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Byrons Interviews

When you make a return, do so with a bang. After a several-year absence, Kassius Ohno has done precisely that with his return, and by setting his sights on NXT Champion Bobby Roode. One week before his first match back – a championship showdown with The Glorious One – Ohno opened up to WWE.com about his time away from NXT, making his return and his agenda for the future.

WWE.COM: Now that you’ve had time to settle back into NXT, what has returning been like for you?

OHNO: I think “surreal” is probably the word that most accurately describes how it feels to be back at NXT. Everyone has been so welcoming, and the environment is a very positive and inspiring one. I’m extremely excited at the possibilities.

WWE.COM: It took you over 12 years to get an opportunity to join NXT. How did you deal with the emotions of seeing that dream slip away?

OHNO: I had a feeling things were heading down that path. I had a few weeks to internally address the frustration and disappointment, so the moment I knew I was leaving, I got right on the phone and started making calls. I didn’t give myself a second to dwell on it. I was too busy ordering merchandise, taking bookings, reserving flights and visiting friends.

WWE.COM: You had already made quite the name for yourself on the independent scene. What was it like to go back on that circuit?

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Byrons Interviews

It was only a few weeks ago that Tye Dillinger was on the receiving end of the biggest opportunity of his sports-entertainment career. As a surprise entrant in the Royal Rumble Match, Dillinger fulfilled one of his childhood goals of competing at the legendary event. But as the old saying goes, with success comes tribulation. In Dillinger’s case, being embroiled in a convoluted conflict with NXT’s unorthodox juggernaut known as SAnitY, The Perfect 10 must now bridge the gap between experiencing a career high and fending off the threat of a menacing foe in order to reach the next level of career success.

WWE.COM: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, Tye. Let’s start off by revisiting the Royal Rumble. Take us through the events of that day and your eventual entry into the match.

TYE DILLINGER: The day leading up to the Royal Rumble was pretty routine. I got up early, went to the gym, got a good meal in and then packed my bags to head to the Alamodome. The only thing was, I had no idea what was going to happen or just how busy it was going to get. A few months prior to the Royal Rumble event, I began to hear rumblings, no pun intended, on social media about this concept of me entering the Rumble, and entering at the 10th spot.

Slowly but surely, that idea began taking a life of its own and before I knew it, a great deal of the WWE Universe thought it was a great idea and began to voice that opinion. I toyed with the idea all day, thinking, “what if?” By the time I got to the Alamodome, I was beyond excited but I didn’t want to get my hopes up as things always change in the entertainment world. However, if I did get the green light, you can bet your a** I was going to be ready for it.

WWE.COM: Once you found out you were going to be part of the Royal Rumble Match, how did you mentally prepare yourself for the experience of performing at one of WWE’s biggest pay-per-views of the year?

DILLINGER: I don’t know if I could fully mentally prepare myself for that moment. I’ve replayed it over and over in my mind countless times and even now, it still feels surreal. Once I found out that I had officially been entered in the Royal Rumble, I took some time to myself to sit down and try to comprehend what was going to take place later that night. I couldn’t.

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Byrons Interviews

It’s rare in life when you get a second chance to pursue your dream. However, that is precisely the case for “Showtime” Percy Watson. Originally setting out to pursue an in-ring WWE career, Watson thought his dream was all but gone when he was released in 2013. However, it was a chance phone call that gave him another opportunity to live his WWE dream. This week, Watson sat down with WWE.com to talk about life after WWE, and his new role as a WWE NXT broadcaster.

WWE.COM: First off, congratulations on joining the NXT announce team. What has the experience been like thus far?

PERCY WATSON: I feel privileged and honored to be a new addition to the announce team. It’s a lot of fun, but there’s a lot to learn. Nonetheless, I look forward to being around as long as I possibly can.

WWE.COM: You initially joined WWE in 2009 after playing in the NFL. How would you sum up your first stint with the company?

WATSON: It was a huge learning experience and the most fun I’ve ever had in my life. There’s no business in the world like WWE. I felt like I had more to do as a wrestler, but things happen in life and you move on.

WWE.COM: Was it hard adjusting to life after WWE?

WATSON: It was tough at first. I loved being a sports-entertainer and there was literally nothing I could replace that feeling with. You’re performing in front of 10,000-plus people. You walk down that ramp and your music is playing, people are screaming. There’s so much energy in the arenas.

