Apollo Crews Talks NXT Title Shot, Fishing With Bron Breakker, Iron Survivor Challenge, CM Punk's Possible WWE Return, More! - Exclusive

This Saturday at "NXT" Deadline, former WWE United States and Intercontinental Champion Apollo Crews will look to add "NXT" Champion to his list of accolades when he takes on Bron Breakker.

Breakker's current "NXT" championship reign began on the episode of "WWE Raw" after WrestleMania 38, when the son of Rick Steiner defeated Dolph Ziggler. Since then, Breakker has gone on to defend his title against some of the toughest opponents WWE has to offer, including Ilja Dragunov, JD McDonagh, Tyler Bate, Joe Gacy, and more. Crews, however, brings something to the table that Breakker's recent opponents have not: years of experience. Crews has been with WWE for more than seven years, and has only returned to "NXT" to reinvent himself and find renewed momentum. While he may be chummy with Breakker on "WWE NXT" TV these days, it's clear that a burning to desire to sit atop the brand he originally joined in 2015 is at the forefront of Crews' mind.

In this exclusive interview with Wrestling Inc. Senior News Editor Nick Hausman, Crews opens up about his mindset heading into this big match, learning to fish from Bron Breakker, returning to his Nigerian roots, CM Punk possibly returning to WWE, and more!

WWE NXT: Deadline takes place this Friday at 8/7 pm CST on Peacock.

NXT Title Shot At Deadline

Nick Hausman: Huge match for you, man. "NXT" title, Bron Breakker, Deadline. What's your mindset going into this match? What are you thinking about?

Apollo Crews: Man, it's getting mentally prepared. For me, there's a lot that I think about ... WrestleMania 37 happened, won the Intercontinental title, and then a whole year, maybe even more until Halloween Havoc went on until I was even on a premium live event. So yeah, just the fact that much time had passed was one thing that I think about. And here I am on my second premium live event in a row, which I don't remember the last time, if ever it's happened.

So things like that cross my mind ... Don't really feel any pressure, but I know that I have to perform to a certain level, which I know I'm capable of. So thinking about that, making sure you're mentally prepared, physically prepared, along with the other things. A life that I have going on, right? With two kids and all that stuff ... But mainly the fact that I have an opportunity to come out here and accomplish something that I haven't accomplished before. And that's exactly what I came back to do on winning the "NXT" title. I feel like it's one of those things that's, I missed out on the first time around.

I got called up to the main roster pretty quick and didn't really have a chance to experience being champion before I got up there. And then fortunately, I was lucky enough to win the United States title and the Intercontinental championship. But being able to come back and kind of re-change the direction of my career and have this opportunity to start over, if you want to say — it's a blessing. It's a blessing. And I'm pumped. I'm excited about this Saturday. I'm ready to go out there and tear the house down.

There's a very unique build, by the way. I wish I could say I'd seen that passion, but you've been so happy and chummy with Bron Breakker. It's a very different kind of build.

It's different. It is.

So how did this dynamic come about?

Well, I don't know if it really grew out of anything. I think it's a fact — two good guys that are competing over the same thing. At the end of the day, it's like, he has something I want. I want something he has. So I think it's just, there's no ill will. I have nothing against him and I respect everything that he's done. It's admirable what he's done in such a short amount of time. He's beat some top guys. But again, he hasn't done anything to me personally, to where I feel like I need to dig at him. You know what I mean?

Forgive me for being a little skeptical of you, Apollo, but I feel like you're going to do him dirty here.

Hold on, why me, though? Why do I have to be the one that's going to do that?

I don't know, this feels like it could be an act to me, to pull us in.

You know what's funny? Someone said that before ... I think it was Grayson who might have said that. There's ulterior motives, right?

Yeah. All right.

We'll just have to wait and see. We'll wait and see what happens.

Fishing With Bron Breakker

While we're talking about the vignettes, can I ask you, was that actually your first time fishing, and did you actually catch that fish?

