For me it started with an innocent tweet by Enzo Amore. Did I want to go to the WWE Performance Center? Simply put, yes I did. I’d heard about it, read about it, seen glimpses of it, but to be one of the first fans to actually be there? I felt I had to do it. So I secured my ticket within three days of reading that tweet.
WWE Performance Center: All Access was billed as “a chance to see how WWE Superstars are made.” Participants would receive a credential, breakfast and lunch with NXT Superstars, exclusive memorabilia, and of course an opportunity to see how the Superstars of tomorrow work their way to the next level.
The simple listing of what would happen during the day was enough to make me feel I had to attend. But the with the ticket, plus the 30-hour round trip I’d make from Philadelphia, would it meet my expectations? Admittedly I didn’t really know what to expect and some people thought I was crazy for this undertaking not knowing for sure what I would even be getting into. Well, we’re all a little crazy in our own way and I was happy to be crazy in this instance.
Prior to the September 28, 2015 event day, I had fairly regular correspondence with the Performance Center staff. There was information given to ticket holders, waivers that needed to be signed and notarized, a list of what was allowed and not allowed on the premises and a basic behavioral guideline. Most intriguing was a personality questionnaire that would aid in making my own promo during my time at the Performance Center.
Just before midnight last Saturday I began to drive my way south, away from the madness that was the Papal Visit in Philadelphia. I listened to past episodes of the Stone Cold and Jim Ross podcasts to pass the time, and when I felt the slightest bit of sleepiness creep in, I blared some music to sing along to as I made my way down I-95 South. I reached the middle of North Carolina at around 6:00 am before hitting a rest stop for an uncomfortable and unrefreshing two hour nap in my car.
On Sunday morning I blew through the Carolinas, Georgia and the northern half of Florida, reaching Orlando by mid-afternoon. During my drive I listened to the Scott Hall episodes of the Steve Austin Show. The interview was very entertaining and insightful, and for some reason one thing Hall said really stood out to me. I always thought he was arguably the best performer to never hold the World title. He commented on that by saying he was never motivated by making the most money or being the top guy, but being a part of the team that made the company better for everyone. I thought that was a really interesting way of viewing things, especially based on the reputation of himself and Kevin Nash.
Upon reaching Orlando, I decided to swing by the Performance Center, just to ensure that I would encounter no hiccups the following morning, as I was scheduled to arrive at 9:00 am. As I passed by, it didn’t seem as imposing as I would have expected. Just another innocuous looking building located in a pretty standard industrial park. I went to the hotel, obsessed over fantasy football for the rest of the day, put the finishing touches on my column due the following morning and had about the most restless night of sleep I could have imagined.
I’m a classic introvert, and the closer the time came to arrive at the Performance Center, the more my stomach tied in knots. Would I fit in? Would I be too nervous to even enjoy this experience? Would I make a fool out of myself? These were all crossing my mind as I made the five minute drive to my destination. I actually passed by once before parking, almost convincing myself I didn’t belong there. Ultimately my common sense won out, which doesn’t always happen.
I parked a few hundred feet down the street and nervously (understatement) made my way toward the entrance. I saw two giant security guards and a handful of fans that had already arrived. Before I noticed any more than that, I saw Tyler Breeze, in plain clothes walking across the front of the building with what I assumed was his dog. He was petting it and playing with it before he entered the building himself. Shortly after, a film crew followed the dog as he wandered away from the lot.
As I settled in place I noticed a young lady named Rose dressed from head to toe like Tyler Breeze. She wore all purple, she had the hooded vest, frilly leg warmers, the tightly pulled ponytail, the whole look, just like “Prince Pretty.” At this time, the first person to introduce himself to me was Jeff Seltzer, a fellow North Easterner, from New Jersey. There was definitely a sense of tension and nerves in the air, although I may have brought most of that with me.
Over the next few minutes people began to trickle in. An aspiring ring announcer from Pittsburgh named Nick Lendl, dressed to thrill compared to the rest of us. Andru Edwards sidled up, a technology guru from Seattle who was wearing the same Legit Boss t-shirt as myself. A gentleman named Michael who looked incredibly familiar, but who would I have known in Philadelphia that would have come this far besides myself?
After about a half hour wait out front, we made our way inside. It was a group of about 25 people crammed into the lobby getting signed-in, receiving our credentials, checked by security and supplied with name tags, which would prove incredibly helpful to all parties throughout the day. At this time, each participant was called into a room one-by-one. Just before being called in, The Yeti, Josh, winner of Tough Enough walked by and shook a few hands.
