There’s no rest for Rushonrock’s King of the Ring, Andy Spoors. Even thousands of miles away on a family holiday in Orlando, our wrestling editor jumped at the opportunity to check out some grappling action. Joining the WWE Universe for a live episode of NXT, our roving reporter gives us the lowdown on an opportunity too good to pass up… 

As the blistering Floridian sun begins to set over the inconspicuous surroundings of a car park, passers-by could be forgiven for displaying looks of confusion. A queue of people snake through the parking lot of Full Sail University, excitedly chatting amongst themselves as sporadic coaches pull up to collect large groups at a time.

The less than subtle Championship belts and wrestling t-shirts throughout the line immediately give away the identity of the WWE Universe. The destination might not be quite as obvious to those without prior knowledge but this ordinary looking car park actually acts as the check-in point and gateway to NXT.

Of course, Full Sail University is no stranger to NXT. From May 2012 through to October 2020, the then black and gold brand was recorded and eventually streamed live from the University. 

A fruitful relationship saw the WWE Universe develop a reputation for delivering a raucous atmosphere…in return WWE provided opportunities and scholarships for students to work on a television show beamed all over the world.

As the global Covid-19 pandemic took a stranglehold on everyday life, the logistics of the relationship slowly became untenable. With students present on campus and WWE needing to tighten its procedures in line with Covid restrictions, the sports entertainment giant made the decision to utilise their own Performance Center for shows moving forward.

The state of the art facility had originally been built to offer the very best training and equipment to the Superstars of tomorrow but its new purpose would be to transform into the Capitol Wrestling Center.

An homage to WWE’s precursor, the Capitol Wrestling Corporation, the name would last just less than a year, reverting to the WWE Performance Center as part of NXT’s rebrand to NXT 2.0. History aside, WWE’s developmental brand has found its new home and one that reflects its emphasis on keeping one eye on tomorrow.

After checking in with the team based in the middle of the Full Sail parking lot, fans are transported to the Performance Center on a 10-minute coach ride. Never one for passing up the opportunity to offer merchandise, a small truck stationed outside gives the WWE Universe a chance to purchase t-shirts, posters and championship belts before heading inside the main complex.

Having toured the Performance Center in its original iteration, as part of the media activities for WrestleMania 33, it’s incredibly impressive that this relatively unassuming building hosts weekly television shows.

Gone are the multiple rings trainees earned their stripes in on a daily basis: in their place a single ring, tiered bleachers, a mini titan tron and screens everywhere. It is crazy to think the history books will forever show that WrestleMania, the biggest event in the industry, was recorded right here.

With enough space for approximately a couple of hundred people, the events are intimate but the atmosphere is anything but. The production team deserves enormous amounts of credit for the visual illusion they have created within the space they have to work with.

The first comment to escape the mouths of most first time attendees is to remark on how much bigger the PC looks on TV. Huge screens on the hard camera side allow for some clever camera trickery but it is the noise of the WWE Universe that plays an integral part in creating the smoke and mirrors.

Before a single bell has rung, it becomes obvious a large proportion of the audience are regulars. Friends greet each other by name, inside jokes can be heard and most in attendance know when to get up on their feet, make noise and start chants.

As a countdown timer signals how long until the show goes live, the music blasting from the speakers has fans dancing and singing in the aisles. Rapper’s Delight and Apache by The Sugarhill Gang are met with a rousing reception — the latter sparking an impromptu dance off.

The party atmosphere is in full flow, the crowd is hyped and what can only be described as one of the weirdest moments this seasoned wrestling reporter has witnessed began to unfold.

The Backstreet Boys’ I Want It That Way begins to play and the vast majority of the WWE Universe sing along in unison. The DJ cuts the track off after about 30 seconds to a chorus of boos, before restarting the track. The singing is even louder on its second play.

It very quickly becomes obvious that this night is going to be fun. The infamous NXT atmosphere did not disappear with the introduction of a new colour scheme. Some things just can’t be taken away.

A couple of matches are recorded for an episode of NXT Level Up before the television stream goes live. The energy is evident throughout and fans in attendance have their favourites, just like any other WWE live event.

Seeing the potential stars of tomorrow finding their feet, their voice and their personality in such intimate surroundings is exhilarating. The crowd never overstep the mark and are even somewhat forgiving when mistakes are made or hugely supportive when a legitimate injury occurs.

As the last match reaches its conclusion, fans exit the PC into the warm night air and jump back aboard one of the coaches waiting to take them back to Full Sail, now full of memories.

So what does the opportunity to attend cost, you might ask? Well…nothing. By simply signing up to the NXT Live Facebook group, you can find a link to apply for tickets to upcoming shows.

Answer a few questions on a Google form and you could find yourself sitting ringside at a WWE show. For wrestling fans, or those visiting Mickey and friends looking for something different to do on a Tuesday night, what are you waiting for?