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Byrons Interviews

The circumstances may have been unexpected, but the opportunity is available to be seized. A week from this Friday at NXT TakeOver: New York, Johnny Gargano will face Adam Cole to crown the next NXT Champion. Ahead of the high-stakes match, Gargano sat down with WWE.com to discuss his NXT career, Tommaso Ciampa, his impending matchup with Cole and why it’s a mustwin championship match.

WWE.COM: You have the opportunity to win the one title that had eluded you for the duration of your NXT career. How does that feel?

JOHNNY GARGANO: It’s a mix of emotions, honestly. I feel like everything I’ve been through — not just this past year, and not just the past four years for me in NXT, but since I was 8 years old, when I had this crazy dream to become a wrestler — has built to this one moment in Brooklyn.

WWE.COM: You will share that moment in Brooklyn with your opponent, Adam Cole. How do you feel about Cole?

WWE.COM: I have nothing but respect for Adam Cole. I’ve known him for a very long time and he’s one of the best in the world. He not only has my respect, but he also has the fans’ respect, as he should. Cole’s earned that. Everywhere he’s been, he’s been successful, and he’s been a champion. Cole expects to be NXT Champion, and he has expected to be champion since the moment he debuted in the Barclays Center and held the title above his head. Adam Cole always felt like it was a matter of time. I never expected any of this. None of this was ever supposed to happen for me. Our paths here were vastly different, but destiny has brought us together for this match.

WWE.COM: It was Tommaso Ciampa who was forced to vacate the NXT Championship after suffering a neck injury, which subsequently gave you the chance to compete for the title at NXT TakeOver: New York. What are your thoughts on how things went down?

GARGANO: It breaks my heart for a lot of different reasons. Some could say that everything I’ve done for the past year was for the sole purpose of getting another chance at Tommaso Ciampa and that NXT Championship. But I don’t want to beat Tommaso Ciampa at 25 percent … I want him at 100 percent. I’m sure that day will come one way or another, because in my heart I feel like we’re destined to do this forever. The journey may have changed, but the end game remains the same. The end game was always the NXT Championship.

WWE.COM: You’ve had the chance to compete on Raw and SmackDown LIVE recently. Despite experiencing this new career chapter, why is winning the NXT Championship still so important to you?

GARGANO: NXT is my life. Plain and simple. I’ve put my heart and soul into this company, and I truly love it and its fans. I wanted to build something here and my legacy feels incomplete without that NXT Championship. It’s about more than the accolades, though, it’s about what it stands for. I want to go from a guy who was told “no” at his tryout, a guy who was told he wasn’t good enough to be here, to the most decorated champion in the history of the company. I want to show the world that anything’s possible if you never stop fighting.

WWE.COM: Let’s revisit the beginning of your NXT career. How did you feel when you first walked through the doors of NXT four years ago?

GARGANO: Scared. Intimidated. Unsure, but ready. I was hungry. You’d think that after four years, two titles and 12 TakeOvers I’d be satisfied, but I’m not. I’m still that same kid that walked in that door four years ago. That drive, that want, that hunger drives me every day. It’ll carry me to Brooklyn.

WWE.COM: You mentioned earlier that you never expected to be where you are now. What were your goals when you first got to NXT?

GARGANO: Honestly, just to get on the show. [Laughs] I didn’t have a contract for the first year of my time in NXT, and that was very stressful. I had to send an email every few weeks just to see if I was needed for anything at TV. I was still traveling around and doing indies, but NXT was where I ultimately wanted to be so I took every opportunity, whether it was an untelevised match or a Battle Royal, and I fought like it was my last, because honestly, it could have been. I truly feel like the “Johnny Wrestling” chants that filled Full Sail and ultimately the Barclays Center at my first TakeOver helped me get my contract here.

WWE.COM: How are you different, both professionally and personally, from the man who walked through the doors of NXT four years ago?

