Byrons Interviews

If there is one Superstar we’ve seen evolve over the years, it’s Alex Riley. The man who once served as a cohort to The Miz and then turned into an announcer for WWE and NXT returned to the ring last year, only to be sidelined by a knee injury. This week, talks to Riley about his injury, his diet and the renewed sense of urgency in his career.

WWE.COM: Last week, you finally returned to NXT after being sidelined for several months. How happy are you to be back in the ring?

ALEX RILEY: It is like being able to breathe again. Not being able to work is suffocating for me. I have another business I run, outside of WWE, but nothing replaces being in the 20-by-20. I tried to keep myself busy by staying in shape and building some other venture of mine, but the world outside WWE is so slow to me now. I felt the same way when I was done with football. I felt like everyone and everything was moving in slow motion, and I hated it. My senses began to dull and I became numb. I have always felt more alive in the line of fire with my back against the wall, and that is what I wake up to every day in WWE. I love it.

WWE.COM: To those unaware of the injury you suffered, what exactly happened?

RILEY: Well, shortly after my matches with Kevin Owens, I found out I had a second meniscus tear in my right knee. Prior to that, I have no idea. I had hurt my knee in a match in Washington, D.C., almost a year before I had it looked at. At that point, I thought it was like most of the injuries I had dealt with in my life. I figured I’d ice it, give it some time, and 99 times out of 100, the injury just gets better.

I was also coming to the end of my contract with WWE and very badly wanted an opportunity to get back in the ring full-time, and for some reason I got the feeling I was going to be given another look, so I ignored the injury. Kevin Owens threw me over the desk three months later, and I had finally gotten a chance to go be myself again. I can tell you in those weeks that I was in and out of the ring with Kevin Owens, the knee had never felt better. I attribute that to the high I was on from just being back out there. When that was over, I had an opportunity to get it looked at and it ended up being a small meniscus tear. It was a very simple surgery, and off we go.

WWE.COM: How long were you out?

RILEY: I think, completely, it was only a total of three months. The rehab process was a bit longer than I would have liked, but I wanted to make sure I got my knee as strong as possible moving forward.


Byrons Interviews

After a shoulder injury sidelined Sami Zayn for seven months, the popular former NXT Champion finally returned to action last month, much to the delight of the NXT Universe. If Zayn’s arduous rehabilitation took a toll on the popular Superstar, though, you’d never know it by watching him in the ring. Since his return, Zayn has picked up right where he left off, earning himself a place in next week’s No. 1 Contender’s Triple Threat Match against Samoa Joe and Baron Corbin.

With that huge match looming, Zayn sat down with to discuss how his time away from the ring changed him as a competitor, as well as to play name association with several of NXT’s top talents. Who does Zayn think has the most raw potential in NXT? Who has become NXT’s “all-star”? Find out below!

WWE.COM: Sami, now that you’ve had a few weeks for it all to register, how does it feel to finally be competing back on NXT?

SAMI ZAYN: It feels great. I think the landscape here has changed so much since the time I got hurt, and that means a whole new set of challengers and opponents. It’s also exciting to think about the prospects of what NXT can become. I almost feel like a proud papa to see what NXT has done in my absence and the potential for where it’s going to go. I’m just loving the ride.

WWE.COM: I understand you were on the shelf a little longer than you expected after you suffered your shoulder injury.

ZAYN: When I initially saw the surgeon, I was told I would be out of action four to six months. In my warped wrestler brain, I figured that meant four. But I was wrong and it ended up being six months by the time I was cleared, and seven by the time I had my return match.

WWE.COM: How challenging was it for you mentally to watch so many NXT Superstars work their way up the ladder while you could only watch from the sidelines?

ZAYN: I think the answer is in the question you just asked. Sitting on the sidelines is so painful because it’s very difficult for me to watch wrestling and not be a participant in the ring, since that’s just where I belong. I had the same feeling watching WrestleMania last year from the stands in California and the year before that. I felt like it just ripped apart the very fiber of my being because, in my head, I don’t belong on the sidelines. I belong in the ring.


Byrons Interviews

What exactly does the master of Bull-Fit hope to do with the new craze? Who would Bull Dempsey dream of competing against, and how does NXT’s lovable Superstar spend his time away from the ring? These questions and more were sent in by you, the WWE Universe. Bull Dempsey is on the clock. The 10-Count starts now!

WWE UNIVERSE: What do you hope to accomplish with the Bull-Fit movement?

