In a recent interview with ViBe & Wrestling, current WWE United States Champion, Damian Priest, took the time to explain his journey to WWE. Priest had established himself as a dominate star named “Punisher Martinez” in Ring of Honor before finally getting the call to start at WWE NXT.
“I had several try outs in 2015 and at that time they told me that there was nothing for me. I started working with Ring of Honor. I was there for a year and when my contract ran out, I contacted WWE again, and again, they told me that there was nothing for me,” Priest said. “And then, I thought that maybe WWE was not for me, so I decided to continue with my career in Ring of Honor or New Japan or wherever I liked wrestling. I wrestle another year in ROH and when I was going to sign a new deal, WWE contacted me to go with them.
“Obviously, I told ROH that I was not going to renew and that I wanted to leave. And from then on, it was very fast, since it was at the beginning of September when they offered me the contract. I signed it at the beginning of October, and I moved to Florida to work at the Performance Center,” he continued. “I was very nervous because I was entering an unknown world. I did know wrestling, but not how WWE worked. The talent here is incredible and I didn’t know if I could be at the level as others. I asked myself a lot of questions and I kept on trying to improve so I could get a chance for a first match in NXT. That same night, Triple H and Shawn Michaels told me that now we were going to do business and that they were going to give me the opportunity. That it was only up to me.”
Priest detailed how the change from “Punisher” to Damian Priest occurred, inspired by none other than Triple H. Hunter saw a way to incorporate everyday passions into Priests entrance and in-ring style.
“In my professional career, whether it was in the indies, ROH, or NJPW, I always had a character who in this case was “Punisher” Martínez. But it was always something artificial, it was not me. They are things that I like, like horror movies and rock music, but it is not who I am,” Priest explained. “When I started in NXT, Triple H told me that I could continue being “Punisher” Martínez but that he saw someone better in me and wanted me to show my personality. I had no problem changing.
“It was a different life and I could start from 0. We agreed on the name, and I told him that I loved rock music, archers, so many things in life that we decided to put together. And it was very easy and natural. Now, I’m not acting. It’s me,” he continued. “The Damian Priest that you see on television is the same that you can see on the street. It is the same person, and it made it easier for me to relax and be me, and the fans realized and they love me more because they know that it is real. That I am like this.”
Also having a reign as NXT North American Champion as a notch on his belt, Priest compared it to becoming WWE United States Champion for his first time.
“It is different because NXT is special and I really love it, but to be a United States Champion as a part of Monday Night Raw, that was the dream since I was a child. For the child within me, the United States championship is more important, because at that time, NXT did not exist,” Priest said. “It was a dream to be a Superstar and be a champion, and now, I am all that. It is not that the North American Championship is not important, because it is. But this is another level, and I am proud and honored to be the champion.”
Appearing at WrestleMania and teaming with international music star, Bad Bunny, was arguably the biggest moment of Priest’s career so far. He explained how he and Bad Bunny were both getting butterflies before stepping out into the arena to perform.
“That was the day I felt the most nervous. I remember walking towards the curtain, we both collided and laughed a lot because we couldn’t even walk [from the nerves],” Priest continued. “But at the same time, it was something that relaxed me because he was nervous and he is a top Superstar, he is Bad Bunny… That made me think that it was ok, that I could be nervous too.
“Then, I took a breath, and just before crossing the curtain, Triple H came and said, ‘Now, go and get it. You deserve this moment.’ Those words made me feel so much better and I entered the zone ready for war for the first time in front of the fans as a RAW Superstar, at WrestleMania, and in a huge stadium. Cool! What a moment that will stay with me for a lifetime because it was so special. I cannot explain. It is a whirlwind of positive feelings. It was an amazing night.”