GARGANO: I’ve grown, both as a wrestler in the ring and as a man outside of it. I believe that everything happens for a reason. For the longest time I was horrified to hear the word “failure,” but I’ve come to realize that we all fail. It’s just a part of life. We all fall. It’s how you rebound that shows the type of person you are. That’s what makes you a champion. Fun nicknames and chants aside, I could never truly be Johnny Champion until I experienced Johnny Failure.

WWE.COM: What can we expect from you at NXT TakeOver: New York?

GARGANO: You can’t call yourself Mr. TakeOver and not deliver something special, right? One thing I’ve learned this past month is you can’t control the future. You can only control the now. Who knows what tomorrow may bring? So, for me and the NXT Championship, it’s now or never. I believe it is my destiny to be NXT Champion. I know it’s not going to be easy. It’s a 2-out-of-3 Falls Match against Adam Cole in a building where I’m 0 for 3. Plus, we all know that when you fight one member of Undisputed ERA, you’re essentially fighting all of Undisputed ERA, so this could essentially be four-on-one. The odds aren’t in my favor. But I’ve been an underdog my whole life – I wouldn’t have it any different!

This has been building for a very long time, and to return to the Barclays Center, which is the site of my very first TakeOver, with the whole world watching during the biggest wrestling weekend of the year, with my friends and family in the crowd, it’s shaping up to be the biggest match of my life. This has the potential to be the biggest night of my life. I’ve been dreaming of this night since I was a kid and the only thing I can guarantee, the only thing I can promise, is I’m going to give everything I have on April 5. I know it’s going to be a crazy atmosphere, but to the people riding with me in the Barclays Center, I won’t let you down.



Byrons Interviews

While the WWE Universe has been abuzz over the arrivals of NXT Champion Tommaso Ciampa, Johnny Gargano, Aleister Black and Ricochet to Raw and SmackDown LIVE, there’s another Superstar who scored the honor of a headline story, Velveteen Dream. In defeating Gargano Wednesday night on NXT, Dream captured the first golden honor of his career, the North American Championship. Following the win, Velveteen Dream spoke with WWE.com about his title reign, but be forewarned: In some cases, the new champion’s responses created more mystery than the eclectic aura that surrounds him.

WWE.COM: How did it feel to topple Johnny Gargano and become the new North American Champion?

VELVETEEN DREAM: Is this interview about “Johnny Jump-Ship” or is this about NXT’s North American Champion, The Dream?

WWE.COM: Well clearly, we are focusing on your win. Do you think Gargano underestimated you?

DREAM: It would be ludicrous to think The Dream is new to this. This is what I do.

WWE.COM: What does it mean to you to capture gold for the first time in NXT?

DREAM: I earned my championship. I’ve never held it captive. Foo-foo question, Byron.

WWE.COM: Adam Cole, Ricochet, Johnny Gargano and now Velveteen Dream. How will your reign differ from those NXT North American Champions before you?

DREAM: The Dream will do what Cole, Ricochet and Gargano didn’t do. The Dream will retain and entertain.

WWE.COM: How would you say you’ve evolved over the last year?

DREAM:  The question isn’t “How has The Dream evolved over the last year?” The question is “How has NXT evolved because of The Dream?”

WWE.COM: Fair point. What makes you so unique?

DREAM: Ratings.

WWE.COM: Do you have a message for the NXT Universe going forward?

DREAM: Dream on.



Byrons Interviews

Bianca Belair’s boldest declaration yet: “Shayna is irrelevant to me” | WWE

Ask, earn and you shall receive. After months of stating her desire for a crack at the NXT Women’s Championship, Bianca Belair’s wish will now become a reality. At NXT TakeOver: Phoenix, Belair will challenge Shayna Baszler for the NXT Women’s Title in what will be Belair’s first championship match. The self-proclaimed “EST of NXT” spoke to WWE.com about her impending opportunity to win the gold.

WWE.COM: How does it feel to finally have your first NXT Women’s Title opportunity at NXT TakeOver: Phoenix against Shayna Baszler?

