Former WWE NXT Star Expresses Interest In Joining AEW

In an interview with Instinct Culture by Denise Salcedo, former WWE star Jake Atlas talked about his release from WWE, and his struggles with mental health and COVID-19. Atlas credited WWE for their handling of both situations, and also revealed that he feels COVID-19 is still affecting him even after he's beaten the virus.

"I personally don't think that I was ready for such a big shift in my career," Atlas admitted. "I didn't know how to handle pressure well. I still don't think I know how to handle pressure well, but that's something I have to cope with. The first year was magnificent but it was also a very weird year because a pandemic happened. I got COVID around June. That was something I stayed silent on and no one really knew until now. That really affected me.

"I got really, really sick. It affected my lungs. I still feel like it's affecting me, not like other people who have had complications, but you can definitely feel different. At least, I do after getting it. So I started to put pressure on my own performances, and kind of just started seeing myself flee away from the wrestler that I was. I feel like in 2019, I was on such a high. It was just an immense amount of pressure constantly being reminded by the fans that I shouldn't have gone to WWE, always being told something about what I should have done. It really got to me mentally. Then I didn't feel satisfied with what I did, and I also didn't feel like I was myself.

"I started training with Roderick Strong weekly, and I trained with him for about 6 months. He's one of the most positive influences in my career so far. Roderick Strong told me about different avenues that I could take to better my mental health. WWE does provide many things, they provide therapy and counseling, and they cover it and they encourage you to take it. I remember saying 'I need to do this or it's gonna get ugly.' Up until March of this year, from March of 2020 which was only 3 months into starting there to March 2021, is when I just had a mental breakdown almost every day. There are days when I would just cry. It was just an immense amount of pressure, again, that I would put on myself. I just didn't feel like I was breaking out or being myself or getting people to get behind me.

"I didn't feel like I was offering anything authentic. I remember watching my matches back, and I would see this Jake Atlas on the screen, and I remember just being so disconnected from what I was watching on TV. It was really rough and tough, but I am glad I got the help that I got. They actually take very good care of you if you get COVID pretty bad because everyone gets it differently. I know, for me, it got pretty bad. I was out for about a month, maybe 6 weeks. WWE was always great at taking care of us during the pandemic, even to this day, to my knowledge."

Atlas had been one of the several WWE superstars who was used as a poster child for WWE's Pride Month initiative prior to his WWE release. Atlas believes that WWE is ready for more LGBTQ+ representation with the company, it only requires the right talent to push them forward.

"As the person who is openly gay and coming into this brand with that behind him, I could have done more for myself, to speak up and kind of join the conversation and lead them to creating something that could have been more for the brand," Atlas said. "I was too late after I realized that I could and should have done that. I was too afraid, I was too shy, I was too closed off early on and I wanted to just do everything right that I didn't think to speak up and say, 'well, let's actually talk about it. Let's have a conversation about this so that we can help so many people and kind  of just bring a new perspective to the brand.'

"I am not pointing fingers and I am not saying anything negative. Everything is a two way street. When they came this way, I should have fought back and said, 'well, I think this.' I do think they would have been completely receptive about it because I will say WWE is more than ready for LGBTQ+ representation on their shows. It's just gonna take the right person to be able to do it."

Atlas is already busy following his WWE release, appearing at Effy's Big Gay Brunch and with scheduled appearances for both PWG and Ring of Honor to come. However, he did admit he is interested in working for AEW, where his good friend, Jungle Boy, is becoming a fast rising star.

"I am obviously interested in going to AEW," Atlas said. "I have not talked to Tony Khan personally. Jungle Boy is one of my best friends. I feel like for the past two years we've kind of had to hide our friendship a little bit because we worked for rival companies. I love him to death. I think that our story is unique and I think our story is great. I actually went incognito to watch Jungle Boy wrestle Chris Jericho when I was working with WWE. It was in Jacksonville, so I took the drive up. He's like a brother to me and I am excited to see what can happen in the future. Jungle Boy is someone who I am always going to respect and love, and I am always gonna root for him whether we're in the same company or we never wrestle again. He's doing amazing things, and I know that no matter what I decide to do, in wrestling or not in wrestling, he's going to continue to support me."

You can watch the full interview below.