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WWE NXT CHAMPION KARRION KROSS DISCUSSES HIS WIN OVER FINN BALOR, RETURNING FROM INJURY, HOW THAT TIME PERIOD MADE HIM A BETTER CHAMPION & TALENT, SCARLET, THE BATTLES HE WENT THROUGH TO GET TO WWE, FINN BALOR, KEITH LEE, NXT MOVING TO TUESDAYS, TALENTS HE WANTS TO FACE, WRESTLEMANIA IN HIS FUTURE AND TONS MORE

By Mike Johnson on 2021-04-20 09:21:00

As WWE NXT enters their second week on Tuesdays on the USA Network, Karrion Kross also enters his second reign as the WWE NXT Champion.  In an exclusive conversation with PWInsider.com, Kross reflects on everything that brought him to this moment, why the adversity of recent months made him a better talent and champion and breaks down both today in NXT and his future in WWE.

Mike Johnson: It is Monday, April 19th, 2021. And as we saw at WWE NXT TakeOver: Stand & Deliver, a new regime has started as Karrion Kross is once again the WWE NXT champion. Putting everyone in that brand on notice as we head towards NXT on the USA Network in its new day and time of Tuesdays at 8:00 PM, so we thought it'd be very prudent to bring him on.  So, first of all, it must be nice to be back in the catbird seat, especially given everything that you've been through in the last couple of months. So let's start this out with a very easy question. How are you and what does it mean to you to be back as the NXT champion, given all the turmoil that you went through with the injury?

Karrion Kross:  I'm doing very well. It was very strange initially actually winning the match, completing it and just being done with it all because it's just something that I've been waking up, chasing every single day since the injury happened. So to finally actually get it, I kind of didn't even know what to do with it, I couldn't believe it.  So it's been settling in over the last couple of days. Very, very happy about it. We celebrated by doing deadlifts, so nothing really changes. It's back to the gym and back to the drawing board and just staying after it.

Mike Johnson: How frustrating was it? I mean, it's never a good time to get hurt, but how frustrating was it to go through all of the legal and personal stuff that floated around in order to exit your previous place of employment, make it to WWE NXT. Have that momentum built, go through that match with Keith Lee, go through that pain, win the match and then with the stop and start all over again, and do The Six Million Dollar Man thing and rebuild him and make him stronger.  If you can, take us through what that's like emotionally, where you finally gotten to that goal that you've set for yourself and everything has to be wiped off the drawing table and we have to start from scratch again. What is that like when you fought so hard to get to that moment?

Karrion Kross: Well, in my mind at the time it was pretty terrifying, because I feel like I'm a pretty grounded person and I understand how the general public looks at entertainment in general. We're dehumanized. For me going through that, I was very concerned that people, maybe even my employers, might check out. It's a business at the end of the day. And they really had no obligation professionally to allow me to have that run and do what I was doing.  So in my mind, I was like, "I need to prepare for the worst-case scenario, worst-case situation." That I may come back and I may not be the same, the way my body responds to hitting the canvas or the way I'm moving. I had no idea what it's going to be like. I may come back, everything could be rewritten, everything could be different and I just have to respect that.  So I trained and prepared myself mentally, as I said, for anything to happen. And the absolute best outcome actually came out of it and I just needed to do the work, so to speak. I just, I did my absolute best at demonstrates, emotional composure, professional composure, and focus on how I can improve every single day with the small victories.  So at the end of it all, I think it was one of the best things that ever happened to me in my life. Nevermind professionally, I feel like a stronger person mentally, physically now than I did before. And that was my silver lining of the whole experience.

Mike Johnson: Do you think that experience makes you more confident in being the person who will be the nucleus of this brand going forward, than you might've been otherwise?

Karrion Kross: I absolutely do. And even in strange ways that people might not even consider. For instance, anyone who ever goes through an injury now, a serious one, that's in my proximity, I feel they're very confident to talk to them about where they're at and talk to them about the things that they might not feel comfortable talking to their bosses about or even people personally, you're living in a state of severe vulnerability, even from a psychological standpoint or sociology, if you want to reference it to that. People have an identity subconsciously based on what they can do. Now you take away somebody's arm or their leg or their ability to just do something that they wake up doing every day, it's like an ego death. And you need to be aware of that, need to be able to look that in the face and be like, "I am more than what's happening to me."  I feel like I could take somebody through that, and that's what I got out of it. I feel very complete as a person. I feel like I understand myself better now as a man than I did prior to even getting hurt.

Mike Johnson: So you mentioned that this was probably in some ways, and I'm paraphrasing your words, a best-case scenario for you. In some ways, while the injury is never a good thing, it also became a best-case scenario for Finn Balor, because he ended up as the NXT champion while you were out. And had an incredible run with talents like Kyle O'Reilly and so forth. And I think the strength of his run actually helped set your title win up to be even more prominent than the original Keith Lee victory might've been.  When you look back on TakeOver: Stand & Deliver, what does that match with Finn Balor mean to you? And how do you compare the two different matches between the win over Balor, versus the win over Keith Lee?

