How Wrestling Legend Triple H Is Bringing WWE To The Middle East
Did you ever dream of this?
For many wrestling fans who grew up in the Middle East over the last three decades, watching WWE has been a rite of passage. You watched with your siblings and parents at home. You debated it with your friends at school. And, of course, you recklessly re-enacted it in the playground.
Most had a favourite, such as Rey Mysterio, Randy Orton, The Rock, or Triple H. But while wrestling has always had a passionate fan base in the region, the dream of becoming a WWE Superstar, for too long, remained an unattainable dream.
But things have started to change.
In recent years, WWE has held two tryouts in Dubai, and one in Saudi Arabia. Though only a select few were signed, they have since dedicated their lives towards making it, and we are now closer than ever to having a WWE Superstar signed from the Middle East achieve global success.
The legendary WWE star Triple H, also Executive Vice President of Talent, Live Events and Creative, has nothing but praise for the talent that they have so far unearthed in the Middle East; Shadia Bseiso, the first woman from the Arab World signed to WWE, Nasser Al Ruwayeh, the first Kuwaiti, and Mohamed Fahim, the first Egyptian signed from the Middle East.
Triple H with Shadia Bseiso and Nasser Al Ruwayeh
“They’re great. I can tell you, their work ethic, their passion, their desire to do this at a level that surpasses a lot of others, is high,” says Triple H, real name Paul Levesque. “So when they come in, the success rate is high. I will take someone with more work ethic and heart than talent every time. Those people can overcome a lot.
“It’s all about hard work and passion,” he adds. “A lot of the people that come in, they see it as an opportunity to not only change their lives, but their families lives, and the lives of their kids, and their kids, and their kids. That is significant, and their desire to work hard because of that is second to none.”
While a long, tough road lies ahead for international signees, more opportunities are set to arise in the future.
WWE is not only holding international tryouts. The plan, spearheaded by Triple H, is to have WWE Performance Centers and TV shows across the globe, where Superstars from each key market can be discovered, trained and, ultimately, become stars.
In January, WWE launched its first international Performance Center outside London, following the debut of its first international TV show last fall—NXT UK. At the event, Triple H promised this was just the beginning, and that the Middle East will be getting its own Performance Center in the future.
Triple H - Credit: WWE
No date has been set for that, but what has been confirmed is that the WWE has signed a 10-year deal with Saudi Arabia’s General Sport Authority to produce major wrestling shows in the Kingdom, with two having already been held—WWE Greatest Royal Rumble in Jeddah in April of last year and WWE Crown Jewel the following November in Riyadh.
How quickly the WWE is able to find and develop talent will have a huge baring on the establishment and success of the centres.
“It’s a work in progress,” says Triple H. “We took some talent out of those tryouts and brought them to the Performance Center in Orlando. We’re training that talent. The goal is, when you go in the Middle East, you have a base of something that’s already been created.”
“If I have five to 10 talent in the Performance Center in Orlando that are Middle Eastern, well-trained, engaged in the process and are doing well, when we open a Performance Center [in the Middle East] with another 40 talent and we bring these 10 over here that are helping them learn and helping that process, it exponentially makes the process work better,” he adds. “That’s the goal. How quickly we can get there depends on the engagement in the marketplace and how many people we find.”
Finding a WWE-calibre professional wrestler is incredibly difficult work. A contender would need to balance the skills of an athlete, a stunt person, an actor, an emcee and more. While there are Middle East wrestling schools and promoters that are developing talent and putting on events, the industry is not as developed as it is, say, in the UK, which has a long tradition of wrestling.
“I would love to go [to the Middle East], do a recruiting process, find 50 talent that we think can all make it, and go there now,” Triple H says. “It doesn’t happen quite that way. Sometimes we go in and do a tryout and we find two people that we really think are good. We might hire four because we think these two have got it, these two maybe, but if we can go in there and find 20, that would be money.”
Bseiso, Al Ruwayeh and Fahim may have taken their first steps towards stardom, but the harsh reality is that many others will not succeed. Still, the mission is that with every tryout, the standard gets increasingly higher. You have to have enough people to populate a Performance Center, Triple H says.
Mohamed Fahim - Credit WWE
“You don’t want to just put people in there and say, ‘well, pay them, put them in the ring, and see what they do, but we don’t have high hopes for them’,” he adds. “You want people that you believe in. We’re investing a lot of time and money—a lot of blood, sweat and tears in them too. If you don’t have that, it’s too early. Once we have that, we’ll go in there and make that level of commitment happen, and it will succeed because of that. You can’t put the cart before the horse.”
Then there are, according to Triple H, the intangible factors, like language and cultural barriers, that the talent has to contend with, especially in the Middle East, were this level of sports entertainment is relatively new.
“They might love the product but they don’t know all the goings on of what it becomes,” he says. “They might be a boxer or an MMA person. You’re reprogramming them. There’s a lot to overcome in order to succeed. In markets where women are more reserved, to get them to come out and create and be larger than life, you’re asking them to culturally step outside what they’ve been taught since the day they were born.”
“It takes some time. It takes a special person. It takes someone willing to go outside and risk everything.”
Triple H with Nasser Al Ruwayeh and Shadia Bseiso
Triple H has been encouraged by how far some international signees have come, and cites the progress of Xia Lee from China as what can be achieved by a newcomer.
“She absolutely loves it now, couldn’t be any more engaged in it,” he says. “But [when] we gave her the offer, she said, ‘Oof, I have to go home and tell my parents now, I’m going to the US, I’m going to try to become a WWE Superstar, I’m going to move there and train at the WWE Performance Center’, and they’re going to lose their minds. I have to defy them culturally because it’s my dream.”
Achieving those dreams are easier for aspiring wrestlers who come from countries with more cultural freedoms, like the US and the UK.
But Shadia Bseiso, Nasser Al Ruwayeh and Mohamed Fahim have shown that it is possible, whatever the obstacles.
“There are a lot of barriers,” says Triple H. “I think the world is changing, and we’re a part of that change.”