Within the WWE Universe and beyond, WrestleMania represents the pinnacle of professional wrestling/sports entertainment.
But for NXT, its version of WrestleMania is happening this weekend, as the promotion is making its third consecutive trip to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
NXT Takeover: Brooklyn III is being promoted as a homecoming of sorts, as NXT returns to the scene of the brand’s coming out party two years ago.
The first iteration of NXT Takeover: Brooklyn represented the swift ascension of NXT from being merely a weekly show for WWE’s stars of tomorrow to cut their teeth to a thriving third brand for the alongside Raw and Smackdown Live.
Now, every Takeover takes place in major arenas, but the biggest remains the first foray into triple-A arenas, and that is Brooklyn.
WWE executive Paul “Triple H” Levesque expressed the importance of NXT Takeover: Brooklyn III during a conference call Wednesday afternoon.
“This is a very exciting moment for us, as I talked about months ago, kind of reinvigorating the brand, and to me, getting it back to firing on all cylinders and I feel like that’s where we are now,” Levesque said.
“Coming out of this, I’m really anxious to get on the other side of it and really get things rolling,” he added. “A lot of good stuff is in store.”
NXT is where it is today because it helped developed a number of wrestlers, which now makeup a sizeable chunk of WWE’s main roster.
When asked about NXT’s process of cultivating talent Wednesday, Levesque had nothing but positive things to say.
Levesque pointed to names like Braun Strowman, Baron Corbin, Alexa Bliss, Nia Jax and even Charlotte Flair as people who went to the WWE Performance Center with not wrestling experience, but are now fixtures on Raw and Smackdown Live.
“I can look at it and say it did what it was supposed to do and I’m glad that it did because if it didn’t and you took that number — even if you took it away a small percentage — it really affects the product,” Levesque said.
Levesque even pointed to the wrestlers that earned their experience on the independent circuit before signing with WWE as examples of how NXT’s process has worked, as the coaches at the Performance Center had to get them up to speed on WWE’s style.
“The fact that you can split the rosters and still have a fairly strong number of talent on all brands, including NXT … there’s just a lot of talent and a lot of reasons why the Performance Center and the system is working,” he said.
NXT’s roster could be growing soon after the inaugural Mae Young Classic, which is set to premier on the WWE Network Aug. 28. The majority of the tournament was taped back in July.
Levesque said Wednesday that he originally saw the Mae Young Classic as a 16-woman tournament, but that eventually changed.
“As we started to dig and watch more footage and watch more stuff on people and really dig into it, we starting realizing, ‘Wow! There’s a lot more women. I could make this much bigger. I could do this with 32 and have it be really solid quality and all of that,” he said.
But even when the tournament field doubled in size, Levesque said that it was hard to whittle down the field to just 32 competitors.
According to Levesque, WWE Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels was left “speechless” by what how good the tournament, turned out.
Levesaue also said that some of the people that work behind the scenes believed that the Mae Young Classic was better than the last year’s wildly popular Cruiserweight Classic.
“I’m telling you, I’m really excited about this, I’m really excited about this to come out, I’m really excited about the opportunity,” Levesque said.
Unlike the Cruiserweight Classic, which was released on the WWE Network in individual weekly installments, multiple episodes of the Mae Young Classic will be put up at one time, which will allow fans to binge watch it.
The first four episodes of the tournament will be released Aug. 28 with the next four coming Sept. 4.
This is a strategy similar to what Netflix does with its original series, but not exactly. Regardless, it is a new endeavor for WWE.
When asked about why WWE chose this direction, Levesque said that it is an experiment WWE is trying because of the viewing habits of today’s consumer.
“What we found with the cruiserweight thing is as much as people fell in love with the tournament, and they loved all of it, some of it started to wane as you got into the later weeks,” Levesque said.
The finals of the tournament will take place on Tuesday, Sept. 12. As of right now, Levesque said that he is not sure of how the Mae Young Classic finale will coincide with 205 Live, which usually airs after Smackdown Live Tuesday nights.
Although 205 Live exists as a separate show for WWE’s cruiserweights, Levesque was not ready to commit to the same happening for the women coming out of the Mae Young Classic.
“I would never say never,” Levesque said. “I think it could end up there. I think we’re experiment with a lot of different things right now as far as programming and the way things work to see as the world changes and as the viewing habits of the world shift and move — everybody is trying to figure that all out — how those shows look and operate.”
“I will say that I feel like the women … the opportunity is a bit different because while the cruiserweights were easy to separate with their own show, with the women, you have, hopefully, a lot of opportunity for a lot of these women on Raw and Smackdown to beef up those rosters, on NXT to beef up that roster,” he added.
Levesque and his crew at the WWE Performance Center did not pull off the Mae Young Classic on its own, as it sought outside help in the form of Dave Prazak, who is one of the minds behind the all-women’s promotion Shimmer.
“He’s been one of the guys that’s been supportive of women in the business and doing what we do for a long time,” Levesque said of Prazak. “I felt like it was important for him to be there.”
Levesque has also asked for the input of Evolve promoter Gabe Sapolsky recently as well.
“I like Gabe. I like what he does. I think he’s a smart guy that helps to get talent going in their careers,” Levesque said.
“It’s an opportunity,” he added. “When I have an opportunity for him to be around us and learn from us and I can bring him in and see how his mind works, it’s good for everybody.”
“I want to work with guys or groups or organizations who are in the business of cultivating talent and not just putting on shows and not just putting on an event, selling some tickets and moving on,” he said. “People that are interested in cultivating talent and helping to push their careers along and to move them along.”
Levesque did make it clear that neither Prazak nor Sapolsky are officially employed by WWE.
“There’s a shared mutual love of the business that we all share and we’re trying to, in some way, accomplish the same thing, so I kind of feel like working together helps rise the tides,” Levesque said.
On a more serious note, Levesque did take time to send his thoughts and prayers to WWE Hall of Famer and good friend Ric Flair, as he was recently hospitalized with “multiple organ problems,” according to his fiancée, and is still in critical condition as of this writing.
“I don’t need to say too much about it other than he’s one of my best friends and has been a large part of my career … idol, mentor, but it’s been a rough week,” Levesque said. “It’s been a rough week for his family.”
“One thing I know about Ric, he ain’t going to go down without a fight,” he added. “He is a fighter and hopefully we’ll be watching him strut down the aisle again real soon.”