BIANCA BELAIR: I’ve basically been begging for this title opportunity for a while, so I feel satisfied to finally get what I deserve, but I am definitely not content. Ever since walking into the WWE Performance Center two-and-a-half years ago, I’ve had one goal in mind, and that’s proving that I am the best. All I’ve been missing is a chance in the spotlight to shine. And now that it’s finally my time, I am fully prepared to take down Shayna Baszler for the NXT Women’s Championship. 

WWE.COM: You’ve been to countless NXT TakeOver events in the past, but you’ve always had to watch from the sidelines. What went through your mind during those prior events, knowing you had yet to have your own match on the card?

BELAIR: I’ve had to sit back and watch TakeOver after TakeOver after TakeOver, champion after champion after champion. During my time in NXT, the champions have gone from Asuka to Ember Moon to Shayna Baszler to Kairi Sane and back to Shayna. I don’t have a jealous bone in my body, but every time I had to sit through another TakeOver, I knew it should have been me in the ring, under the lights, holding that title over my head. 

My pleas for a title opportunity were falling on deaf ears for a while and initially I felt slighted, but the more I thought about it, I realized every day they ignored me was just another day for me to get better and better. 

WWE.COM: You’ve had a highly impressive undefeated streak in NXT. How much pressure do you feel to deliver on such a big stage?

BELAIR: Pressure makes diamonds, so when I think of TakeOver, I don’t see it as a “big stage.” I’m not thinking about the bright lights or the thousands of people in the audience … I simply see it as an opportunity to compete, win, and have everyone watch me shine. I’ve been asking for this, basically begging for this opportunity, so I am fully prepared to remain un-de-fea-ted.

WWE.COM: How have your past athletic experiences prepared you for this moment?

BELAIR: Growing up, my parents made sure sports were a big part of my life, so I’ve played almost every sport in the book, from track to basketball, soccer, cheerleading, CrossFit, weightlifting, etc. Being an athlete has taught me to crave competition and it’s taught me how to work hard, how to be coachable, how to be mentally tough. All these attributes that have been instilled in me through my athletic career have been helpful in life, but I’ve learned from my experiences that sometimes hard work isn’t always enough. Being talented along with hard work is what is really essential to success. I have so many accomplishments in my past but what matters is what I did with them once I got to NXT. I started from ground zero when I walked into the Performance Center on April 11, 2016. I didn’t know anything about being a sports-entertainer in WWE and look how quickly I not only caught on to everything, but surpassed everyone around me.

At the end of the day, the only thing Shayna could possibly try to do is work harder than me, which she doesn’t, and I’m already way more talented than she is, so I don’t see my undefeated streak ending anytime soon.

WWE.COM: To that point, how would you respond to those who may believe you are not as accomplished as Shayna?

BELAIR: Last time I checked, I’m the one who was in WrestleMania last year and I’m the one that is un-de-fea-ted. Those are both accomplishments Shayna can’t add to her list.

I’m coming for that title and when I do, it will furthermore validate everything that I have been saying: I am the strongest, roughest, toughest, quickest, fastest, greatest, the best. The EST of NXT. I ain’t nothing to play with, and I am too determined and too talented to let Shayna Baszler take me down.

WWE.COM: Can you give us some insight into your preparations for the match? 

BELAIR: Being an athlete, you always stay prepared, so you never have to get ready. I am UN-DE-FEA-TED. What I’m doing is obviously working for me, so why would I change anything? I think people mess up when they start changing for their opponent and they end up playing their opponent’s game. There’s no need to panic or change anything. I know exactly what I am going up against. Shayna is irrelevant to me in the sense that all I see is a competitor that I have to go through to get what I want: the NXT Women’s Championship.



Byrons Interviews

After making a bold, victorious statement last month, Dominik Dijakovic has put the entire NXT brand on notice. The 6-foot-7, 270-pound Superstar comes to NXT armed with a vast array of experience, both in and out of the ring, and an unrelenting passion to sacrifice for all things family. This week, WWE.com sits down to learn a little bit more about one of NXT’s newest Superstars.

