In an appearance on Insight with Chris Van Vliet, former WWE star Mojo Rawley talked about his wrestling career from NXT to his release from WWE this April. On the NXT front he detailed starting out in the opening matches of NXT and working there for a long time, something he thinks held him back.
“I came in with this personality and my football background,” Rawley said. “They were really high on me in the beginning, they just needed to teach me a few things and let his hype take care of the rest. I had my first match at a live event 7 weeks after my first day. It was very quick and some people backstage were not happy about that. But there were 7 people in the audience so who cares? They were like ‘this is our opener. Big babyface, gets the crowd hyped.’ They kept the matches basic because at the time in NXT, the opener was supposed to have a basic match, no false finishes, super generic. All the high spots were saved for the rest of the card.
“I was stuck in that spot for a long time. I was grateful for the reps but I was pigeon-holed. If you open every show, what a career you will have, but it got tough man. I was seeing some of the guys I started with pass me because I was the opener. I was grateful but I wasn’t being challenged. My first match with a near fall came when I was on the main roster.”
Rawley, who’s real name is Dean Muhtadi, also talked about the origins of the Mojo Rawley name. He credited it to NXT’s creative assistant at time, a man he described as Dusty Rhodes’ second in command.
“Rob Naylor was a creative assistant at the time,” Rawley recalled. “He was like Dusty’s right hand man. He came up with the name and I think he came up with it after a week of knowing me. He said ‘you should be Mojo.’ And I’m like ‘no. Who is going to take a guy named Mojo seriously. That is ridiculous.’ I could not have been more against it. But he explained it to me, told me to take some time and think about it. So I did and I started chopping it up from a marketing perspective. All the crafty marketing too. You meet Mojo one time; you are going to remember it. You know what, let’s run with it but tag a real life name on the end. The thought was originally to be just Mojo. I wanted to do ‘Monday Night Rawley’ which of course 30,000 people have already done. The funny thing is we never used Monday Night Rawley. But even after not being with the company, Mojo has still stuck with me.”
Rawley’s greatest accomplishment in his WWE career was winning the Andre the Giant Battle Royal on the WrestleMania 33 kickoff show, with the help of his longtime friend, NFL great Rob Gronkowski. Looking back Rawley realizes now that he wasn’t going to get a push coming out of the victory, describing it as a situation where WWE had no clue what to do with him.
“I think the plans all went into that (me winning),” Rawley said. “I’ve come to learn that when you win the Andre, it’s not to start a push afterwards. It’s either the lead in to a great moment sometime, or it’s a reward for a guy who’s been quietly busting his ass and here’s a thank you. It doesn’t always mean that it’s going to amount to a push. I don’t know what their thoughts were at the time, I know they put me on this path to win it, especially in retrospect. Looking at the weeks leading up to that, it made sense that I was going to take it. When I heard that it was probably going to be me, that’s when I had the idea to bring in Robbie G and just hype it up even more. I always try and focus on big picture. I can do this myself and people are going to look at it as an average Andre moment. Or we can make it bigger than it is and get it out to more eyes and make it a bigger moment. They moved it to the pre-show, which a lot of people were upset about. But the pre-show was on cable, the pay per view was on the network, the pre-show gets more views by a mile than the network did. I was looking at it as a plus all around. But then afterwards they didn’t know what to do. I think I was doing some strange promos with kids or something.
“Honestly I think that was what my whole career boiled down to. It’s ‘we got this guy, he is perfect for this one spot, high energy, hyped up dude. We are going to put him in this space and we don’t know what to do with him after.’ I remember meeting with Vince one time, I felt pretty boosted after it. He sat me down and went ‘alright, you may be one of the best athletes in the company. You may be one of the strongest in the company. You have one of the best attitudes and one of the best work ethics.’ He literally went down the list of all these superlatives where I was number one or top three. Then he was like ‘we’ve just got to figure out what to do with you.’ I remember thinking to myself ‘I think you just said it. How do we not use that? There are so many things you could do with it.’ But you never know what’s going on behind the scenes. All you can do is work your butt off. I was pitching things constantly, very seldom does that come to anything if at all.”
Since leaving WWE Rawley has been making non wrestling moves, such as nabbing a role in the upcoming G.I. Joe film Snake Eyes. Having grown up a fan of the series, Rawley is over the moon to have a role in the film.
“Dude how incredible is that?” Rawley said. “I had every G.I. Joe toy there ever was and now I am in the movie years later. I couldn’t believe it when I got the call, I was so excited. I didn’t think that it was true at first. I just got out of a yoga class and I got this voicemail mentioning it and I’m like ‘you’re kidding!’ I was in my Zen at that point, so much for that. It was an incredible experience, it was really difficult not saying anything about it for a while. We filmed that a bit ago and now it’s finally coming out. I’m ready to talk about it finally.”
Van Vliet asked Rawley how he got approached for the role. He revealed the filmmakers behind Snake Eyes discovered a clip of Rawley on YouTube, and their interest grew from there.
“Well apparently the director and one of the producers were on YouTube and they found me on there,” Rawley explained. “It might have been that or a clip on my Instagram. But that’s how it started, just literally seeing a clip and they are like ‘yep, we want that guy.’ That was it, it was crazy. You never know, everything you put out there what it’s going to lead to. Especially in the wrestling world. You never know which promo is going to get you a push. Now it’s like what social media post is going to get you a movie?! I think it was a wrestling related post that they saw.”
You can watch the full interview below.