Interviews

How WWE is Being Powered by Its Performance Center

We talk to WWE’s top coaches to check out the engine driving 'Raw,' SmackDown, and NXT.

Sara-Amato-Training-Wrestler-WWE
Courtesy of WWE

WWE broadcasts its larger than life action to more than 180 countries in 20 different languages. With primetime TV content to fill, the company is constantly on the lookout for new and emerging talent that can connect with a global audience.

It takes a special kind of athlete to make it in the WWE. Selling tickets and drawing in television viewers requires both skills and charisma. But for the chosen few that make it, there is serious bank to be made. Forbes has named WrestleMania as one of the world’s most valuable sports event brands.

Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque, in transitioning from his own career inside the squared circle to now becoming a key player in the boardroom, pioneered the WWE Performance Center in 2013, opening the very first facility of its kind in Orlando. Due to its success, a second WWE Performance Center opened in London last January.

These centers are essentially the training ground for future generations of Superstars. They house the best possible toolset, including several rings and bespoke multimedia environments, and provide recruits with the most well-rounded learning experience possible. Other notable resources include physiotherapy and a state-of-the-art gym overseen by world-renowned strength coach Sean Hayes. Also residing at these centers are past legends of the squared circle, committed to shaping the “Next Big Thing” in sports entertainment. The WWE's performance centers provide a springboard for wrestlers to become part of the promotion’s television output, often joining NXT in the first instance.

Muscle & Fitness sat down with senior Orlando coaches Matt Bloom and Sara Amato, both former pro wrestlers, for some exclusive insight into how the facility prepares new WWE signings with the skills necessary to make it in the ring. We also found out how long it takes coaches to spot a potential Superstar, and how the recent expansion of NXT into live television has impacted life at the center.

WWE-Prospects-Training

Courtesy WWE

Can you talk about each of your journeys to becoming coaches at the WWE Performance Center?

Sara: I really love wrestling, but more than that, I love the athletics of it. I just love training and being around that environment. Training helped me to grow and find out who I was as a person. With wrestling, I got to travel to Japan and Mexico, and really see different aspects of training and performers. Being part of WWE would be anyone’s dream, and this position that I have never existed before—they never had a female trainer. They created a role for me, and it all worked out great.

Matt: Thank goodness for Sara Amato! I went to college—it was a promise I made to my parents before I could give wrestling a shot—so I finished college with a degree in education, then I started wrestling, and it all kind of happened really quickly for me. I was blessed with size and a love for the wrestling business. I signed with WWE early in my career (performing as Prince Albert), then I spent some time in Japan and Mexico, and then I came back to WWE in an in-ring role for a few years (as Lord Tensai), but as that role was coming to an end, I knew that Triple H was the guy behind the Performance Center. I threw my name in the hat as a potential coach because one thing I love doing is teaching, and the other is professional wrestling or sports entertainment. Triple H gave me the opportunity to be a coach. I transitioned form the assistant coach to head coach, and it’s been quite a journey.

Both the Performance Center in Orlando and the latest one in London are world-class training grounds. How have things changed since both of you were breaking into the pro wrestling business?

Matt: Everyone who comes in here, whether it’s someone new to the business or if they have been in it for a long time, their eyes just open wide and their mouths drop. Over time, our recruits get used to the environment because it's normal for them. I have to remind them that I trained in a factory inside a warehouse with Killer Kowalski’s school of professional wrestling, where we had one boxing ring and a couple of dumbbells in the back corner. The evolution to where we are now is just crazy. I know that I’m appreciative of that.

Sara: We have talent who came up from the independent scene and they appreciate it. This place is very cool.

When you see the multiple rings, the stage and set, and the expansive gym area, it really is mind blowing. 

Matt: I think Triple H’s idea was to provide recruits with everything they need to succeed from the very beginning. We have medical, we even have classrooms teaching language because a lot of our talent has come from all over the world.

Sara: Recently we added a new area for content and innovation. We have a separate ring and green screen area for production. It's a natural and comfortable environment where we can shoot talent entrance videos, and this gives them great experience. It’s really awesome.

As coaches, do you sometimes find yourselves offering guidance and support to younger recruits?

Amato: That’s actually my favorite part of the job. We really get to invest in our recruits as people, and we see them through personal challenges and personal highs. We are with them through the whole rollercoaster ride that they get to experience. Being on the ground floor of this journey and helping them to succeed is my favorite part.

Matt: We get to see many of them grow up. I’m a father, and I can really appreciate that.

You obviously have affection for all of the developing WWE talent, but is there anyone that has really impressed you recently?

Sara: That would be like choosing a favorite child; we go on the journey with all of them.

Matt: I agree with Sara, there’s not just one that we could say makes us the most proud, but I will say someone like Xia Li, who has transitioned from China to an industry that she knew nothing about with English being a second language...to become what she is today, it’s amazing and checks every single box that the WWE PC is meant to.

Many of these talents are seen on NXT television shows or will feature on the brand soon. With the recent move to USA Network and NXT now airing live every week, how does this change your workload?

Matt: It's always busy and we have a lot of events, but I think the energy of live TV has now come into the building, which is really cool.

Sara: We really enjoy what we do, and if we're not in the ring, we are watching the tapes back and evaluating. We love being a part of professional wrestling, and it never feels like we're just putting the hours in. So, with the live element its even more exciting—everything is amped up. The opportunities for talent have expanded so much more.

Previously NXT was only available to WWE Network subscribers, so the new Wednesday night show on USA Network will mean you are reaching a new audience. What are your thoughts on that?

Matt: When I grew up, all I ever really wanted to be was a WWE Superstar. Now there's going to be a generation of people that will say, ‘I wanna be an NXT Superstar!’ We are on a larger platform, showing that what we do is amazing. It’s so exciting. We are making history.

Sara: When you look at the Raw and SmackDown rosters, it’s great to see how many of them came from NXT and are proud to be part of the brand.

Matt: I think the number is that 80% of the Raw and SmackDown roster has come through NXT. That’s a staggering number.

You have both overseen the training of some of today’s breakout stars. Can you put a timeframe on how long it takes each of you to decide whether or not someone has the potential to succeed in WWE?

Sara: I think we pretty much know right off the bat. It takes under three months to figure out if a recruit has the work ethic and the tools it takes. But honestly, you don’t need all the tools. You need to fall in love with this, because that is obviously the key. We can work with anyone if they have a certain amount of drive to succeed.

Matt: The bar is just so high right now that everyone who walks through the doors, we consider to be the top one percent of athletes. They may be transitioning form a different sport, but they will have been very successful in that background, as well. So, they are all top athletes but it’s the ones that walk in the room and you go ‘who is that!?’ That’s what we label the ‘IT Factor.’ The ones that turn heads, those are the ones that ultimately become Superstars.

How important is it for recruits to understand the telling of a story in the ring?

Matt: That’s the most important thing. You could look great, super athletic, but if you can’t do what WWE is all about, which is storytelling, you are not going to make that connection with the fans. Charisma is everything for us. If you can make me either hate you or love you through the stories that you tell, that is the king of what makes our business work.

See the Superstars of NXT on USA Network, live every Wednesday night. Check your guides for exact local and international timings. For further information on WWE Network, and to get your first month FREE, visit WWE.com

Follow Matt (@NXTMattBloom) Sara (@WWESaraAmato) and NXT (@wwenxt) on Twitter.

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