WWE.COM: Who is Dominik Dijakovic?

DOMINIK DIJAKOVIC: Dominik Dijakovic is the physical embodiment of a lifetime’s worth of struggle, discipline, sacrifice and failure.

WWE.COM: Prior to your debut, we witnessed a number of vignettes displaying your training techniques while speaking on your beliefs. One of those videos highlighted your willingness to fight for your family. Can you expound on this?

DIJAKOVIC: Family is everything. They gave me life, figuratively and literally. I owe them an unpayable debt. To succeed collectively, you must be willing to sacrifice individually. We will fight for each other and we would die for each other.

WWE.COM: What is your family’s ethnic background?

DIJAKOVIC: Croatian, Italian and Hungarian. Collectively unified in America. Symbolized by the family crest coat of arms on my right thigh.

WWE.COM: You display a very stern demeanor. What’s the motivation for such intensity?

DIJAKOVIC: There are many emotions evoked from the broad spectrum of humanity. In my experience, the only emotion that consistently delivers success is focus. My focus is channeled through my intensity, forged from a lifetime of despair.

WWE.COM: Your experience includes quite the athletic background.

DIJAKOVIC: Athleticism was a mandatory expectation in my upbringing. I competed collegiately at an elite level in both American football and basketball simultaneously. This afforded me the resources to attend university and receive an undergraduate and graduate degree in criminology.

WWE.COM: I understand you once worked as a criminal defense investigator. How was that experience?

DIJAKOVIC: I have been employed in every imaginable trade. On a farm, stocking liquor, as security, in social work, as a coach, in retail, even selling dog food. I worked three jobs at once for many years. This taught me discipline and humility. Anything for family. As a criminal defense investigator, it was my job to retrieve information by any means necessary from people who were often unwilling to comply. This taught me manipulation and relentlessness, both mentally and physically.

WWE.COM: What attracted you to the world of sports-entertainment?

DIJAKOVIC: The pursuit of prosperity for my family. Sports-entertainment is a medium, an untapped resource for someone of my skill set. There has never been a five-tool player like me in the history of this business until now. My successes will ensure the legacy of my family endures for many generations to come.

WWE.com: You initially had a WWE tryout several years ago before officially signing with NXT in fall 2017. Were there any other notable names at that tryout?

DIJAKOVIC: In June of 2013 I attended the final WWE tryout at Florida Championship Wrestling in Tampa, Fla. I don’t know who else was there because I don’t waste time worrying about the accomplishments of others as those are distractions which will deter my focus. My goal was to obtain a WWE contract and I failed. In my life, I have failed countless times. Over and over and over again. And that is why Dominik Dijakovic will succeed.

WWE.COM: I take it you were motivated by your inability to obtain a job with WWE after that 2013 tryout?

DIJAKOVIC: Failure is a catalyst. Failure is a motivator. Failure is perspective. Once you live it, you learn it and understand it. Then, and only then do you know exactly how to make sure that it never happens again.

WWE.COM: What makes you stand out from other NXT Superstars?

DIJAKOVIC: Dominik Dijakovic is a five-tool player unlike anyone else in NXT, Raw, SmackDown or the history of WWE. Striking — precision, accuracy and proficiency honed through countless fights and years of training. Technical — grinding, efficiency. I was trained by Brian Fury at the New England Pro Wrestling Academy, the disciples of Steve Bradley and Killer Kowalski. Psychological — intelligence, manipulation and focus. I’m a scholar and laborer, impossible to outwork or outlast. Athleticism — world-class, untouchable. The X factor. Power. I am 6-foot-7, 270 pounds. I am Dominik Dijakovic. Feast your eyes.