Yes to both. I actually caught the fish. What's funny is, Bron taught me how to fish literally at that, in that moment and that day, he taught me how to fish. Never been fishing before. And it's funny, people were asking where I grew up and I was like, it's got to be because of this fishing thing. Because I've told people I've never been fishing, right? And I think the thing is, I didn't realize I'd it as much as I did. And I was like, "Man, I'd actually come out and fish on my own." And I'm not a pro anything yet, so I'd have to probably have someone more experienced still to guide me along.

But actually, he drives us to a place in the lake, and I don't know how he could tell, but he was like, "Oh, this is going to be a good spot for some fish." The moment I cast that thing out, right? Boom. I'm just not thinking anything of it. I felt a little tug. I was like, "Yo, I think I got one." He's like, "Reel it in." I'm like, "Okay." I have no idea what I'm doing, but I just [bring] this thing in. And I was like, "Wow, this is great." It was very exhilarating, though ... I didn't realize that I'd get that kind of a rush from catching a fish. It's funny that it works like that.

I grew up in a small town of Texas. I fished, man. And that first time you are fighting it, I mean, it's a real moment there.

It is, yeah. Yeah. So I was super happy about that, because it was just like, I wasn't expecting to catch anything when I got out there. I was like, "Okay, I'm probably going to be horrible at this." And it's not really... I mean, I think I thought a lot more goes into it than what actually does. And again, we're out there filming, so there might be a lot more that goes into it, but it's very peaceful, it's quiet. I got a three and a five-year-old, so there's just noise around my house all the time. So to get out there and be in the quiet ... it's a peaceful feeling.

How did your return to NXT come about? Was this something you wanted to do? Was this something you were asked to do?

It was something that I had asked, because we were doing the Nigerian character, and it'd gone so well for a while ... Through the whole thing, we were coming up with certain things week to week. I remember I was at the park with my son one time, and it was the day after I got back from a "SmackDown," I think. And I was getting a text about, "Hey, what can we add to the character this week? Can we do this? Can we do that?" So it was really building on that character on a weekly basis because when it happened, it was kind of overnight. There was no vignettes about it. There was nothing to say why I'm doing this. It was just like, boom, here it is, right?

Finding Himself In NXT

I wanted to reach back into my roots and go that route. But then it kind of got stale there for a while, where it was a couple months of just not doing anything. I was on the show "Main Event," and I was kind of sat down one day and I was just like, "Man ... I don't want to just be doing 'Main Event.'" And there's nothing against it, but it's just like, I want to be on "Raw" and "SmackDown," right? That's what, I feel like anybody's here should want, I don't think I'm wrong for feeling that way. And nothing was happening. So I had actually thought it'd be a great idea to come back and be able to try something different, maybe get away from the character and kind of get a reset or a restart. So I was blessed with this opportunity to be able to come back and do that and kind of change the trajectory of my career.

Which now, I feel like just being myself and being able to go out there and have more time on the mic and doing more promos, more vignettes, I feel like people are getting to see a side of me what should have been shown all those years ago when I first originally debuted at "NXT," right? Where it was just kind of, all right, here's this guy, he does some cool stuff, boom. And then I got called up to the main roster before even getting time to really develop any kind of character or to understand how things worked. It was just real quick, and it was nothing for me when I got up there, there's not really any plan. It was just like, "Smile. Go out there, do your cool stuff and smile." So people couldn't really attach to that. "Okay, here's this guy who smiles, he does cool stuff, but why do I want to like this guy?" You know what I mean?

