At the newly unveiled NXT UK Performance Centre in a highly top-secret location, WWE treated us to an audience with some of their biggest talent. One of the most surprising arrivals was the one and only HBK, Shawn Michaels. Mr WrestleMania was there to talk up his role as NXT ambassador (his job description in the company is a little vague and even he admits he doesn’t fully know what it is), to give us his thoughts on the upcoming talent and a bit of insight into the process that turns them from trainees to superstars.
As Shawn walks through the door, it’s clear everyone is thrilled to be given some time with him. Even his request to take off his jacket fills the room with adoring laughter. Finally, the questions start coming and he’s asked about what drew him to a training role and if the buzz he gets from nurturing talent matches the buzz he gets from actually performing. ‘Yes. That’s why I’ve joined NXT at the Performance Centre because as much as I loved being out there in front of the camera and having my WrestleMania moments, I have found that watching these young men and women have theirs is like – and it’s not quite the same – but it’s almost like watching your kids go out there and be successful because it’s impossible to work with someone as much as we’ve been working with all of them and not get attached to them a little bit.
‘One of the first things that I try to do, is get them to understand that it is okay to have fun, there isn’t any question that’s too dumb or too stupid, and letting them know that we are here to help them and to help them enjoy it because we know how cool it can be. We know how awesome it is. Hunter and I have got to live that dream and it is cool and it’s a blast and you want other people to have it. If you’d have told he and I, 20 years ago, would be living the lives we’re living, we wouldn’t have believed you. You want that for all these other people that are putting their time and effort into this. He’s [Triple H] beginning to build all these facilities that are going to help that happen. For me it’s just something that’s fun to be a part of.’
He was prompted to share some of his highlights of the NXT UK brand specifically, and who his one to watch is. ‘Pete and Tyler were already pretty dang special. Joe Coffey and Wolfgang have done well. I’ll tell you the one guy that I didn’t know, didn’t see him, Jordan Devlin. It’s only been a short amount of time and he was good when he came in, but he is really starting to feel it. You can begin to see him just oozing that confidence and he’s growing so fast. I hate to just pinpoint one person, but I’ve just watched him exponentially grow in a very short amount of time and he’s an unbelievably talented kid, so I just feel like his ceiling is pretty darn good.’
Looking to get an insight to his approach as a teacher, Shawn was asked what the one thing he wants fledgling talent to take away from the experience is. ‘I tell them as a coach, everybody’s got a story. It may be your version of normal and you are used to it, but everybody’s got a story and for those of us that don’t know it, it is interesting. So don’t discount so much of who you really are. Don’t discount the personal.
‘People say all this nice stuff about me, I’m a legend and an icon and all this, I was just a dude out there living my dream and a lot of it was just really me going out there and somehow that seemed to make a difference. So don’t be afraid to give a little or a lot of yourself out there because fans seem to notice the difference when someone’s yanking your chain or when someone’s sincerely going out there and giving their all for you. So don’t be afraid to forego the show part and show them who you really are, because, as I said, fans seem to notice, which I think is cool.’
To highlight the advancements in training that WWE have been innovating with these new performance centres, he was asked about his own training and where he began his journey to becoming one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. ‘Well, mine was a ring inside a tin barn in Texas heat. That was it. So, what I did with my school, we tried to have a little weight room – not a fancy-schmancy one like the one here – but we had a little weight room, a locker room and two rings in it because it’s one of those things where once you do it, you then begin to understand all the different aspects of it. At that time, we had the little video cameras and stuff like that, so we’d try and crack some promos. You begin to understand all the different aspects of the business. It’s almost like if you were to build your perfect wrestler, what would he look like? What things would you put together? Like making your own He-Man doll or something like that.
‘That’s sort of what a performance centre is and then of course, when everything’s said and done, you’ve got this group of cool wrestling figures, so what makes them all different? What makes one that main-event WrestleMania dude and it’s always that they‘ve just got that ‘It Factor’. Well, what is that? I don’t know and nobody knows what it is. That’s why Hunter came to me and was like, “Well you’re a 190lb dude who somehow figured it out.” It’s about going up to people and trying to find what it is about them.
‘If I could do it – because I know who I am when I wake up every morning, and it ain’t special boys and girls – it’s in there somewhere but you got to sit there and chip away at it to find out. You have to chip through all that stuff to find the diamond. Sometimes they’re not even aware that it’s in there. So that’s what I try to do. Find that within each and every one of them and get them comfortable bringing it to the world.’