If you dream of becoming a WWE Superstar, Paul Levesque has some advice for you.
It doesn't matter how talented you are. It doesn't matter how many fans you have or followers you have on Twitter. It doesn't matter if you're selling out bingo halls or headlining shows across the globe. You are replaceable.
Everyone is replaceable.
It takes a special pedigree to make it in WWE NXT. And if you don't show the boss that you have it, then you're gone. No exceptions.
So, if not the ability to do a 450 moonsault off the top rope or unparalleled charisma or the body of a Greek Adonis, then what does it take?
Be a quality human being.
For Levesque, locker-room culture is the top priority. Having the 100 or so talents on the roster work together, push each other forward, and help each other up when they're physically and emotionally battered is critical. It's that formula that has helped grow WWE's NXT into one of the most revered and well-known wrestling brands in the world in just a matter of years. And yes, talent plays a role as well.
Checking off the boxes will help you gain the trust of Levesque.
Those are some of the same attributes that enabled him to climb the corporate ladder after retiring from full-time in-ring competition. His official title is Executive Vice President, Talent, Live Events & Creative. It's a fancy way of saying that much of his time is devoted to overseeing the company's talent development and global recruiting programs.
If he likes what he sees in you, then you will have the opportunity to hone your craft at the WWE Performance Center, the company's state-of-the-art training facility in Orlando, Florida.
This is no time to kid yourself. The truth is that all of the hard work and years on the road battering your body at armories in the middle of nowhere, with 10 empty chairs for every occupied one, doesn't mean anything. You have proven nothing.
The brand's top talents have been there. Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa are pro wrestling's equivalent of walk-ons in college football. Neither had a full-time contract when they began working with NXT. All they had was a gentlemen's agreement with Levesque who was eager to test the waters.
"Let me one-off you and I'll structure a little deal around that and try to make it work," he told them at the time. "As soon as I can, I'll move you up into what I can do and grow it from there."
Levesque promised to move forward when there was room in the budget for full-time deals. Of course, the pen to paper would only come if they met his quality-person-first criteria.
Both did and now serve as examples for all those in the locker room and those who aspire to earn their own WWE contracts someday.
"They've been a pleasure to work with," Levesque told me following NXT TakeOver in Brooklyn on the eve of SummerSlam.
If you're still unsure of exactly what Levesque's definition of a quality human being is, this anecdote may help clear things up.
"We were just at the Mae Young Classic, and Tegan Nox has a tragic injury and blows her knee out," he recalled. "They take her through the back door and the docs are there with her and a lot of the women are with her. I walk into the back with the doc and holding an ice bag on her knee is Tommaso Ciampa. He's a leader, Gargano is a leader, Aleister Black is a leader in that locker room with those people."
Going above and beyond and doing so without hesitation is what resonates with him.
"Not everybody is going to be [a leader], but they are the things that I look for" he continued. "I look for the people who help others and want to be part of the solution and not the problem."
Those qualities combined with talent is the recipe for success in WWE's rapidly blossoming third brand. Clearly, the formula works, as the most recent pay-per-view was the highest-grossing event in the brand's history.
But again, no matter how big of a role you think have, if you don't fit into that formula, you won't be around long.
"The business used to be a lot different, and there was nearly as much to lose then. If somebody was talented, you could deal with a lot of things, because you couldn't afford to lose a talent," Levesque recalled, thinking back to his days as a full-time wrestler. "There's a lot of talent now... Somebody can be very, very talented, but not be the right human being or the right support system for everybody else or be detrimental and the fly in the ointment. Then, I don't want them there. I don't care how talented they are. You can be really talented but go be talented somewhere else. If you're going to mess up my locker room, I don't want you here."
Put bluntly, "I will not let anybody mess that culture up. Anybody."
Levesque is willing to gamble that controversial former MMA fighter Matt Riddle, who has become one of the biggest names on the independent wrestling circuit after being fired by UFC for failed drug tests, will meet his strict criteria. Riddle, who also made his first NXT appearance at TakeOver, has made no secret of his heavy marijuana use.
"I believe in him, and I believe he has a lot of potential and talent," Levesque said. "But again, just like everybody else as they walk in the door, we'll see."
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News & Notes
Barring something unexpected, Brock Lesnar should be finished with WWE for the time being. It wouldn't be a surprise for him to return next year following his UFC comeback.
Eric Rowan has been written off television due to a torn right bicep. The Bludgeon Brother is scheduled to undergo surgery to repair the injury, and it's unclear how long he will be sidelined. Rowan suffered the injury during the tag team title match at SummerSlam, and it forced him and partner Luke Harper to drop the belts to The New Day on Tuesday's edition of SmackDown.
WWE's stock price has jumped following SummerSlam and was trading above $80 as of Wednesday's market close.
Nikki Bella now says she doesn't want to be a mother until her 40s. Having children had been a major point of contention in her relationship with former fiancé John Cena. The polarizing wrestler turned actor was adamant that he had no desire to be a father, but agreed to father her child in an effort to save the relationship on the last season of Total Bellas.
There are tentative plans for Nikki Bella vs. Ronda Rousey to headline the all-women's Evolution pay-per-view in October, according to Dave Meltzer of The Wrestling Observer. Both Bella Twins joined Rousey in the ring after she captured the RAW Women's Championship at SummerSlam and again the following night.
Meanwhile, Brie Bella and Daniel Bryan will face the Miz and Maryse at WWE Hell In A Cell next month. It's the second time in as many years that Miz and Maryse will be in a mixed tag match against one of the Bella Twins. They previously faced Nikki Bella and John Cena at WrestleMania 33.
Matt Hardy and Jason Jordan are reportedly training to become producers while sidelined by injury. Hardy's contract expires in March, and his wife told Busted Open that he's "giving it a go backstage."
New York will remain a hotbed for wrestling after WWE leaves town. Impact Wrestling will hold its Bound For Glory pay-per-view at the Melrose Ballroom in Queens on October 14. Episodes of IMPACT TV will then be taped the next two nights. Major League Wrestling will also film several episodes of MLW: Fusion TV at the same venue on October 4.
Chuck Carroll is a former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality who now interviews the biggest names in wrestling. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.
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