I think now, whether people like me or not, it's just the fact that I get to show a completely different side. And I feel like I've matured more mentally, just going through the processes that I have ... Believe it or not, doing the accent with the Nigerian character and being in that character on TV actually allowed me to find my voice and help me find that comfort that I needed on camera to help me be the character that I needed to be, right? Where it was, I was so caught up in this character that I wasn't thinking about anything else that was going on while I was on camera. It was just me being in this moment. And that's kind of helped me translate to now where I can do it as me. So it's like, "Okay, I don't have to worry about the camera." I'm not going to sit here and think about the words that are coming out of my mouth. I'm just going to be in the moment and do what I feel.

NXT vs. WWE Main Roster

And that's like the hardest part of being a pro wrestler, right?

It is.

It defines you and then everybody makes millions of dollars, right?

And how do you, getting people to like that, right? It's like, okay, not everybody is going to like you. You can try your best to make people like you. And that was another thing growing up, too. I was a kid who wanted everybody to like me. When in reality, not everybody's going to like you and that's okay, but in this world ... you need them to feel a certain way about you. And I feel like people were just kind of neutral about me, where it was like, "Yeah, we don't really like him, don't hate him ... He's just kind of there in the middle."

Well, you sound and feel like a different guy right now than we last saw you on the main roster. So how much do you want to continue in "NXT?" Do you feel it's time to go back and present yourself on the main roster?

I'm not in a hurry, because I want to keep developing and keep bringing more sides out of me before going back and presenting whatever package is presented. But I want to be able to have all my angles covered to where that mistake isn't making again of, "Okay, here I am, just smile and do cool stuff." I need that depth ... I need to really understand the different levels of who I am to be the best superstar that I can be. So obviously, of course WrestleMania is the goal. "Raw," "SmackDown," of course those, that's definitely the goal. But right now, I'm enjoying the time that I have in "NXT" and the way I feel, like if I handle my business here correctly, all those things will fall in place. I'll just control what I can and make the best of what I'm doing and let the rest take care of itself.

So what about Bron? Do you think Bron is main roster ready?

You know what? When I take that title, it might be a good time to find out, right? We'll see, we'll see.

Personally, I do think that he is. Whether he feels like it or not, I'm not sure, but I feel like he is. He's done so much already where it's like, "Man, this guy," in such a short time ... That's the type of career that if you could look at a career and be like, "Man, this is, I want my career to be that" ... Where if you're looking out from the outside as a young aspiring WWE talent, this is the guy you're looking at to be like, "Man, I hope I have a career or a beginning of a career like that." Right? Because he's set up for success, and he is going to have a fantastic career. But this Saturday, that's just going to be my day.

Returning To His Nigerian Roots

So do you still hang out with Commander Azeez?

I haven't for a while. It's been a while since I've seen him. I don't know if he's plotting against me or something to try to take me out. I got to go find that guy, man.

Well, you know you were talking about your Nigerian gimmick. You actually got a chance to go down to Nigeria recently, right?

I did, yes.

What was that like for you? That's a big WWE initiative, being sent down there and in your home country and everything like that.

It was fantastic. First of all, like you said, it's a huge initiative. The fact that I was chosen to be able to go out there and deliver this message and get this message out that they're doing, the first time, a try-out in Africa, is fantastic. And to be able to go back to Lagos, Nigeria... Which, my family is Nigerian, and I hadn't been there since I was 10 years old. Unfortunately ... my dad wasn't there at the time, or my mom, so it was unfortunate that I didn't get to spend time with them out there. But the fact that I just got to go out there and be a part of this initiative and to be welcomed by the people and to experience that culture, my culture is fantastic. I was welcomed with open arms, people were very, they admired us and looked at us as — I really felt like I was a superstar out there.

Not that I don't here, but it was like, it's just a different kind of appreciation. And it might just be because they don't get to see us often, but the wrestling fan base out there is huge. I was in the hotel looking through the channel menu, the channel guide, and it had a channel just for WWE stuff that they show in there. And I asked about it, and apparently they just show WWE stuff all day.

