Exclusive interview: 'Cowboy' James Storm on what led him to NXT
It was like a scene out of an old Western, but instead of whispers of disbelief spreading through a crowded saloon, the news broke on Twitter: The Cowboy had ridden into town.
James Storm’s unannounced debut in NXT — a decisive outing against Danny Burch that aired Wednesday on WWE Network — has been greeted with adulation and genuine shock. In this WWE.com exclusive interview, the celebrated outlaw says he is ready to prove himself inside NXT’s yellow ropes. And with 18 years of hard-fought ring experience to back up his reputation, much of it on an international stage, make no mistake: This isn’t James Storm’s first rodeo.
WWE.COM: Can you walk us through how the conversation of you coming to NXT began?
STORM: It came about because I’m good friends with Road Dogg and Billy Gunn. They put it in Triple H’s ear that I was free and clear of all contracts, to see if there’s some interest there. I actually called Road Dogg to see if it was OK that I went up to the NXT Nashville show not too long ago. He said, “Yeah, just try to stay out of sight.” So, I stayed in the locker room. There were reports that I was sitting in the front row at an NXT show, and I didn’t deny that I was there. I just said, “I saw the reports and I’m sorry, but that was not me sitting in the front row.” [Laughs.]
Then, [WWE Performance Center Head Coach] Matt Bloom pulled me aside and asked if I was available to come down that Wednesday and Thursday to Orlando. I went down and talked to Triple H at the NXT TakeOver: Respect special. Then the next night, he asked if I was willing to appear, and I said yes.
WWE.COM: A lot of people probably thought they’d never see the day when you’d be in an NXT ring. Did you ever feel that way?
STORM: No. I was actually really good friends with Dusty Rhodes, and he told me long ago, “You’ll know when it’s your time.” I’ve had a couple chances to come to WWE before, but I just didn’t feel like it was my time yet. I just had to wait for the right timing, and I feel like this was it. I felt like I had done all I could do, and it was my time to prove myself on a big stage.
WWE.COM: Let’s talk about your background. You broke in at the tail end of the Memphis territory, the USWA. What was your journey like to get here?
STORM: It was one of those things where a lot of people in the South, back in the day, instead of sitting around the dinner table, they sat around TVs, watching wrestling. They’re obsessed with it, and it was the same way with my family. My dad passed away when I was very young, and I actually had a stepbrother who was killed by a drunk driver. We would always go to see wrestling. My grandpa would take me. I actually have a picture of me, when I was 10 years old, with Dutch Mantel. I saw him not too long ago and showed it to him, and he doesn’t look any different at all.
My family used to go to the Nashville Fairgrounds to watch the USWA, and guys like Steve Austin and Sting came through there. As a kid, I got to see so many different guys. I remember watching my grandfather get so involved with it and get so upset, yelling at the wrestlers. Here were these guys who were larger than life to me.
As I got older, I didn’t watch it as much, but I still did. I was going to Austin Peay [State University], which is in Clarksville, Tenn., to play basketball. I lost that scholarship opportunity when I broke my shoulder training to be a pro wrestler at the USWA Wrestling Academy by a guy named Wolfie D, who used to be part of The Nation of Domination in WWE. I stopped pursuing basketball because I was out for over a year rehabbing my shoulder, a compound fracture. Then, when I got better, I started pursuing wrestling again, started doing independents and wrestling everywhere around the U.S.
WWE.COM: You wrestled in WCW, too, right?
STORM: I was at a Music City Wrestling show and they had a bunch of WCW guys who were training at the WCW Power Plant at the time, and the scouts asked me if I wanted to come up to WCW and wrestle. I was like, “Of course.” Me and a bunch of other guys started doing what they called the R&B Security. It was like [Vince] Russo and [Eric] Bischoff’s security. We did a bunch of matches on WCW Worldwide.
WWE.COM: What were you thinking as you walked into the NXT locker room in Nashville that first day?
STORM: I really didn’t know what to expect because I didn’t know if these guys were looking at me, going, “Here’s a guy coming in, trying to take my job.” Basically, that’s what I’m doing. I’m trying to find me a spot. I learned a long time ago that you don’t have to worry about your spot if you’re doing your job right. But all the guys were so cool. All of them came up to me; a couple of them made me feel kinda old, like, “Hey, I used to watch you 10 years ago.” [Laughs.] But nobody said a negative word or gave me a dirty look, or anything like that. Everybody was super-cool and actually welcoming me in with open arms.
WWE.COM: How did it feel once you were finally out in front of the NXT Universe?
STORM: It was unreal. It was one of those things where you actually see me come out and I just smile for a second. It was fun again. To me, wrestling should always be fun. If it’s not, then that’s when you need to get out. At first, when I came out, I don’t think the NXT crowd at Full Sail really thought that it was me until the name flashed up on the screen, and then they recognized the hat and it was off to the races. It was unreal how they welcomed me to Full Sail. The NXT crowd was pretty rowdy and loud for me.
WWE.COM: What are your thoughts on NXT, which has graduated from a developmental system into a standalone brand?
STORM: It’s unreal what Triple H has done. It went from FCW to NXT, and like you said, it’s not just the little baby brother anymore. It’s starting to be its own brand, and it just shows how much work Triple H has put into it and how much work all the guys on the roster have put into it. When I got in there, I looked around the locker room and I could see a lot of guys who were like me — hungry guys who want to be there and want to make it better. That’s the locker room you want to be a part of.
WWE.COM: You’ve crossed paths with some Superstars in NXT, Samoa Joe, for example. But there is the potential for many first-time dream matches, in NXT or WWE. Who do you want to wrestle?
STORM: I never really got into a big rivalry with Joe, so he’s actually one of them. Also, Finn [Bálor]. Not a lot of people know that me and him go back a long ways. We did a bunch of Japan shows together, but we were never in the ring together. I always tease him and say, “Hey, where’s that little kid who used to come out to the ‘Karate Kid’ song, ‘You’re the Best Around’?”
WWE.COM: You’ve built your own persona and brand, and have done some acting outside the ring as well. Are there still goals you want to achieve in wrestling?
WWE.COM: The million-dollar question: When will we see you back in NXT or even WWE?
STORM: That’s the million-dollar question. That’s not really up to me. My job is to go out and get myself over, as they say. And it’s up to what we call “the suits” to make the decision of whether to bring me back to NXT or the WWE main roster. I get so many people all the time saying, “We want to see you and Bray Wyatt go at it on the microphone.” I always say that you never know what’s going to happen in wrestling. And I just take one day at a time.
WWE.COM: We just have to keep our eyes peeled.
STORM: That’s it, until the next surprise. Keep a lookout for James Storm, because I will be there.