NORWALK, Conn. -- In the cavernous space of a nondescript warehouse, there are aisles of caskets, steel chairs, ladders and weapons of many kinds piled high to the ceiling. It would be a haunted house for some, but the WWE Archives, just 30 minutes northeast of New York, are a special part of the WWE enterprise, containing so much of the company's history.
The warehouse is not quite a museum nor is it open to the public, but with items used by greats from Bruno Sammartino to more recent legends like The Undertaker, the place serves as a reminder for anyone who visits, especially professional wrestlers, of what has come before them -- and where one day their memorabilia will also be stashed away.
For nearly 20 years, Bobby Roode has heard stories of this hole in the wall, tucked away from the public. This is his first time visiting, but it's a splendid reminder of why he altered his career path a little over a year ago. A longtime TNA (or more recently, Impact) employee, Roode, 40, has positioned himself to enjoy the latter portion of his career within the confines of the WWE.
And now, like he has after his warehouse tour, he's learned a lot about what he describes as a "machine."
"The WWE is the be-all and end-all of sports entertainment," Roode told me. "They just do things right. They've done it for so many years, and the business aspect of it, the WWE machine ... WWE is a machine and so many brilliant people here, the experience, it's just a different feel, especially now being a part of SmackDown, being on the road, doing the live events, touring around and coming to things like this to be able to promote a video game."
While the WWE is viewed as Roode describes, a streamlined machine that has the process down to a science, the brand certainly experiments with new ideas, too. For the past few decades, it had done so with its developmental brands like Ohio Valley Wrestling, Florida Championship Wrestling and others, cultivating external avenues to build up young talent. Those brands produced the likes of John Cena and Randy Orton, to name a few.
But for those who have been fortunate enough to make their way to NXT, a developmental territory with a roster that has an embarrassment of riches in terms of talent, and weekly content that's televised worldwide, the company has a platform that can create enormous exposure for its experiments and projects.
NXT doesn't just tinker with young talent like its predecessors did. In fact, with Roode and some of his peers, the brand has reinvented performers who have hustled and honed their craft for a number of years outside the WWE. The brand has taken talented wrestlers who were decently marketed and well seasoned and helped them become bona fide superstars.
"Being a part of NXT has definitely helped the casual fan or maybe the fans who never tune in to NXT," Roode said. "Guys like myself, Joe and Finn, it really helped us get our feet going and make a push in the right direction with the familiarity of our characters."
While Samoa Joe and Finn Balor adapted to their new environments with changes in presentation, the departure for Roode from his previous wrestling character and theme music was dramatic. "Glorious Domination" is an unofficial anthem for the company; when it plays, arenas exude an unbelievable amount of energy, singing or humming along with every word.
The selection behind the now-famous song illustrates the WWE's willingness to be creative, and how last-minute changes can completely alter a career path.
"It wasn't me at all, actually. I had a different song picked out," Roode said. "I was about to debut on NXT, and about a week or two later, as I waited for some paperwork to be finished up, I had a conversation with Triple H about the character and what I wanted to do. He came up to me that TV taping and said, 'Hey I've got this song that we have, and I think it kind of fits your character a little better, so why don't you have a listen?'
"So it could've went one of two ways: It could've really sucked or it could've been really great. And it's been better than great -- glorious, I guess you could say. The song itself was a blessing. It's been a gift, because in this business, everyone talks about the entrance, but without the song, there is no entrance."
The song was just the beginning of his success in the WWE. Saying Roode was "over" would be an understatement. He quickly ascended as the top title contender in NXT due to his popularity and veteran wrestling ability, and eventually stood as NXT's premier talent following his feud with Shinsuke Nakamura, during which he won the NXT championship.
"Being the focal point, being the guy who was put on the posters and having a good championship run, and being the guy they had faith in to carry the company and be in the main event every night, that was such an incredible feeling for me to come here," he said. "Coming from a different place, and 19 years in the business is a long time. I had a lot of experience, but I wasn't sure kind of what to expect."
For the future? Roode said that he hopes to achieve the next benchmark in his book -- or really any wrestler's book for that matter -- his WrestleMania moment. With his first pay-per-view experience set for Sunday at Hell in a Cell, it's anyone's guess as to who Roode might match up with come April in New Orleans. No matter who it would ultimately be, Roode is looking forward to taking another big step in his wrestling career.
"Being a part of a WrestleMania is at the top of that list," he said. "There are a lot of guys in those SmackDown and Raw locker rooms that, given the opportunity, I'd love to have matches with, tell stories with and do stuff with. It's kind of like a whole new career start for me -- it's like I'm a kid again."