Wild and Young: The oral history of WWE NXT

Page 2 of 6
March 19, 2014

Intro ('I slapped him right in the face')

BAD NEWS BARRETT (SEASON 1 WINNER): When I first heard the idea I didn’t like it. I thought it was like a “Total Divas” kind of reality show. I thought it was gonna be a bunch of us living outside the ring and being followed around, which I really didn’t like at all. But once I realized it was a competition based on in-ring talent and in-ring talent only, I got a lot more comfortable with it. That’s when I sized up the opposition and really felt confident of winning.

DANIEL BRYAN (SEASON 1 ROOKIE): NXT was kind of a last-minute thing, the whole show. I don’t think they really knew what they were gonna do with the concept of NXT, so a lot of it was very interesting and wild to be a part of.*

CHRIS JERICHO (BAD NEWS BARRETT’S SEASON 1 PRO): Vince said, “Listen, I’m doing this show, I got a bunch of guys down in Tampa that I want to put on TV. Some of them are ready, some of them are not, so we’re going to do a competition reality show where we have the Rookies with the Pros and I want you to be one of the Pros.” I said, “No freaking way. There’s no way that I want to be one of the Pros.” We were working four days a week as it was and that’s an extra day, five days on the road a week, which at the time was not something that happened. I was also a big bad guy at the time, I was like, “Why would I care about anyone else enough to be on this show? Why would I care about a Rookie?” Vince basically said, “Whatever, you’re doing it.” So I went into it reluctantly because it was an extra day of work I did not want. At first I wasn’t the happiest guy about it [laughs].

It was terrifying. I had an ulcer in my stomach every week.CURTIS AXEL (SEASON 2 ROOKIE): NXT was a new idea that came along [when] I was training down in Developmental. I was interested in watching my friends get brought up to the big leagues. Seeing what they had to go through on that show was incredible, man.

AJ LEE (SEASON 3 ROOKIE): It was this giant opportunity for us. We were down in [Florida Championship Wrestling] for years and waiting for that break. We were kind of iffy about it because you don’t want to have to continue to prove yourself. You want to just make it on the road and you’re there. The idea of fighting and clawing and scratching in Developmental for years and then continuing to have to do that and fight and scratch and compete was not the easiest thing in the world.

KAITLYN (SEASON 3 WINNER): The show started out as almost a test that all the Rookies had to go through to prove they were worthy of being on Raw or SmackDown. It was terrifying. I had an ulcer in my stomach every week before the show because they were putting us on the spot. We had no preparation and it was very scary.

Even though the prospective Superstars were being thrust into the spotlight before they’d ever run the ropes on live TV, they did have one safety net: Each was assigned a “Pro” to guide them through the often-absurd landscape of NXT and WWE in general. The feature didn’t only offer the WWE Universe a proxy by which to measure the Rookies, it gave the Rookies themselves a sounding board, no small amount of veteran support … and, when necessary, tough love.

THE MIZ (DANIEL BRYAN’S SEASON 1 PRO): The idea [for the Pros] was treat [the Rookies] like you’d treat a person coming into this business. I was the first person you see when the show first aired. First premiere, first scene, the first person you see is me and I was basically telling the Rookies exactly how it is to be a WWE Superstar. I don’t care if you were a big-leaguer in the independents, a great football player, basketball player, if you were a huge reality star, it doesn’t matter to me. The fact is, we are WWE Superstars and we are at the top echelon of entertainment. If you’re not ready for it, you’re done.

AXEL: [The Pro system] was a good little feature. The audience didn’t know who you were, because you’re new, so you got help from whoever your Pro was. It was kinda cool that you could get some advice from your Pro and people related to that Rookie/Pro thing where you’re looking up to your mentor and getting advice from him.

JERICHO: I tried to give [Barrett] as much wisdom, as much confidence, as much encouragement and as much criticism as I could. I was completely honest with him. I told him, “Listen, man, I don’t want to hurt your feelings but I’m gonna tell you my opinion. Not because I think I’m always right, but I’m here, I’m taking being your mentor seriously. I want you to win and go on to be the World Champion and make millions of dollars.” And he was really receptive to that. I like Wade to this day. I think he’s a main-event star just waiting for that opportunity to show it.

Follow Jericho on Twitter | Y2J unleashed on "Talk is Jericho"

If you're not ready, you're done.

MIZ: I thought it was genius [to pair me with Bryan]. Everyone hated me in the WWE Universe, and he was this beloved independent wrestler, the king of the independents. He was loved by all the WWE enthusiasts even though he’d never been in WWE. It was fun to kind of absorb that hatred of me and the love for him even though I’d been here and was proven as a WWE Superstar.

BRYAN: Miz was perfect to be my Pro. He is the antithesis of everything I stand for.

MIZ: I did slap [Bryan] in the face right in that first show, just to give every Rookie a taste of what was to come.

BRYAN: I think it ended up being very good for me, them putting me in that role. Because right away, people who were fans of me were [ticked] off that they were putting me as a Rookie with The Miz as my Pro. And most of the audience had never seen me before and started to feel bad for me. So I got that sympathy role of the underdog.*

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