When Pete Dunne returned to NXT TV for the first time eight months, it was clear the Brusierweight was not chowing down on Cheetos. Instead he had transformed into arguably the best shape of his career. Dunne himself says he feels better than ever. It became a situation where turning full attention to the one thing the superstar could control kept him motivated.
"For me, I've wrestled since I was 12 years old, so I've never had time off or been injured," Dunne said, referring to the time away due to COVID travel restrictions. "As injured I would get, I'd just work through it. There hasn't been anything too serious. But getting that time off was the first time in my life I could focus mainly on the training aspect of it. Normally, because I'm traveling and busy and focusing on matches coming up, the training was secondary to that.
"...I used the time the best I could. Even though there is the aesthetic part of it. People commented on [my look], and that's great. I love to hear that. But for me, it's about performance. I want to come back to put on the best matches I ever had. I want my performance to go up. That has been my main focus."
Dunne took a positive spin on the unfortunate turn of events. One that forced him to relinquish the NXT tag team title he had with Matt Riddle. Though being off the road allowed him the benefit of spending more time with his two-year-old daughter. So it wasn't all bad.
"Yes, there are frustrations. But I'm better off than a lot of the world," he said, thinking about the big picture. "I was grateful to be at home and safe. My family is safe, and I got to focus on my return."
Dunne began his new run in NXT at Halloween Havoc aligning with Pat McAfee, Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch. The performer kept up to speed to what was happening on Wednesday nights, so he had an idea of what he was getting himself into upon return.
"The thing with NXT is it has always been this way. I've been here for three or four years. I sort of seen a few iterations of NXT, but the one constant throughout is it's a competitive locker room in a positive way," he said.
"Everyone is trying to have the best match they can and perform as best they can. That's exactly the same if there are fans in the building or not as there are fans watching from home. The focus has always been to put on the best show we possibly can. Being in there with people like the Undisputed Era, who I have this history with, especially when you are building to something like War Games [at NXT TakeOver on December 6] where you know it will be competitive. That's what is great about NXT."
Dunne wasn't totally out of the ring during his NXT hiatus. He worked NXT UK in October, getting a chance to reconnect to his roots. The history-making former champion can see many potentially crossing over the States and making an impact.
"I would love to see Trent [Seven] and Tyler Bate come out here. I will also give you a name that I think people wouldn't expect," he said. "I feel like Wild Boar has really untapped potential. He is someone I've wanted here for a long time. I've been friends with him for years. I don't think people have seen what he can fully do yet. It's only a matter of time before he starts to break out. Hopefully he gets to come over here and show the whole world what he can do.
"There are so many guys over there. I'd love to see Mark Andrews come out here. I know he has done a bit on 205 Live. Maybe he can bring something to that show. There is so much talent over there. What is great too is even with what has happened this year with the UK being locked down and coming back for a minute. Now being locked down again. Everyone is still improving. The work rate is fantastic over there. It's a great roster to be around. Everyone is continuously improving."
On the perception of NXT compared to Raw and SmackDown, he is happy the black and gold brand has its own unique identity. Dunne likes the idea of being separate.
"It's great to be part of Survivor Series and getting the chance to do that. At the same time I want NXT to stand out on its own," he explained. " NXT has been great to me. I love being able to wrestle the way I want to wrestle and be who I want to be. NXT is this amazing platform to do that. Raw and SmackDown, main roster, whatever you want to call it. That's its own thing too.
"Whether it's progression or moving from brand to brand if I ever move to Raw or SmackDown, I want it to feel exciting and interesting. I feel like you can be overexposed there now. That wouldn't do anything for the brand or myself either. Even though it's good in pockets. Benign in the Royal Rumble is amazing. Being in Survivor Series is the same. But I'm also in no rush. I don't feel anyone shouldn't panic when NXT is not involved [in Survivor Series], especially with the way the world is right now. It's even more complex than it once was. So having us as separate entities is not bad at all."
Dunne's full interview aired as part of today's episode of our podcast, The Wrestling Inc. Daily. Subscribe to get the latest episodes as soon as it's released Monday - Friday afternoon by clicking here.