New WWE NXT North American Champion Carmelo Hayes recently spoke with Justin Barrasso of Sports Illustrated and discussed his relationship with WWE Hall of Famer and NXT Producer Shawn Michaels, and what led to his recent push on the brand.

Hayes won the NXT North American Title last Tuesday night by cashing in his Breakout Tournament title shot on Isaiah “Swerve” Scott. It was then reported, via Fightful Select, that Hayes has strong support from Michaels, and that some saw Hayes as a “project” of HBK’s. It was also noted how Hayes had impressed many people before the summer, but his June 1 match against Kushida opened up a lot of opportunities, including the follow-up match with Adam Cole on June 22.

It was noted that Michaels became a believer in Hayes and his work the night of the Kushida match. Hayes revealed how he spoke with Michaels after that match, and told him he didn’t want to be on WWE 205 Live, he wanted to be a top guy.

“We have PC Live matches, which are live events in front of the coaches. I performed in front of Shawn once or twice, and then he saw me wrestle Kushida on TV,” Hayes said. “I’d never been signed before I came here and I had no television experience until I got here. This is my first contract, and that match against Kushida was my first-ever TV match.

“After the match, we spoke. I told him I didn’t want to be on 205 Live—I wanted to be a top guy. So I shot my shot and asked him to help me. And then I put the pressure on myself to be that top guy.”

Regarding the match with Cole, Hayes said this was another test, and one that likely got him the Breakout Tournament win.

“That match was a test,” Hayes said of facing Cole. “If that match doesn’t go the way it goes, I’m not sure I get my opportunity to do what I did in the Breakout Tournament.”

Hayes defeated Josh Briggs and Duke Hudson in the Breakout Tournament, and then Odyssey Jones in the finals. He had read online reports of NXT getting a new creative direction, with more focus on characters and larger Superstars. He figured Jones would end up winning the tournament.

“I’d read all the same things online, that NXT was going toward big guys and all this other stuff,” Hayes said. “So if that was true, I thought that Odyssey was going to win the whole thing. But I beat Briggs, Duke and then Odyssey, the three biggest guys in the tournament.”

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