On Saturday night, it will be the latest of the highly-anticipated NXT TakeOver events taking place on the night before WWE SummerSlam at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Canada.
Five matches are set for the show, including the latest chapter in the rivalry between Adam Cole and Johnny Gargano for the NXT championship with this being a 2-out-of-3 falls match. One of the falls will be a straight one-on-one match, another a Street Fight, and if it goes to a third, commissioner William Regal will choose the stipulation at that time.
Also on the show, the Street Profits will defend the NXT tag team titles against Undisputed Era (Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish); Shayna Baszler puts her NXT women’s championship on the line against Mia Yim; a triple threat match between Velveteen Dream, Roderick Strong, and Pete Dunne for the NXT North American championship; and a grudge match with Io Shirai squaring off against Candice LaRae.
As typical on the week of TakeOver, Paul “Triple H” Levesque – who is in charge of the brand – spoke with the media on Thursday to discuss the show, why he is not in one of the new positions as Executive Director for either “RAW” or “SmackDown,” the succession plan in WWE, and more.
(Editor’s note: This transcription has been edited for length and clarity.)
What went into the decision-making process for the stipulation in the 2-out-of-3 falls match between Adam Cole and Johnny Gargano for the NXT championship?
Paul Levesque: I think you want to make it unique. I’ve mentioned “Three Stages of Hell” and branching that out. We’ve done that occasionally in WWE. Just the way the story played out, I wanted to present it in a little different manner and sort of have that “if there is a third fall, what would it be” and have there be a little bit of an unknown factor to it. I think with Johnny Wrestling and one of the falls being a wrestling match makes sense and the way it was presented. The street fight makes sense for the Undisputed Era and the group warfare thing.
A lot of creative thought goes into it and the how’s and the why’s and where you try to get on the other side of it. It all plays a factor in this. The great thing with two talents like Cole and Gargano, it doesn’t matter what you pick. They’re gonna knock it out of the park and I think it will be spectacular.
Were you considered for either of the executive director positions on “RAW” and “SmackDown” given to Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff?
PL: You have to understand the way it’s laid out. Their scope of what they are doing it very specific to those shows. While I’m still at those shows, there’s many weeks that, due to my schedule and other commitments, I can’t be at every single show. I can’t be at every single “RAW” or I can’t be at every single “SmackDown”. The scope of the things that I do are way beyond that with live events, with creative and, in my world, creative sort of encompasses a lot of different things. It’s not the main roster creative. It’s shirts and billboards and where everything else goes in the world. It’s all of the creative stuff and things you don’t see that just sort of appear along with everything with talent.
As our company continues to grow and the talent roster continues to grow and talent development grows and we expand through our global localization overseas and everything else, the Performance Centers, there are only so many hours in the day even though the WWE and Vince (McMahon) are trying very hard on trying to create an eighth day in the week and some extra hours to add on to the 24 in a day so we can a little more accomplished. (laughs)
I already see the positives and the changes (on “RAW” and “SmackDown”). As the megillah increases and gets bigger and this whole thing continues to grow, a lot of it comes down to organizational processes and someone on those shows spearheading the process who is very helpful and very smart and I’m thrilled that it’s those guys and I think they’re going to knock it out of the park.I’m excited to work with both of them.
How difficult is choosing which talent will get a match on NXT TakeOver shows with limited space?
PL: It’s great in a manner that everyone is chomping at the bit to get on everything and everyone can’t be on everything but it makes you work really hard, even hard, to continue to have the spot and keep the spot. I also think a little of the magic of it is not overexposure so you have the ability to have somebody be a major part of this and then move into a slightly different role. Have a major part of the TV show and not necessarily have a part on a TakeOver. I think all of those keep things fresh and keep things moving in the right direction but is also keeps people hungry.
How often does WWE talent hit you up asking to appear on either NXT or NXT UK?
PL: All the time. What’s nice about it is they see the competitive landscape out there. A guy like Drew McIntyre is like if I can do anything over there (NXT UK), I would love it. It’s a playground. We you look at the UK and you see guys like WALTER and Tyler Bate and Trent (Seven) and everyone over there, if you’re Drew McIntyre you’re like I want to get in on that.
Talent are constantly coming to me. Killian Dane being back a part of NXT. Cesaro is always talking to me about the UK or different stuff and guys are always making offers. When we do these TakeOvers, come Saturday night, a lot of the main roster will be sitting backstage watching it and the ones that aren’t, I’ll be getting texts from them throughout the show. When they’re doing live events, I get pictures from guys all the time sitting in the locker room watching TakeOver. The support is great. They’re all on the same team but yet the competitive part of it raises the bar for everyone.
Which match will steal the show at NXT TakeOver: Toronto?
PL: It’s so hard to predict. When you have a personal story like Candice and Io and talent like that, that can absolutely steal it. Street Profits against Kyle and Bobby … Kyle and Bobby are two talent that it’s tough to name a TakeOver they were on where they didn’t have a match of the night. (Velveteen) Dream, Pete Dunne, Roderick Strong – I can make the same argument about all three of those guys. When you put that level of talent and character and everything else into a match together, you can make an argument for any one of these to steal the show. To me, the beautiful part of these TakeOvers is watching it going down and every time you get done with a match, you think no way anyone is topping that one. Somebody comes out next and does it. It’s about the story going into it and to me that’s what this is all about.
