On a recent episode of the Talk Is Jericho podcast, Chris Jericho sat down with Malakai Black to discuss his WWE career. Black discussed how he found his way into NXT.
“I got a call from Mr. [William] Regal,” Black recalled. “They had an interest in me because they saw me wrestle in Progress, and Canyon Ceman was also one of the people that contacted me. I always had a good relationship with Canyon too. I always had a good relationship with Mr. Regal. I got invited to come around, and it wasn’t a tryout.
“They were more like, ‘Oh, no, you’re here. We just want to see how you work in a group,’ and I had a lot of fun those two days, on two-day camp, just meeting people, talking to people, getting in the ring, and I was in the ring with Killian Dain or Big Damo from Ireland. And we did a quick little five – six minute match before Hunter (Triple H) was like, ‘You guys are good,’ but he just wanted to see us work. It moved on from from there, and about five – six months later, I packed up all my things, and I moved from Amsterdam to Orlando, FL.”
Black discussed the ideas he and Triple H came up with for his name in WWE. He discussed the inspirations behind the character as well.
“Initially, me and Hunter started talking about a name, and he coined, ‘Allister Black’ and I didn’t want to be, especially because my style is more martial arts, Muay Thai and a little bit of kickboxing, compared to Alistair Overeem,” Black noted. “I knew that if I would coined the name ‘Aleister Crowley’, I knew that certain individuals were going to go, ‘Oh, he’s trying to’ and it worked because I got conspiracy things written all about me.
“People thought that I was trying to pay homage to the occultist. I just knew that it would get people talking. I knew that people were, for good or bad, going to make references between the occult and that name, and they did and they still do because of all the symbolism that I use, weird connections that I make with my characters towards the more darker side of things.
“I read a good chunk of occultist literature, but I also have to keep in mind that I have to find a way to translate it because I can’t just use iconography that is only known in a certain part of the world and hopefully people are gonna pick it up. It has to be in a westernized way that people can subconsciously or consciously pick that stuff up and start making the bridges between them, and I think that’s the tricky part, but that’s also been a very fun process for me.”
Black revealed which angle Shawn Michaels showed in a class. He explained what the tape made him realize about pro wrestling.
“We’re in Shawn’s class, and Shawn is showing us the angle between you (Jericho) and Shawn with his wife involved,” Black recalled. “And you gave the shot and it hits his wife, and you do something with your facials that tells me, ‘I shouldn’t have done that, but I’m taking full advantage of it.’ But you didn’t say anything. It was a nonverbal cue, and I remember seeing that and going, ‘I have so much to learn,’ but that was one of the things where I was like, ‘See, I’m right. This is what wrestling is.’ Wrestling isn’t here’s the kick and the punch in the throat.
“Wrestling is a lot of these, what do you do before? What do you do after? And what do you do with it and how you connect it? It’s stuff like that that when I question myself, which I think any professional does, and I’m sure you have on many occasions have pondered, what the F am I doing, or am I doing this right? It’s stuff like that for me that validates that what I think and how I think I should personally, as a professional, should implement it.
“I’m making the right steps. I’m making the right moves. I try to always go back to stuff like that. I constantly pick something up and go, how can I do that in my way? How can I translate that to myself? And how can I put that out for an audience to see and subconsciously for that audience make that connection in three – four months down the line go, oh, that’s what he did. I want to give them gifts so they can slowly unwrap and then four months later they get the gift.”
Black discussed more about what he learned under Michaels. He also named the other NXT coach that was a strong influence on him as well.
“Shawn was always considered a smaller guy, but he revolutionized the business,” Black noted. “He used to tell me, a lot of times people would say, ‘Oh, he doesn’t know how to wrestle. He just does moves.’ Ironically, that’s what comes back now. That’s something that comes back nowadays in this modern era as well. ‘These guys can’t wrestle.’ Terry Taylor used to tell me that the guys in the locker room that he was with would tell him, ‘You guys know nothing about wrestling. You’re all a bunch of marks that just do moves.’ That was just funny to hear that guys like him and Michaels, guys from two different eras, would get the same criticism that a lot of us get now.
“He was one of those guys for us to make it okay but find a way to do it, find a way for it to make sense. You’re never ever going to convince everyone, and your goal is not to convince everyone. Your goal is to progress the business in the way that the business is installed in 2021 by also maintaining the old school and maintaining what is relevant and keeping an ear on the ground to look at pop culture and what is current. Shawn was great at that, and funny enough, Terry was good at that time.
“Me and Terry have had plenty of conversations. Terry was also someone who told me, ‘Hey, don’t do what I did, where I would fight the system every step of the way. I want you to be successful. I want you to be this. I want you to be that.’ Terry, from an emotional point of view, from a humanitarian point of view, I love Terry Taylor. I owe so much to Terry. I speak to him every week, brief little chat. He and I got real, real personal in my time in NXT, and I love that man like he’s my father. I really do.”
Black later continued to talk more about the inspirations behind the Aleister Black character. He explained how those influences helped him build his character.
“I got signed for the Tommy End gimmick, which was a version of the Aleister Black gimmick. The stoicness was there,” Black stated. “Tommy End was a little bit more sadistic, kind of what you see with this Malakai character. I would say that the Malikai character is more minimalistic in terms of presentation. I tried to grab as little amount of resources and tried to make it as big as I can, which is something that funny enough, we went over an entrance thing today that I really think I nailed because I’m only using one thing, and I think it really works.
“The Aleister Black character, I often kind of joked I like because I find the idea of [demonic] possession frightening, again, despite not having any real religious connections. I always find the connections, whether it’s a mental health issue vs. a religious issue, I find that debate always very interesting. I’ve read a lot of material about that because for some reason, it fascinates me, but I also find it equally frightening that the concept of another person living your head is a possibility, people that have multiple personality syndromes and stuff.
“And I’ve always thought that was a very interesting, albeit, very scary thought, especially in this modern era where mental health is much more to the foreground. In some ways, I’ve always tried to exercise, not just my fears, but also my interests through characters so that I perhaps have a better understanding of what it is, why I’m so interested in it. Big fan of horror movies, as well. I love cinematic stuff. So I try to make my characters as cinematic as possible. So I tried to tie in the things that I love in my characters, which I read a lot about religion. I find religion super interesting.
“I find it very interesting. Occultism, possession and music, predominantly black metal, hardcore metal, stuff like that, and the iconic graphic that came from it. I once told Hunter I want to be the bands that kids used to rebel against. I want to be the Armament’s, the Black Sabbath’s. I want to be the pentagrams on the posters on the walls and kids saying, there’s nothing wrong with me. I can still be successful. I can do it my way. I don’t have to do it your way. That’s kind of the guiding light that I wanted to have.
“I wanted to represent all that in my characters,” Black said. “There were two poems that I read. One poem was when Lucifer fell from the sky, did he vow to take revenge against his father and the angels. Was he going to drag man into temptation and drag them all to hell and destroy the world? Yep, he did all that, but I think the first thing he did was cry because he was just someone’s son trying to get his father’s approval, and I thought that perspective was so interesting. But then I also thought to myself, oh, what if he woke up with amnesia, and he knew he did something bad. He knew he did something wrong. Something inside of him isn’t right. Something inside of him is mad, anger, evil, but now he wants to redeem himself because he thinks that’s the way for him to get rid of it.
If you use any quotes from this article, please credit Talk Is Jericho with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.