The NXT Interview: David Otunga
With his Academy Award-winning fiancee, Jennifer Hudson, his Hollywood style, and coverage in numerous pop culture and celebrity magazines, David Otunga has certainly earned the right to be called "The A-Lister." But currently on WWE NXT, Otunga is trying to earn something else entirely: A contract for Monday Night Raw.
The jetsetting Rookie recently took time out from his vacation in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico to talk to WWE.com's Aubrey Sitterson about marriage plans, how a person gets from Harvard Law School to WWE, and how much hard work looking good can be.
SITTERSON: Are you still down in Cabo [San Lucas]?
OTUNGA: I sure am.
SITTERSON: Are you enjoying yourself?
OTUNGA: I'm having a great time.
SITTERSON: Taking a little break from the pressure of WWE NXT?
OTUNGA: Well, you know, an A-List star like myself, I have to go to different out of the way places such as Cabo to relax and enjoy myself and kind of get away from the ordinary people.
SITTERSON: So you are there just for vacation? No work or anything?
OTUNGA: No, actually I'm getting married in a few weeks so my groomsmen surprised me with a trip. They flew me down here.
SITTERSON: I take it that means you won't be getting married inside a WWE ring then?
OTUNGA: Well that remains to be seen …
SITTERSON: You've been getting a fair amount of media attention based on your comments about Jennifer [Hudson] and yourself tying the knot in the ring.
OTUNGA: Yeah, it seems like everything I do gets a lot of media coverage. That was just one little thing I said and it's kind of crazy how people just jumped on it and ran with it. Actually, someone asked me the question, "Hey, what do you think about getting married in the ring?" And I told them "Yeah, that would be cool. I don't think Jennifer would go for it, but it'd be cool." Now it's just blown up and evolved, and it's all over the place.
SITTERSON: How has Jennifer taken to your success as a NXT Rookie?
OTUNGA: Oh, she loves it. She's my biggest fan and is so excited for me. Actually for my debut I was there in Milwaukee and I was nervous, pacing around the hotel room. All of a sudden there's a knock at the door, and I open it up and my entire family is there. Jennifer paid for all of them to fly up to Milwaukee and surprise me. They sat in the front row and watched the match -- it was unbelievable. It made me feel so comfortable that my family was there to watch my first match and it was just the sweetest thing she ever did.
SITTERSON: If you don't mind my asking, how did you two originally meet? Is there some kind of reality television convention circuit or … ?
OTUNGA: [Laughs] Well, there is a reality television convention circuit, but no, that's not how we met … [Laughs]. Actually, we lived two blocks from each other in Chicago and never knew it. We got introduced by a mutual friend, and one day we started talking -- texting actually -- and we just kept on texting every day ever since.
All of a sudden I was like "Man, she's really cool." We eventually met up and I asked her out to dinner. We went out a couple times and it just grew from there. But from the moment we met we started texting and we've been together ever since. We just clicked and when it's right, it's right, you know what I mean?
I wasn't planning on meeting anyone -- I was trying to ride out this single reality star deal. It was going pretty well for me, and the next thing I knew I'm spending all my time with the same girl -- how did this happen?
SITTERSON: Well, if it's the right girl …
OTUNGA: Exactly. It's going to take the right girl for me to want to be with one person, and that was her.
SITTERSON: Is it difficult juggling your relationship with Jennifer and that A-List lifestyle with the demands of NXT?
OTUNGA: [Sighs] It's difficult just being an A-Lister in general. It's so hard to look like I do and just go about my daily life. You don't understand -- I have to go to the gym and maintain my looks, but it's not even just that. With my face, people don't understand the reason I wear sunglasses to the ring and when I'm around town. I don't know if you've ever looked me in the eye or just seen my eyes, but they're pretty unique. They're a unique shade of light brown -- almost what I would call hazel, but not quite -- and I have to say they're the two most beautiful things I've ever seen. When I look someone in the eye, they are immediately smitten with me.
SITTERSON: Just in case Jennifer reads this, do you want to say they're the second most beautiful things you've ever seen?
OTUNGA: She says they're the most beautiful things too! She knows how beautiful they are! [Laughs] I can't be held accountable for people looking me in the eye and falling in love with me. I try to wear sunglasses to shield people because they're just not ready for this. With the A-List lifestyle, there are a lot of demands placed on me: everywhere I go, people want to stop and take pictures, get autographs, and luckily I'm cool with that. I will sign every autograph and take every picture without turning anyone away. That can take up a lot of my time trying to get somewhere, but that's just how I am -- I value my fans and I give a lot to them.
SITTERSON: In addition to the sunglasses you've also got a pretty unique hair style -- it's pretty different from what people might remember from your "I Love New York 2" days.
