In the moments before Saturday’s NXT TakeOver: XXX show, Paul “Triple H” Levesque will be feeling those old nerves again. Just like before the biggest moments of his career, Levesque said those same nerves are there as he watches “his kids” go onto the brand’s biggest stage and try to meet the expectations set by 29 other fantastic TakeOver events.

“The nerves are similar but completely opposite from each other,” Levesque told CBS Sports. “I use this analogy a lot, but it would be the difference between when you’re the performer, it’s all on you and what you are about to go and do. The level of that anxiety and everything else, you’re going to go control it. Then there’s the point in time where you’re kind of done with that part of it, and now your kids are having that opportunity to have that shot at fame or whatever that is.

“That is the most important thing to them, like it was to you and you know that feeling. Your nerves for them and that pride of them being able to do it after you putting this platform there for them to be on and crossing the Ts and dotting the Is to help them succeed in any way that you can. Now it’s on them to go out there and perform one way or the other.”

Saturday’s TakeOver event will take place from Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida, the longtime home of NXT. Yet again, the event will go down without fans in attendance, a product of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

WWE has had to battle against the impact of the virus, choosing to hold events at either the WWE Performance Center in Orlando or at Full Sail. Beginning with Friday’s WWE SmackDown, the promotion will move “main roster” shows to Amway Center in Orlando, having constructed what they’re calling the WWE ThunderDome with giant video screens featuring fans watching the event from home.

While Levesque said that he feels the promotion has done a great job of “rolling with the punches,” he admitted the lack of fans has impacted not only the spectacle of WWE programming, but also the way WWE has had to tell stories — and being unable to determine if those stories are actually working.

“The fans for us in the WWE Universe, that’s what we are about,” Levesque said. “It is everything that our performers do and care about and that’s why they do what they do. To not have fans there and a part of it has been very difficult, not only for the performers but even for us in determining the directions of where you want to go with storylines and characters because you’re so reliant on that reaction to help guide your creative process.

“I think we’ve done a great job there, but also at the same point in time, planning for the future. I think that’s what you’ll see this week when you see the ThunderDome experience that is being built into the Amway Center in Orlando starting with SmackDown this Friday and moving forward. There’s a lot of long-term planning that’s involved there. I think it will be a spectacle.

“That’s the one thing that’s difficult with WWE, the spectacle that you’re used to seeing. It’s surreal when you’re expecting to walk into WrestleMania and see 80,000 fans in the stadium. Trust me, I know what was planned for Raymond James Stadium, and it would have been a spectacle. We did that out of the Performance Center, and it was different. It was completely unique and not the same, yet we were able to continue what we do and hopefully long-term fans understand that and understand that we were doing what we do to entertain them in that moment in time.”

One day, Full Sail will be packed with the rabid fans that have become one of the defining parts of their presentation. And Raw and SmackDown will be back to touring arenas and stadiums throughout the world with superstars performing in front of thousands of fans.

Levesque did not sound optimistic about that moment happening any time soon, but he did say the moment a WWE event takes place in front of a live audience again will bring an incredible amount of excitement for the performers.

“It’s going to be insane,” Levesque said. “It’s like for a coffee addict when you detox and you don’t drink coffee for a period of time and then you have that first cup of coffee and you’re like, ‘Oh my God!’ and you’re just sailing. The excitement level will be off the charts. If and when we get to a place where we can go back into a packed arena or packed stadium, it will be incredible, the response will be deafening and I think the excitement level will be off the charts. When is that? Does that happen? I don’t know.”

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