Corey Graves invited Byron Saxton on to the After The Bell podcast in a rare interview for Saxton where he opened up about his WWE journey. Saxton revealed that he once had his own wrestling newsletter growing up, even with his own pen name.
“This was my dream as a kid,” Saxton said. “Ever since I was four years old, I was beating up pillows, I was making wrestling outfits out of my pajamas, and watching WrestleMania, and said to myself, ‘I want to be a professional wrestler. I want to make it to WWE.’
“It’s funny, back in high school, I was what you would call a dirt-sheet writer. I never saw myself as that. I just got on the internet. It was like 1997, I got AOL. Of course, you start entering the chatrooms and learning about the insides of sports entertainment, and I started my own wrestling newsletter called, ‘The Wild House of Wrestling.’ And my pen name was ‘Mark the Wild Child Cade.’ As you know, I have a wild side.”
Saxton explained more about his newsletter where he had his own staff of people that he met online. The interviews that he was able to do helped him learn more about the wrestling industry.
“I was very proud of it. I guess my social life kind of suffered because that’s how I spent my Friday night,” Saxton admitted. “Every week planning out this newsletter, I had a whole staff of writers, essentially all over the world, who I just met online, and they’d have different roles to fill in my staff. I ended up making connections to interview guys in the business who I grew up watching, so that became my indirect education to what our industry was all about.”
Graves asked who Saxton was interviewing during this time. Saxton said he mostly interviewed independent wrestlers but gained also connections to where he could eventually interview Harley Race.
“Moreso independent guys, and everybody knows somebody in the business,” Saxton noted. “Some guys had official websites. I remember going to an indie show and meeting Bill Alfonso. He was like, ‘yeah buddy. You can interview me.’ I forgot how it happened but I ended up getting in contact with Harley Race.
“I think I contacted his school at the time in Missouri and got his number, and he was gracious enough to give me a phone interview. And so a lot of times I would connect with these guys and conduct phone interviews. And then, like I said, it would just kind of have a domino effect and translate to other people, and it just kind of built from there.”
Saxton discussed his multiple tryouts for WWE starting with Tough Enough. He said he would send in tapes but would not hear back until the “Million Dollar Tough Enough” in 2004.
“So, of course, I’m sure you remember the Tough Enough franchise. So back in college, for the second Tough Enough, I submitted a tape,” Saxton recalled. “No response [from WWE], whatever. Fast forward to when I was actually working in TV news. At the time, before I became an on-air talent, I was working as a production assistant. This was around 2004-ish, and they started the Million Dollar Tough Enough.
“So, I sent in a tape for that and actually got a call, and they’re like, ‘hey, we love your promo tape. We’d love to have you come out here.’ So I was like, ‘sweet, this is it. Like, I’m finally gonna make it.’ And they fly me out to LA.”
Saxton told a story about how his contact lenses gave him an eye infection. While that problem is resolved now, at the time, Saxton said he chose to wear one contact in hopes he could wear the other on day two of the tryouts. However, that left him half blind during the tryout.
“We do the tryout on Venice Beach and it was a two-day tryout, and funny story about that,” Saxton explained. “At the time, I was wearing contacts. I don’t know if it was just the contacts being outdated or whatever, but I had an eye infection from the contacts. So I would wear them one day and the next day be bloodshot red.
“So, I knew going into this two-day tryout, I’m like, okay, I can only wear my contacts one day. So I’m going to do one contact in one eye and then if I make it to the second day, I’ll wear a second contact in the second eye. I’m doing the tryout on Venice Beach. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t make it to the second day of the try out. But, basically I did my first tryout with WWE half-blind.”
Saxton said he went to another tryout a year later but nothing came of it. He said former WWE trainer Bill DeMott was at an indie show that he was at, and he helped him eventually get hired to WWE.
“From there, I had another tryout in 2005. This was in Daytona Beach,” Saxton recalled. “It was before a live event or house show. At the time, it was only a handful of us, probably 8-10 guys and girls. [They] put us through the wringer, and again, [it was] another opportunity but it didn’t shape out the way I wanted. A year after that, I ended up doing an indie show with Bill DeMott.
“Now, Bill at the time had just left the company because Deep South Wrestling, it closed down. And Bill was at the Tough Enough try out. He was at the tryout in Daytona, and now we just happened to be working the same Indie show. Where [was the show]? In Daytona a year later. So, he’s like, ‘hey, I remember you. Send me your stuff.’ I was like, ‘okay, alright’.
