Former NFL star and current NXT wrestler AJ Francis (also known as Top Dolla) joined Busted Open Radio to talk about his career. In addition to wrestling for NXT, Francis has hosted WWE’s Most Wanted Treasures on A&E and discussed how he wound up with the gig and his approach to the show.
“Honestly it’s crazy to me how everything worked out,” Francis said. “A lot of people think I was just handpicked to do the gig by WWE because I came from the NFL and I had TV experience before I got here. But what actually happened was my friend that I went to high school with knows one of the producers from the show. So the show actually pitched me to WWE. So when I got the opportunity to be out there with Taker, with Kane, with Mankind, with Booker T, guys I grew up idolizing. I didn’t want to waste my opportunity, cause if you know how it is. If you’re onscreen one minute with the Undertaker and you shrivel at the opportunity, you don’t deserve to be onscreen with the Undertaker.
“So I wanted to be able to establish from day one, that even though these guys are my idols and I grew up doing it, wanting to be them, wanting to do everything that they do, that you know, I’m a grown man. And I think it’s really cool that they didn’t show me any lack of respect. They could’ve easily been like ‘oh you’re new to this business. I don’t have to treat you worth a damn.’ And in actuality they treated me better than I could ever imagine. So I’m really thankful for that.”
Francis spent five seasons in the NFL, playing for the Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Washington Football Team and New York Giants. Despite that, he told Busted Open his goal was always to be a WWE wrestler.
“Yeah man,” Francis said when asked if he always wanted to be a wrestler. “When I was in the NFL people thought I was crazy. Cause I was in the NFL and people be like ‘what’s your dream? You want to be in a Super Bowl? You want to make the Pro Bowl? And I’d be like ‘I want to be WWE Champion.’ People my whole life have been ‘you play in the NFL, why do you care so much about wrestling?’ I mean, I grew up, wrestling was my life. I’ll be the first person to say Hogan was the reason I started watching and Rocky was the reason I never stopped. I have always wanted to do this.
“So like, to be able to then get an opportunity to try and reclaim the legacy of these guys that I spent so much time dissecting their work. When I first started training at 3D, like they always would always, Crews and Billy Gunn and D’Von and Bubba and Rios, they would always say ‘go back and watch somebody that you want to be like.’ I watched Taker. I want to be the ‘Hood Taker’, that’s my goal in wrestling, is to be the ‘Hood Taker.’ I have studied so much that they’ve done, so when I get in the car with them and we’re driving around for two hours, the producers aren’t giving me the questions to ask. It’s ‘what do you think?’ And I have two hours to pick the Undertaker’s brain, they use what they use, they don’t what they don’t. But I still get my answers and I use them when I want to. That’s the thing a lot of people don’t see on this show. Because the show is so condensed down to time, like, each one of these superstars, I’ve drove in a car with them, talking about their career and trying to get implementation from what they did into my career, for literally hours on the road. But only fifteen seconds of that makes the show, so you don’t really see that. So like, it’s incredible the amount of knowledge I was able to gain from all these legends along the way. That’s one thing that I’m always grateful for.”
As Top Dolla, Francis formed Hit Row Records with Isaiah “Swerve” Scott, B-Fab and Ashante Adonis on the May 4 episode of NXT. According to Francis, the idea stemmed from a group he had on the indies and initially was supposed to be just him, Adonis and B-Fab before Swerve was added to the group.
“Well I’ve been doing this music conglomerate faction for a few years now,” Francis said. “When I was on the indies, when I was at 3D, my crew was called The Row and I was Suga Bear, as a play on Suge Knight obviously. When I got to WWE, Ryan Katz, who works in creative for WWE, was like ‘hey man. We’ve got you and Brianna (B-Fab) and Tehuti (Ashante Adonis). You guys got good vibes together, I’d like to see what you guys can do together.’ So we came together and we did a thing called The Hitmakers. And that was the original name of the crew. It was just the three of us and we were working and everything was going cool.
“And then right around the time we were about to go, Hunter pulled me aside, pulled Swerve aside, and said ‘would you guys be cool working with Swerve too?’ And Swerve is cool people. Swerve is actually a rapper. The thing is, if we were going to add somebody to the crew, it had to be authentic. It had to be someone who fit the crew. Brianna is actually a rapper. I have two albums, I’ve been on tour twice, I have around five million streams. Swerve is actually a rapper. So to add him just added more levels of authenticity. And it added a veteran to the crew, it added somebody that has on TV namesake since day one, and I think it’s the best thing that could’ve happened to the crew. Obviously we all actually get along. It’s not a TV prop, it’s not a creative thing. We get to do our own thing, and that’s props to Triple H for understanding that we’ve got something different than anybody else can do right now in the company. He’s just letting us run with it, and I couldn’t be more grateful.”
While Triple H has been very helpful for the group, Francis revealed Shawn Michaels had also been a big help for them. In particular, Francis says HBK encourages the group to always do more.
“Shawn is really good on finding those little details like Hunter is,” Francis said. “The one thing I like the most about Shawn is that Shawn wants us to do more. Shawn wants us, if we’re eating popcorn at ringside, if we’re laughing and joking, putting our fingers and face and doing all this stuff, Shawn’s like ‘yeah that’s great. You can also just keep doing this and adding more and doing a little bit here.’ So we might be thinking we’re doing too much, and Shawn’s like ‘you guys aren’t doing enough. You guys got to keep doing more.’ And that’s cool because it’s a level of trust and respect that they’re giving us that they know that we can do what we’re setting out to do.”
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Busted Open Radio and provide a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription