On a recent episode of The Wrestling Inc. Daily, Wrestling Inc. Managing Editor Nick Hausman sat down with former WWE star Levi Cooper, f.k.a. Tucker. Cooper signed with WWE in 2013, and he discussed the state of WWE developmental at that time.
“The try-out was in Tampa. It was one of the last try-outs that they had at the old FCW building in Tampa, so they were in the process of getting ready to move,” Cooper recalled. “I tried out in June, and they started the Performance Center, I think, in July, so they were just getting ready to move. The training facility wasn’t too impressive, obviously, there in Tampa. It was just a few rings in a warehouse. It had kind of a grungy feel, which I actually liked because it kind of reminded me of old wrestling rings that I grew up in, had a similar smell. That was my first impression.
“Getting to Orlando and kind of starting there, it was a culture shock, I would say. I was just learning a lot, learning a lot about the business. I remember distinctly the jargon of pro wrestling, the terms, being something I hadn’t considered but being like, whoa, this is kind of an immediate, big hurdle I have to get over. I started just asking guys, ‘Hey, can you tell me about these different terms?’ I remember, we were in a skull session just watching film, basically early on in my first week, and they were talking about ‘the heat’.
“They’ve been talking about this for 10 minutes now, I don’t know what ‘the heat’ means. I’m just gonna ask. Raise my hand, ‘yeah this is probably a stupid question, I know, but can you guys please explain to me what you mean when you say heat because I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ And it was in the context of that portion of the match, obviously, where the heel takes over and whatever. That was kind of where I started when I came in.”
Before joining WWE, Cooper was an All-American amateur wrestler in college with no pro wrestling experience. Hausman asked Cooper if his question was met with laughter.
“There was some laughter,” Cooper stated. “I mean, I prefaced it by saying, ‘Hey, I know that this is probably an obvious question or stupid, but I don’t know the answer to it, so I’m gonna ask you because that’s just how I am.’ There was definitely some smiles, some chuckles, but there was also some good answers, and I think I got probably a one to two minute answer kind of explaining, ‘well, it can mean different things in different contexts, right?
“If you have heat with the office or heat with the boys, that’s the same word but kind of different when we’re talking about shine, heat, comeback in regards to a match.’ I felt, at least, people were respectful of my question. They answered my question. My experience with NXT was pretty much great in terms of that, all the coaching and my colleagues, and it was a pretty fantastic experience, honestly. There was a lot of positive energy in that building.”
Cooper noted he wasn’t part of the first NXT recruiting class. However, he spoke on the energy of the first year of NXT as we know it now. Revealing how much of a life change WWE was for him.
“I didn’t start then. I started in January,” Cooper noted. “I came in six months after the Performance Center started, so I wasn’t actually part of the initial class. It was definitely what you’re describing essentially. There was a pretty special energy about the place. ‘Hey, this has never been done in wrestling before.’
“We got a big gym, seven wrestling rings, padded ring, a room you can cut promos in, computers you can watch them on. All these different things that are available to you to try to get better at your craft, essentially. I remember being very excited. They actually called me to hire me on my 23rd birthday. Of course, couldn’t forget that, and they didn’t know it was my birthday. It just happened to be my birthday, pretty wild.
“Of course, I was pumped. Me and my now wife, we moved across the country together. I never even been to Florida. She never been to Florida. We searched for apartments online. We both had cars. We got walkie talkies, and we carpooled, drove across the country from Oregon to Orlando and started our adventure together. And she’s been very successful as a teacher, and I’d like to think I’ve had some pretty good success in wrestling. It’s been good. It’s been awesome.”
Cooper made his NXT debut at a live event in January 2015. He described what his relationship with Triple H was like.
“Not too much, here and there, obviously but I remember early on, when I started, the [WWE] Network wasn’t even a thing,” Cooper pointed out. “The Network became a thing three months after I started, so it was a totally different time. They’re just doing shows in Florida for NXT, and it was smaller. He (Triple H) wasn’t around, is kind of the point I’m making, as much as he is now.
“Even the people that were kind of writing the show, they were also working on the main roster, so they would only come down to see promos maybe once a month, and that was kind of everyone’s opportunity to pitch an idea for television. And so I remember that being kind of a thing. ‘The writers are coming down.’ That was kind of early on in my time. When I first got there, in my first year or so, I’m just learning how to be safe in the ring, and how to take bumps and the basics of storytelling, the fundamentals of wrestling.
“So I’m not interacting too much with those people because at the time, I’m not even wrestling matches. I’m strictly training. I’m traveling, helping set up the ring, working security. And as we progressed, I would have a little bit better relationship with him, and we would have some discussions and obviously, once Heavy Machinery got going, then we started to talk more and more. I had Bill DeMott for almost a year and a half before Coach [Matt] Bloom started at the Performance Center.”
You can follow Levi on Twitter @REALLeviCooper.
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