BULL DEMPSEY: So many things! If I had to say one thing, it’d be “inspiration.” It’s 2015, and the level of athlete in every walk of life has changed. It’s not just, “If you’re big and jacked, you’re good.” You’ve gotta be able to hang. I may not be built for show, but I’m built for go. I’m not going to be on the cover of “Muscle & Fitness” just yet, but I can motivate someone with the right genes to do it. I can inspire someone who may not fit society’s standard of an athlete to reach further than they ever thought they could. I can hang with the best in the industry, and I’ve been doing that since I was 17 years old. Now, I’m doing it in NXT. The sky is the limit for Bull-Fit.

WWE UNIVERSE: Is Bull-Fit suitable for vegetarians and/or the elderly?

DEMPSEY: Bull-Fit is suitable for anyone who has the drive to get better. As long as there is a want to improve and the need to prove people wrong. Age, weight and lifestyle don’t matter because it’s all about heart.

WWE UNIVERSE: Who would your dream opponent be?

DEMPSEY: Terry Funk, Dusty Rhodes, Bruiser Brody, The Undertaker … geez, there’s a lot more! How can I pick just one?

WWE UNIVERSE: Why are you so darn cute?

DEMPSEY: Great genes or jeans, depending on your perspective …

WWE UNIVERSE: What’s the best part about training at the WWE Performance Center?

DEMPSEY: Everything! The facility, the coaches and the curriculum are top-notch. You can try to throw a flag on that answer, but if you’ve been here, you know it makes you better and brings you to a new level.

WWE UNIVERSE: What do you like to do when you are not wrestling?

DEMPSEY: I take care of my dog, Cooper, watch wrestling and call home to check in on my family.

WWE UNIVERSE: How do you prepare for your matches?

DEMPSEY: I have some songs I listen to so I can get into a certain mindset. I think about the people who helped me get to this point, and I think about the fans who I never want to let down.

WWE UNIVERSE: What has been your career highlight so far?

DEMPSEY: Wrestling at a sold-out Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. It was NXT’s biggest show to date, with my hometown cheering me on and my parents sitting front row and center. Who can ever say they did that? I got to live a dream that many would kill for.

WWE UNIVERSE: When are we going to get official Bull-Fit exercise equipment?

DEMPSEY: That’s a great question for WWE Shop!

WWE UNIVERSE: If you were stuck on an island with three things, what would they be and why?

DEMPSEY: A ship, a map and plenty of gasoline.

Follow Bull Dempsey on Twitter @BullDempseyWWE.

Byrons Interviews

Following what many would call an upset victory over The Vaudevillains, Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder captured the NXT Tag Team Championship last week. But as evidenced by their attitudes, the newly crowned champions believe their win was simply a culmination of mutual lifelong goals. caught up with the new titleholders, who make no apologies for their actions.

WWE.COM: Thank you for joining us, gentlemen. How does it feel to be the new NXT Tag Team Champions?

SCOTT DAWSON: Validated. That’s the only way I can describe it. Since we were young, this was our No. 1 goal. After a year here in NXT as a tag team, tearing the house down on every Live Event, we finally got one opportunity at the NXT Tag Team Championship and we took full advantage of it. Now, we can officially call ourselves the best tag team on the planet. We have the hardware to prove it.

DASH WILDER: Exactly. It feels right. It feels like we are everything we said we were. It feels like we worked our whole lives to prove people wrong. And that’s exactly what we did.

WWE.COM: Why do you think the NXT Universe was so shocked that you captured the tag team gold?

DAWSON: I’ve been in NXT for almost three years. I have seen people come and I’ve seen a lot more go. I’ve also seen people walk into NXT and get handed many opportunities. For Dash and myself, we’ve never been handed anything. We’ve always had to prove our worth, and that’s OK with us. I just think the NXT Universe had no iDownloads
dea what we had to offer. Now, after working hard and getting an opportunity, we’re reaping the rewards.

DASH: It was a shock to the people that didn’t really know Dash & Dawson, especially to the people that hadn’t seen us on TV. People wanted to judge us based on paragraphs without reading the entire book.

WWE.COM: You guys made mention of being very successful on NXT’s non-televised Live Events prior to getting more TV time. Why do you feel you weren’t taken seriously enough until recently to get more TV time?

DASH: Obviously we weren’t taken that seriously because we didn’t get thrown right into the title picture. If you’ve watched us on Live Events, you know what we can do. If you watch us go 20 or 30 minutes and take someone apart, and watch us hang with the “stars,” then you take that seriously. To the people that watch NXT TV, they had no reason to take us seriously until the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. Then we took it and ran with it.

WWE.COM: What makes your team mesh so well?