Are you the heir apparent to run creative for both “RAW” and “SmackDown? Is there a succession plan in place for someone else to run NXT?
PL: There are, in any company of this size and with everything we do, you have to have succession plans and you have to have a next level of where you want to go. I think sometimes people get caught up in the product that gets put out there. Oh, it’s just “RAW” or it’s just “SmackDown”. It’s the heir apparent to this or that. There is no heir apparent. Anybody that thinks that Vince is stepping away … he’ll probably outlive all of us knowing that his mom is in her late 90’s and is still running around and very active. He’s got the gene.
There are succession plans to everything. Those plans change on a regular basis because this company changes on a regular basis. You look back five years; it’s a totally different place. I think there’s a lot of factors that are involved in all of that. Who guys where, how, what happens. As you are looking at who takes what, it’s a constantly evolving thing but all of us – Vince, myself, Steph (McMahon), everyone in this company – is constantly looking at if things shift, who takes whose place and who does what. That is no different for me and NXT. You’re constantly looking for people who can step up and take things off your plate so you can advance to something different as well.
What is the status of the Mae Young Classic for 2019?
PL: We’re in the process of working on some things now and finalizing some stuff. Hopefully, we’ll have some announcements soon on all of that. When you talk about just around the corner, we’re coming into the middle of August and just around the corner you’re talking about massive shifts to FOX and massive shifts to “RAW” with USA (Network) and trying to ramp up for all of it and how that all works. When one piece shifts, it’s like dominoes. It moves everything. In our business, it’s absolutely that way so when we shift to FOX, it changes everything about “SmackDown” as a brand and where it goes and how it routes. It moves all of the pieces and there is a lot of prep that goes into that.
A little bit of some stuff goes shifted to a little later in the year this year and the planning stages just because of bandwidth of trying to get it all done in the right period of time.
What is Johnny Gargano’s current health going into TakeOver?
PL: He’s fine. Without me getting into medical details of people because I can’t, there was a lingering thing. It’s one of those funny things in the athletic world where this is sort of nothing and even for him it’s like having to pull the reigns on a horse because he’s got a stone in his hoof but if you don’t and don’t stop him and pick the rock out, it becomes a big issue. This is one of those little things where I was like let’s take you off of some stuff even though you’re fine because I don’t want this to become something more than it is. It’s cleared up and he’s totally fine.
How was the feedback for the EVOLVE anniversary show? Would WWE Network air other events like that in the future?
PL: As you see the rollout of the (WWE) network and plans for it going down the line, EVOLVE shows, brands we have alliances with and everything else will factor into the network in a big way. The EVOLVE show was spectacular. I thought it was great. Obviously a huge deal for a bunch of young talent that are trying to make a name for themselves and trying to get to that next level. If you want to be a WWE superstar, if you want to make it in the business, EVOLVE is a place you should be trying to get to much like Progress in the UK, ICW, wXw. Those are places that are cultivating talent, helping to teach talent to get to that next level and we’re excited to help bring that next generation of talent forward in the business and give them that platform.
Could we see two NXT television shows per week coming?
PL: There’s always a changing landscape. The internal discussion here of where content goes is a constant. We look at this kind of wheel of options and distribution that we have across all platforms. This big wheel of where you put content is a constantly up for debate. How much content, what content and we’re constantly working on it. When it comes to NXT, there’s a lot of exciting thoughts and ideas out there but we’re constantly debating in an ebb and flow on where things go and land.
When it comes to NXT growing as a brand, there’s a lot of options on the table. I’ll say this: contrary to what I’ve heard because you hear people speculate and I’ve seen the conversations around NXT and FS1 and then people come in with counter-programming talk (with AEW airing Wednesday nights). We have content all over the place and if people want to talk about counter-programming, Wednesday have been the home of NXT forever. When other people announce Wednesday (to air shows), you don’t talk about counter-programming, you just hear the announcement. For us, everything is counter-programming. We plan things long in advance. We worry about doing our business and that’s really what we worry about.
How do you manage talent anxiety knowing there are more eyes TakeOver events?
PL: You don’t. If you don’t have nerves, if you don’t have butterflies, if you don’t have that feeling in the pit of your stomach that would make some people panic and freeze, then you don’t care. I want them to feel that. I want them to embrace that and I want them to use that to give the best performance that they can. Those feelings, those nerves can either paralyze you or inspire you to do great things and I want them to use it to inspire them to do great things, things that they never thought they’d be able to do.
On Simone Johnson, The Rock’s daughter, training at the Performance Center
PL: All I’ll say about Simone is that she shares her father’s, her mom’s, her entire family’s passion for what we do. She also shares her family’s incredible work ethic. You hear her dad many times talk about be the hardest worker in the room. She shares that same work ethic. If she wants this, much like her dad, there’s nothing that will stop her.
Was any consideration given to a sixth match on the show?
PL: Every single show we do as we’re building the show and figuring out what the card is going to be, we look at the content and the ebb and flow of the stories and what makes the most sense. What are the biggest stories? What is the overall feel of that show? I never want to add something in just to say let’s add another match and then the show will be longer. I want it to be the right thing for the show and the fans. We do the same sort of assessment process of the shows every single time we put one of these together.