It took a little while for Swerve to get a prolonged push after joining the company, something he attributed to how crowded NXT was at the time.
“There was nothing I really needed to work on, it was just a timing thing,” Strickland said. “Of course, I wanted to get better and improve on certain things, but they still had Riddle there, they still had Damian Priest, Damo just came back, Finn Balor just came back down, Gargano, Ciampa was getting healthy, there was like a lot of talent still. Like Undisputed Era was running rampant, you know? It was just so many guys and then Lio came back as well.”
When asked if the lack of a push frustrated him at times, Swerve Strickland confirmed it did. He revealed that he counteracted it by talking to the then head of NXT, Triple H, and said each conversation with him resulted in a chance at bettering his position within NXT.
“Oh yeah. Absolutely,” Strickland said. “I had four good, strong conversations with Triple H about it personally. I was like ‘hey, I want to be one of your top guys. What do I have to do?’ Straight up and I wasn’t like bullsh-tting and getting around anything, I was like ‘what do I have to do? Because I know I can do it.’
“And every time I had a conversation, he boosted me up a little bit with my position. And that’s why I got into the Santos Escobar thing. Because it’s like ‘okay, I want more.’ Okay, then he puts us on Takeover for the Cruiserweight Title. I was like ‘okay, I still want more. What’s the hesitation to put me with these top dudes?’ It was just like placement and all this other stuff.”
One thing Swerve Strickland felt was a turning point for him in NXT was when he changed up his appearance. After doing that, he started to get more support from higher-ups backstage, including Shawn Michaels.
“I came back and I put the grills in my mouth and the hair color, and the things like that,” Strickland said. “The first person who really recognized that was William Regal. He was just like ‘that’s brilliant. I like this.’ And then Terry Taylor was just like ‘I see what you’re doing and now you stand out.’ Because Terry was just always about like ‘you always did great stuff in the ring, you always had great moves and stuff, but now I feel you just by looking at you. I feel something for you.’ So now it’s like ‘okay, I think you’re ready now.’ Now all the office was starting to get behind me and then having those conversations with Shawn Michaels, Shawn was behind me, so all the office was like, ‘alright, he’s ready to go.’
“And so in these meetings and stuff, Triple H was talking about the main events and all these other things, but Shawn was nudging him like ‘yeah, but we have Swerve over here. Swerve is ready to go. He’s primed.’ And then I did the Leon Ruff match, then I went to Takeover, did the gauntlet thing and it came down to me and Bronson. Me and Bronson had a couple more singles matches and that’s where like, Stephanie McMahon was watching too.
“She came through and she was like ‘you are like my favorite heel’ and it was like ‘I love the way you do this.’ It got to a point where you just couldn’t deny me anymore. Those frustrating days and years built up to being undeniable. It’s like ‘okay what are we doing now?’ The fans were saying it, the peers were saying it and now the office is saying it. So like, ‘okay, I’m forcing your hand now because I said I’m going to do this. Ready?’ And so sometimes you have to do that. Sometimes you have to know how good you are. You have to understand what you present to a product.”
When asked about his relationship with Triple H overall, Swerve Strickland said that while he believed Triple H respected his abilities, he never felt that Triple H invested in him until the formation of the stable Hit Row Records.
“I feel like he liked me and he respects my talent and my ability. But I don’t feel like he ever truly bought in and invested until I made him have to with Hit Row,” Strickland said. “He’s one of those guys like, he has those talents on the show that he knows and he’s well-acquainted with and it’s hard for him to deviate from those guys. When he’s set on someone, he’s set on them. Anybody who says that he doesn’t, like, I wouldn’t call it picking favorites, but if somebody says he doesn’t have his core guys, you’re one of the core guys. You know what I mean?
“They’re like ‘what do you mean, he’s great’. I’m like ‘no sh-t.’ But there’s a lot of like, to this day I feel like he missed out on Matt Riddle being a world champion because he was focused on core guys. I feel like there was times he missed out on a Bianca Belair because he was focused on his core girls. You know, there’s a lot of missed opportunities with certain areas because he was so focused on certain people and you kind of have to because he’s running a product that, on a weekly product, you kind of want to go to your go-getters. You know, your guaranteed guys.”
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