Exclusive interview: Keith Lee on overcoming failure, the advice that changed his life and how he developed his “Limitless” ring style
ince his NXT television debut earlier this month, Keith Lee has undoubtedly created his own unique buzz throughout sports-entertainment. Like many Superstars, Lee honed his craft throughout the world to earn his WWE NXT contract. But it is Lee’s story of family inspiration, advice from WWE Legends and a willingness to accept failure which has now given him a new platform to display his skills. This week, Lee speaks with WWE.com about his story and what it means to truly be Limitless.
WWE.COM: Tell us, who is Keith Lee?
KEITH LEE: Keith Lee is everything you see. A happy guy, positive man, leader, trendsetter, businessman, goal-chaser, always hungry for more. More challenges, more opportunity, more competition. But most importantly, he is a man who knows failure very, very well. And that is something that has shaped the person I am.
WWE.COM: We will touch more on the topic of failure later, but first, let’s talk about your life growing up.
LEE: I was born and raised for 12 years in Wichita Falls, Texas, until I moved in with my father in the Dallas area because my parents were divorced before I even have memories. The first time I recall meeting my father, I believe I was 9 years old, and I had no idea who he was. It's a sad thing to consider, but also something that plays a role in who I am.
WWE.COM: At 6-foot-2, I understand you’re the shortest person in your family?
LEE: Ahh yes. My father is 6-foot-7, most of my uncles are 6-foot-5 or more. My father's youngest brother is about 6-foot-11, and my mother is almost 6-feet tall. I have no idea what happened to me. (Laughs) The only one not taller than me is my 11-year-old brother Marcus, but he is already almost my height ... the little, err, big Munchkin. (Laughs) I’ve got three younger brothers. Can't really call them little because they're all big, strong guys.
WWE.COM: You’ve finally made it to NXT. How are you settling in?
LEE: Wonderfully. There is so much to learn and a lot of training to be had. Being intellectually stimulated is something I enjoy greatly. I was rather imbalanced when I first came here. But the training has been efficiently bringing balance my way. I’ve regained a lot of strength that I was unsure would return, so I am more than grateful for that. I can’t wait to see how much further I progress.
WWE.COM: You’ve had quite the road to get here. I understand you had your first WWE tryout 10 years ago?
LEE: Indeed. It’s been eventful, long and educational. I had a five-day tryout in 2008, a three-day tryout in 2011, and in 2013 I was part of the first tryout group at the WWE Performance Center. I believe there were 32 of us there.
WWE.COM: What kept you motivated to keep trying?
LEE: For a long time, it was merely my own drive and wishes. Eventually, that would fade, and other inspirations would take place. Sometimes it was people I admired and would study. Kurt Angle, early Brock Lesnar, Kevin Owens, Shelton Benjamin, AJ Styles, Cesaro, Seth Rollins and Samoa Joe were all people I watched and studied greatly. I also gained a lot of knowledge from William Regal. In 2013, if it weren't for Dusty Rhodes and William Regal’s encouragement, I might have stopped wrestling. Since then, I’ve also befriended one of the big kahunas in fitness motivation, CT Fletcher, or as I like to call him, Pops. We have traded merchandise; I've signed his Wall of Fame, and he let me train in his gym. I cheer for him, and he kept me uplifted. He knew I'd be here before I did. Big shout-out to Pops; this grind is also for you! Time to #WorkForIt.
WWE.COM: Tell us more about how the late “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes made a lasting impression on you.
LEE: When I first met and worked with him, he let me know how much and where I lacked. I applied his words and honed myself. During the 2013 tryout, if you were going to show who you were on a microphone, you had to do it in front of The American Dream. When I finished, he pulled me aside and said to me, "That's it, baby. You've got a presence I can literally bask in. Take it and do what you want." And thus, "Bask in my glory" was born. It is now something I hold very dear.
WWE.COM: What attracted you to wrestling in the first place?