DAWSON: For starters, we’ve known each other for more than 24 years. We grew up together in Kill Devil Hills, N.C. Besides the obvious of knowing each other inside and out, our goal since we were young was to be the Tag Team Champions in WWE. It seems all the other Superstars here wrestle to please the crowd. They wrestle to feed their egos with “This is awesome” chants. We fight to feed our families. We fight to win. If, at the end of the night, the NXT Universe likes us, OK. If they don’t, that’s perfectly fine, too. As long as our check cashes the next day, we’ll be all right.

DASH: Our bond is a bond that you can’t manufacture or reproduce. When Scott made it to NXT, we knew it was just a matter of time before I was here, and we talked about it every day. By the time I walked through the doors, we already had everything planned and ready. We aren’t here to win popularity contests or to be the most raved about on podcasts or blogs. We are here to bring back the meaning of tag team wrestling. Tag team wrestling is more than two guys slapping hands. It’s about knowing what the other is thinking, knowing what you have to do, and not being afraid to do it, whatever it takes.

WWE.COM: Does doing whatever it takes include injuring Big Cass a few weeks ago?

DAWSON: Look, we’ve been fed up for a while now. Dash and I had a long talk about four months ago about the need to reformulate our game plan. We looked at the landscape and realized that every team in WWE seemed to be fighting for the fans to give them something to cheer about. There was no ruthlessness or sense of urgency to win. As long as the WWE Universe was happy with the athletic contest, the Superstars felt accomplished. Not Dash & Dawson. We’re in the ring to do one thing: get the winners’ part of the money. If it means ripping Big Cass’ MCL or tearing Aiden English’s knee to feed our bank accounts, that’s OK with us. Zero remorse.

WWE.COM: At the end of the day, what’s the goal of Dawson & Dash?

DASH: We care about being the best at what we do. Not just in NXT, but in the world.

DAWSON: We are ushering in the tag team revolution here, and I honestly don’t think there’s a better team on the planet. Tag team wrestling will be at the forefront because of us, and we’re going to make a lot of money doing it.

For more on the NXT Tag Team Champions, follow Scott Dawson on Twitter @ScottDawsonWWE and @DashWilderWWE.

Byrons Interviews

As the longest-tenured coach in WWE’s developmental system, Norman Smiley has seen it all. In the second installment of this exclusive two-part interview, the master of the “Big Wiggle” discusses his in-ring career, which WWE Superstar he’d like to face, the Divas Revolution and much more.

Ready part one of Byron Saxton’s interview with Norman Smiley

WWE.COM: We spoke last week about how you became a coach in WWE’s developmental system. This week, let’s look at your career. How did you get your start?

NORMAN SMILEY: I initially started my career at Miami Beach High School. I was always big for my age, and the wrestling coach, Juan Camarotti, would always ask me to consider joining the wrestling team. I was somewhat timid at the time and always declined, as I was heavy into bodybuilding. I eventually joined the team and did well. I used to go to the Miami Beach Convention Center every Wednesday to watch wrestling. I would watch Dusty Rhodes, Steve Keirn, the Briscos, Ric Flair and the list goes on.

I was then introduced to The Great Malenko, who had a wrestling school in Tampa, Fla., and took me under his wing. Weekly I would train with his sons, Dean and Jody Malenko. My first big break came when I was offered an opportunity to wrestle in Japan. The Great Malenko explained to me that the style in Japan was nothing that I was accustomed to. I became well aware of how different the style was when he introduced me to the legendary Karl Gotch! Gotch commenced torturing me and left me baffled as to how one man could cause so much pain without one strike.

I had my first match in Japan for the Universal Wrestling Federation in June of 1988. I sincerely feel that the UWF and its style was the prelude to UFC, as Ken Shamrock trained and fought in the UWF prior to entering the UFC and later went on to work for the WWE. From Japan, I went to Mexico for a four-week tour and ended up staying for over five years. Needless to say, I loved it there! This is where I met Eddie and Vickie Guerrero, Chris Jericho, Rey Mysterio, Kamala, Haku, Konnan and Vampiro. In 1995, I left Mexico and basically just traveled the world to wrestle. In 1997, I signed with WCW and was with them until the company was purchased by the WWE in 2001. I started as a trainer for the WWE in 2007.

WWE.COM: What is one of the greatest memories you have from your in-ring career?

SMILEY: I did a show at Wembley Arena, which, for me, is like Madison Square Garden here in the States. We were on tour and my father came to see me. I brought him backstage and introduced him to all of the boys. Well, my opponent for that night was Crowbar. He suggested that we get my dad involved in the match. I was very skeptical as my father had never wrestled and he was no spring chicken. Well, I asked my dad if he was interested in getting involved, and he jumped at the chance. That match meant so much to me with my dad at ringside in Wembley Arena. It was so much fun!

WWE.COM: What goes through your mind when you look back on all your past success?

