Byrons Interviews

As announced this week on NXT, Candice LeRae will join Bianca Belair, Nikki Cross and Kairi Sane in a No. 1 Contender’s Fatal 4-Way Match next week to determine who will challenge Shayna Baszler for the NXT Women’s Championship at TakeOver: Brooklyn. With the potentially career-altering opportunity on the horizon, LeRae spoke with about her in-ring goals, her journey to NXT and her marriage to fellow NXT Superstar Johnny Gargano.

WWE.COM: Candice, we first saw you in NXT a little over a year ago. What’s the difference between that Candice and the one we see here today?

CANDICE LERAE: My childhood dream was to be a WWE Superstar. Now that I am living that dream, I am discovering there is a whole new world of opportunity here in NXT. I have pushed myself to do things in the ring and in the gym that I used to be afraid to do or was uncomfortable with. I want to seize every opportunity NXT has to offer me, and when I do, I want to be ready for them. Being here has sparked something special in me to push me to the next level.

WWE.COM: You’ve got an opportunity to possibly challenge for the NXT Women’s Championship coming up. How poetic would it be to challenge Shayna Baszler, the same woman who eliminated you from the Mae Young Classic last year?

LERAE: I haven’t forgotten that match against Shayna in the Mae Young Classic. More importantly, I haven’t forgotten about how disrespectful Shayna was toward me and my husband after the match. Earning an NXT Women’s Championship opportunity is a reward, but to face Shayna, knowing that I could potentially be the one to dethrone her? it would be the cherry and sprinkles on top!

WWE.COM: Since we are on the topic of last year, you’ve obviously been through a lot with your husband, Johnny Gargano. To someone not familiar with sports-entertainment, what are the benefits and challenges of working alongside Johnny in the same company?

LERAE: A massive positive is that we can travel together! There were times before I got here where I would be wrestling in Japan or the United Kingdom for weeks at a time. Trying to talk to each other when I was basically a day into the future was challenging.

I half joke with him that my biggest challenge is trying to keep up with him. He’s just so talented. It puts this added pressure on me because I don’t want to be an embarrassment to Johnny. Plus, my husband worked so hard for his name, and I absolutely refuse to ride his coattails. I know I have a challenge in proving to the fans and my peers that I belong here too. I want to make a name for myself here in NXT because of my own work and not because of who my husband is.


Byrons Interviews

The backdrop of war: War Raiders talk world domination and bringing the raid to NXT

The proverbial raid has taken full effect in NXT courtesy of Rowe and Hanson. Otherwise known as The War Raiders, the physically abrasive tandem has ruffled the feathers of the NXT Tag Team division since bursting onto the scene in April. This week, Rowe & Hanson spoke to about their pre-NXT success, their distinctive looks and why both men feel poised to dominate the black-and-yellow chapter of their careers.

WWE.COM: How did each of you get your start inside the squared circle?

ROWE: Since I was 5 years old, all I’ve ever wanted to do was be a wrestler. I used to watch every Sunday with my father. I pursued amateur wrestling and combat sports my entire life because I knew those skills would carry over from the mat to the ring. During my senior year of high school, I began my training in Cleveland, and for the next 15 years I traveled anywhere and everywhere following this dream.

HANSON: I fell in love with wrestling when I was young as well. I went to as many WWE and local independent events as I could. Eventually, I asked enough questions to find out about wrestling schools in my area. I worked two jobs over the summer in between my junior and senior year of high school and started training in the summer of 2001 at 17 years old. I flip-flopped schools for a while until I settled on Killer Kowalski’s school of Pro Wrestling, which was partnered with the Chaotic Training Center (now known as the New England Pro Wrestling Academy). The best decision of my life.

WWE.COM: What was it like training for a legend and WWE Hall of Famer like Kowalski?

HANSON: Kowalski was amazing. I was lucky to be one of the last individuals to train with him. Kowalski’s attention to detail has always stuck in my head. He was hard on us and wanted us to be the best in the industry. Walter said things to us like “Shoot for the moon; if you miss you may hit a star,” and “Make them notice you.” Those are words I think about all the time. I am very grateful for our time together.

