From the outside, it looks like any other office-park building. You wouldn’t know it’s any different except for the sign on the door. Behind it is the WWE Performance Center, a 26,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility where the company is hard at work training its future stars.
Everyone involved in the WWE developmental system thought they had it good in Tampa where they previously trained. That facility had three rings, a small training room, two bathrooms and not much else.
That’s nothing compared to what they have now. The mammoth space off East Colonial Drive includes seven rings — one has its own lights and entrance ramp like you would see on their television shows. There’s a workout room that has just about every machine or weight possible. There’s a trainer’s room where wrestlers get help with everything from muscle cramps to major injury rehabilitation.
And that’s not even counting all of the other tools at WWE’s disposal in helping prepare the sports entertainment stars of tomorrow.
“There’s never been anything like this before,” gushes assistant coach Terry Taylor, a former WCW and WWE stalwart who said he loves working there so much he would do a pushup on the spot to prove it. “We went from an adequate facility in Tampa and then came here and it’s just been unbelievable. Top of the line, first class all around.”
Last Friday, the Performance Center marked the first anniversary of its grand opening. You can credit its existence to WWE Executive Vice President Paul Levesque, better known to wrestling fans as Triple H.
He dreamed of this more than two years before it came to life, making the improvement of the company’s developmental system his No. 1 priority.
“I thought he was a little nuts in a good way,” admits Performance Center head coach Bill DeMott. “Think big, right? Think big, make big things happen and that’s what he did.”
The facility – coming at a hefty cost of more than $2 million – provides plenty of bang for the buck.
There is an interview room where performers work on their promo delivery and speaking style. A performer can digitally record his or her promos and study them later on other monitors in the building – along with basically any match in the history of WWE.
And they don’t always have to study solo. DeMott says the talent often breaks down film in what he called “skull sessions,” learning from each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
At any given time, three or four of the building’s seven wrestling rings will be used for different levels of training classes. That can make it very busy, but DeMott says with the space they have it’s really not a problem.
“Always the concern was with seven rings, 60 to 80 (wrestlers) at one time and maybe the noise, there would be distractions,” DeMott says. “And every time we do it we realize this is not a distraction and we can probably be doing so much more.”
There are as many as nine coaches on staff who bring a variety of skills and experiences from their days in the ring. Former stars such as “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, one of the best talkers in the history of the business; Billy Gunn, a gifted athlete and tag-team specialist; or Sara Amato (known as Sara Del Rey during her in-ring career), who trains the female wrestlers. Each has classes throughout the week.
Bo Dallas trained with the company in Tampa and at the Performance Center before he was finally called up the WWE main roster in late May. He thought he was ready for the jump more than a year ago when he was still in Tampa.
“Coming here, I sharpened and fine-tuned everything I had and needed,” admits Dallas. “What I thought of as myself as a performer, I looked back and was like, ‘Wow, I improved from where I was.’ I thought I was ready and then saw the improvements I made which were unbelievable.
“It makes the transition from down here to up there (the WWE roster) so much easier because you’re prepared for what they need you to do. It’s not like you’re jumping into a whole other world. You’re prepared for what they need.”
Dallas is just one example of someone who has come through the Performance Center and graduated to the big leagues. Since then, Paige, Adam Rose, and the pairing of Rusev and Lana have also been called up from the Performance Center. Others are ready, just waiting on the call.
“There’s talent coming out of this place that isn’t spending six months on the road in dark (non-televised) matches trying to figure out how to get on the roster,” explains Taylor. “They’re moving up to Raw and the pay-per-view scene immediately and contributing, not hanging on by a thumbnail. They’re going up there and making a difference and it’s gratifying.”
The facility has caught the eyes of not just the people training there but others on the main roster. Former WWE champion Sheamus rehabbed a shoulder injury there, then kept coming back to work out with the younger talents. Plus, others like Alex Riley, Justin Gabriel, Tyson Kidd and Dallas keep coming back when their schedule allows it.
“We don’t get many days home but I like to get in the ring sometimes and come back and see the new talent, the new superstars here and show my face and remind them that I care,” says Dallas. “I’ve been through this and you do make it out.”
“Some of them live in Tampa and never came to FCW (Florida Championship Wrestling, their previous developmental system) on their day off and I think the atmosphere has changed the perception sometimes for guys,” says DeMott. “You’re not in a warehouse training anymore, wrestling three hours a day. You’re learning your craft to the fullest extent you can learn it.”
Now with all the bells and whistles at their disposal, plenty of the wrestlers are hanging around the Performance Center trying to squeeze everything out of it in hopes of making it to the WWE. With that has come some good competition but also a great camaraderie.
“We’re here six days a week with each other,” explains Dallas. “It’s a big place but not when you’re here all day and you’re crossing paths with everybody. You become like a family. We all want to succeed and it’s best for the business if we all succeed.”
Taylor adds, “Whatever success they have on the main roster, whenever they come back here, they’re one of these guys and I think there’s a kindred thing or a comradeship that they’re almost family and are pulling for each other. So when they do graduate, when you do get called up, they all get the big lineup and the big handshake or the hugs and the applause and the love from the people hoping to be working up there with them soon. Everybody’s part of that person’s success.”
The WWE developmental system has come a long way in just the past five years, jumping from a cramped, one-ring building in Atlanta, to the Tampa gym and now the Performance Center here in Orlando, a facility which can be compared with an NFL training-camp setting.
DeMott admits that the upgrades have raised the bar for everyone there.
“I think the expectations are higher,” DeMott said. “And I think that falls back on this coaching staff and everybody here. The nice connection from main roster to developmental is we’re working like that — which we always have been — but there’s less of a gap and they’re TV ready.”