WWE.COM: What lead to your return after being away for more than three years?

WATSON: I’ve missed WWE since the day I left. I got a random call out of the blue and was offered the commentary opportunity, so I jumped at the chance.

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Byrons Interviews

Last October, Roderick Strong joined an increasingly talented roster of NXT Superstars. Unlike most newcomers, though, Strong’s impact has already been felt, as he nearly became the No. 1 contender to the NXT Championship. Driven by the motto, “Roddy vs. The World,” Strong sat down with WWE.com to speak on his road to NXT and his aspirations for the future.

WWE.COM: You’ve had the chance to settle into NXT life for the last couple months. What has the experience been like for you?

STRONG: It has been fantastic. Everything from the coaches, the facility and the camaraderie of everyone training there is amazing. I feel like it has helped me grow so much already in the little time I have been here.

WWE.COM: You joined NXT as a 16-year-veteran. During your pre-NXT career, you’ve competed against everyone, from Kevin Owens to AJ Styles to Seth Rollins. What was it like for you to see these men eventually make it to WWE and achieve top tier success?

STRONG: I couldn’t have been happier for them. They all worked very hard to get to where they are and to see it pay off is great. I look forward to wrestling them again, but this time on the biggest stage of them all.

WWE.COM: Was your goal always to make it to WWE, or were you happy with what you had achieved?

STRONG: Honestly, it has always been a goal, but wasn’t always my top priority. Like a lot of the guys that I looked up to in the business, I wanted to travel the world and establish myself. As a competitor, I always have to test myself on the biggest stages and against the best there is to offer. The only place for me to end up to truly fulfill that goal is WWE and NXT.
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WWE.COM: So, we’ve established it was your goal, but did you really think you would end up here one day?

STRONG: Yes. When I first got into wrestling, guys my size weren’t really being signed to WWE like they are today. But deep down, I knew if I worked as hard as I possibly could, it would eventually happen. Timing is everything, that’s for sure.

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Byrons Interviews

Since the WWE Brand Extension last summer, connoisseurs of WWE programming have witnessed an influx of new Superstars inside the ring. The same can be said for the landscape of WWE announcers. This week, we take a look at NXT ring announcer, host and Raw interviewer Mike Rome, and his unique path to sports-entertainment.

WWE.COM: It has been eight months since you first joined WWE as an announcer. How did this opportunity come about for you?

ROME: Honestly watching WWE as a kid, it’s one of those things where you go, “That’s awesome, I want to do that!” However, when I was older, I didn’t think it was actually an option, or even know where to start. My friend, [SmackDown LIVE ring announcer] Greg Hamilton, and I used to host together, and when they wanted to expand the NXT team, he opened the door for me to audition. After a video audition, a live audition, lots of communication, patience and roughly a year, I got the job! Patience and persistence was key.

WWE.COM: Who were some of your favorite WWE Superstars when you were growing up?

ROME: I was, and always will be, a big Ultimate Warrior fan. I also enjoyed watching Superstars like Jake “The Snake” Roberts, British Bulldog, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, Junkyard Dog, Dusty Rhodes and Jesse Ventura. Later on, it was guys like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Kane, The Rock, Big Show and Triple H. I enjoyed tag teams like The Rockers, The Hart Foundation and Too Cool. However, The Undertaker will always be at the top of that list. I remember being mesmerized by his first appearance. His entrance still gives me chills.

WWE.COM: I understand you had quite the extensive background in entertainment before joining WWE.

ROME: Well, I started in singing — I was in a boy band. [laughs] Then I stumbled into hosting, and was fortunate enough to work for Nickelodeon for a long time and learn from some amazing talent. I also got to work for the likes of Universal Studios and Disney…

WWE.COM: Wait a minute. Tell us more about the boy band!

ROME: I was part of a boy band for a couple of years, but that’s all I will say about that.[laughs] I also got to sing in shows at Universal Studios, which was a cool experience, especially when you get to do it as The Grinch.

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Byrons Interviews

The Authors of Pain have quickly defined a role for themselves as one of NXT’s most unstoppable tandems. With their sights set on the NXT Tag Team Championship, WWE Hall of Famer Paul Ellering dishes on his team’s motivation to succeed and the impact he’s had on their careers.

