As part of its ongoing global expansion and missive to seek out more recruits for its next generation of superstars, the WWE is set to hold a four-day talent tryout this week in the United Arab Emirates.
The event, which will take place at the Dubai Opera House from April 26 to 29, will see 40 men and women from the Middle East and India given an opportunity to showcase their potential. As with similar events held all over the world, most recently in Shanghai last June, the most promising hopefuls will be signed and sent to the WWE's Performance Center in Orlando, Florida.
"WWE is dedicated to finding the most talented athletes and entertainers from around the world," said Paul "Triple H" Levesque, WWE executive vice president, talent, live events and creative. "Not only are the Middle East and India important markets to grow our business and reach new fans, but they are also key regions from which to recruit premier athletes who want to pursue the dream of becoming a WWE superstar."
The 40-person tryout will include elite athletes and performers with experience across the spectrum of sports, including powerlifters, bodybuilders, martial artists and fitness experts.
For each of these events, the WWE sets up a ring and a variety of other equipment, and brings in its top scouts and coaches to run the recruits through their paces.
So what are they looking for?
"I've been doing this long enough that once I spend a day with somebody, I can say, 'Well, this person will be good at this as long as, obviously, no injuries and everything goes right, but it may take two years. This person could be getting good at this after six months,'" said William Regal, head scout, WWE talent development. "But if you were to ask me to actually describe what that is, it's more of an eye for looking at things or looking at people than actually being able to write down the formula of it.
"There's no easy answer," Regal continued. "But you want the physical attributes to be able to do it. Over a few days you learn a lot about people and whether they've got the kind of temperament that you need to do what we do in this day and age. You find a lot out about people when they're blowing up, as we say, gasping for air, and if they can still hold conversations and be polite. Also, they've got to have some kind of charisma, because you can have 10 gold medals hanging 'round your neck, [but] if you've got no charisma at all, you're just absolutely worthless to what we do."
The Dubai tryout is the latest example of WWE's global talent recruiting efforts. In recent years, WWE has scouted rugby and soccer players from Europe, Kabaddi and Kushti athletes from India and martial artists and boxers from China. The WWE's talent tryout in Shanghai resulted in the signing of eight Chinese recruits, including Tian Bing, the company's first-ever Chinese superstar.
With such fruitful results the last time out, the hope is that the coming week in Dubai will uncover a similarly rich pool of talent as was found in Shanghai.
"We were hoping if we could just find one person, and if we didn't find any that would be OK, because it was a completely fresh market for us with no expectations of finding anybody that would fit the bill," Regal said. "We came back with [eight] people, so now we're going to Dubai, and I believe there's 17 countries represented."
In these tryouts, where it's a variety of raw talent across the board, it ultimately comes down to work ethic, personality and some intangibles that aren't always visible until these prospects step into a ring.
"You go into these tryouts where nobody has seen professional wrestling. Nobody knew anything about it," Regal said. "But within a couple of days you saw the people who had all the things we were looking for, who developed a real passion for it really quickly, for the concept of what we were telling them."
For all of the athleticism and charisma, having chemistry with other performers is also a vital piece of the puzzle.
"The camaraderie between the athletes is a joy to behold sometimes, because they all help each other along," Regal said. "That's part of what we do as well. You have to be able to work as a unit sometimes, in the ring when you're wrestling other people."
Regal has played a key role in helping the WWE build a deep talent pool at the Performance Center, which now houses upward of 100 potential future WWE superstars from around the world.
While that group contains a number of high-profile recruits who had significant previous wrestling experience, some of the key players in the current makeup of NXT came from scouting raw talent. One example, in fact, came from a similar tryout event in Dubai several years ago.
"This will be my 34th year in this industry," Regal said. "The last five years or so that I've been a part of talent development have been the most rewarding for me, to watch people thrive in the environment of the Performance Center.
"[For example], the Authors of Pain that are with us now [are] the tag team champions at NXT. Gzim [Selmani], I met when he was 19 at the last Dubai tryout three years ago. To watch him go from that, at 19, to being part of the tag team champions [as Rezar] now at NXT, it's a really rewarding experience. Just to deal with everybody on a daily basis and see the progression. Sometimes you see people, they struggle a little bit, but then there's always somebody who knows how to help them."
"It's a testament to the scouting and recruiting team that goes out to these tryouts and a variety of other events throughout the year. But it also speaks to the amount of time and resources that the WWE has sunk into its facilities in Orlando. The Performance Center features seven training rings, a state-of-the-art gym and nearly every piece of equipment a future WWE superstar could need to sharpen their body and their mind.
"It's paid off in a big way over the last four years. Nine out of the 13 matches on the WrestleMania 33 card earlier this month featured at least one superstar who had spent a significant amount of time in NXT and at the Performance Center. Every active main roster title has had at least one NXT alumni as its reigning champion at some point over the last two years."
As 40 hopefuls seek out the start of their own potential journeys to a WrestleMania in the future, they have a clear path to follow if circumstances align. It will likely be a lengthy one, with its own unique challenges, but if they put in the effort and catch the eyes of Levesque, Regal and others among the WWE's team of scouts, they'll be in good hands to help fulfill their dreams.
"We've got such a great team, and then you see that spark and you see that light go off, and you see them just start thriving. It's a really great experience," Regal said. "I feel a bit soppy. I get a bit choked up about it, to be honest. Watching WrestleMania this year, and you stand back and watch and you go, 'Oh, 60 percent of the crew that's here were all at the Performance Center in one form or another in the last few years.' It's a great thing."