To succeed in professional wrestling, you need a lot of things working in your favor -- athleticism, charisma and the right kind of attention at the right time to get your foot in the door. Perhaps most importantly, once you're in, you need to present enough value to earn the buy-in of key decision-makers in the company. Two performers who have quickly risen to prominence on NXT TV in recent weeks appear to have all of these things and then some working in their favor, each on their own track for stardom.
"There's a few guys in our performance center right now that are just sort of guys you've never heard of that have never been anywhere. Not even in the indies," said Paul "Triple H" Levesque, executive vice president of Talent, Live Events & Creative for WWE. "The two kids in [the Authors of Pain] tag team in NXT. Those are two kids we picked them from nothing. No experience. Period. Anything. A year later, they are a really, really good tag team. There's a lot of talent like that."
Like Otis Dozovic, for example.
The 330-pound entertainer (whose real name is Nikola Bogojevic) is part of a tag team called Heavy Machinery, along with Tucker Knight, which thrives on a combination of powerful two-man maneuvers and comedic catch phrases such as "Boom Shaka Lou" and others involving food. Lots of food.
Dozovic's background, like a fair number of Performance Center recruits, is in amateur wrestling. While in high school In 2009, Dozovic earned a championship at the Greco-Roman junior nationals. In college, he won the national title in Greco-Roman wrestling at the Junior Pan-American Games in 2011, and he earned a Greco-Roman bronze at the Pan-American Games in 2014.
"I'm telling you, he's just got personality," said Levesque. "He's a huge stud. Looks like an old-school strong man. He's already having matches. He's already got a huge personality. I don't know he's been with us a year."
WWE often has scouts at wrestling events and in this case, the discovery of Dozovic was an easy one.
"Jerry Brisco, who is a WWE Hall of Famer, goes out and scouts all of the amateur wrestling," said WWE head scout William Regal. "He brought [Otis] to our attention and said whenever he went to a meet, whenever Otis was on the mat, there will be 12,000 people in an arena. There's several matches going on at one time in different parts of the mat in the arenas, and he said, 'I always knew he was coming on because everybody, didn't matter who it was ... even if it was some really major contest, would stop watching that and look to where [Dozovic] was.' He said, 'You just knew he was in the building, because you can't take your eyes off him.'
"He's just got that presence about him when he walks in anywhere. You can see him, he's just got these strange things that he does, and just the way he moves. He's always just moving about in strange way. Just his physical presence, as well."
Dozovic joined NXT in 2016 and started appearing regularly on NXT TV in the past couple of months. Partially because of opportunities that opened up post-superstar shake-up, and partially because Dozovic and Knight have so quickly connected with the audience in limited opportunities, Heavy Machinery has emerged as an immediate presence in the tag team division.
"We got him to the Performance Center and he was everything you could ever wish for," said Regal. "He's got a great look, he's an incredible athlete and he's just bursting with charisma. He doesn't have to put any of it on, it's just the way he is. When you find somebody that everything they do is just naturally good, it's a winner straight away."
Part of what's made the Performance Center, NXT and the recruiting process in general so successful is an ability to discover and build a wide range of stars. On the complete opposite end of the physical spectrum from Dozovic is Aleister Black.
Black (whose real name is Tom Budgen) is best known as Tommy End, who for more than a decade was one of the brightest stars of the European wrestling world. The Dutch-born wrestler captured more than a dozen titles during runs with Revolution Pro Wrestling, Insane Championship Wrestling, westside Xtreme wrestling and Progress Wrestling, just to name a few of his exploits in England, for starters. He finally signed with NXT in 2016, but the WWE had their eyes on him for quite a while.
"I knew about him for a long time," said Regal to ESPN.com. "My best friend, Robbie Brookside, had known him for years. I think he was 17 or 18, and he went to a seminar that Robbie was doing in Holland. He met him there, and I've kept an eye on him since then, basically. I've always just took notice of what's going on in the wrestling business and who the younger fellas are, and younger ladies, that are interested in this.
"You see the ones with the real passion and desire. So I've just kept a tab on him for years, the he started to really come into his own the last few years. His name was getting out there, and he was coming to America quite a bit and doing independent shows. We hooked up and I just said, 'Whenever you're ready, give me a call,' that kind of thing. The next thing, he's giving me a call. He was at a tryout, Triple H has seen him and ... yeah, he's definitely got something that we're looking for."
Black's combat background includes training in kickboxing, and his ability to incorporate that aspect into his matches has made many of his moves, especially his Black Mass finisher, must-see moments.
"We look for a lot of things, but the number one thing that we look for -- and if I suggest anybody to Paul, he will always say it -- 'Do they actually look like they can beat somebody up?' Because the key thing to what we do, and there's a lot of wrestlers out there, unfortunately, who will get offended by this, but they just don't look like they can do anything physical to anybody. Some of that just comes with time. Over time, your face hardens up and you just look more like a fighter. Aleister just fits that bill because that's what he is. He is a kickboxer, and he's been through the wars a bit. You can just see life in his face."
Levesque is equally thrilled with Black's development, noting just before his debut that he'll be one to watch in the next few years.
"Aleister Black is very talented," said Levesque. "I think he's going to be a player."