“The crowd was gone, and that’s our bloodline,” Paul “Triple H” Levesque, WWE’s executive vice president of global talent strategy and development, says. “It was taken away from us. Now it’s back, and there is new life in WWE.” Max-capacity crowds over the weekend brought a must-see factor to WWE, even helping to significantly boost TV ratings for Friday’s SmackDown. Sunday’s show evoked the sort of passion and exuberance that WWE programming so sorely missed while performing without live audiences during the pandemic.
“There are lots of moving parts in a match like that,” Levesque says, speaking with Sports Illustrated on Monday afternoon. “Roman Reigns and Edge needed time for their story to play out, and you want people to invest to the point where they forget about anything else. Seth Rollins needed time to make his point. You need to allow all the moments time to breathe. The goal for everyone involved is to be so good you make people forget about everything else.
Beginning with Friday’s SmackDown, WWE’s shows have been permeated by a distinct spirit and energy thanks to the return of a live crowd. This was palpable during Cena’s return at Money in the Bank, which was perfectly timed to take place after a lengthy match—and its aftermath—featuring Reigns, Edge, and Seth Rollins.
“Those rumors you might have heard about who could show up, or what may happen, our goal is to make you forget about those. Be so captivating out there that you make people focus only on you. Get everyone so caught up in the moment, and that’s what Roman, Edge and Rollins did. Then, in this case, when you’re focused entirely on what’s happening in the ring, that’s when Cena comes out.”
The Cena return was done spectacularly. The crowd erupted, and it came off as a genuinely significant moment.
“If you ask John, I’m sure it felt right in the ring,” Levesque says. “It was magic.”
Levesque was impressed with how Reigns helped elevate that moment for Cena with his reaction to the surprise appearance. The scene saw Reigns, who has been carrying the company throughout the pandemic as its champion, watch Cena, this returning conquering hero, staring on with a perfect blend of exhaustion and frustration in the ring.
“Watching that, I couldn’t help but think back to how long he’s been doing this and some of the tougher times he’s been through. Right now, he’s performing on a whole other level. He’s at the point where he is no longer thinking about the character, he just is.”
“Roman is the biggest star in WWE, he’s the biggest star in the industry,” Levesque says. “He perfected his craft at a really hard time to do so with no fans. He put so much into his character work, and his reaction to Cena was as powerful as the moment itself.
Levesque also shared his excitement for the two Money in the Bank ladder match winners, beginning with Nikki A.S.H., who already cashed in to become the Raw women’s champion on Monday night.
“Nikki’s win, that captured the beauty of what we do,” Levesque says. “You get lost in the moment and maybe you never saw it coming.”
The finish of the match saw her climb the ladder and grab the briefcase when her opponents were each dangerously close to snatching it, in the same way she has continually defied the odds throughout her career.
“It was great to give that surprise, but it’s no surprise to us that people love Nikki,” Levesque says. “She has an intimate connection to her fans. You could see it was overwhelming to her on Sunday night. That was real emotion.”
Big E was the men’s winner, victorious in an outrageously compelling ladder match. This allows him to take the next step toward becoming world champion, a position where he will add immense value as he continues to become an even bigger star.
“Big E created a real identity while maintaining his alliance in The New Day, which is remarkable,” Levesque says. “We are just beginning to see his next gear. The ultimate potential with Big E exists at a whole other level.”
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