While working the independent circuit, Elias said he would take on side jobs. Despite his college degree, he mostly focused on working in fitness. He said it would help him stay in shape while juggling his wrestling career.
"I always had side jobs in between. I did get a degree in Business Management, a four-year degree in Business Management that I didn't put in use yet. I would be working in gyms, being a trainer, or helping at the gym," Elias said. "Just anything that would feed my ability to get in better shape, get dates wrestling, travel, anything that was flexible like that I would be good with. I would be training clients, things like that. Cleaning up at the gym, working front desk at the gym. I would be doing retail where I would stock things in the back room. Like I said, never putting my degree into use."
While working in the indies, Elias adopted a gimmick where he portrayed "Heavy Metal Jesus." He said he was inspired when another independent wrestler pointed out his resemblance and he fully embraced the gimmick.
"I became 'Heavy Metal Jesus.' It was a guy named Michael Facade out in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and I just looked like it, I look like Jesus. He said, 'Heavy Metal Hey-sus' (Jesus in Spanish)," he said. "I told him that it was the coolest nickname I had ever heard and I was going to keep that, and sure enough I started incorporating that as my character; whether I was quoting bible verses, or in my promos. I did tricks where I would turn water into wine, all in my promos of course, so I had fun with it."
When Elias first got to NXT, not everyone was supportive of his initial gimmick. One person who was, however, was Dusty Rhodes. Elias said Rhodes was the first person to really believe in him and the two of them developed a close personal relationship. Elias was one of the last superstars Rhodes took under his wing before his passing.
"Dusty is one of these guys, and my story is probably not rare, but he believed in me the moment I walked into the door at the Performance Center. The first day I went up and I remember doing these presentation classes up there, promo classes, and I brought to him this character called The Judge. It was very similar to what I am now, but a lot darker. I had my hat and guitar; instead of singing songs I would tell stories and would strum in between. He loves that old western stuff, and those Clint Eastwood things, so he loved it the second he saw it," he said. "I felt that he was on my side from the time there until the time I got on NXT TV and until the time he passed. I throw this out there, but I kind of feel like I was one of his last real people that he put investment in and time in and cared for and pulled for to be on TV before he passed I felt that he pushed for Triple H to put me on television, so what a great guy. People talk about him as a performer and wrestler, and talker, and to know him on a personal level and the way he treated all of us at NXT, but my story is probably not rare where he believed in me and and knew how to bring it out in you."
Elias also discussed his debut at the WWE Performance Center. He said he had a chip on his shoulder because he knew some people didn't want to give him a chance. Even though he wanted to prove his abilities, he was also willing to learn so he could continue to improve.
"I went in there knowing that there were people in the building who had said no. I went into the building knowing that I had a lot to prove in my mind," he said. "I don't want to throw any names out, but I felt at times you had to walk on eggshells, but it was always to go in there and see what I can learn today, see what I can get better at today. That was the start of the Performance Center. Coming in there, I remember there were certain guys that were there 3-4 years, and I thought to myself, wow, that is a long time to spend there, and sure enough I spent 3 years there. It feels like, how did the time pass there?"
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit The Steve Austin Show with a H/T to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.
Source: The Steve Austin Show
Peter Bahi contributed to this article.