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UK Performance Centre pushes WWE's global expansion forward

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Triple H: WWE's U.K. trainees are future Wrestlemania headliners (1:41)

WWE's Triple H says the wrestling talent on display in the U.K. has the potential to main-event Wrestlemania in the future. (1:41)

LONDON -- The WWE hopes its newly opened UK Performance Centre can help it become a truly global company, providing the wrestling entity with a diverse cross-section of ready-made superstars.

The new facility in north London -- which will be home to 30 superstars currently signed to the WWE's developmental NXT UK brand as well as budding trainees from across Europe -- opened Jan. 11. That NXT UK brand was on display the following day in an accompanying show -- an NXT TakeOver event in the city of Blackpool in front of a sold-out Empress Ballroom crowd, which marked the fourth-largest event since the WWE's efforts in England expanded in late 2016.

The UK Performance Centre is the second such location, modeled on the original facility established by the WWE in Orlando, Florida, in 2013. The location of the first such facility outside of the U.S. was determined based on the growing popularity and momentum wrestling currently has on the opposite side of the Atlantic.

"It's setting up a system here," WWE creative director Paul "Triple H" Levesque told ESPN during the launch of the centre. "This U.K. brand is on fire, it's one of the hottest things going. This performance centre is only going to throw gas on that.

"I'm looking to be able to, long-term, create a path for the kid sitting on his couch watching TakeOver in Blackpool saying, 'I have to do that and the path is there in front of me, I can finish school, go to college, get out and go, this is what I'm going to do with my life and go, give every single thing I have to it and not wonder ....' It's there in front of them now."

Those words particularly resonated with one of the wrestlers in attendance at the launch event. Finn Balor's journey to the WWE started in 2000, in a boxing ring that had been adjusted for wrestling in the back of a church hall in the Kent town of Sittingbourne, in south England. Nineteen years later, the Irishman is one of the biggest names in the company, a former NXT champion, the WWE's first Universal champion and one of the headlining stars of the WWE's upcoming signature event, the Royal Rumble.

He thinks the London facility will be a game-changer for young people inspired to give wrestling a try rather than just settling for watching it on TV.

"It makes such a huge difference," Balor said. "For so many people, I'm sure they didn't know there was a path to WWE. Now to have this performance centre in the United Kingdom, so accessible, not just to people here but people in Europe -- it gives kids with a dream an opportunity to come and train somewhere.

"It obviously gives WWE a greater talent pool and a resource to find new, up-and-coming superstars. So I think it's a win-win for everyone."

The talent pool WWE can draw from for any of its growing roster of weekly shows is only going to grow if the London centre is as successful as expected. Levesque calls it the first part of a "global localization strategy" the company is now aggressively pursuing. The 17,000-square-foot London centre -- equipped with two training rings, world-class strength and conditioning equipment and overseen by head trainer Matt Bloom (who wrestled for the company as Albert, and later Tensai) -- is what the company hopes is the first of many such facilities. Similar projects in Dubai, India and China, just to name a few, could follow in the next few years.

"What we're doing with this, that's what we'll do around the globe," Levesque said. "Whether that kid's in India, whether he's in Jakarta, whether he's in Brazil, it doesn't matter, right? We want to create that path for them and invest in their passion .... They're investing with their blood, sweat and tears, we'll invest in their passion to create something more.

"I'm telling you right now, we're going to be shocked in a lot of these places and find like, 'Holy cow, this kid is unbelievable and has an amazing skill set.' I see it now just starting, the water is just starting to boil, but it's happening quickly."

It's not just about growing the WWE brand. It is hoped the NXT brand -- and, in this case, NXT UK -- can grow to one day be as strong in its own right as anything else the company has to offer.

When asked if the new facility was another step toward London hosting a flagship WWE event like WrestleMania, Levesque said, "I think they're all steps in that direction. It's a global product; obviously there are issues of time and time zones and where the most watching is, all of that.

"Look, I hope there's a time where we do an NXT UK TakeOver where it's a global event, so big that that is the talk and no one is asking, 'Hey, can we get the Rumble here?,' [they'll say,] 'Well no, because we got the TakeOver here and that's as special as it is on its own'."

The initial NXT UK TakeOver event in Blackpool went down well with the man himself, WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon, who tweeted his approval shortly after the show had finished.

His son-in-law Levesque, who has helped to forge NXT and NXT UK into what they are today, is convinced megastars can be born in the London centre and within the UK brand.

"I'm telling you, five years from now you're going to be like, 'Man, I watched this kid five years ago in Blackpool and now he's headlining WrestleMania.'

"That's where we're going. When you see Roman Reigns, no one thinks of him as Leakee in NXT, or any of those transitions. You just see the star that they become. Five years from now you just see the star that they become -- but if you want to see the path they took, it's all right there."