Every Superstar has a unique path to the WWE, and Angelo Dawkins' specific path took him through amateur wrestling. He was a three-sport athlete at Harper College, and it was competing there where he was first noticed by WWE.
"So, for me, I got recruited by Gerald Briscoe in, I believe it was 2011, if I'm not mistaken. So, he was at a wrestling tournament recruiting and I remember my coaches were getting ready to have – because we were at a dual tournament – so, we're kind of getting ready to wrestle. And one of my coaches was like, 'Hey, Vince McMahon's right-hand man is here, Gerald Briscoe.' And I didn't know much about wrestling at that time," admitted Dawkins. "I knew who Vince McMahon was. I knew that name, but I'm saying his right-hand man is just randomly in freaking Iowa just here to watch a wrestling tournament?"
Dawkins said his coaches often joked around with him, so he didn't believe what they were telling him until Brisco introduced himself.
"'Alright, whatever man. Whatever dawg,'" Dawkins said to his coaches. "So, we go out there, handle my business, freaking, I'm done. Freaking, we got a little rest break, and then here comes Jerry Briscoe. Soon enough, like, 'Hey, how are you doing? I'm Jerry Briscoe.'
"I'm like, 'Huh?! Oh, ya'll weren't lying. Oh, okay.' So we talked for a minute, and at that point in time, I'm like, 'Oh Okay, that seems cool.' And then as time went on, I remember Tado and Kelly were asking me if I really wanted to do this, and I was like, 'Yeah, I'll give it a shot,' and they ended up giving me a tryout."
Dawkins wasn't that familiar with how professional wrestling worked, so when he showed up for the tryout, he wasn't exactly dressed for the part. He recalled his WWE tryout and who helped train him prior to joining NXT.
"I remember because I'm always in house shoes and sweatpants, so I'm very relaxed. I can't be dressed to the tee real tight because it just throws me off my pattern," stated Dawkins.
"I remember everybody in that tryout that day when I showed up. Everybody's in suits and stuff, and here comes old me, freaking house shoes, sweatpants, just chilling. 'Oh snap, maybe I underdressed for this I guess. What's the dress fit?' But luckily, I didn't, because I got to be me. I was me that day and so I ended up getting the job. I ended up getting hired.
"So, when I came down, Norman Smiley was my very first coach. He was the one that... had me under his wing and he was helping me out. He gradually got me along and stuff. I was also with Robbie Brookside as well. Ricky Steamboat was the coach for six months, and then right before we moved to Orlando, then he was gone after. He stopped coaching after that, but guys like him."
Dawkins says it was another former trainer, who now works for AEW, that helped bring his personality out a little more. He says that's the Angelo Dawkins we see in the Street Profits today.
"Billy Gunn was another coach that was there. He was the one that got me out of my shell, because I used to go into practice – 'I'll get the moves down.' Norman helped me with my moves and stuff, but he would always say, 'Alright, you're doing the moves and you're good, but can we see facial expression?' I'm so used to being stone-faced, so I'm not used to making facial expressions and stuff.
"And then, I remember Billy Gunn coming in. He was like, 'Hey man, so quick question. You plan on having fun while doing this?' But yeah, so then, that's all happening freaking finally. I started to lighten up and stuff like that, so Billy and Norman knew how to get under my skin," said Dawkins.
"They knew I was an Ohio State fan. They know I'm a LeBron fan, so they were getting under me and talking smack about that, and once again, once they started doing that and I started opening up a little bit more, I just started having fun ever since. And I mean, now I talk a lot of smack because of them. And then, also, Scotty [2 Hotty] obviously, he played a heavy part in The Street Profits when we became a tag team.
"He was another one that was like, 'Keep doing what you're doing. You got to have fun while doing this, you got to have fun. Don't make it too serious. You're characters. You have fun. You all handle business once ya'll get in the ring.' The one important thing that was always taught from all of the coaches I've ever had here is to have fun no matter what. Just always have fun, and once I started to have fun, that's when my love for here started to get better, and better, and better, and better, and now, I'm just having a blast, fam."
While Dawkins went the collegiate wrestling route, his tag team partner enlisted in the military right out of high school. Montez Ford served in the Marines for four years until 2012, and then he received his first WWE tryout the following year. He talked about getting into pro wrestling without any wrestling experience, and who helped him in those early days.
"So, I got hired in 2015 on my second tryout, because I actually had a tryout in 2013. But I got hired in the 2015 tryout with pretty much no wrestling experience, no independent wrestling or anything, but I did watch it my whole life. I started when I was around nine years old and I remember the first person I saw was The Godfather, and I was like, 'Man, he coo.l' And then, from there, it just took off," recalled Ford.
"But 2015, I got hired and Robbie Brookside was my first coach, because when you first go into the Performance Center, he's the introductory coach, especially for an individual who had no wrestling experience. Robbie Brookside helped me out a lot with just the basic fundamentals of just how to move, and where to put your feet, and how to take correct bumps and protect yourself."
While Ford joined WWE in 2015, Dawkins had already been there for three years and had worked with various tag partners. It was early in 2016 that Ford and Dawkins were first paired up, and the two of them got to develop together from then on.
"Also, Norman Smiley - I was under Norman for a very long time as well. And then, at that point, because I wasn't at the PC very long, that's when me and Dawks got paired up. So ever since then, we pretty much been in the same classes, going through the same coaches, and getting the same wisdom," stated Ford. "The Performance Center is crazy too because when they say it's a wealth of knowledge, it really is.
"If you combine everybody's years combined of knowledge wrestling experience, it's at least like - because you got to think: Shawn Michaels, we had Matt Bloom, Terry Taylor, Scott Garland [Scotty 2 Hotty], you got Norman Smiley, Robbie Brookside. If you combine all those years just right there, that's over 150-200 years of wrestling experience. So just for us to – sometimes it did get overwhelming of just so much knowledge dished out to you, so you kind of got to pick and choose what works best for you because all the knowledge is perfect. You just have to read through it and pick out which best works for you, and that's what got us here to this point now."
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Table Talk w/DVon with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.
Mehdy Labriny contributed to this article.