When my name was called, I walked into the room to be greeted head coach Matt Bloom (Jason Albert/Tensai) standing at a table and assistant head coach Sara Amato (Sara Del Rey). I shook coach Bloom’s massive hand as a swarm of photographers snapped pictures and took video. The coaches asked where I was from and gave me a little ribbing after they found out it was Philadelphia. Nobody likes Philly unless you’re from Philly it seems. At this point I signed my 1-day WWE contract and was told I was expected to carry myself as a professional. I’m not sure if they told everyone that, or just me because I’m from Philadelphia. At this point Billy Gunn walked in, who was even bigger than I imagined he’d be.
I was also informed that I would have the chance to participate in the Live Event that would end the day’s festivities. I considered saying I wanted to do commentary, but settled on saying I’d be interested in being an interviewer or a manager. With that I shook hands once again with the coaches and was escorted upstairs for breakfast. As surreal as it was to sign a WWE contract with the NXT coaches, it wasn’t as surreal as it was about to get.
I walked into the lounge and the first thing I saw was NXT Champion Finn Balor and Sami Zayn waiting to greet me. I was a little starstruck as I shook Finn’s hand and told him what a big fan I was. He exchanged in a brief conversation as I made my way to the next table where I saw NXT Tag Champs The Vaudevillians, Simon Gotch and Aiden English. They couldn’t have been more friendly. They discussed Philadelphia, the Pope’s visit and Boyz II Men with me for a few minutes before I made my way to the final table.
It was at this table that I encountered NXT Women’s Champion, Bayley. Anyone who has read what I’ve written so far knows this is where I started really marking out. By this time Andru had made his way to the table and she playfully gave us a hard time for wearing our Sasha Banks gear. We actually got the opportunity to discuss her TakeOver: Brooklyn match with Sasha in detail. We got to discuss her upcoming Iron Man Match. I got the chance to tell her that I was in attendance for the Lesnar-Rollins-Cena Triple Threat Match at the Royal Rumble in Philadelphia which many see as the match of the year, and that I was also in Brooklyn for TakeOver.
I got to tell her first hand how much that match moved me and how I’d never seen a crowd so invested or responsive, even during the Triple Threat at the Rumble. She was conversational, excitable and welcoming, exactly as you’d expect Bayley to be. She described the ascension of NXT during her time there and how cool it is to have seen it grow to this point. At this point I met another fan, Adam “AK” Kaminski. Surprisingly, he was the first local I met from Orlando, he’s an IT guy who frequently attends NXT house shows.
After at least 45 minutes of breakfast it was time for the next event of the day. Having already signed a 1-day contract and having breakfast with Bayley, I almost couldn’t believe there was more to come, let alone almost the entire day in front of us. After some fumbling with the TV by Ryan Katz, we saw a welcome message from Triple H. That led into one of the coolest parts of the day, Promo Class.
Ryan informed us that this time is used not just to cut promos, but learning how to access different feelings and emotions and different aspects of your personality. Learning to speak in front of an audience in situations outside of your comfort zone. One by one, NXT Superstars stepped into the ring to cut promos in front of us and their peers.
Alexa Bliss cut an unexpected promo on the women’s champion, which led to Bayley being called out of the crowd with us to respond. This, in turn, led to a title match being scheduled for that evening. Shortly after, youngster Riddick Moss cut a promo on newcomer Hugo Knox. Knox was also pulled out of the crowd to give an impromptu reply. I had never heard of Hugo before, but his character was incredibly entertaining.
A former soccer player from England and a former fitness model, he wears polka dots and is known for his in-ring dancing. At one point he called himself the “Full Throttle Male Model” which I found hilarious and would come in handy later in the day. The class eventually ended with Enzo, Cass and Carmella being given a free reign on time to close it out.
They used their time to cut promo’s on every tag team on the WWE main roster. They said the Prime Time Players were playing with Monopoly money, they couldn’t figure out which Matador was which, and the highlight for me was when they called out the New Day. Enzo said they are a great team because they make up for what the other lacks, like how Big E has such big pectorals and it looks like you could eat a bowl of cereal out of Kofi’s chest. And Cass made mention of how Xavier Woods is a PhD and that he should “keep reading books and let us keep writing them” which drew a huge laugh from the crowd.
This is where things started to loosen up a bit. Coach Bloom informed us of our roles in the Live Event (I was chosen as an interviewer), then we got to watch as the talent started their in-ring training. They were split into groups with women in one ring, beginner, intermediate and elite in three other rings. As we watched their intense stretch warm up, Dustin Runnels, aka Goldust came strolling by our lucky group of about 10.
He spent a good 15 minutes with us answering any question we had, discussed the changes in the business during his career and even spoke about his father briefly. It was totally unexpected and such a nice surprise. He went on his way to let some of the women knock him around in the women’s ring.