Byrons Interviews

Forgotten no more: The Forgotten Sons talk broken promises and creating a legacy of destruction

In the ever-evolving landscape of NXT, there are three Superstars who have bonded together to turn NXT on its head. Although they’ve all taken different paths to NXT, Wesley Blake, Steve Cutler & Jaxson Ryker — aka, The Forgotten Sons — have all vowed to no longer fly under the radar in the black-and-gold brand. This week, WWE.com gets some extra insight behind the team’s motivation and their collective message for NXT Superstars.

WWE.COM: How did the group known as The Forgotten Sons come to be?

JAXSON RYKER: Three men. Same frustrations. A so-called American “promise.” A promise that by doing the right thing, working hard and showing up on time, you will achieve everything you ever dreamed of. It’s a complete lie. The promise was tossed aside, cast out and forgotten. The three of us realized we all have the same ideals and goals here in NXT. We know we are unstoppable as a unit and we will not let anyone forget us again.

WWE.COM: Cutler, what personally motivated you to get behind the cause?

STEVE CUTLER: I pride myself on being self-motivated. I’m not here in NXT for mediocrity. Most people want to look back on a career and see a beautiful path that they left behind. I want to leave a path of destruction behind me. I want to look back and smile knowing I did it my way. With the three of us, we’ll leave a lasting legacy of destruction that will be remembered.

WWE.COM: What about you, Blake?

WESLEY BLAKE: What has motivated me is frustration. It’s frustrating that you’re giving me a Q&A because I was passed over and overlooked. Now you want to ask me about motivation, like I’m supposed to give an inspirational quote to help others?! I don’t want to help others! I want to help us, The Forgotten Sons.

WWE.COM: That’s understandable. Ryker, why do you believe The Forgotten Sons pose a threat to NXT?

RYKER: The Forgotten Sons have nothing to lose. And we have no mercy. We are a unit, a brotherhood with unsettling motivations. You’ll see.

WWE.COM: Why do you gentlemen feel you’ve all experienced the feeling of not getting the opportunities you deserve?

CUTLER: Opportunities we deserve? Ever since NXT General Manager William Regal gave us our first opportunity, we have done nothing except what we said we would do. That’s “do unto others” and never be forgotten again.

WWE.COM: Blake, we know you’ve had opportunities in the past.  At one point you and 205 Live’s Buddy Murphy held the NXT Tag Team Titles for seven months. What’s the difference between that version of Wesley Blake and the man we see today?

BLAKE: The difference is, Blake as champion was just that. A vessel. A marquee. Someone with no identity without that championship. Now, I have a family that’s a bond and our purpose is stronger than ever. The man, Wesley Blake, that you see now, is fulfilled.

WWE.COM: Cutler, how did your experience serving in the United States Marine Corps impact how you approach this new road in your career?

CUTLER: My experience? My experience in the Marine Corps is my business. Not yours and not the NXT Universe’s. For how it prepared me? It taught me tactics and skills that you should fear.

WWE.COM: Ryker, you’ve also served our country proud as a Marine. I direct the same question to you. How did your training affect your discipline as you aim to make a statement in NXT?

RYKER: All you have to do is look into my eyes. Does that answer your discipline question? I was a part of things in the Marine Corps that made me who I am. It fuels my rage. I believe The Forgotten Sons have already made a statement. Twitter and all of social media are talking about us. They want to know more. Who are we? What drives us? Know this: We will be forgotten no more.

WWE.COM: Blake, why have you referred to yourselves as the “savages of NXT”?

BLAKE: Our past experiences have made us this way — cruel, fierce, untamed men. We don’t care about the consequences of our actions and or anyone else’s opinion.

WWE.COM: What about critics who believe the future isn’t so bright for The Forgotten Sons?

CUTLER: Critics? We don’t cater to, nor care for, the critics. We do what is good for The Forgotten Sons and The Forgotten Sons alone.

WWE.COM: What message do you have for the NXT Universe?

BLAKE: It doesn’t matter what they tried to do, they couldn’t destroy us. We will stand strong. And we will simply do unto others and enjoy it.