On Thursday afternoon, in a media conference call, Paul Levesque shared a backstage magic moment that he witnessed recently at NXT, a preview of sorts of this Sunday’s NXT TakeOver: In Your House special.
“The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase was, ahem, in the house, and the Million Dollar title was brought out in its case for the first time in years. The NXT crew was preparing the segment on NXT where DiBiase brought out the belt, which has been in hibernation.
Levesque noted that a whole bunch of the talent on hand came over to see the Million Dollar title. “Everybody just came over and was looking at it and in awe,” chuckled WWE’s Executive Vice President of Global Talent Strategy & Development.
Most notable were the two combatants for the title, in a Ladder Match, on Sunday’s show: Cameron Grimes and LA Knight. Levesque noted that he gets to know talent pretty well and could tell that both “came out of character just for a moment,” their eyes widening at the concept that one of them would hold the title soon, becoming only the fifth person to be the Million Dollar champion (after Ted DiBiase, Virgil, Ted DiBiase Jr. and Stone Cold Steve Austin for you trivia nuts).
Knight was called “a consistently great in-ring performer” and “a standout talent on the microphone,” while Grimes “has blossomed into an amazing character” that Levesque actually compared to DiBiase, who also brought amazing in-ring skills to the table initially, but then reached the next level by embracing his Million Dollar Man character.
Levesque did not tip his hand on the future storyline for the Million Dollar title, though.
It’s common to see DiBiase surrounded by talent at NXT, seeking advice, said Levesque. “It’s a wonderful part of having someone like him around.”
As with last year’s event, NXT TakeOver: In Your House is meant to be a fun “flashback” to the 1990s In Your House events, and Todd Pettengill is back as a host.
He hyped the card, saying it “looks spectacular.”
The main event has NXT Champion Karrion Kross (with Scarlett) defending against Kyle O’Reilly, Adam Cole, Johnny Gargano (with Austin Theory), and Pete Dunne (with Oney Lorcan) in a Fatal 5-Way. Levesque guaranteed it would be “a very heated match,” and wouldn’t predict a winner. He added that he expected it to be “spectacular and you will have your head turning on a swivel at all times.”
In a media question, he was asked about the Kross-Cole in-ring confrontation where heated words were exchanged. Levesque noted that perhaps they went too far, but the “reaction that they got made it all okay.” He compared it to a real fight or a hyped boxing match, where you don’t go around praising your opponent, you note the flaws, you criticize and you try to get under your foe’s skin.
These days, those digs take place on social media as much as on TV. “The truth is, if you want to be in this business, you probably shouldn’t have a thin skin,” he said.
There are two women’s matches on the card.
Levesque is pumped over Xia Li, who is on her first TakeOver, saying that it has been “amazing to see her evolution as a character” and that she’s in there against “a true veteran” in Mercedes Martinez
The other has NXT Women’s Champion Raquel González defending against Ember Moon — “That’s going to be amazing.” The challenger, “since coming back from her injury has just been on fire and reinvigorated herself and and that passion and fire is back in her eyes,” he said. Levesque has been impressed with the champ’s growth within a year, “really just transforming herself into something special.”
Levesque did scoff at the recent announcement of the NWA holding an all-women’s pay-per-view, and its organizer Mickie James saying that it’s open to women regardless of where they wrestle. “I’m sorry, from a business person’s standpoint, and why do we have contractual status? Right? Like, it doesn’t make any sense to me. Yeah, if you want to wrestle the best women in the world, come to the WWE. That’s where they are. And you want to go elsewhere and say that they are, as an opinion, and you can.”
He said there could “possibly” be another all-women’s WWE show, but he praised the prominent spots for women on all WWE programming. “Equality is equality. Equality is not ‘I want our own show,'” he said, noting that he would be criticized for an all-men’s show.
The fifth match on the show has North American champion Bronson Reed and NXT Tag Team Champions MSK (Nash Carter and Wes Lee) facing Legado del Fantasma (Santos Escobar, Joaquin Wilde, and Raúl Mendoza) in a Winner Takes All bout. To Levesque, they are “all people … coming into their own if you really look at it a year and a half ago, all just kind of getting rolling and really stepping into their own and becoming top performers. That should be something special.”
As for the future of NXT, beyond TakeOver on Sunday, Levesque isn’t sure when the brand will be back at Full Sail University. The partnership is still strong and they are waiting for the campus open again, and getting the students involved, he said, saying that it’s a “youth factory” and “invigorating” to be around young people with new ideas.
SummerSlam was announced for Las Vegas, but he wasn’t sure whether NXT TakeOver would be there too, or in Orlando at the Capitol Center. It’s “a little bit of a work in progress,” he said. “We’re in a unique time coming out of the pandemic and getting back on the road.”
“We cannot wait to get back out in front of crowds … it’s the life blood of what we do.”
TOP PHOTO: Triple H rings the bell at the playoff game of the Philadelphia 76ers, prior to the Sixers playing the Atlanta Hawks on June 8, 2021. Twitter photo