WWE.COM: You both have certainly done a good job of getting noticed during your short time in NXT. How did this team come to be?

HANSON: Despite each being in the business for well over a decade, Rowe and I never crossed paths until we were on opposite sides of the bracket of Ring of Honor’s 2014 Top Prospect Tournament. We ended up meeting in the tournament final and beat the snot out of each other. We instantly earned each other’s respect.


Byrons Interviews

In 2015, Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa joined NXT’s Tag Team scene armed with an optimism for the future and undeniable vigor to succeed. Fast-forward three years, and one would be hard-pressed to find both Superstars peacefully co-existing in the same room. This Saturday night, NXT TakeOver: Chicago II will mark the battlefield on which Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa will attempt to settle their deep-rooted, vitriolic rivalry once and for all. As he prepares to make the trip to The Windy City, Gargano sat down with for a final pre-match Q&A.

WWE.COM: Your highly anticipated match with Tommaso Ciampa is rapidly approaching. Why is this match different to you than your last bout in New Orleans?

JOHNNY GARGANO: I needed to win that last match. I needed to defeat Tommaso Ciampa in the middle of the ring to get my NXT career back. Yes, it was unsanctioned, but I knew after it was over that the war was just beginning. With the mindset I’m in and everything that has escalated from that moment, from costing me my NXT Title shot to putting me back in the hospital and bringing my wife into this. Our match in New Orleans will look like a walk in the park compared to this Street Fight.

WWE.COM: How do you feel about the irony of this match taking place in the same city that Ciampa turned on you a year ago?

GARGANO: I believe that everything happens for a reason. One year ago, my “best friend” blindsided me and turned my world upside-down in Chicago. I left the Allstate Arena in an ambulance, I woke up in a hospital bed and had no idea what happened or who put me there. This time around, I have the very rare opportunity to return the favor. I want him to take that same ambulance ride and wake up in that same hospital bed alone and afraid. I want Ciampa to feel every ounce of pain and horror I did, except he’s going to know deep down inside exactly who put him there.

WWE.COM: How much has it meant to you both personally and professionally to have your wife, Candice, by your side?

GARGANO: It means everything. Candice has been my light in the darkness this war has brought on.


Byrons Interviews

Dakota Kai is rapidly approaching her one-year anniversary as an NXT Superstar. On this week’s episode of NXT, the New Zealand-born competitor failed to knock off Shayna Baszler from her NXT Women’s Championship perch. Despite the loss, Kai spoke to about her optimism for the future, her road to NXT and what kind of impression she hopes to leave on the WWE Universe.

WWE.COM: You came up short against Shayna Baszler in your NXT Women’s Championship Match this week. Now that you’ve had some time to digest the loss, what are your thoughts?

DAKOTA KAI: This match was personal. I’m happy that I was given the opportunity to stand up to her. While I managed to gather some confidence before the match happened, I still don’t think I felt like my usual self going into it. Mind games are a battle in their own right. On the flip side, getting the win actually seemed possible, even if just for a brief moment. There’s hope within that.

WWE.COM: How do you feel about your chances against Shayna in the future?

KAI: After that initial match, I learned some important things about my own limits. I hope to get another opportunity, as I know that I’ll be better prepared mentally and emotionally. It’s insane if you’re even slightly lacking in one of those areas, the effect it can have in a high-pressure situation. I also learned things about Shayna. She’s not invincible — no one is. All those mind tricks just prove to me how much of an insecure person she really is. The biggest mistake she can make is underestimating someone who is so quietly confident in ending her reign.

WWE.COM: You’ve been with NXT for nearly a year now. From your initial exposure during last year’s Mae Young Classic to now, how wild has the ride been?

KAI: The Mae Young Classic was such an amazing experience. From that to now being in NXT is overwhelming to me. I was working a long time to try and get here, so the fact that it’s all happening just proves that hard work really does pay off.


Byrons Interviews

Self-motivating affirmations are nothing new to the world of sports-entertainment. From WWE Hall of Famers Shawn Michaels to “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, Superstars have used a boastful sense of confidence to propel themselves into the promised land of success.

