NXT has had in the ranks of its backstage staff some of the most respected names in the business. Dusty Rhodes, Sara Amato, Terry Taylor, Shawn Michaels and, of course, William Regal. Two of the biggest, former Intercontinental Champion Matt Bloom and World of Sport legend Robbie Brookside, took the time to sit down with us and have a chat about the new WWE NXT UK Performance Centre and how their own training was a very different experience to the highly polished regime currently enjoyed by WWE’s latest trainees.
Robbie was asked about whether coming back to England to build a mainstream wrestling brand in the UK after years of trying to get it back on terrestrial television was a dream come true. ‘In my career I went everywhere other than America, it wasn’t really my place, but going to Orlando has changed my life. Before working with WWE I never realised the detail and the scale of how big and great they are. So, to come back, originally, two years ago to come back with the thought to build a British brand, it was, ‘Yes! This is good.’ This PC is our home now. I’ve come back to England eight times this year. It’s always nice to get back, but it’s a dream come true, as you said.’
A lot was made by the guest speakers at the Performance Centre of how seriously they take the welfare of their talent. Matt Bloom had this to say about their responsibility, ‘I think it’s amazing when you have talent who have worked as hard as these men and women have to get here. There’s a great foundation on the independents right now and what we’re trying to do is take the hustle out of that and we’re trying to provide these guys and ladies with everything they need here so they don’t have to go back to the independents and work for a minimum amount of money in a shoddy locker room without medical attention and a shower and stuff like that. We are showing these guys what it is to be a Superstar and what’s amazing here is we’re going to change the game from the top to the bottom.’
British independent wrestling has been in something of a boom period in the last half decade or so with promotions like PROGRESS, ICW, Rev Pro and Pete Dunne’s self-founded ATTACK! Pro Wrestling finding huge success in the UK. Robbie was asked what he thought the reason was for such amazing talent to break through now after years of stagnation in the British market. ‘I think there’s a number of reasons. Looking back maybe six/seven years ago the documentary of ICW and promotions like PROGRESS created a lot of interest. We work with the three guys from there, Jim, Jon and Glen who were instrumental with us here. I think sometimes elements just come together.
‘My best mate, who you know is William Regal, and since I’ve worked for NXT I’ve just listened to him and his vision and his insight and I remember he came over here about three years ago on a scouting mission and he said, ‘You want to see these kids in Birmingham. They’ve taught themselves.’ I’ll be honest, I’d never heard of them or anything like that and then the Blackpool show came and I went, ‘Wow!’. Where have these lads come from? Tyler and Pete were in the main event for the title and I think there’s a number of reputable schools around now and bigger promotions who put stuff into the production.
‘I worked for Brian Dixon and in the 80s and the 90s he was really good at what he did but then he went to the Butlin’s style of things and I just think people started figuring it out and trying it. None more so than those two extremely talented individuals. So, it’s just great to see now. The British crowds are so great. It’s like a cross between a darts game and a punk gig and a football match. It’s so refreshing. When NXT first came over here, I’ll never forget the Blackpool show that we did. Hands down in the 38 years I’ve been in this job that was the best show I had ever gone to or was involved in.
‘I remember Jason Jordan and Chad Gable, it was their first UK tour. They couldn’t believe, that first and foremost everyone knew them, but also that the crowds sang a song to them for about 17 minutes. That’s just the feeling the British fans bring. That’s the great thing about us. It’s not about us. It’s about them and it’s about what we do in Orlando. I’ve had 5000 matches in my career. The greatest feeling I’ve ever had is when people go to the main roster. To make wrestling as a job and this industry better is a passion of mine, Matt’s and the like-minded coaches on our staff. NXT Takeover Blackpool is going to be one of the biggest nights of my career.’
Trying to get some insight into the kinds of lessons the WWE Coaching staff imparts, Matt was asked what he thought was the number one lesson the trainees needed to leave the PC with. ‘The top echelon of talent here, they are wise beyond their years. It amazes me how some of these guys who haven’t been in the business for a terribly long time, know some of the stuff that they know. But I think the biggest takeaway they’re going to take from here is how to carry on episodic storylines. They don’t do that a lot, because they do independents where you might work in front of a crowd they don’t see again for a month.
‘Here, we’re trying to slow roll these characters out and put them in storylines. We’re trying to protect and build individual brands. If you oversaturate your brand by giving them too much, that’s a quick flash in the pan and we don’t want that. For the younger echelon, I’d say it’s teaching them the foundation of what we do. A lot of them graduated from their wrestling school into live wrestling a little bit quicker than I would have allowed that to happen and some of their foundations aren’t as strong as I would consider a WWE Superstar needing.’
Robbie: ‘I couldn’t have put it better. I think when we went to a German independent show, they did far too much. They’re not controlled. It doesn’t tell a good story.’
Matt: ‘That’s the key word right here. We tell stories built on emotion.’
Robbie: ‘I remember when I was 16/17, a great thing for me is doing a TV match with Johnny Saint and to travel around with him, and he was one of the many that used to go, ‘Slow down!’ Because when you’re young you’re like, ‘Oh I’ve learnt this new move, I want to try and do it.’ Once you get older and you figure it out, you realise it’s just like pouring another pint of water into a pint of beer. You just don’t need it.
‘It’s hard sometimes when you get someone from the indies who have been trained the wrong way. Their footwork and their balance and their facial expressions aren’t up to it and to try and get them to change that, at times it’s harder to teach them. We got eight Chinese Nationals who couldn’t speak any English, and it was easier in some ways to train them from scratch than getting someone from the indies who’s been working for 12 years. Well, obviously they’ve been going to the wrong places because that’s not how we do things here.’
Knowing that NXT’s global training campaign is the most ambitious ever attempted by the entire industry, Robbie and Matt were asked about how different their training experiences would have been when they were starting out. Matt painted a picture of how things used to be, ‘I trained in a boxing ring with one air conditioner in the wall, up four flights of stairs to get there. It was tough, man. It was a lot different than it is now. Actually, Triple H and I trained in the same facility with Killer Kowalski. The training game has evolved a lot.’
Robbie: ‘I got invited, in inverted commas, to a wrestling club on the outskirts of Liverpool – a big factory called English Electric. My mother and father hated wrestling, everyone thought I was a weirdo because I packed in football to watch wrestling. So anyway, my mate went to this amateur wrestler and said ‘That kid down there thinks it’s all fixed.’ He was only a little fella. Then my mate comes back, says we’re invited to a show on Sunday.
‘So, I go up and its strange because people are still working in the factory. So I get to the utility room and there’s a big, old sugar matt with all these old fellas all around. The little fella sees me and gets all excited. I’m 14, he’s 32/33. He says, ‘Right lads, this kid thinks it’s all fixed.’ He tells me to get on the matt. I get on the matt and to this day I have never felt pain like it. I remember I hit the matt as he took me down and I didn’t know where I was. I remember all the dust going in my face. That could probably get a factory closed down now. I could probably get them all charged with abusing a 14-year-old. He ripped my head off my shoulders. My ear was bleeding and it wasn’t very nice. There was just a sink to smother your face and that was it.’
Matt: ‘And you fell in love with it.’
Robbie: ‘You do though. I went, ‘I’m not having it. I’ll go back the next week.’ And they did it again. I went back the third time they decided I had a bit of bottle. But that’s what it was. The facilities were disgraceful. They’d be condemned now. Just being at the Performance Centre now and seeing that evolve and the way it grows and grows and grows. Just the facilities that the talent have. The way WWE treats their talent is light years ahead of what we’ve gone through.’