Our group found its way into the weight room which was just incredible. We talked to the head trainer Matt Wilchinski about his philosophy on training different talents. He spoke about how function is more important than physique, but physique still matters. He also told us how he would train a Bull Dempsey vastly different from someone like Sasha Banks, based on the difference in what they need to do in the ring.
We got to watch a few Superstars like Cass, Finn Balor, Blake and Murphy and Apollo Crews workout. As an out of shape 36-year old, I definitely felt like I was looking at a different species of human being. It was at this point that it really started to sink in the amount of time, work and effort these Superstars put in. Bayley mentioned in the morning that they show up to the Performance Center every weekday and have a full daily schedule on top of their shows during the weekend.
Roughly halfway through the day, the workload already seemed exhausting. After being given some time to ask questions of the coaches and Superstars in the gym, we made our way back out to get our picture taken inside the Performance Center ring. Another moment, climbing through the ropes that felt completely surreal. We spent a few more moments watching the beginner class run the ropes and had a pretty thorough Q&A with coach Adam Pearce and his group, including Mojo Rawley and Elias Sampson.
At this point we made our way upstairs for a “Skull Session” with Billy Gunn and Superstars including Jason Jordan, Chad Gable and Dash and Dawson. Basically this is a film study session where coaches go over matches to critique what they do in the ring. As opposed to just saying what they did well or can do better, they watch and go over it in-depth. It was fascinating to watch a room full of guys with Billy Gunn talking about the matches in such detail.
Next up was the part of the day I was both looking most forward to and most dreading. The green screen room where we would cut our own promo. We had about 10 people in the room with Ryan Katz. He discussed the art of the promo, some advice for how to be convincing and what the promo is ultimately used for. He had written notes for each of us based on our questionnaires. He said he’d give us his notes, but he preferred if we searched within ourselves to make it our own.
First up was brave Jersey boy, Jeff Seltzer. He has a history of running marathons and based on his elite level of endurance, he challenged Cesaro to an Iron Man Match. He ran through a few takes and finally nailed it down saying, “this match may never end, but it probably will… but maybe it won’t.” I applaud the “Marathon Man” for stepping up first and being original and funny.
Andru Edwards actually took the approach of calling out Jeff in his promo, telling him that he may not be able to run a marathon, but he doesn’t need to run from his opponents. Andru reached the highest levels of intensity in our group and really hammered home his style. When my number was called, I issued a challenge to Seth Rollins. I don’t really remember much that I said, just that the other guys in the group seemed to enjoy it. I can’t wait to see it when they send me a copy.
I honestly could have sat there all day and watched everyone cut their promo. Watching everyone step up filled with nerves and ultimately conquer their fears with the help of Ryan, who gave great notes and direction was a lot of fun. The last promo I saw was by Adam Kaminski. “AK” was maybe the only person there as shy as me, but he cut a great heel promo on the athletes training at the Performance Center. Alas, I was called by the great Sara Amato to the sound room to do some voiceover commentary.
I sat down with Tom Phillips and Michael, the guy from earlier who looked so familiar. We were calling a Dash and Dawson vs. Hype Bros. match. I took the role as heel commentator and immediately went into what I could best describe as a Corey Graves impersonation. That told me two things: one, that Corey Graves must be the best color analyst in the business, and two that I’m glad I didn’t get picked for commentary during the live event. It is more difficult that you can imagine, filling dead air with something interesting to say.
Coach Amato then took Michael and I up to lunch with some more Superstars, including Blake and Murphy who were serving lunch, Nia Jax and Baron Corbin. It was at this point that I realized Michael was none other than “Brock Lesnar Guy.” It was pretty cool being there with an established super fan. After brief exchanges with the Superstars in the room, I sat down and chatted some more with Adam, who had been dying to ring the bell at the last house show, and Rose, the girl dressed as Tyler Breeze.
I noticed Rose was very hesitant in eating, when I found out her role in the Live Event was being the manager for her hero Tyler Breeze. I may have actually been more excited for her than she was, as she seemed almost terrified of the whole thing. I also found out Adam was going to be a guest timekeeper, meaning he’d finally get to ring the bell. Nick Lendl would get to be a guest ring announcer, almost an audition for his dream job.
I had to report to Dasha Fuentes and Greg Hamilton for my role as interviewer. They shared words of wisdom and encouragement to myself and Nick for our upcoming event. Speaking with them made clear just how much people love being in Orlando, working for this promotion. They were excited and eager to answer our questions and provide us guidance.