Enter NXT Superstar Kona Reeves. While Reeves joined the ranks of NXT in 2014 as a humble aspiring young Superstar, it seems only recently that Reeves has tapped into the same fountain of confidence that benefited his predecessors. More specifically, Reeves has embraced the belief that he represents the finest aspects of life both in and out of the ring. This week, Reeves speaks to about his newfound confidence, his background and more.

WWE.COM: You’ve boldly proclaimed yourself as “NXT’s Finest.” Can you explain your motivation behind the nickname?

KONA REEVES: I insist that I’m “NXT’s Finest” because I know I am the finest in every aspect. People call themselves the “greatest” or “the best” all the time. That’s okay because they are all alike. I am different than all those basic people. I have the finest hair, finest skin complexion, finest taste in music and finest ethnic background! My life is the finest it has ever been, and it’s only the beginning!

WWE.COM: How do you maintain your self-proclaimed “Finest” status?

REEVES: I go to the finest hair salon in Orlando, Fla., thanks to Mandy Rose. I have my coats and boots custom-made, and I only eat the finest organic foods. It’s not easy to live the finest lifestyle, but if you work hard, you get to play hard.

WWE.COM: You mentioned having the “finest ethnic background.” Can you tell us about your heritage?

REEVES: My mother is Hawaiian, Chinese, Filipino and Spanish. My father is Dutch and Indonesian, hence why I have the finest ethnic background. I know you’re jealous.


Byrons Interviews

Few Superstars have captured the imagination of the NXT Universe as quickly as “The One and Only” Ricochet. Coming off his remarkable WWE Network debut at TakeOver: New Orleans and his Full Sail in-ring debut Wednesday night on WWE NXT, the preeminent high-flyer spoke with about his upbringing, his sports-entertainment inspirations and much more.

WWE.COM: You’ve had some time to digest your experience at NXT TakeOver: New Orleans. How was it for you?

RICOCHET: It was honestly amazing. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to debut. And just to be at WrestleMania and experience the whole weekend was a dream come true.

WWE.COM: How much have you had to adjust your life since joining NXT four months ago?

RICOCHET: It’s really not been difficult at all. Maybe because everyone at the WWE Performance Center, from the talent to the coaches, have been super cool and have helped me with everything. I can’t thank them enough.

WWE.COM: Despite the fact you had competed against many current NXT and WWE competitors in the past, how intimidating was it for you to walk into this company on your first day?

RICOCHET: Oh, it was wild. Yeah, I’ve been friends with a lot of the NXT competitors for years, but just walking into the Performance Center alone is intimidating. Not only is it intimidating, but I have to try and keep up expectations I had made for myself before. Luckily, everyone here has been willing to help with any troubles I’ve had.

WWE.COM: Let’s take a step back. Tell me about your upbringing.

RICOCHET: I was born in Alton, Ill., and moved to Paducah, Ky., when I was 3 years old. I lived in Kentucky until I moved to Florida in 2015. We never had the most money, but my parents always did their best to take care of me and my brother. I had a real small but tight group of friends, and we would just ride our bikes all day after school and play video games, or we would actually wrestle out in the backyard. Those were good times, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world.


Byrons Interviews

Shayna Baszler’s NXT career progression can be described as incredibly meteoric. Baszler’s no-nonsense attitude and propensity for extreme punishment has earned her another opportunity to challenge Ember Moon for the NXT Women’s Championship at NXT TakeOver: New Orleans. This week, The Queen of Spades spoke to about Moon, her competitive motivation and more.

WWE.COM: In less than a year of competing in NXT, you’ve got a championship opportunity at one of the biggest TakeOvers of the year. How does that feel?

SHAYNA BASZLER: It feels right. I’m more ready to be there than any other woman on the NXT roster.

WWE.COM: You’ve challenged Ember Moon before. Why do you feel the result will be different this time?

BASZLER: Because now Ember will have fear. Did she “win” by a technicality of the rules last time? Sure. But she still couldn’t lift her arm to wash her own hair, and she had trouble swallowing food and liquids afterwards. She knows there is no way to truly stop me. As soon as I grab ahold of her, she will remember that.

WWE.COM: Let’s talk about your preparation. What is the difference between your pre-match preparations during your MMA career as compared to sports-entertainment?