WWE.COM: Mr. Ellering, you’ve been guiding the Authors of Pain for the past seven months. Why have your men been so successful under your tutelage?

ELLERING: When I first met Akam and Rezar, they had one thing on their mind: being great. There’s a million wrestlers out there who will do whatever it takes to make it, but only the ones who are willing to go above and beyond actually make it big. Being great is more than just reading books and training, it’s about what you are willing to give up. The great ones give up friends, family and temptation to be completely committed to their craft. The great ones are willing to wake up four hours early just to out-train their competition. When I knew that Akam and Rezar were willing to do that, I knew they would be successful.

WWE.COM: You’ve managed many teams throughout your nearly 40-year career. Most notably was your time guiding the careers of The Road Warriors. How would you compare The Authors of Pain to Hawk and Animal?

ELLERING: Both teams have two totally different styles. Hawk’s first line to someone with an amateur background was, “Can you take a punch?” The Road Warriors were brawlers and fighters. Rezar has a mixed martial arts background and fought for Bellator. Akam is a former Olympic freestyle wrestler. I believe The Authors of Pain have the balance and toughness to make it to the levels of success that Hawk and Animal reached.

WWE.COM: Speaking of Hawk and Animal, you had a reputation for taking a very active role in not just managing their professional life but personal life as well. Have you assumed that same role with Rezar and Akim?

ELLERING: I have. We’ve only been together since June but we get closer every day. We have respect for each other and our families. I believe you have to go further than just business to understand your team. You have to dig into what it is to be a man. I’ve been there and I’ve seen everything. I know all the detours and curves. I can take them from chapter one to chapter 17. With their background and my genius, I believe I can do for them what I did for The Road Warriors.

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Byrons Interviews

Adapt and overcome: NXT Superstar Steve Cutler on his journey from Marine to the squared circle

If anyone in NXT has flown under the radar over the last couple of years, Steve Cutler would certainly fit the bill. It has only been over the past few weeks that Cutler not only secured a big win on NXT television, but also entered the highest-profile match of his career in a bout with NXT Champion Shinsuke Nakamura. This week, we delve into Cutler’s journey to NXT. From his former life as a Marine to the training that earned him an NXT contract, Cutler’s story may surprise you.

Follow Steve Cutler on Twitter @SteveCutlerWWE

WWE.COM: First off, congrats on your recent opportunity to face NXT Champion Shinsuke Nakamura. What was the experience like for you?

STEVE CUTLER: Having the privilege to be in the ring with Shinsuke was a moment I won’t soon forget. The only way to make an impression anywhere is calling out the best, and that’s what I did. I lost the match, but I also won, and here’s why: If you learn in defeat, you really don’t lose — you gained a valuable experience. Anywhere you go in life, you want to test yourself, and that’s exactly what I did and I will continue to do. Each match, I’ll get a little better until, one day, someone is calling me out.

WWE.COM: A week before your match with Shinsuke, you picked up your first win on NXT. How important was that first win to you?

CUTLER: Picking up my first win meant everything to me. It means I’m on the right path with all the hard work, time away from family and grinding away at the WWE Performance Center. I took orders for years in the Marine Corps. I didn’t always like following those orders, but I knew that’s what had to be done. The work I put in now at NXT is no different. I know where I want to be, so I’m going to listen to those who can help me get there. I simply adapt and overcome.

WWE.COM: You mentioned proudly serving your country as a part of the Marine Corps. How long did you spend there?

CUTLER: I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and was honorably discharged after four years of active duty, from November 2007 to November 2011. I proudly served this country as a Machine Gunner/0331 Infantry with Second Battalion 8th Marines Weapons Company. I was stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

WWE.COM: Describe the experience of serving.

CUTLER: I served at a time when the war in Iraq was transitioning back to Afghanistan. My time in the service is everything that I wanted to get out of it. I loved being on the front line. I know it sounds crazy, but why serve this country and not want to fight?

No fault to other MOS [military operation specialists], but if you weren’t infantry, you existed only to support it. I learned what it was to be a grunt in the military and at life, how to deal with having nothing and making the most of it. It all goes back to my philosophy to adapt and overcome. The most important thing I learned was how you fight for the ones that are to the left and right of you before anything else. Being a Marine is being a part of the biggest brotherhood there is and a bond that cannot be broken. Once a Marine, always a Marine.

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