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WWE to Hold Two-Day Tryout at IMG Academy

WWE is looking to extend its grip on the future of the industry by widening its reach.

WWE’s next round of tryouts will be held this week in the form of a two-day event at top athletic prep school IMG Academy, Sports Illustrated has learned.

Only days removed from a record-breaking success at Survivor Series, WWE will hold tryouts Wednesday and Thursday IMG Academy’s campus in Bradenton, Florida. The tryout is part of a new recruitment strategy for WWE as it aims to attract and elevate its profile among elite former college athletes.

“There are countless examples of top talent that came into the business via college sports, but there hasn’t always been a system built out,” said WWE’s head of talent operations and strategy James Kimball. “That’s what we’re trying to create here, a true talent development pathway into WWE for college athletes.”

Approximately 30 to 35 athletes will participate in the IMG tryout, and the venue is important. IMG Academy prides itself as an elite training ground, and its 600-acre, state-of-the-art campus also serves as a training and competition venue for amateur and pro teams. Its first-class training facilities and air of prestige are a great combination for WWE.

WWE hopefuls at a tryout event

WWE hopefuls listen intently at the SummerSlam tryout.

This is the third large-scale tryout so far this year, and there are designs of making them an annual rotation. WWE offered 18 developmental contracts at its WrestleMania tryout, and 15 more at the SummerSlam tryout. After the two days at IMG, the next tryout will take place this February in Lagos, Nigeria, as part of “The Search for Africa’s Next WWE Superstar” company campaign. The next tryout in the United States will take place in late March in advance of WrestleMania 39.

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“We want a clear calendar,” says Kimball. “Moving forward, we’re going to emulate what we’ve done in 2022. It’s really important there is a clear schedule, as college athletes have so many options. For wrestlers on the independents, that system is in place and that pathway to WWE is well known, so our resources are allocated to building a new pathway to collegiate sports.

“We’re just scratching the surface. We’ve been working on this for a year, and it’s going to take years, but we’re growing. We’re adding quality and depth, and the work is just starting with college athletes nationwide.”

In-ring assessments at the tryout will include monitoring how athletes take direction, as well as evaluating the manner in which they perform in traditional professional wrestling scenarios. The tryout process also includes NFL Combine-like activations to measure athletic ability, as well as promo sessions to gauge ability and personality on the microphone.

Kimball and his recruitment and development team will also be joined by a host of NXT performers, as well as former WWE champion Ettore “Big E” Ewen. He is currently on the injured list while rehabilitating from a severe neck injury, yet remains involved with the company.

“E is such a critical part of what we’re doing,” says Kimball. “This recruitment strategy is really hitting home for him, and it’s something we should have had when he was a collegiate student-athlete at Iowa. He’s such a great ambassador, and he can relate to these athletes. He’s presenting with shared experience—that goes a long way.”

The second day of this week’s tryout marks the one-year anniversary of WWE announcing its “Next In Line” program, another integral piece of the company’s evolving recruiting strategy. So far, WWE has announced two NIL classes, with Olympic gold medalist Gable Steveson standing out as the most notable.

“NIL is such an opportunity,” says Kimball. “Our first NIL signing was Gable, and since then, we’ve built around the program. We’re making waves, and there are ripple effects to what we’re doing. It’s helping raise the profile and awareness of WWE among the athletes, as well as among fans.”

Whether or not any future WrestleMania headliners arise out of this week’s event, the tryout at IMG is significant. Emblematic of WWE’s multi-tiered plan to become even instantly recognizable with collegiate athletes, this stands as a chance to widen its talent pool through a specific talent development program.

“We’re building,” says Kimball. “This a long-term investment strategy, and we’re all really excited about the potential.”

Justin Barrasso can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.

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