I had mentioned this special in the daily sports update on Tuesday and got to check it out with my girlfriend last night. I always like to watch different documentaries about WWE with my girlfriend because she enjoys them and she also offers a different perspective on the documentary as a casual fan of the product. I went out of my way to avoid any spoilers on the documentary so that I went into the documentary with an open mind, not knowing what to expect. In the end, I found the documentary very enjoyable and an interesting look on how the developmental process works once a talent arrives at NXT. The piece included interviews with Triple H, Vince McMahon. Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin and The Rock along with NXT talents and their loved ones. Let’s get into some of the more interesting highlights of the film.
1) Ray Leppan– At some point during the story of Ray Leppan, my girlfriend turned to me and said “I feel awful that I ever hated his character.” For those of you who don’t know Ray Leppan currently competes as Adam Rose for WWE. His story is the real highlight, in my eyes, of the piece as it gets into so much of the back story on the man behind the character and the struggle that someone can go through down in NXT if they can’t create a connection with their character. Ray spent three years down in NXT working as the character Leo Kruger after moving to Florida from his native South Africa after getting the opportunity. The documentary shows how many of the management level people doubted Ray and felt that he was struggling in creating a believable character. All the while we get to learn about the real life struggle that Ray goes through with his newborn son who was born with a stomach ailment that doesn’t allow him to eat food and he needs to be fed through a peg. Ray’s son was only given a life expectancy of two years. Once you get that connection Ray’s family and the struggles that he goes through to get onto the main WWE roster to support his family, you root for Ray to make it for the rest of the film. It breaks your heart to see the 35-year old Ray being told by Triple H that he has to reinvent himself. The piece then does a great job in showing how (over the two years in which the piece was filmed) Ray is able to create the Adam Rose character and find success in making it up to the roster. I really hope WWE tells this story on Raw because it can do a lot for the Adam Rose character. I mean who wouldn’t want to root for a guy like that?
2) Behind The Curtain– The backbone of this piece, other than the profile pieces, is the access that is granted to ESPN to film production meetings and other backstage segments. It was really cool to see how a production meeting is run and the different personalities involved like Michael Hayes, Terry Taylor and Michael Cole. From there the backstage segments showing Paul Levesque (Triple H) addressing the NXT roster are really well done and give you an insight into the world of the NXT superstar. These superstars are working all day everyday on every aspect of their character that you can think of (from promo class, to in-ring action, the character development to weight training it all happens for these superstars at the performance center) and it is made obvious that they are competing for a spot that is anything but guaranteed. I thought it was also cool to see the cameras follow Xavier Woods around all day the day of his debut from arriving to the Nassau Colisseum to his post match critique with Triple H.
3) Matthew Polinsky– Corey Graves was touched on a bit here on the spotlight of the first episode of Culture Shock which he hosts and you get a great look as his tough journey. Being a lifelong fan who’s mother used to make him birthday cakes with his favorite wrestler on the cake and who then grew up wanting to be a pro wrestler only to be sidelined due to a back injury, Polinsky’s story really hit home with me. Polinsky is first presented as a can’t miss prospect and the only talent who receives support of all of management involved in the production meeting. Triple H literally refers to Polinsky as “a priority” while hall of famer Dusty Rhodes calls him “A moviestar”. Then Polinsky ends up medically disqualified due to a number of concussions. This is heartbreaking for the lifelong fan and his family that he has to support. I remember when I first heard the Polinsky was going to be doing commentary thinking, wow that was really cool for WWE to allow him to explore other opportunities when wrestling didn’t work out. This piece gives you insight into the decision and makes you feel that much better for Polinsky watching it all unfold.
Rather than lowlights here, I’m going to instead list some closing thoughts because again I really enjoyed the documentary. It made sense from an advertising perspective for ESPN to feature and promote interviews with, arguably, the three biggest stars in WWE history, Hulk Hogan, The Rock & Stone Cold Steve Austin. That said, their appearances were pretty breif and didn’t add too much in the way of discussing the topic at hand. I would have instead preferred to hear from three current stars like a John Cena, or a Roman Reigns or a Seth Rollins, who have both passed through the NXT system. I also thought Bill Demott, former head trainer at the WWE Performance Center, came across really well. I know a lot has been said about Demott, and I won’t get into what’s true or untrue because I don’t really know, but it’s clear that in this piece he seems to be genuinely invested in the careers of the NXT Superstars.
A final thought would be that in both watching the E:60 special and the Roman Reigns 24 special on the WWE network the night before, both of which have been covered here and that I’ve enjoyed, that there is a market for these type of human profile pieces. Both pieces featured the superstars in their everyday life. The superstars were shown as regular people with real struggles, the same struggles that we all go through on an everyday basis. I found that the superstars featured came across as not only likable, but also relatable. After the 24 special, I want to see Roman Reigns main event Wrestlemania again and win the world title in the process. Likewise, I want to see Corey Graves, Xavier Woods and, especially, Adam Rose all succeed in their respective careers because now I know them a bit more as people and want to see them do well for their families. I hope that these “behind the curtain” type specials continue into the future as it’s been a really fun week to be a WWE fan, and I didn’t even get into Raw!
An extra here if you’ve watched the special & wanted a little more, ESPN has realized two extra features on their website dedicated to Tyle Breeze & Colin Cassady, they’re worth checking out.