Justin Gabriel: ‘I’m doing things for me’
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.
WWE.COM: It’s no secret you've been trying to find your way for a few years now. What’s been going on?
GABRIEL: I've been trying out a few different things in life and in wrestling. Life has worked out great, but the wrestling, not so much. When I broke away from everyone else, I became a lone wolf. The WWE Universe was my friends/family. I kept myself busy trying to impress and entertain them. The arenas used to go ballistic when I climbed to the top rope to deliver my 450⁰ Splash. That was what fueled me. So I didn't really care about anything else, didn't care about fighting smart. All I wanted to do was hit the move, see the smiles on people’s faces and leave. And then read about how great it was on social media later. But I think that is where I went wrong. I did it for everyone else and not me. Now I think very differently. I’m doing things forme.
WWE.COM: What is it that most people may not realize about you?
GABRIEL: That I have life all figured out.
WWE.COM: Can you explain?
GABRIEL: I do a lot of things that most people wouldn’t dream of trying in a million years because they’re scared of the consequences. I skydive and base jump. I’m on my 330th skydive right now and it gets better with every jump. Jumping out of a plane is the best feeling in the world. For 60 seconds you fall and nothing else in the world matters for those 60 seconds. I’ve swam with great white sharks in the ocean because I’m fascinated with animals that have the ability to kill you in the blink of an eye. I don’t live my life in fear anymore; I live my life based on desire.
WWE.COM: Does living based on desire explain why you joined Tyson Kidd in attacking Sami Zayn?
GABRIEL: In life and in WWE, to get ahead you just have to step on some toes and break some rules. Do things for yourself. People will get hurt in the process but that’s life. Sami Zayn was just a victim of life. You're not gonna please everybody all the time but as long as you're happy with the person you are then all is good with the world. I am slowly finding that balance.
WWE.COM: Do you think you’ve developed this new mindset out of frustration?
GABRIEL: I’m not gonna lie to you and say I haven’t been frustrated with my career progression. But I’ve come to terms with what I have to do to end that frustration. I’m sure people have forgotten what I’m capable of, but that’s how modern society is – short attention spans and even worse memories. I had to do something to be fresh in their memories again.
WWE.COM: How did Tyson Kidd convince you to do what you did?
GABRIEL: Kidd made me realize that I didn't want to be a loser anymore and that there is nothing wrong with breaking some rules to get ahead. It felt so good kicking the crap out of Zayn after the match. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I enjoyed it. He stands for everything that I used to believe in. I look at him and he reminds me of me a few years back, just naive. I really hate the old me with a passion. I guess we grow as human beings and realize what matters most in life and that’s pleasing yourself.
WWE.COM: Some might say that’s a skewed view.
GABRIEL: Maybe it is unfounded. Maybe it is unjust. But I believe there is no right or wrong. What you choose in life is ultimately the right choice. I’m on this path and I know most people won’t understand it now and they won’t like it, but I don't do this for anybody else. I am a man of thought who chose action as a way of expressing my beliefs. I will show the world that the human spirit is still alive. If you follow the rules, then you are dead inside. Follow your own rules. Follow what you believe in. I could not care any less of what the world thinks of me.
WWE.COM: How do you want to be seen and/or remembered when it’s all said and done?
GABRIEL: Again, I really don't care. All I want to do is live my life the way I want to, the way that makes me happy. We are not on this planet for a long time, but we are here for a good time. Who cares about being remembered once it’s all said and done? You won’t be around to know what others think anyway.