SMILEY: I am more than happy with what I have done in sports-entertainment. When I first started in the business, my dream was just to walk down the aisle of the Miami Convention Center like so many of my idols had. I’ve not only been able to surpass that, I’ve been fortunate enough to walk down the aisle of so many major arenas all over the world.

WWE.COM: You had the chance to work with one of those idols, “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes. Describe that experience.

SMILEY: I have been so blessed in life and experienced things that I thought were beyond my grasp. Working with Dusty was one of those things I could never imagine. I moved to Miami from England in 1980 and was immediately captivated by Championship Wrestling from Florida. Dusty was the man and played such a major role in that company. Every Wednesday night I would go to the Miami Beach Convention Center and watch Dusty make magic and drama in the ring. Never in a million years did I think I would work with the man himself.

I worked with him for the last eight years of his life, and boy, could he light up a room. He was so charming, charismatic, and quick-witted and he knew how to be a star. Even long after his days in the ring, he carried himself like a star and would not be treated any other way. He would say anything at any given time that only he could get away with, especially in meetings. There were so many times I would sit with him and he would tell me stories. I would think to myself, “I’m working with The American Dream,” what a perk to have in a job. One of my fondest memories is when Robbie Brookside, William Regal and myself were sitting in Dusty’s office and he was telling us stories. One would lead into another, then another and so on. He was almost like a standup comic, he had us all laughing; he was in his element! I hope the students that he worked with realized how lucky they were to be mentored by him because he was Elvis. Or as Dusty would say, “Bigger than Elvis.” [Laughs]

WWE.COM: For years, you were the man responsible for training Divas in the developmental system. What are your thoughts on the Divas Revolution?

SMILEY: I worked with current stars like Alicia Fox, Naomi, Tamina, Summer Rae and Natalya, to name a few, and they are all very talented ladies. The NXT Divas division is presently red hot and they have come so far. At one time, there was only one Diva match on a card and their time could be limited. We now feature two Diva matches on our Live Events and those matches will, at times, close the show as the main event.

Sasha Banks, Charlotte, Bayley and Becky have turned heads in NXT and have made a tremendous impact. They all worked so hard to challenge themselves and improve. I know that they are inspiring a lot of young girls all over the world to become Divas in the future. [Coach] Sara Amato has been an incredible addition to NXT to work with Divas. Sara has international experience and has a positive vision of how the Divas should perform. As a coach, I am so proud of them all. The good news is that we have many more Divas who are training hard and have a ton of passion to better themselves. The future for the Divas looks very, very good.

WWE.COM: Do you ever miss competing in the ring?

SMILEY: No, not really. From time to time, I will wrestle around with some of my students, but unless it is a really special occasion, I have no desire to return to the ring. I have wrestled my last match, even though I can’t remember who it was against. [Laughs]

WWE.COM: If you could face any current day WWE Superstar, who would it be?

SMILEY: When I was younger, I would have loved to have had a match against Cesaro, as I think he is so talented, a great athlete and we have similar styles.

WWE.COM: You’re known for regularly taking tons of photos. Tell us about this.

SMILEY: Over the years, I have loved taking photos and videos. I really never took photos or videos of matches. My love was taking photos in a car, bus, train, locker room and just basically the boys in a relaxed state away from the ring. Nothing always stays the same. I have been on so many tours and it was always said, “This same crew will be back for the next tour,” but it never happened. We took a huge roster photo the day that the WWE Performance Center opened in Orlando. One year later, several of the people are gone, for various reasons. I doubt that you will ever get that group of people in the same room ever again. I once read the following line: “A birth certificate shows you were born, a death certificate shows that you have passed on. Photos show that you have lived.”

WWE.COM: What has the growth of NXT meant to you?

SMILEY: The WWE Performance Center is the best sports-entertainment training facility in the history of the world. Everything under one roof: seven wrestling rings, a strength and conditioning gym, promos, commentating, announcing studios, rehab, videos and a staff second to none. Anything that a talent would need to make it is at the Performance Center.

On any given day John Cena, The Undertaker, Big Show or any other WWE Superstar can walk into the Performance Center, and they are eager to share their knowledge with the roster. When I started in [NXT precursor] Florida Championship Wrestling, we used to perform in front of a handful of people, at times fewer than 20. Current stars like Sheamus, Seth Rollins, Dolph Ziggler and King Barrett were on those shows. Recently, we sold out the Barclays Center in New York with only NXT talent and drew almost 16,000 people. Another aid in the success of NXT is WWE Network, which has given NXT tremendous exposure. We are now doing Live Events out of state and will tour England in December. I am so excited to think where we will be a year from now.