Justin Gabriel: ‘I’m doing things for me’

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July 10, 2014

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Some have described the July 3 edition of WWE NXT as a breaking point for Justin Gabriel. A back-and-forth clash with perennial fan favorite Sami Zayn resulted in a defeat for The Cape Town Werewolf. Though it came as little surprise that Tyson Kidd would choose to inflict some post-match licks, it was the split-second decision of Gabriel to join him that created shock throughout the NXT Universe. After playing by the rules in WWE, it seems Gabriel has reached a career impasse. The South Africa native spoke to WWE.com about the trials and triumphs of his career, and the new mentality that led to his controversial actions.

WWE.COM: Before we talk about your recent actions, let’s talk about your past. How did you get your start in the industry?

GABRIEL: My father was a wrestler and sports promoter while my granddad was a professional boxer. I grew up watching them and, at a very young age, got involved in refereeing matches on weekends as my first job while in school. I guess it was in my blood.

WWE.COM: After wrestling in South Africa for a number of years, you made the trek to the United States and WWE’s former developmental system (FCW) to pursue the big stage of WWE. Describe that experience.

GABRIEL: It was very hard leaving friends and family behind, but when that call came and I signed the contract, I sold everything I had and moved over to the U.S. … The only thing I brought with me was a backpack with my wrestling boots inside of it.

Looking back, it was the best year of my life. New country, new challenges, new coaches, new opponents, new style, new everything! I didn't have a phone, car or any bills. I lived at a friend’s house. I had no distractions in life. I focused all my energy into becoming a better performer. It was definitely a huge developing chapter in my life and also my career.

WWE.COM: Tell us about the experience of making your debut on the inaugural seasonal format of NXT, which coincided with you joining the rebel faction, The Nexus.

GABRIEL: I was at the right place at the right time. … The first season of NXT was very unpredictable and intense at some points. We were challenged and basically thrown in the deep end most of the time. It was mostly live TV, too.

When the season ended, us Rookies had no idea what was going to happen. Bad News Barrett approached us with the idea of starting a group called The Nexus and the rest is history. It was a great time for all of us to show that we belonged here. We didn't care what people thought of us. We just wanted to be seen by the world.

WWE.COM: Your career progression also saw you join a new faction, The Corre. 

GABRIEL: Everything started to fall apart with The Nexus. We got too big too fast. And it was out of control. We should never have let others into our little circle. We thought The Corre would be bullet-proof from the imperfections of Nexus. We had some success early on but eventually that fell apart, too.  I consider that time to have been a huge learning experience for me because I learned to trust myself more than ever.

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