'WWE Breaking Ground' Season 1, Episode 1 Recap: Onward and upward

WWE Network: Sara Amoto and Matt Bloom single out Nhooph Al-Areebi on WWE Breaking Ground

Assistant Coach Sara Amato takes the Diva hopefuls to the limit and takes Nhooph Al-Areebi to task on WWE Breaking Ground.

WrestleMania may be the greatest spectacle in all of sports-entertainment, but the road to Superstardom is anything but glamorous. It is rife with struggle and sacrifice, as the WWE Universe saw on the premiere episode of WWE Network’s gripping new docu-series, WWE Breaking Ground. There, at the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Fla., dozens of world-class athletes from all walks of life compete to break through to NXT and — perhaps, eventually — the WWE roster.

Watch exclusive Breaking Ground Highlights |  Full NXT coverage

One such blue-chip hopeful is Josh Bredl, the winner of the 2015 WWE Tough Enough competition, who arrives at the Performance Center to ink his developmental contract.

Though the journey has just begun for Bredl, another prospect, Tino “Sabby” Sabbatelli, finds himself at a standstill. The former NFL safety was invited to join the Performance Center after attending a tryout. However, after suffering a concussion at an NXT Live Event weeks earlier, Sabby sits sidelined at home, sweating his looming exertion test. With the athletes’ physical wellbeing top of mind for WWE officials, Sabby must clear WWE’s sports-concussion protocol to avoid derailing his journey any further.

Another former pro footballer, Baron Corbin, battles headwinds of a different kind. As an NXT main event bout later in the week fast approaches, Corbin — a determined 6-foot-8 biker who earned a reputation as a ruffian in the NFL — shows signs of frustration over not moving up the developmental ranks faster.

Some prospects are much earlier on in the system. Nhooph Al-Areebi, a 19-year-old Diva-in-training who comes from a strict Arabic family, risked losing her parents’ support to pursue her dream. Still new to the center, Nhooph desperately awaits her first chance to compete in an NXT ring. Yet, after Head Coach Matt Bloom and Assistant Coach Sara Amato critique her hip-toss technique in training, it becomes clear Nhooph still has a ways to go.

WWE Network: William Regal helps competitors find their character in front of the camera on WWE Breaking Ground

WWE Superstar William Regal teaches those training at the WWE Performance Center how to use the camera to connect with the WWE Universe.

The same is true for Devin Taylor. A two-year veteran of the Performance Center, the bubbly NXT backstage interviewer is looking to make the jump to in-ring performer. Injuries have slowed her progress and allowed other recruits to leap her in the pecking order, explains Amato, whom Devin considers her biggest advocate.

Apollo Crews, on the other hand, has made a splash since day one. A standout from the independent wrestling circuit, Crews brings with him international experience and promises to stay humble as his father, an immigrant from Nigeria, had instilled in him.

Under the watchful eye of William Regal, the Performance Center athletes develop their personas by practicing in-character interviews. The neon-clad, Zubaz-wearing Mojo Rawley delivers a stereotypical promo that would usually earn scoffs from Regal, except for the fact that it rings so authentic with the always-hyped Superstar.

Finally, it’s show time in Gainesville, Fla., the site of a non-televised NXT Live Event, and the Superstars pack into cars to trek to town. Assistant Coach Norman Smiley rides along with Corbin and his girlfriend, and during the trip, Corbin admits that the learning curve in sports-entertainment is steeper than he originally envisioned.

WWE Network: Head Coach Matt Bloom reflects on Baron Corbin's anger on WWE Breaking Ground

Head Coach Matt Bloom reflects on the good and bad of Baron Corbin on WWE Network's new docu-series Breaking Ground.

Upon arriving in Gainesville, the competitors set up their own ring and dress the venue. Corbin and Rawley share a terse exchange in the locker room, lending further proof to the fact The Lone Wolf is not a people person. After learning she is not scheduled to compete on that night’s card, Nhooph can’t help but feel dejected. Despite the backstage angst, the event is successful from the opening bell, and the matches— including Corbin’s main-event outing — are well-received.

Back at the Performance Center, Nhooph sits down with Assistant Coach Amato to discuss her absence on the previous weekend’s cards. The assistant coach doesn’t mince her words, explaining that the card had to be adjusted and her match cut, leaving Nhooph unsure of her standing.

The situation looks similarly bleak for Devin, after Bloom and Amato discuss her history of injuries and whether her body can endure the rigors of life inside the squared circle. As they contemplate her future, Bloom wonders if a “stay of execution” might light a fire under the Diva hopeful. Meanwhile, Sabby prepares to step into the ring for the first time in weeks and take his all-important exertion test.

The debut episode of WWE Breaking Ground ends on a cliffhanger as Canyon Ceman, WWE’s Vice President of Talent Development, arrives. Tasked with hiring — and firing — WWE’s developmental talent, Ceman enters a conference room and closes the door behind him as we hear him ominously say, “I think you know why I’m here.”

Has Devin’s momentum at the Performance Center stalled permanently? Was Sabby’s exertion test his final time inside an NXT ring? See what happens when WWE Breaking Ground returns next Monday on WWE Network, immediately after Raw.

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