Adapt and overcome: NXT Superstar Steve Cutler on his journey from Marine to the squared circle
If anyone in NXT has flown under the radar over the last couple of years, Steve Cutler would certainly fit the bill. It has only been over the past few weeks that Cutler not only secured a big win on NXT television, but also entered the highest-profile match of his career in a bout with NXT Champion Shinsuke Nakamura. This week, we delve into Cutler’s journey to NXT. From his former life as a Marine to the training that earned him an NXT contract, Cutler’s story may surprise you.
WWE.COM: First off, congrats on your recent opportunity to face NXT Champion Shinsuke Nakamura. What was the experience like for you?
STEVE CUTLER: Having the privilege to be in the ring with Shinsuke was a moment I won’t soon forget. The only way to make an impression anywhere is calling out the best, and that’s what I did. I lost the match, but I also won, and here’s why: If you learn in defeat, you really don’t lose — you gained a valuable experience. Anywhere you go in life, you want to test yourself, and that’s exactly what I did and I will continue to do. Each match, I’ll get a little better until, one day, someone is calling me out.
WWE.COM: A week before your match with Shinsuke, you picked up your first win on NXT. How important was that first win to you?
CUTLER: Picking up my first win meant everything to me. It means I’m on the right path with all the hard work, time away from family and grinding away at the WWE Performance Center. I took orders for years in the Marine Corps. I didn’t always like following those orders, but I knew that’s what had to be done. The work I put in now at NXT is no different. I know where I want to be, so I’m going to listen to those who can help me get there. I simply adapt and overcome.
WWE.COM: You mentioned proudly serving your country as a part of the Marine Corps. How long did you spend there?
CUTLER: I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and was honorably discharged after four years of active duty, from November 2007 to November 2011. I proudly served this country as a Machine Gunner/0331 Infantry with Second Battalion 8th Marines Weapons Company. I was stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
WWE.COM: Describe the experience of serving.
CUTLER: I served at a time when the war in Iraq was transitioning back to Afghanistan. My time in the service is everything that I wanted to get out of it. I loved being on the front line. I know it sounds crazy, but why serve this country and not want to fight?
No fault to other MOS [military operation specialists], but if you weren’t infantry, you existed only to support it. I learned what it was to be a grunt in the military and at life, how to deal with having nothing and making the most of it. It all goes back to my philosophy to adapt and overcome. The most important thing I learned was how you fight for the ones that are to the left and right of you before anything else. Being a Marine is being a part of the biggest brotherhood there is and a bond that cannot be broken. Once a Marine, always a Marine.
WWE.COM: When did you serve in Afghanistan?
CUTLER: I served from May to November of 2009 and then again from January to August of 2011. My first tour was the major push back into Afghanistan and was called Operation Khanjari in the Helmand Province. The main focus of my second tour was the city of Marjah, Helmand Province. Our rules of engagement were way stricter but the IED [improvised explosive devices] threat was a lot stronger than before. We just had to adapt and overcome. See a trend here? [Laughs]
WWE.COM: I do. Obviously, most of us will never experience having to work and live in a combat zone. What were your days like over there?
CUTLER: There were a lot of good times and a lot of bad times. There are some things I’m not ready to speak publicly about and other things that just shouldn’t be talked about. But we made the most of what we had and turned it into good.
I remember one time my buddy’s mom sent us a care package with a ton of Halloween candy, masks, etc. So, here we are in the middle of the desert, in a combat zone, and about a month after Halloween, we were running around with masks on, just enjoying life. In our own sick way, we tried to make war fun. The bond I have with my brothers who served with me will never be broken and we are always there for each other. Hence our saying, semper fidelis (always faithful).
WWE.COM: Now that we’ve covered your military background, tell us about your pursuit of a career in sports-entertainment.
CUTLER: As a kid, I loved wrestling. There wasn't a moment you could get me away from a television when WWE or WCW was on, or even my wrestling figures and ring. Some of my friends joked with me at times about actually pursuing it, but sports took over my life, especially in high school, where I played football. Then, 9/11 happened during my freshman year of high school and changed my mindset for the future. It kind of put me on a different path that eventually led me to where I am. I truly believe things happen for a reason.
I was just getting set to deploy to Afghanistan in 2009 and I was home on a weekend. I was visiting my wife, who was my girlfriend at the time. We were at a bar called Railroad Café and one of my good friends growing up was calling me over to meet Darren Young. As a fan, I was like, "Hell yeah." We sat down to talk, and I met WWE referee Shawn Bennett, too. Darren talked to me about just keeping wrestling in the back of my head to pursue as an option. He said I had the look and the right background.
It stuck with me throughout my service. Buddies of mine in my platoon would listen to me give interviews and act like a moron, but most of the guys I served with were fans. When it came time for reenlistment, I weighed my options. I decided on going back to school and also finding a pro wrestling school where I could train as I got my degree. It's what I wanted. My whole life, I always did what I wanted. I love taking risks and pursuing this career has been that. No risks, no rewards. The risks, I think, are paying off.
WWE.COM: I understand you trained at the famed Monster Factory before joining WWE/NXT?
CUTLER: Yes, the Monster Factory was nothing but good to me and still is. From owner/head coach Danny Cage to former WWE Superstar The Blue Meanie, as well as guys like QT Marshall, Luis Martinez and Bill Wiles, the trainers treated me with nothing but respect and taught me the right way about this business. From the first time you step foot into a locker room to the time you step back through the curtain after your match, I was taught to be a constant professional and always do what is asked of you. Danny Cage was hard on me at first, but lightened up once he realized I was serious about doing this. Eventually, he contacted WWE Hall of Famer and talent scout Gerald Brisco to come to Paulsboro, N.J., to take a look at me. Long story short, it led to a tryout at the WWE Performance Center, and the rest is history.
WWE.COM: How was your family impacted by your time served and how did they react to you pursuing sports-entertainment?
CUTLER: My mother didn't talk to me for about a month after I signed my enlistment paper work. It didn't help that I’m an only child. She was angry, but the day I graduated boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., I looked at my mom and she hugged me so tight and told me how proud she was. My stepdad was the complete opposite. The day I brought the enlistment paperwork home, he was happy for me. He knew it's what I wanted and I wasn't going to let anyone tell me no. The funny thing is, I got pretty much the same treatment when I decided to enter the world of sports-entertainment. But, once I proved that I was serious about it, they soon warmed up to the idea.
WWE.COM: You signed with NXT in January 2014, and you’ve certainly witnessed a lot over the last two years. What motivates you every day?
CUTLER: What motivates me every day is the fact I live in Florida while my entire family, including my wife, is in New Jersey, holding down the fort. So, here I am, still separated and sacrificing the time away from loved ones, but also living the life of a pro wrestler. I'm here in Orlando, training my tail off at the Performance Center.
Why am I doing that? To win, you have to lose. You have to sacrifice. You have to risk it all. It's the only true way to achieve greatness. I love adversity and welcome it. I don't get discouraged. I don't quit. Tell me I can't and try to stop me. I will simply do whatever it is I have to do and just adapt and overcome.