NXT North American Champion Damian Priest recently sat down with Corey Graves on the WWE After The Bell podcast where Priest discussed who his close friends are in wrestling and the bond he has made with many in NXT.

“There’s a few yes, I mean, I know a lot of the guys that we worked together. Maybe we weren’t so much like best friends, like I worked with [Adam] Cole in the past and Roddy (Roderick Strong), basically The Undisputed Era,” Priest said. “One of my best friends in the world is Matt Riddle. I helped train Matt at The Monster Factory for a while. So we formed a bond in those years that we were together because we were actually a team in the indies for a little bit. Then he left to come here. I went to Ring of Honor, and then I ended up here anyway. Then it was cool because then it was like we picked up right where we left off. Especially during his time at NXT, we were always together every road trip and in the locker room.

“We were inseparable, and Keith Lee has also been one of my best friends in the business. Again, met him at Ring of Honor originally, but we really got close in NXT, just same mentality, same drive, same passion and same positivity, and the three of us together, we’re always like a unit almost. When we have to room together, it’s always like a pair of the three of us. So those are my closest dudes, but now it’s cool because like you said, we crossed paths sometimes, but if you don’t really work with somebody in the ring, you don’t really gain that friendship or respect. Here, even though I got along with a lot of guys in the past, I feel like now there’s like a closer bond. There’s really something to that especially in NXT.”

Priest admitted that while he was versed in the indie style, he sought to learn from the greats in WWE because his dream has always been to be in WWE. He revealed that when he was signed to WWE, Triple H pulled him aside and explained that he saw something in Priest that was special and could be shown in WWE.

“So I think everybody’s experience is different, and it depends how you see yourself and where do you see yourself,” Priest noted. “For me, I always saw myself here. There is an indie style. Of course, I’m in the indies. I have to do that, but there was always a part of me that said, ‘but I don’t want to just do this. I want to be like those guys there.’ So I always always looked at the very successful people in this business like in this company. So in those years, I would look at Edge and Randy [Orton]. Obviously Taker and all the bigger names, but I would look at them and how they carry themselves, the presentation that they would give before they even locked up, before the bell would ring.

“Just everything that encompassed a superstar and I was trying to implement that with me, and I think I always stood out a little bit because of that as far as like, ‘OK, he’s not just like every other guy here that comes out with kick pads and does a bunch of stuff.’ I had a full presentation, and I remember when I got hired here, that was one of the first things that Hunter told me. He was like, ‘there’s no shortage of good wrestlers. Everybody here’s good. That’s why they work here. I can hire anybody. With you, it was the idea of something special with you. That’s what I saw. That’s why I brought you in because I really do believe that we could do something even more with you that you’ve never been able to do before,’ and I thought that was cool because that meant that obviously something I did worked, outside of just and in-ring performance. It was the idea of what I can be not just what I am, and I appreciated that.

Priest has credited Triple H and Shawn Michaels for being beneficial to his growth as a wrestler. Priest opened up about his struggles early on when he tried to be himself but was only playing a character.

“So Hunter and Shawn have both been on me since I got here basically,” Priest revealed. “Give us more you. We get along with you. We like the person. Do that.’ I thought I was, but I was still pretending. Even when I first debuted as Damian Priest, I was still pretending to be what others thought I am like somebody else’s view of me. So I was just doing that. I didn’t realize I was still pretending. I was just pretending to be me. Even when I would speak, now’s a little different, but at first when I would speak, that red light goes on, promo voice. (Priest speaks in a deep voice) I had to make my voice as deep as possible, and then I remember again, Hunter and Shawn just being on me about that.

“One day, it finally clicked, like other things have in the past, where Hunter came up to me one day, and I cut a promo. Everybody thought it was really good. It was aggressive, serious. Hunter watched it. He goes, ‘that was good. Can you do another one?’ And I was like, ‘of course,’ and then he pulled me to the side. He goes, ‘if you were at a bar and you were to fight someone, would you make a scene? Would you start screaming for everybody to look at you, or would you pull somebody in close and tell him, let’s go outside because I’m gonna kick your a–,’ and I said, ‘I’ve literally done that.’ And he goes, ‘where’s that guy?’ And I don’t know why, but that day, I was like I got it.”

Priest used his real-life experience to help influence his character, and he credits that advice and his TakeOver match against Finn Balor as stepping points that led him to win the North American Title.

“I look at my phone. He goes, ‘that’s what I wanted, just you’ and I was like, OK cool, and now, especially after my match with Finn Balor, that’s when I really got in the zone and just let loose,” Priest admitted. “I haven’t looked back, and so far so good. Everybody seems to be happy with what I’m doing. Clearly, it’s working since I’m North American Champion, and I’m having a lot more fun. All the smiling, the swagger and all that stuff, that’s all real. I’m not pretending. I’m not trying to turn it up just because the red light is on. I’m really enjoy everything about it.”

In celebration of winning the North American Title, Priest hopped into a hot tub with his gear on which the wrestler in Graves was shocked at. Priest admitted that he probably should have changed, but he wanted to live a rock-star life, so that’s why he just jumped in, and he revealed how long he was in the hot tub for.

“Right before there was a part of me that was like, ‘I should probably just put some shorts on or something’ just because I just got this gear made. It’s pretty sweet,” Priest remarked. “Like what I just told you before about what I was trying to do when I first started was encompass everything about my life that I love and use it. Love the rock-star lifestyle. I really do, and rock stars, when they’re just at a party, are jumping with their clothes. That was me. That’s why I was like this is my rock star moment. No regret. As a matter of fact, I didn’t get out of the hot tub till halfway through the main event.”

If you use any quotes from this article, please credit WWE After The Bell with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.