Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque & Johnny Gargano Predict Big Things for WWE NXT on USA
When it comes to NXT, there is no bigger fan than brand visionary Paul Levesque. Known in the ring as Triple H, the executive vice president of talent, live events and creative can’t help gushing about what has been created the same way a proud dad talks about a child.
Rooted in providing a platform for the superstars of tomorrow to hone their skills became so much more. It led to the opening of a WWE Performance Center, TV tapings and live event specials emanating from Full Sail University.
The quality of talent and matches helped NXT swell in popularity to the point of selling out big arenas the same way a SummerSlam or other big pay-per-view show would. The next step has taken place in its evolution with a weekly, two-hour live Wednesday nights on USA Network. An idea Levesque saw materialize over the last year-and-a-half. For the multi-time WWE champion, it wasn’t a matter of if but when. Now that the time is here, Levesque assures audiences the product they’ve come to expect from the black-and-gold will stay true to itself.
“If I wanted to make it Raw and SmackDown, I would have already done it. But there is no intent in doing that, and there is no benefit in doing that,” he said. “I feel in some way we are that band that signs with a major record label, but we’re not going to change what we do.”
Another hour and greater platform gives NXT the chance to expand character development and story-telling. Levesque knew the frustration of not having the bandwidth to dig a little deeper into giving further meaning behind a match or program. Even though weekly increases the speed of how the crew will do things, he believes maintaining consistency is the key to expanding viewers.
“That means al lot of talent will debut and be a part of this brand on a weekly basis but may not be on TakeOver events,” he explained. “You prove yourself in these storylines, you get to the bigger storylines. You go to TakeOver. This will be the brand where there will be no participation medals. You earn your spot and grow into your spot. We’re not going to make TkaeOver events longer because we have the bigger bandwidth for storylines. It’s keeping the product for what it is but making more opportunity.”
The one-hour debut episode of NXT on USA Network generated more than 1.1 million viewers. A strong start, but stiff competition in the form of All Elite Wrestling’s Dynamite on TNT took their two-hour premiere the week later down a notch. Levesque feels it’s hard to say what expectations are for NXT from USA Network, but he does know they are thrilled where they are at the moment.
“When those ratings came out after the first episode came out, I spoke to Chris McCumber [president, entertainment networks] at USA, and they were thrilled beyond what they were hoping for and expecting,” Levesque said. “Now it has becomes what we do, and I want to grow it bigger I learned early in the process of NXT when someone suggested we go to Barclays Center for a TakeOver, and it was the first thing I balked at when it was thrown at me. I was almost resistant to doing it, and it sold out immediately. It made me get to thinking outside the box and thinking bigger than this. I want to this every bit as a brand to where in some manner I want it to be bigger than Raw and SmackDown on a certain level.”
Matt Bloom, head trainer at the WWE Performance Center, has been ringside for the many milestones of NXT. For everyone on the show, their success is his success in many ways.
“I could not be me proud of them,” he said. “I could not be more thrilled for the talent before them because they started this We can’t’ forget about them as they helped us get to where we are today. This platform in USA Network, there has never been more eyes on this brand. In the past WWE fans saw NXT. Now the world is going to see NXT, and that’s awesome.”
One of the brand’s true hearts is Johnny Gargano, a lifelong fan who worked the independent ranks for more than a decade before signing with WWE. Having the show on USA Network is a dream come true for the popular performer, for him, a natural progression.
“I’m going to do what it takes to make NXT the number one thing in professional wrestling,” Gargano said. “That hasn’t changed…We’re like a family. A lot of these guys I’ve known for like 10 years. We’ve all clawed and scratched just to get here. It took a lot to get here, and now that we are here and want to do what we can to make NXT the coolest thing possible. That is the best thing I can say. We’re all a team, a family with one common goal and direction.”
It’s surreal for Gargano, whose wife is fellow NXT superstar Candice LeRae, to show up to work on any given day and have the brains of a Shawn Michaels or Triple H to pick. The “Heartbreak Kid” in particular is a childhood hero.
“He was painted on my wall. I used to dress like him and put on the Shawn Michaels outfits dance to ‘Sexy Boy’ in the house. Now to sit in a room to watch wrestling or just to text him for advice, it’s just so weird,” he said.
“Same thing with Triple H. I used to spit water all the time. DX were my absolute favorites. Now DX are now running my career, which is wild. Their mind, they work on a different level. They think so many steps ahead and think about so many things we don’t’ think of. It’s awesome to have them as a soundboard, which is great as well. They let talent be talent. They don’t take talent out of talented people, and they enhance that talent. It has been extremely important to have them.”
Gargano believes it’s a great time to be a fan with the amount of options at their disposal. He is welcoming to AEW. The more the merrier in his eyes.
“When I was younger the ‘Monday Night Wars’ were must-see TV,” Gargano said. “The goal is to make professional wrestling the coolest thing possible. As long as that is going on, I think we’re in great shape. They’re going to do their thing. We’re going to do our thing. Nothing they do is going to change what we do. Nothing we do is going to change what they do.
“I think we are working on two different platforms here. I can’t wait to see what they bring out. I can’t wait to see what we bring out…I think that is the major story here. Whoever you support, whatever you want to cheer for, and want to watch. I just think it is cool that people are talking about wrestling. This thing that we all love. It’s growing and so much bigger. I remember being a fan in the ‘90s. I want to be a part of that and feel that. I think we’re getting there.”
WWE NXT, Wednesdays, 8/7c, USA Network