OTUNGA: [Laughs] Well, you see I had a unique hairstyle on there, too. I'm always trying to push the envelope and go with a different hairstyle that you're not going to see on anybody else. I have a really good grade of hair and I can do a lot of different things with it. I have a barber in Tampa where I live and I told him, "I'm a Superstar and I think my hairstyle should reflect it." So we started putting stars in there and I just fell in love with it.
People see it and they just go crazy, "Wow, that's the coolest thing I've ever seen!" And I just say, "Yeah, it's pretty good … just wait till you see next week." My barber is so talented that I literally just go in, sit down and tell him to put whatever he wants in there. It's always the star, and then he dresses it up differently. He keeps outdoing himself and I'm always impressed.
SITTERSON: So you're going in there every week for that?
OTUNGA: Oh yeah, my hair grows so fast and I have to keep up appearances. So, I go in and get it freshly cut every week. It's a $300 haircut and it takes two-and-a-half hours, but I do it every week. That's the price of looking good -- looking this good, anyway. I'm telling you, it's hard to do. [Laughs]
SITTERSON: I believe it! [Laughs]
OTUNGA: It is very hard work to look this good.
SITTERSON: On top of looking so good, you've been doing really well in the ring as well. Right now you have a 2-1 record, which is great.
OTUNGA: Well … 2-1 maybe, but I call it a 3-0 record.
SITTERSON: Why is that?
OTUNGA: Why is that!? [Laughs] Didn't you see the match? I would have won that second match. I was smashing Darren Young yet again. In fact, let me back up -- I beat Darren Young in my debut in about 42 seconds, which was the record for NXT, and still stands to this day. Then, the next week I was beating him again and he was an inch away from getting pinned when his WWE Pro, CM Punk, decided to intervene. I was going to smash CM Punk too, but then Darren Young slipped one by me and I ended up losing.
It really irritated me because my Pro, R-Truth was out there and he should have jumped in and done something. Why wasn't he jumping in and making things even? You know, where I come from, if one of your friends gets in a fight and the other guy doesn't jump in, he's called a punk. And R-Truth? He didn't jump in … So I don't count that as a loss, because it was obvious to everyone that I was about to win. And then, in my third week I pinned United States Champion and one-half of the Unified Tag Team Champions The Miz.
SITTERSON: Which was huge.
OTUNGA: Yeah! I hit him with my finisher and pinned him. People are making all this hoopla about Heath Slater being the first Rookie to pin a Pro in singles competition, but they always have to say "singles competition." Why do they have to say that? Because I already pinned The Miz. They have to add that designation of "singles competition." They're just trying to make him look good, but really, the first Rookie to pin a Pro was me.
SITTERSON: That was a massive win for you, and you did it alongside R-Truth. How are things between you two now?
OTUNGA: Things are definitely better between R-Truth and I. It's just one of those things where I'm a very confident guy -- some might even call me arrogant -- and I don't like anybody getting in my face. But that's what happened when we were in the back. I had just gotten cheated out of my match, I was irritated, and R-Truth comes over trying to hug me up and console me, so I shoved him. He came in trying to hug me up in the ring, but he should have gotten CM Punk so I could have won. Then, I'm in the back doing my interview, and I don't know if this guy is trying to get some shine off me or what, but he comes and has the audacity to interrupt my interview, while I'm on television, and then get in my face.
Look, I don't care who you are -- Pro, Rookie, anybody. You don't get in my face. Don't let the Harvard education fool you, because I'll definitely school you, and that's what happened with R-Truth. We're cool now, though, and I think if anything, I made him respect me.
SITTERSON: You touched on this a little, but with your Ivy League background, you and R-Truth couldn't be more different. Do you think there's something to be gained from that?
OTUNGA: Definitely. I'm one of those people who think I can learn something from everybody. R-Truth has a lot of experience, he's very talented and he's very different from me. He's got a different style and just his attitude is very different as well. He comes down to the ring rapping and he's basically like my hype man, you know? Whereas I come down to the ring more focused, just ready to go in and do battle.
SITTERSON: You two complement each other well.
OTUNGA: We really do because we're so different, and that's why we work well together. We worked great together in the tag team match.
SITTERSON: What have you learned from working with him?
OTUNGA: He's taught me to slow down in the ring and think things through more. Sometimes I'm so amped up that I'm just all over the place at 100 mph, but he's taught me to take things more slowly and think about them more, which is only going to make me more devastating. I'm obviously smarter than everyone else, so once I slow down and really think about it, there's no stopping me.
SITTERSON: How does someone go from Harvard Law School to the WWE ring? What's the progression there?
OTUNGA: When someone hears that I was a lawyer and now I'm in WWE it sounds crazy, but once they hear the story it makes sense. Ever since I was a child I always wanted to be WWE Champion. I've been in love with sports-entertainment for my entire life and I always wanted to do that. I can remember being a child and my mom would ask me what I wanted to do when I got bigger. I'd say, "I want to be WWE Champion," but she'd always tell me to have a fallback and be a doctor or a lawyer or something.
