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No Way Jose finding his way in NXT

While drawing from his Dominican roots

Levis Valenzuela Jr., the son of immigrant parents, grew up like many other normal teenagers in New Jersey. Born in the Dominican Republic, his family moved to the United States in search of better opportunities for themselves and their family.

The now-28-year-old, who debuted almost a year ago in NXT as “No Way Jose,” started watching wrestling like many others in his childhood; before long, he was looking up to two figures who would ultimately motivate him to pursue it as a career himself — two all-time greats in The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin.

“It’s something that when you grow up, you know, I started watching The Rock and Stone Cold,” Valenzuela said. “Valenzuela people, in my family and from my generation, [went] back and watched people from the island [like] Jack Veneno. He’s there and he is one of the heroes, the hero of DR. It’s cool trying to get in there and get lost in the world that is wrestling. I wanted to be part of that, and here I am.”

As "No Way Jose", Levis Valenzuela Jr. brings a frenetic energy to his performances that appeals to audiences of all ages.

As “No Way Jose”, Levis Valenzuela Jr. brings a frenetic energy to his performances that appeals to audiences of all ages.

Nick Laham for ESPN

Valenzuela had his first experience in the wrestling world in the independent circuit, when he debuted in 2013 with CFW Mid Atlantic as Manny Garcia. He spent two years there before getting noticed by WWE, and he signed a developmental deal in NXT, in which he wrestled under his real name for a good part of 2015 before being repackaged as No Way Jose.

From the start, he has been proud of his Latino heritage and his roots. Over time, he has learned more about Veneno, a wrestling icon in the Dominican Republic, as well as Carlos Colón, another legendary Caribbean figure.

“It’s cool to get into this from what I grew up watching, but now I’m representing a country. You have to go back and actually see everything that’s going on in there. It’s cool to see the support and the love I’m getting representing the Dominican Republic,” Valenzuela said during an interview before NXT’s TakeOver event in San Antonio. “I’m out here trying to represent the Latinos as a whole, you know, and having fun doing it.”

Even though his basic abilities and personality caught WWE’s attention, Valenzuela is aware that NXT is where his character will develop, and that the WWE Performance Center at Full Sail University in Orlando is where his skills will be honed. There, dozens of talents work to get better by working with many different trainers and former wrestlers, under the supervision of Paul Levesque, vice president of talent development for the WWE and better known by his longtime wrestling persona, Triple H.

“This is what NXT does, you go there and work every single day. It’s just like college. You have the professors, who are your coaches, the students, who are the recruits,” Valenzuela explains. “Everybody goes in there and works hard every single day. You work hard in the ring, work hard outside the ring, you work hard in the gym. You do things, paying your dues. You look yourself in the mirror every single day. You try to get better and better, and make it to a place where you can be this larger-than-life persona that everyone tries to get into.”

At the Performance Center, dozens of wrestlers from all over the world take their previous experience and abilities, and integrate and adapt them to the “WWE style” without losing the spark that got them there in the first place. It’s like Valenzuela said — everyone has to learn how to wrestle again.

“The Performance Center is very important. Everybody has their own style. We have the U.K. Championship now, [and] whether you’re in the Caribbean, Japan, in the States, in Mexico, WWE sort of incorporates all of their things and they have their own way,” Valenzuela said.

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Liner Notes

This story initially published on ESPN Deportes.