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Triple H on changes to NXT in his absence, AEW as competition for WWE

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After spending several months out of the spotlight, Paul “Triple H” Levesque seems to be back to work. Not wrestling again — his return to the public eye before WrestleMania 38 included announcing his retirement from the ring due to the heart condition that almost cost him his life last summer. But Haitch has reassumed his role as WWE’s Executive Vice President for Global Talent Strategy & Development, including as the front person for the developmental program.

Two big changes came about it that program during his time away. He was quoted in press releases about one of them: the launch of WWE’s NIL program for college athletes. But he hadn’t gone on record about the other: the rebranding of NXT.

The lack of comment from Trips about 2.0 led to a lot of rumors, speculation and conspiracy theories about his standing in the company. His first comments on the matter, from an interview he did with The Athletic’s Chris Vannini at the WrestleMania week tryout in North Texas earlier this month, seem designed to shut down the notion the new NXT says anything about Levesque’s standing within WWE:

“There was this point where it was on the [WWE] Network, had this cult following, and we needed to get on television. How do we do that? We need more experience, need to professionalize this a little bit to make the product to where fans want to see that. We got them to that place. The pandemic [messed] it up a little bit because it was right when we went on TV and we had to shift our focus, doing it in front of no people. It completely altered what we were doing. We couldn’t recruit or train talent for almost two years. … But the show stayed. Then we said, OK, let’s reboot it and go back to what we originally were. Some of these people won’t be ready for television, but we’re gonna put them on television, and we believe the audience is invested enough that the numbers might come down, but a core group of them will stay, and now you’re creating fresh stars all the time. That’s where we are now. The numbers have stabilized.

“People like Bron Breakker, he’s been training for a year. Half the women, they’ve been here a year maybe. There’s a lot that’s just so fresh and new. People used to say the constant churn of NXT was a negative. The churn is what’s great about it. The people here now, hopefully a year and a half from now, none of them are even in NXT anymore, and the ones that make it will be on to Raw and SmackDown. That’s the magic. It truly is the developmental league, the college football, Triple-A baseball. Yeah, they’re not all quite ready to be in that major-league role yet, but you’re discovering them before they become household names.

“We were talking about this shift anyway. That’s where we were headed. It happened at a period of time where I had to leave for a bit. Luckily, Shawn (Michaels) had been doing it with me all that time, so it was a seamless thing. I stepped out, did what I needed to do, but that team has killed it. They’ve really created a show where you can really say that’s the next generation of stars.”

Depending on how you define “right when”, there’s a bit of revisionist history here; the empty pandemic-driven Performance Center shows didn’t start until six months after NXT moved from streaming to TV. But while Hunter doesn’t address the company his show was going head-to-head with on Wednesday nights from Oct. 2019-April 2021 in that answer, he does talk to Vannini about it.

Regarding talents who came up through NXT that are now with AEW, Triple H said:

“If they have great gigs, I’m happy for them. I stay in touch with almost all of them. I like to think they came into us here, we taught them a lot, got them to [a higher level] where they learned how to do television, how to be professionals and all that to be successful there. At some point, they might come back with us, or they might never because they don’t fit our brand as well, but that’s OK. They got us to certain places, and I’m thankful for that, and they’re thankful for that, and they’re off to different things. But that doesn’t stop the train. People leave football teams, move to different teams all the time, and it’s great.”

He returned to the football analogy when asked about AEW as competition to WWE as a whole:

“As far as the competition aspect goes, it’s great. It makes everybody sharper. You get lazy if you’re all there and everybody goes about their business. The end of the day, it’ll make us better, and we’ll all be better for it. All those things have forced us to be in a better place right now. Not that we wouldn’t have gotten there anyway, but we had to do it quicker in some manner. That’s an important piece of it, right?

“As long as there aren’t things hurting the business overall, I think any of that stuff is good. If you’re a 6-year-old kid, you turn on the TV, wrestling is on and you like it. Now you’re caught up in it. Then you start sampling all of it. You get to where you’re a huge fan. That’s the money. There’s room for everybody to do it. It’s like saying the USFL or XFL is starting up and the NFL is panicking about market share. It’s just going to increase people’s love for football. If you love football that much, you’ll watch all of the football, and it’s great. But the NFL is not sweating that.”

While some will bristle at The Game comparing WWE to the biggest sports league in the world and casting AEW as an upstart struggling to last more than a season, he’s right that Tony Khan’s company isn’t an existential threat to Vince McMahon’s empire. And he does acknowledge the benefits of having All Elite on the scene, to keep WWE from getting too complacent, to provide “great gigs” to talents he can’t employ any longer, and to produce more shows that can create new fans.

How will those comments, or his “2.0 was the plan all along” ones about NXT play? You tell us, Cagesiders.

And check out Levesque’s entire interview with The Athletic, where he also expounds on the NIL program and WWE’s efforts to widen it’s prospect pool beyond independent wrestling, here.