SITTERSON: Harvard's a pretty good fallback.
OTUNGA: It's the best fallback in the world! So that's exactly what I did. Eventually, I had this conversation with my mom where I told her, "Hey, Mom, I've graduated from Harvard, and I'm a lawyer at the best law firm in Chicago. I did what you said, so can I follow my dreams now?" She told me to go ahead.
It was a very touching moment, but also a very scary one because I had to go into my boss' office and tell him I quit. The moment was so amazing because I had worked all my life to get to that point. That was a dream job -- people were dying to get it -- and I was resigning.
SITTERSON: Did you tell your boss why you were leaving?
OTUNGA: I did. I told him I wanted to join WWE. Obviously, they thought I was crazy. They laughed and made fun of me, which irritated me and just made me even more driven to succeed. And who's laughing now?
SITTERSON: So you weren't just a Harvard Law graduate, you actually practiced.
OTUNGA: Yes, I did.
SITTERSON: What kind of law was it?
OTUNGA: I was a litigation attorney. Those are the type of people who like to talk, and obviously I love to talk and hear myself talk. I really enjoyed the verbal combat, because when you're doing trial work that's exactly what it is: combat. You're engaging with another attorney, trying to break down witnesses. There's a lot that goes into it, but I really loved the competition. Where I was working you do a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff working at the desks and that got kind of boring, but the trial stuff I loved. I never lost a case.
SITTERSON: You worked with the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition as well, right?
OTUNGA: That was right after the law firm, actually. When I started pursuing my dreams, I was given the opportunity by Jesse Jackson to work in their legal clinic. I gave free legal advice to people in the community every week. People would come in with their problems, and though they weren't able to afford an attorney I would sit down with them one-on-one and give them legal advice. I'm very grateful to him that he allowed me to do that.
SITTERSON: You mentioned the verbal dexterity that comes with being a lawyer. Does that give you a leg up on the rest of the NXT roster?
OTUNGA: Of course. On NXT, anything can happen at any time. All of a sudden, you could be expected to get up and speak, and many people would crumble under the pressure, like you saw Daniel Bryan do. But I will absolutely stand up to that and I'll dominate -- that's my thing. You put a microphone in my face, I'm not going to crumble. I'm going to shine like the star that I am. I'm a lawyer, I've grown up talking, and that's my strong point. I'm clearly the best public speaker on NXT.
SITTERSON: With the "anything can happen" vibe, is NXT very similar to your experiences on I Love New York 2?
OTUNGA: Actually, it is. Things can happen at any time, and if you saw I Love New York 2, you know there were plenty of fights. So I'm always ready for anything and I don't think other people are. Like when Heath Slater got apple spit in his face -- he wasn't ready for it, didn't anticipate it. But I knew something was going to happen -- as soon as I saw that apple I was ready. If Carlito would have spit that apple in my face, I would have smashed him right there on the spot.
SITTERSON: Is there anything that you think you could stand to work at?
OTUNGA: I don't have a problem saying that I am the underdog of NXT. You'd never know it because I'm so confident, but I have the least ring experience by far. But the good thing is this: my experience will grow over time, and I have the "It" factor. Nobody else has it.
SITTERSON: And you can't teach that.
OTUNGA: You can't learn it, either -- you either have it or you don't. I definitely have it, and everyone else doesn't. I can learn the in-ring skills, and we Harvard Law guys are very fast learners, so I pick things up quickly. But everyone else … they can't learn what I have.
SITTERSON: Are there guys whose in-ring experience has you concerned at all? For instance, Daniel Bryan has competed in independent promotions for 10 years …
OTUNGA: No. Ten years in the indies … hey, that's great. But you know what, we're in the same place at the same time and we're both Rookies on NXT. I don't care what you did before because we're both on the same page right now, and I'll beat you like I would anyone else.
SITTERSON: Is there anyone on the NXT Roster that you're particularly looking forward to facing?
OTUNGA: Yeah, Daniel Bryan actually. I'm looking forward to facing him and Justin Gabriel. They both think they're too good for everybody. They're really great in the ring, and that's cool. I know they know a lot of stuff, but they can't compete with my power or my intelligence. I come at things in a completely different way than what they're used to.
SITTERSON: In two years, where do you see yourself? What do you see David Otunga --
OTUNGA: WWE Champion. You don't even have to finish the question. That's where I want to be, and in two years, that's what I see. I don't even think it will take that long, but that's my dream and that's what I'm pushing for. Not only am I going to win NXT and get this contract, but then I'm smashing through the door and I want to be WWE Champion.
SITTERSON: Any final messages for the WWE Universe?
OTUNGA: Keep watching me, because I already know that everyone tunes in on Tuesday nights to watch me. I'm David Otunga, the A-Lister, a.k.a. Mr. NXT, a.k.a. The Real Total Package. And you will not be disappointed.