After ripping a pectoral muscle while at the gym, Elias went back to focusing on his other love outside of wrestling: making music. While off, he created “Universal Truth,” which landed him on several music charts. To his surprise, the songs he made about his trials and tribulations in WWE would become overnight hits nationwide. In his interview on Chasing Glory, he explained to Lilian Gracia the significance of his songs, including “Amen,” which he performed on Monday Night RAW not too long ago.
“Each song has its own story and meaning to me. Specifically, ‘Amen’ was a song I wrote about my experience in WWE for a bit,” Elias began. “From a storyline perspective, they were killing me off of TV. Like literally, they had Baron Corbin knock me off a ledge, put a thing in my throat so I couldn’t sing. And from that point, the songs just started to come to me… It was an incredible opportunity to put my music out there.”
While many Superstars in this business hit a crossroads on whether they feel happy with their progress as performers, Elias says he has not hit that point in his life just yet. He explains that being a WWE Superstar was the only option he saw his life heading towards since he was around 15-years-old.
“I have not gotten to that point,” he replied on if he’s hit a crossroads in his professional life yet. “The whole story of me getting to WWE was – I want to attribute it to not having anything like that. Me not having an alternate backup really helped me push towards getting to WWE. Because the journey to WWE was very difficult. When I was 15 or 16, this is what I wanted to do with my life. I can remember I had no idea how to do it, but there was a show [called] Tough Enough on MTV that just came out. I can remember going, ‘Woah. Ok. So, real people can train and become wrestlers?’ I thought they were just made in factories. I didn’t know how anyone became a wrestler. From that point on, I told my friends and family that this is what I wanted to do.”
Once he made the clear decision to focus on honing his craft as a professional wrestler, he made it his mission to tryout for FCW – WWE’s developmental company from 2007 – 2012. Although he thought he had it in the bag the first time, he came to realize trying out for the biggest company in North America was no easy task.
“When I started training and getting into it, I had one goal in mind, and that was to make it in WWE,” he continued. “I saw on a website somewhere that FCW was having tryouts. All you had to do was pay $1,000 and get yourself there, which was a lot of money to me… So, I played the $1,000, I flew out, and for three days, they drilled ya and grilled ya, they had you go through the whole ringer.
“When I was done with that, they just destroyed me. Like [they’d say], ‘You look bad. You can’t talk. You don’t understand psychology. You need experience,’ all of that. I just thought, ‘Ok, I’ll just tryout, and they’ll make me into a WWE Superstar.’ But that did not happen, and it was a rude awakening. I remember reading their notes [on my flight back], and I knew what I needed to work on.”
Two years later, he went down to Florida again to get the same results: a rejection. After going back to the drawing board, WWE began using him as an extra for things like being a Rosebud, for example. His big break came when William Regal had him face a new and debuting Dean Ambrose [now Jon Moxley] in a dark match. From there, he got called again for this third tryout, but the outcome was again another rejection.
“So, Dean Ambrose was about to debut in The Shield, and he was doing dark matches, and they needed someone to wrestle him, and William Regal picked me,” he recalled. “It was in Hershey, PA., we had a match, and when I came to the back, they were like, ‘Hey, good job, man.’ I remember Pat Patterson was there, and he said, ‘You looked like a real athlete out there.’
“Maybe about two weeks later, Canyon Ceman – he’s in charge of talent relations – he called me and said, ‘Hey. We were impressed with your match on TV. We want to fly you out for a tryout.’ I was like, cool. I didn’t have to pay for travel expenses or a tryout. They were paying me. So, I went down there, and I was more prepared than I’d ever been in my entire life… So, Canyon pulled me aside and said, ‘Hey man, you did a great job. A lot of us said yes, and a lot of us said no. So, we’re going to keep you in the maybe column.’ That was the hardest one to take. That was my third time.”
Going back to being an extra in WWE, Elias continued building his gimmick. He spent numerous hours learning Italian, which would help him stay put in NXT when he was on the verge of being fired. But before he delved into that story, he said Regal was one of a few who believed he had the potential to go far in WWE. Shortly after their talk, Elias officially joined the black and gold brand in 2014. But now, his work was cut out for him, which he shares in more detail.
“I’m here at my dream job. I’m on NXT, and one step closer to WWE,” he exclaimed. “One thing I became very aware of when I got there was that the people who said ‘no’ at my tryout were now in charge of my job, and their minds didn’t change. Corey Graves can attest to this, but I was put on the fired list numerous times in NXT for whatever reason.
“I’ll tie it in full circle. I remember being pulled aside by the head of NXT at that time. He said, ‘Hey, listen. You gotta come up with something for us. We’re going to examine you in about 30 days. And, hey, maybe you’d be better off somewhere else. Maybe not everybody is meant to be a WWE Superstar.'”
After spending a month trying to figure out what would make him a draw in NXT, he came back only to find out that he needed more than what he had to impress the higher-ups so he could keep his job.
“So over the next 30 days, I put together a character that I called The Judge or The Drifter at the time. [His story] was that he was a guy who walked the streets with his guitar and told stories. He was supposed to be this mysterious guy. I put together a vignette and a whole package of merchandise. I also made a packet of when he was going to debut, who he was going to feud with, you name it, it was in that packet.
“So, the 30 days came up, and I presented it to them. They said, ‘Ok. This is good.’ So, he [the head of NXT] said, ‘Let’s meet in the conference room at 2 o’clock and talk about this some more.’ I thought the pressure was off. So, he brought me into this round table room – and I have never told this story – and everyone was there. We had him, Dusty Rhodes, and a bunch of other coaches like Norman Smiley, they were all sitting there.”
He continued on about how that frightening meeting turned into a game-changing day in his career.
“He [head of NXT] said, ‘We all looked through you’re packet, and it’s really good,’ and he shoves it to the side and asks, ‘What else ya got?’ I’m like, ‘What? I spent the last 30 days night in and night out making sure that this was great.’ He agreed it was good, but he wanted to know what else I had,” he added.
“He goes, ‘Here’s the deal: When I turn the lights off and back on again, you’re going to give me something new.’ He turns the lights off. And when he turns the lights back on, I started yelling at everyone in Italian. I go through every single person, and I’m up in everyone’s faces. When I go back to sit down, Dusty Rhodes goes, ‘Holy s–t!’ Nick Dinsmore said, ‘I got goosebumps.’ And he [head of NXT] said, ‘There it is.’
Although the hot-headed Italian gimmick was short-lived, The Drifter now became an overnight sensation among the NXT Universe. Now that he’s a three-year veteran on the main roster, he says the sky’s the limit on where he wants to go both in WWE and outside of it.
“In WWE, I think there’s no reason that Elias could be [the] Universal champ or WWE Champion. I think it’s a matter of if they give me that opportunity or not,” he replied. “Outside of WWE, it could be anything. I would love to get into acting or music. Of course, it’s already there. I never imagined how much fun it would be to perform in front of a live crowd. I get why The Rolling Stones still do it.”
You can listen to Elias’ full interview here. If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Lilian Garcia -Chasing Glory with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.