LEE: I am likely an anomaly in this industry. But it wasn't wrestling itself initially, even though my cousin and I would always wrestle on a giant pillow in my grandparent's den. It was actually my grandmother and her love for the sport. She would watch religiously. She would yell and scream at her television. Even at 5 years old, these were things I found fascinating, and it piqued my interest greatly. I have always been a rather analytical person. I wanted to know why. I would watch with her, and before you knew it, “Macho Man” Randy Savage was my favorite.
WWE.COM: At one point you were pursuing football at Texas A&M University, but you left to pursue wrestling. Why?
LEE: My major was computer science. A lot of the amazing people who've followed me thus far already know how much of a nerd I am. (Laughs) I was a red-shirt defensive lineman but left in 2004 in order to answer the call of wrestling. I believe that the love my grandmother had for this sport is something that transferred to me when she passed away. I was 12 when she passed. No matter how much success I found or how well I did in football, the occasional beckoning of wrestling became constant as time went on, and that led to me following my heart. I am grateful every day that I took a chance and believed in myself. That is something I wish to share with whomever may read this. Sometimes we have wishes or wants, goals, dreams, ambitions, and no one that we expect to believe in us will believe in us. In those moments, we have to obtain the mental fortitude to believe in ourselves, support ourselves and motivate ourselves. Grind well, my friends.
WWE.COM: On that note, your style really defies what is typically expected from a man your size. How did you develop it?
LEE: In the beginning, credit here goes to William Regal and Dusty Rhodes. In 2013, they were two of the very few who told me to stop doing what is expected of me and to do what I want to do. Those two, and one of my closest friends (and fellow wrestler), Jerome Daniels, convinced me of this. In every sport I've ever done, I've been a versatile athlete. In basketball, I could be a point guard, small forward or power forward. In football, I've been fullback, tailback, tight end, defensive tackle, defensive end, nose tackle, and middle linebacker. And so, it was something that came very natural to me to want to do. I was always advised against it. But the moment I took the advice of those three, my career began a new path. From there I watched my inspirations more closely. We're talking the names I mentioned above plus The Rock, Eddie Guerrero, Low Ki, Ron Simmons and Daisuke Sekimoto, as well as a healthy amount of old-school wrestling and a very large helping of Japanese wrestling. Then I began applying little things here and there to fit who I am as a person.
WWE.COM: Prior to earning your WWE NXT contract, you competed at this year’s WrestleMania Axxess against Kassius Ohno. How was that experience?
LEE: An honor! Kassius is someone I spent a great amount of time studying as well. I had done a lot since joining EVOLVE in January 2017, and it was a great honor to represent them in a WWE ring. Even more so, it was a great honor to be in front of those fans. I'm not sure what I expected, but to have such a welcoming atmosphere from that crowd was awesome. I extend my thanks to those who supported me. It meant a great deal! More than you know.
WWE.COM: Here in NXT, you’ve adopted the moniker of “Limitless.” What’s the motivation behind it?
LEE: Originally, I used that word to express my abilities in the ring. There is a wide array of things I am capable of that only some are aware of. However, over time, this is something that has morphed into a lifestyle. Very often, I can be found on my social media talking about “the grind.” The grind is essentially the push to be better than you were the day before. Or the drive for whatever goals you set. Some never set or chase goals. Failure is a scary thing. It embarrasses some. Some don't face failure very well. Being “Limitless” is about being willing to come face-to-face with failure and do everything in your power to overcome it. I want to teach people that it's okay to fail, so long as you are willing to get up and grind to overcome that failure. Look at me. I have failed. And failed. And failed. And failed. And failed.
But, I did not give in. Everyone's variables are different, but I managed to find ways to stay motivated. Whether it was myself or someone else who uplifted me, I overcame failure. Now I am ready to shine bright. Because even if no one else believes it, I already know it. My potential, my abilities, my upside, my future, they are all much like me: Limitless.