Being in the main event at WrestleMania must put a lot of pressure on somebody. And Triple H is no stranger to that pressure, having had more than his fair share of them. But this year, the pressure comes not from trying to steal the show, but rather trying to put on the biggest event his NXT brand has ever put on, the two-night Takeover: Stand and Deliver, which takes place this coming Wednesday and Thursday night.
“The fact that we are doing this show over two nights speaks to the depth of NXT, the depth of the storytelling,” Triple H (in real life, Paul Levesque, WWE Executive Vice President, Global Talent Strategy & Development, and the brainchild and leader of the NXT brand) told the international press on a media conference call on Friday afternoon. “I’m really proud of this card and of this event. This is, to me, one of the biggest events in NXT history.”
The first night will be simulcast on both the USA network – the TV home of NXT’s weekly show – and the Peacock network, and the second night will air on Peacock and the WWE Network. In non-U.S. markets, the shows are scheduled to air on the WWE Network or on other network partners. Both shows will be preceded by pre-show specials hosted by Sam Roberts and a panel that will include WWE superstar Mickie James.
The split-night broadcast allows NXT to reach new and bigger audiences, something that Triple H is very excited about. He’s also looking forward to the opportunities that the upcoming move to Tuesday nights for the weekly show will allow in terms of being able to find an even bigger audience, something that has been a goal for the brand in terms of evolution and growth.
“We went from a very small platform on the Network with a lot of buzz outside of it to jumping to USA, (and then going) from one hour to two, from pre-tape to live. When we first (moved to USA), it was about maintenance of a consistent timeslot in a given week so that people could find what they were used to. We were able to establish a consistent viewership, and we just renewed multiple-year deals (because) the network is very happy with us. The ability to jump to Peacock for our larger tentpole events, it’s for all the right reasons.”
The move to Tuesdays also finds wrestling fans in a unique situation where wrestling shows will air on TV every weekday night, with WWE’s RAW, NXT, and Smackdown shows on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays respectively, AEW on Wednesday nights, and Impact on Thursdays. Asked if this kind of saturation may result in over-exposure to the product, Levesque didn’t think it would.
“The availability (was already) there,” he said. “You can watch with the internet, Peacock, YouTube, the Network. You can much watch anything you want pretty much anywhere in the world on any device. That accessibility hasn’t seemed to damage people’s appetite.”
It’s not a phenomenon unique to wrestling, he noted.
“There are different sitcoms on TV every single night, there are 24/7 news networks. You can watch whatever you want, whenever you want. If it isn’t your cup of tea, there’s always something different.”
In terms of how to retain eyes on NXT, Levesque noted that the company is always looking at adapting, evolving, and growing. This includes potentially more use of the company’s international development territories, pointing to the inclusion of two NXT UK stars on the card: a NXT UK Championship match on the Wednesday night featuring the champion WALTER, and the return of WWE Cruiserweight Champion Jordan Devlin who will defend the title on Thursday.
“We’ve had limitations with the pandemic and travel,” he acknowledged. “Luckily, we were able to plan ahead and get WALTER and Jordan Devlin here. Those are the difficulties in what we do. As WWE grows around the world, speaking outside of the pandemic, I think you’ll see more and more of these opportunities. Whether it’s seeing competitors from India come here, or our local superstars travel there. The intent is to see matches taking place with all our superstars all over the world.”
Another big part of the show that he’s looking forward to is that fans will be allowed to be in the building. Which is, he said, a key ingredient to the success of any wrestling show.
“A few years, ago, WWE did an ad thanking the fans that had Daniel Bryan coming out on the stage and doing the ‘Yes!’ chant with no fans there, and how weird that was,” he observed. “We were basically thanking fans for being that special component for WWE that makes it so great – it was almost unthinkable that there would be shows without people, and here we are a few years later.”
“Unlike any other sport, everything we do is geared towards the WWE Universe, our fan base. Every nuance, every motion our superstars make, it’s to get a reaction from the fans that are in attendance or are watching around the world. The ones that are in attendance are the ones that are driving what (the performers) do. I don’t know that we could be any more excited than we are where we can bring fans back in the arena,” he said definitively. “For me, personally, it’s everything.”
Of course, he noted that fans can also bring in that unplanned factor in that they can sometimes react in a way that the company hadn’t anticipated – like booing a performer in one city, but treating them like a hero in another. He noted that happens on occasion with celebrities who are brought in for the shows. While there is currently no celebrity involvement announced for the Takeover events, Levesque hasn’t ruled this out in the future – if it makes sense, and if the celebrity is willing to do what it takes.
He cites Pat McAfee, whose matches in NXT last year were definite highlights, and Bad Bunny who is scheduled to compete at WrestleMania this year against The Miz as examples of celebrities who fit the bill. And he defended Bad Bunny from the criticisms of some fans who don’t think he has what it takes to deliver in the ring.
“What they don’t realize is that (Bad Bunny) has been in the PC (Performance Centre) for the past three, four months training every day,” he said. “He’s moved to Orlando and is in the PC every day working hard. He’s earned my respect on every level. Not everybody wants to put in the effort, work hard, to live up to the role and to the people who they’re going to be working with. If you have passion, and are willing to put in the work, let’s go. Bad Bunny has earned my respect in that regard.”
But, as noted above, it does seem a bit unusual that Bad Bunny will be active in the ring this week, while Triple H won’t. Levesque noted that he was approached by AJ Styles about a having a match with him, but Levesque didn’t think his responsibilities at NXT would allow him to put in the necessary work.
“AJ pestered me every time I saw him,” he laughed. “And I’m flattered by it, humbled by it. But getting ready for WrestleMania is really hard and the older you get, the harder it gets. It’s not an easy task. You try to stay in the best shape you can, but that’s not WrestleMania shape. The athlete side of it, the performer side of it, would love nothing more. The reality of it, is that I wouldn’t have the bandwidth or the availability for it schedule-wise to be able to pull it off.”
“There’s a part of me that wants to it, but there’s a bigger part of me that’s so busy 24/7 that to contemplate having to train in the way I would want to train to get in shape – and when I say ‘in shape,’ I don’t mean (how I) look but (rather) not embarrassing myself when I’m in there.”
Instead, he’ll celebrate the accomplishments of the current batch of stars, like he’s been celebrating the growth and success of the NXT brand overall. It’s clear when he talks about it, Levesque is very proud of the product, both of what it’s accomplished to date – but also of where it is headed.
“If you would have asked me a year and a half ago how I thought I would see it going,” he considered, “I would say it would be where we are now. As far as further changes, you make them every week. It’s constantly looking at what you do to try to give fans the best possible shows. Not just in that moment – funny thing, they don’t write Game of Thrones asking how do you give them the greatest possible episode every single week – but you have to think long-term. We’re on the exact path I would like to be on.”