ESPN E60: WWE Behind the Curtain
ESPN aired a 1-hour documentary centering around 3 wrestlers in the Performance Centre/NXT and their struggles to make it in WWE: Ray Leppan (Adam Rose), Austin Watson (Xavier Woods) and Matt Polinsky (Corey Graves). No kayfabe, as they look at how WWE create & develop new talent. To current fans it’s kinda dated, as half of it was shot in 2013 and the main follow-up footage ends in early 2014 – 16 months ago. Here’s my thoughts on the 3 stories:
RAY LEPPAN (Leo Kruger/Adam Rose)
The best story. Most of it is with ‘Leo Kruger’, Leppan’s original FCW gimmick, and how it wasn’t getting over. On the show they say that it’s his character that wasn’t clicking (that it wasn’t believable since he’s a nice guy), whilst in reality it was his wrestling skills. After 4 years in developmental and at 35 years old, he’s asked to completely change his gimmick. His story ends with his NXT debut of Adam Rose (which gets over) and Aitch congratulating him. Hilariously Rose looks for a double high five and H holds both his hands instead! Of course although he’s still on the main roster, he’s still struggling. I’d be worried he’s for the chop but this ESPN docu might stave that off for a while.
He’s put over as a strong family man, his youngest (at the time) being born with an omphalocele (where a defect in the abdominal wall causes intestines/organs to develop in a sac outside his body). His son Maverick is born and has many surgeries; and the piece ends with his first day of Kindergarten. This piece is easily the best thing that’s ever happened to Leppan’s character, you really hope he does well after seeing the docu.
AUSTIN WATSON (Xavier Woods)
The main point is that Woods is studying whilst wrestling, he wants to be the first wrestler with a Ph.D (in Educational Psychology), and he’s studying while being an active wrestler. At a production meeting, Cole nails it by bringing up getting him a role as a representative of the company. This is an extremely smart play by Woods – an active black wrestler with a Ph.D is huge positive press for WWE and will hopefully get him a job in the WWE for a long time. I always think of the time Woods was on RAW commentary mentioning his Ph.D, and JBL taking a genuinely surprised and inquisitive interest in it. They show a cut-out of him in TNA as Consequences Creed, and a prior gimmick like Papa Shango. It ends with his debut with the Funkadactyls on RAW…well not his RAW debut, but his singles debut the next week pinning Heath Slater (his debut was a tag with R-Truth). Backstage he denies having learnt his lines, that it’s all “off the dome”, which is hilarious for a developmental talent being called up. Great PR for WWE showing this but nothing that interesting.
MATT POLINSKY (Corey Graves)
“My character is me turned all the way up. I hate being told what to do. I’m a punk rock kid. I am James Bond”. Wow, fuck off. After a few seconds I’m rooting for you to fail.
This is pretty heavy-handed PR for WWE’s wellness testing. Graves notes that WWE’s concussion testing is “pretty much the world standard.” Vince notes “we’re way ahead of the NFL with this kind of thing”, and answers “all your guys are clean?” with “we’re way past that now”. It’s the only disagreeable/overly-corporate BS part of the docu. I kept thinking of Punk’s multiple instances explaining how the wellness testing is a joke. Although WWE is his dream, his multiple concussions label him as medically unfit, but there’s a happy ending as they stage a bit where Triple H offers him a 2-year commentating gig. I’m not a fan of his NXT commentating, but I love how he gets unnaturally angry at Becky Lynch, ragging on her for being a fake rocker chick. In the epilogue montage, it mentions he’s “got his own show on the WWE network” which is hugely generous for a 10-minute youtube show not on youtube. They did show a pic of his Hulk Hogan cake for his 3rd birthday, which is awesome 🙂 Overall, the least enjoyable and most shilly part of the docu.
• The wrestlers’ interviews are shot close-up through a light ring, which reflects in their eyes. It makes it look like they have this cool-looking eye disease called arcus senilis.
• Vince/Aitch mention that the biggest factor is charisma, and ESPN cut to a montage of 80s wrestlers – Hogan, Jake, Warrior, Macho, Andre. Fuck yeah! You want charisma and characters, you go to the 80s, brother. Wrestling needs coke, jack! Everyone’s far too calm and not-paranoid these days…
• WWE documentaries (and this is no different) are very careful to show Triple H in a great light, both fair, hard-working, intelligent and highly-attuned in business and creative, to make wrestling fans feel confident about WWE’s future.
• ESPN mention NXT wrestlers get paid somewhere between “$45,000 to low 6 figures”.
• Bill DeMott is the head trainer. He comes off well in the piece. Having filmed the bulk of the footage in 2013 you couldn’t really cut him out. They flash up that DeMott was fired due to abuse allegations at the end, so quick you could barely read it. Performance Centre is said to be a lot better after he left. Dusty doesn’t offer anything insightful.
• Michael Hayes (on Leo Kruger) “I wouldn’t see him with a free ticket”. Comes off as a gruff dickhead in his limited time!
• The docu ends to an epilogue footage montage, to Bruce Springsteen’s “The Wrestler”, previously used in The Wrestler.
• There was an Extra/deleted part focusing on Tyler Breeze, and the creation of the character. His re-debut is a success and the gimmick as the final missing piece. Like Leppan’s piece but not as interesting.
Overall: Always interesting to see outsiders do a piece on wrestling. I’d watch just for Ray Leppan’s segment. Good stuff.