“So, I sent them a DVD of all the stuff I’ve been doing whether it was wrestling, ring announcing, [or] commentary. Then a couple weeks later, I get an email on MySpace from somebody in the office, and they’re like, ‘hey, we got your stuff. We want you to come up to Atlanta.’ I think the pay-per-view was Unforgiven that year. [I] went up to TV, spoke to John Laurinaitis, who was head of talent relations at the time, then we had a second meeting in Orlando at, I think it was a SmackDown taping, and then that’s when I was offered the deal to join WWE.”
Graves later asked Saxton about his favorite commentary moments. Saxton recalled the RAW after WrestleMania 31 where Brock Lesnar took out the RAW commentary team, leaving Saxton to go out alone to do play-by-play commentary for the first time. He also confirms reports from the time that said Jerry Lawler was meant to appear later on in the show.
“I’m gonna go back to, I want to sat it was 2015, the night after WrestleMania in Santa Clara, CA. This was RAW in San Jose, and it was the night that Brock Lesnar had basically taken out the entire announce team,” Saxton explained. “This isn’t one of my favorite moments, but it’s memorable because I remember finding out, ‘hey, so the announce team’s going to be gone. It’s going to be you and King going out there on RAW.’ So I’m like, okay that’s already nerve-wracking in itself because I have not done play-by-play on WWE television before.
“I’m going out there with King. I’m like, hopefully it works out. Well, then I’m in gorilla getting ready to go out and I find out, oh no, King is coming out later. You’re going out there by yourself for the first two or three matches.’ Serious butt-puckering moment for me. I’m like, ‘what?!'”
Saxton recalls the crowd giving him some confidence. However, the aftermath of Lesnar’s attack left the monitor at the commentary table compromised, which left Saxton sitting in the fetal position just to see the monitor and call the match for TV.
“So I’m going out there, and I started running down to the ring. And of course, we have the fans from all over the world, the WWE Universe,” Saxton said. “They’re all pumped up and rowdy, so they see me come down the aisle, and all of a sudden I hear a, ‘Byron Saxton [claps]’. Now I’m going, okay, I’m feeling myself. Yeah, I can do this. I’m over, man, they love me. So that’s where it stops. I remember we were at a commercial break, and the crews are trying to flip the table back over so I could sit down, and they couldn’t get it in time.
“So the producer’s like, ‘we got to come back. Just leave the table as it is.’ So, I come back. Welcome everybody to RAW. Obviously, announce team is destroyed. It’s just me, and I remember specifically, at one point, calling a match out there. And because the table was still kind of lost over on the side, the monitor was stuck in the table. And so I had to sit Indian-style on the floor and look up at the monitor and call the match, and at that point it hit me, why in the world am I out here in the fetal position on the biggest RAW of the year calling the show by myself? What is wrong with the world?”
Reports at the time said that Vince McMahon was not happy with Saxton’s performance at commentary. Saxton talked about the backlash he received on social media, but he said he would not trade his unique experience for anything in the world.
“And that was only the beginning,” Saxton prefaced. “I mean, like you said, my name was trending… I take it with a grain of salt, I don’t stress it. Sometimes I don’t look at it at all. ‘Ah, Byron sucks. I hate Byron.’ It got so bad to the point that I went home, and my mom walks in the room. She can barely turn on her iPhone. She says to me, ‘oh, I heard you got in trouble at work for what you did at RAW.’ I’m like, how’d you hear about this? What is going on here? I’m not gonna lie, it was tough. It wasn’t the best performance of my life, I can admit that. I was nervous. I wasn’t sure what I was doing.
“So, I just remember you feel like the smallest person in the world because you’re just getting all this hate, and they always say during the tough times you find out who your friends are, who your true friends are. Of course, you have a couple people who might reach out, but by and large, you feel pretty alone because now you’re just getting all the vitriol and disdain from the world, and you’re like, ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to screw up.’ You know what? I wouldn’t change it. I wouldn’t change that moment for the world because I can still say that I went out there and called Monday Night RAW by myself in the fetal position, and I’m not sure anybody else can say that, right?”
If you use any quotes from this article, please credit After The Bell with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.