WWE: India host first-ever tryout but still lack main roster presence
India has been a major market for the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) for quite some time and the last couple of years have seen a lot of initiative from the company to strengthen their position in the country. From live shows every year to creating specialised content in local languages, WWE has tried its best to capitalise on the popularity that statistics show is second only to United States.
The latest chapter in that initiative was the first-ever WWE Tryout that took place in Mumbai. While there are a number of Indian talents working in the developmental division of WWE, this was the first time that the tryouts were held in the country. Talents like Rinku Singh and Kavita Devi had to travel to Dubai in order to compete in the tryouts but the local tryouts looked to boost turnouts.
When it comes to social media support, India is the second most important market for WWE and it is no surprise that they are trying to cash in on the popularity. The viewership has never been a concern for them but with the tryouts in Mumbai, they looked to add more Indian faces to their roster.
The company pulled out all stops in making sure it was a top event with NXT and NXT UK Superstars Kavita Devi, Saurav Gurjar, Rinku Singh, Jeet Rama and Jinny guiding the participants and The New Day’s Kofi Kingston, Big E & Xavier Woods also encouraging them. With more than 70 hopefuls attending the event, it was a success number wise but WWE Senior Director of Talent Development Canyon Ceman refused to comment on how many people will be chosen from the bunch.
“Right now, we cannot comment on how many people will be selected from the tryouts. But, we were absolutely overwhelmed with the response and the enthusiasm we received when we announced the Tryouts in December. The sheer volume of applications received were incredible and the talent and diversity we have seen thus far has been outstanding,” Ceman told Hindustan Times.
While the number of Indian talents in the WWE developmental system has increased drastically in the recent past, they have not made it to the main roster. With the exception of Jinder Mahal (an Canadian citizen with Indian parentage), there is no one in the top two shows of the company and the rest are mainly seen in the house shows where they are still to find their way into the business.
Rinku Singh and Saurav Gurjar - the two wrestlers who were chosen from the Dubai tryouts - have just started performing in house shows and as a team and although they are getting good exposure, the former Million Dollar Arm winner Rinku is well aware of the learning curve that lies ahead for him.
“It was a huge moment for me to perform in front of a packed house. The training is quite tough but I am giving my absolute best. Right now, I am working on my character and also trying to incorporate my baseball background in my finisher. The target is to reach the main roster and to become the first tag team champions from India. But, these are early days,” Rinku said in an exclusive interview.
The one Indian wrestler, however, who has found quite a bit of success in the WWE is Kavita Devi. The former power-lifter, who became the first Indian woman wrestler to join the company - was a part of the Mae Young Classic twice and also took part in the Wrestlemania 34 pre-show. With the video of her match against Dakota Kai receiving more than 100 million views on YouTube, she has become a known face to the Indian fans but a consistent presence on NXT is still quite far for Kavita.
However, while the Indian wrestlers continue to toil in the Orlando training center, the hopefuls back home can also start dreaming of a facility in India. With WWE looking to increase its global appeal, the company opened its first training centre in London and when this reporter spoke to Executive Vice President of Talent, Live Events and Creative for WWE Triple H, he had some good news for India.
“We are seriously looking at setting up performances centers all around the world and that will help us in finding and nurturing talents from all around the globe. In India, we will be hosting tryouts this year for the first time and when we believe that there is a substantial amount of caliber, we will start the process to set up a center there. But I can say with certainly that there will be a performance center in India. There will be one in the Middle East and maybe one in Latin America. We will be replicating this process over and over again,” he told Hindustan Times in an exclusive interview.
Thus, it is quite clear that the WWE is trying its level best to increase its presence in the Indian market and considering the popularity of the sport, there is no reason to believe that the company will slow down their expansion plans any time soon.