the tag team of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick as the greatest of all time, or usher in a new era led by the Rams.
But this Sunday also serves as a chance for six pro wrestlers to elevate themselves on their journey and pursuit of becoming the best in the world.
Ciampa, Gargano, Cole, Ricochet, Black, and the Velveteen Dream will not have the luxury of four quarters to win over their audience. Yet they have been placed in this position for a reason, with an objective that is clear: provide a magnetizing glimpse into the WWE’s future.
“We chose the six of them to represent this brand to an audience that might be fresh,” said Levesque. “That’s a pretty bold endorsement. They know that and they feel that. They know the responsibility at hand, and they’re going to go out there and tear it up.”
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.