Building a better Brahma Bull: Curtis Axel tells the untold story of The Rock's second coming

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July 29, 2014

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One does not simply walk into a WWE ring without preparation, even if one happens to be The Rock. When The Brahma Bull returned to WWE after nearly a decade in Hollywood, it quickly became apparent that an in-ring run was in his immediate future. Despite Rock’s Hall of Fame lineage and laundry list of accomplishments, WWE officials still needed to ensure The Brahma Bull was ring-ready after his lengthy sojourn in Tinseltown.

Enter Curtis Axel, a Superstar handpicked by WWE management to get The Great One’s sea legs working again and turn Dwayne Johnson back into the jabroni-beatin’, pie-eatin’, trailblazin’, eyebrow-raisin’ People’s Champion, The Rock. WWE.com approached the former Intercontinental Champion to get the inside scoop on how it felt to prepare the WWE icon for his epic return to competition, what, exactly, #JoeKnows, and what other returning legend Axel was conscripted into tuning up as well.

WWE.COM: How did this opportunity to train The Rock come about?

CURTIS AXEL: I think that I gained some trust within the WWE organization, and they picked me because they had faith in me being safe, not injuring him and really making him step up his game to get his wind ready, and his body back in shape for all the strenuous activity he was about to endure at WrestleMania. So I think they just had trust in me, and I think that’s what it boiled down to. Plus, we both come from a pedigree. Me and Rock have always had that bond, just because of the generational thing. So I think that had something to do with it. He trusted me, and WWE trusted me, so that’s how all that came about.

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WWE.COM: Did you know him before you started training?

Man, the guy is phenomenal.AXEL: I didn’t know him as well as I do now. You know, we had spoken a few times. He knew my father. Actually, his father and my father worked together out in Portland when my father was first starting. So I had several conversations with him, but I didn’t know him then as much as I do now.

WWE.COM: Who approached you with the news that you would be getting him ready?

AXEL: At the time the head of Talent Relations was John Laurinaitis, and me and John go a ways back, too, ever since I was starting out in the business. So he was the one who put the trust in me to head down there.

WWE.COM: Was this to prepare for WrestleMania or his Survivor Series match at Madison Square Garden?

AXEL: Actually, I did both. I worked out a couple of times with him. The first was that Survivor Series match, but I ended up going back down closer to his home in Florida for the second time.

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WWE.COM: Was he ready when you first started?

AXEL: Yeah, he was great! He had no problems. It’s weird, we would start off with some drills to [tire him out], just getting the rust off his brain and off his body, and then he would just kind of sit there and … man, the guy is phenomenal. Just his attention to detail and little things that matter most as a professional wrestler. I was actually learning more than I thought I was going to. Just the way he thinks and the way his brain works is phenomenal, man. I was helping him at the time, but he was also helping me, so it was pretty crazy.

WWE.COM: What were some of the things you picked up from him?

AXEL: Just how to gauge crowd reactions, after you do something just to live in that moment and have the people eat it up. It’s just timing, stuff that a lot of people watching at home don’t realize. The facial expressions, when to take your time with things. Don’t rush things. Just little, tiny things that you don’t think about when you’re starting out. I’m still improving in that aspect, so I watched The Rock and I listened to The Rock when I was there. Just those little details, the timing and getting the crowd’s reaction and stuff like that. It really helped.

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WWE.COM: What was the hardest day of training that you can remember?

AXEL: Probably the initial day. Just trying to have him get a good sweat going and just rolling around for hours upon hours, busting your ass. Getting the ring rust off him and getting his brain working was probably the hardest day.

WWE.COM: You weren’t going to take it easy on him because he was The Rock, were you?

AXEL: If I did and I took it easy on him then I probably would be the one getting in trouble! [Laughs]

Next: The Rock reacts to Axel's debut as a Paul Heyman Guy, and the former Intercontinental Champion tells all about his other sparring partner ...

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