As lunch ended and we made our way to the Live Event I was informed I’d interview the winner of the opening match. Riddick Moss was pitted against Hugo Knox based on their earlier verbal clash during promo class. When Hugo came out victorious, Dasha and I interviewed him on his way up the ramp. I asked him if he felt vindicated on being called out, before asking him to go “Full Throttle” (callback) one more time for the crowd. While his music blared, he leapt back in the ring to dance for his new fans one more time.
We got to see seven more matches over the next couple hours, sitting among the current NXT roster. I sat next to Tough Enough’s ZZ and Sara Lee and a couple seats away from Baron Corbin. On the other side, fans sat with the likes of The Vaudevillians and Jason Jordan and Chad Gable. It was incredible to talk, cheer and boo and enjoy the show with the people we watch weekly on the WWE Network.
The Superstars cheered Nick introducing a championship match with Bayley vs. Alexa Bliss along with about half the card. They cheered Andru, Michael and Rose doing a tremendous job as managers for their fellow Superstars. They especially cheered when Levis Venezuela gave an electrifying in-ring interview that ended in a conga line including both fans and Superstars. The guest commissioner, Eric Dubowsky even got to overrule a decision in a match.
The Live Event ended with some free time to mingle with the talent and coaches one last time. We took a huge group photo, we got individual pictures, autographs and just general human interactions. We met with the organizer of the event, Danielle, who worked tirelessly to make this day possible. I can’t thank her enough for the time and effort she put in.
My day ended with a video interview describing what the experience was like for me. At the time, I couldn’t exactly put it perfectly into words. Neither could anyone else, really. You could see the expressions on faces that everyone was on their own personal high. It was like Christmas morning, the type of fun you’re only supposed to have as a kid. The words incredible, amazing and unbelievable were thrown around. The crazy part was, it wasn’t just the fans who felt that way. The staff, the coaches, the talent all had the same reactions.
Of his personal experience Jeff said, “As a lifelong wrestling fan, the experience was what I’ve been looking for most of my life. I’d view it as ‘wrestling fantasy camp.’ As a 38 year old who is too old to start taking bumps, this was exactly what I’d always wanted. I was able to get ‘behind the scenes’ in what it takes to make a professional wrestler. From watching the wrestlers train, to witnessing them critique matches from the weekend before, it was the ultimate.”
Andru called it like Willy Wonka for wrestling fans. Adam, who will be attending the Royal Rumble in January, said he’d never forget how awesome the tour was. I myself view the WWE Performance Center as “WWE University.” It’s a place where talent goes to basically major in being a WWE Superstar. They have a full-time weekly class load where they learn every detail that goes into making it in this business.
What I took away most from the day were a few things. One, there is more activity and more moving parts than you could ever imagine going on at the Performance Center. As much chaos as there can be, there is literally nothing done there without a reason or purpose. Everyone there is so focused with such great detail that there is truly nothing wasted. They squeeze the most out of every second and cover every base in everything they do. I couldn’t have more respect for everyone who is a part of that facility. I also feel that Triple H needs to be commended for conceiving and executing this place. It is ingenious.
From another standpoint, the enthusiasm that everyone had for the Performance Center was incredibly infectious. There was no doubting that every person there loves their job, feels they are thriving in their career and wouldn’t trade what they are doing for anything. Their enthusiasm translated to us as fans and allowed us to really open up and enjoy the day at a far greater level than we ever could have hoped.
Being a shy person that typically doesn’t talk a lot, I do a lot of observing. I watch people, how they act, how they interact. I figure out what makes people tick. And observing this group for a full day, I couldn’t help but think of Scott Hall’s comments on being part of a team. A player that helps lift everyone else up. That is exactly what the WWE Performance Center embodies. A group of people with a shared goal and desire who will do everything they can to enhance everyone else’s chances of making it.
The last point I will make is, EVERYONE, every coach, every staff member, every member of the roster was so welcoming, so accessible, so warm and so friendly. It wasn’t a put on, they were truly excited to be sharing their dreams and their passion with us. It honestly felt like everyone there had the mindset of “how can we make this the best day possible for our visitors.” There were times when I almost felt like some of them were interviewing me.
A day that was billed as seeing how a WWE Superstar is made turned out to be so incredibly much more than that. It turned into a day that an aspiring ring announcer like Nick Lendl got to live his dream with the biggest wrestling company in the world. It was a day when a local guy who has been to many local shows got a chance to step behind the curtain. It was a day when Rose and her alter ego “Juana Breeze” got to be “Princess Pretty” for a day.
The WWE Performance Center is truly a place where dreams are made, and on September 28, 2015 they gave 25 lucky individuals a day where dreams came true.