It's like, "Broken Skull [Sessions], "Raw," "SmackDown," and I believe "NXT" on there, and pay-per-views just all day long, right? So it's fantastic. The fan base out there is great, and I'm excited to see what talent come out for the try-out in February. It's going to be great, because I get messages, especially through the Nigerian character, when I was doing that running that character, I got messages all the time from people in Nigeria asking, "When you guys are going to come over, when is WWE coming to Nigeria? It's my dream to be in WWE. How can I be a part of it," or whatnot. So the fact that we're actually making it happen, and the opportunity is there for people to change their life essentially, it's cool. It's really cool.

The Iron Survivor Challenge

Obviously the Iron Survivor Challenge match could affect you if you walk out of the match as the champion. What do you think of this new style of match that Shawn Michaels has rolled out?

What blows my mind is that it's like, okay, WWE, we've seen everything, right? And then it's like, what type of match can they make that we haven't seen? And then here comes a match that nobody's ever seen, right? I feel like this is going to be, for the men and the women, it's going to be crazy. Because you got guys in there who I feel like a lot of them have, they feel like they have something to prove, right?

You got some in there that — Carmelo, for example, who is just lost his title and he feels like he's probably next in line to be "NXT" Champion, or at least to fight for that, right? So you got someone like that who's definitely has that chip on his shoulder, or Grayson Waller who probably feels the exact same way, right? So I'm going to be watching that as much as I can, because I'll also be focusing on my match ... Whoever wins that obviously is in line for the title. So especially if I'm planning on going there and winning, I should probably keep my eyes on that one, right?

So I'm excited to see just what they come up with, man and the passion that goes into that. Because one thing with a lot of the "NXT" rosters, the passion that they bringing into these matches, it's almost like they know it's like, "Once that light is on, I have to go out here and kill it. It's a must." So I'm pumped to see, I'm excited to see it. It's going to be brutal. It's going to be brutal. I'm kind of glad, in a way, I'm not a part of it, because my body won't take that crazy of a beating! We'll see how it is with Bron, but honestly man, to be a part of a first type of match ever, it may kind of get lost because so much happens in wrestling, but that's something that'll always be a part of those individuals, right?. That's something that can never be taken away from them. So it's great.

CM Punk's WWE Tease On Instagram

Literally just before we connected, I got sent a news story that CM Punk shared an image of his WWE run on Instagram. And a lot of people seem to think that maybe he could come back to WWE, considering how things are going. Would you be happy to see CM Punk in WWE if that were to come to pass?

Man, you're asking the tough questions today? It's not that I wouldn't be happy or I wouldn't be upset — I don't know if I'd really feel any kind of way, honestly. It's nothing against him personally or anything, but I don't know... To say I'd be happy, I'm not sure. I don't know, I wouldn't be sad, I wouldn't be happy, but I think I'd just kind of be neutral with it. But again, extremely talented individual and only time will tell, right?

Yeah, I just wanted to get your thoughts.

But the thing is, those — everyone's going to see, and of course they're going to make an assumption, right? But again, with these things, only time will... A lot of the stuff that I find out, even about myself, I'll find out from people online or something before I even hear it from the original source. It's crazy how stuff like that happened. Like, "How do you know that?"

That's got to be really weird.

It is. I'll see stuff and I'm like, "Man, I wonder how these guys know?" And again, I got two kids, so I feel like I'm out of the loop a lot of the times, but it's interesting.

Well hey, I'm very excited for you, man. Big opportunity. And dude, it's been awesome watching you kind of find yourself in "NXT." It's been a really fun time.

Absolutely. I truly appreciate that.

Is there anything you want to leave everybody with in regards to the match before we wrap it up here today?

Saturday, "NXT" Champion. You're looking at the new one! Saturday, Deadline 8:00 PM on Peacock. You can stream it live. Hey, I'm telling you, you guys, it's not a game. Apollo Crews, new "NXT" Champion. Bron Breakker, like I said, I have nothing but love for you, and yeah, I'll see you Saturday.