Karrion Kross: I could definitely say that working with Finn Balor was the ... That's a dream case scenario that anyone should want to have, being able to work with someone that many years deep in the business. Who's worked everywhere all over the world, success has followed him everywhere he's gone. His wrestling IQ is completely off the charts.   I was really pleasantly surprised to meet somebody I didn't have initially a very strong rapport with, just because we were professional acquaintances, that we thought very much alike. We knew what people wanted to see out of that match. And we synced really well in terms of creating that emotional response, listening that from the live crowd and for people through television. It was awesome.  I really actually felt like I was back to myself that night when I was in the ring. It's hard for me to still put into words. I just felt very organic, very natural. The things I knew how to do, the person I knew I was as a performer, I felt like was alive and well that night. That probably had to do with just getting even farther away from being injured, but I was training like a maniac, even more so than usual for that match. I spent a lot of time on the mats, in the ring, I was doing a lot of judo, a lot of catch wrestling. Just putting my body through a lot of different types of impact scenarios so I could just really completely get through and get by any subconscious lag that I had from being injured.  In relation to the Keith Lee match, it's just two different styles of performers, two different chemistries. And I think people probably will agree with me that this was the far greater performance than that match, for a variety of reasons.

Mike Johnson: So on WWE NXT on this past Tuesday, you talked about how no one will out-wrestle you, and you know that this brand has the hungriest men and women on the planet. You've always been a talent who's been very hungry to improve and very hungry for new challenges.  When you look out at the brand, having had matches at the level that you've had with Finn Balor, who are the talents that you're excited about being able to step in the ring with as the NXT champion, and create a moment as meaningful as the one that you just had with Balor at Takeover: Stand & Deliver.

Karrion Kross: I think guys like Austin Theory, Pete Dunne, Johnny Gargano, maybe even Tommaso Ciampa one more time. There's so many people that come to mind. Obviously WALTER and I, at some point in the future, will have to meet.  I try to keep my ear low to the ground and listen to what people are interested in seeing. I think that's important to do in my profession. I'm not somebody who turns a blind eye to that. I know that there's a lot of main roster appeal, I also pay attention to that as well. But I think there's a lot of bangers left on NXT, especially with the guys that are in the PC right now that nobody has seen. WWE has a whole secret roster of people that are going to blow everybody away.  I'm very excited to be there for that as well, whenever they decide to pull the trigger on that. And it'll just be a matter of time so to speak, pun intended I guess.

Mike Johnson: One person we didn't get a chance to talk about it yet who's been a big part of your onscreen persona since coming to NXT, is Scarlett. Obviously she's had an interesting journey in pro-wrestling as well.  What is it like taking some of the real-life aspect of that relationship and meshing it into the on-screen chemistry that we see between Karrion Kross and Scarlett?  How does it add to everything when you bringing that creativity to life with the ring entrance, and her involvement in the theme music, and having her at your side when you have to create and produce these moments and matches. 

Karrion Kross: It's an absolute blast. I mean, anytime I ever become creatively blocked on something or I'm missing a small piece, she is right there to interject with exactly what I'm looking for, and vice versa. If she is blocked on something, I can come in and do the same for her.  Her and I think very much alike as well, in terms of how we can contribute to the overall presentation of the show, in terms of diversity. We have luchadors here, we have strikers here, we have European wrestling here, power wrestlers, we have hybrid luchadores. What is missing on the panel overall of the show? Whether it's theatrics or the darkness of it. Or perhaps tonight we're going to step away from the philosophical and metaphorical language and we're going to go really direct language, violence, whatever that may be.  I feel like her and I, our thought processes, while very much alike, are very different. It compliments the whole entire thing. And it's an absolute blessing to be able to work with her.

Mike Johnson: The WWE NXT move to Tuesday nights, what different energy has that brought to the locker room?   We're coming up on the second episode.  How different did that feel from what had been the traditional Wednesday, with head-to-head competition and the normal grind? Was there a different energy backstage, was it a different energy amongst the talents this past Tuesday? And how do you think the move to Tuesday benefits NXT?

Karrion Kross:  Oh, this is easily the most motivated locker room I've ever been a part of, light years ahead of everywhere else I've ever been respectfully. And the way we measured it was we're on a new day, we're going to make this special. Everybody dials it in at 110% every night, you can see that. But Tuesday it was like, "Let's dig even deeper. Let's see how far we can actually go today."  I feel like we pulled it off, I think that we did really well. Especially going home with the intergender tags with all eight people, I thought that was different. I thought it was special and I thought it was really fun. We were just observing it like that, like this is an opportunity to show people a little something extra that night.

Mike Johnson: So in your life prior to WWE, you were a bodyguard in different places. I am curious,  How did any aspect of that world prepare you for the professional wrestling world?  What makes a good bodyguard in terms of protecting their clients or keeping an eye out for their clients and does any of those skills translate into this world?

Karrion Kross: Attention to detail and being a good listener...just listening more and speaking less, I definitely think were probably aspects of that line of work that really helps with all aspects of life, I feel like. Yeah, probably just attention to detail, I guess, would be the biggest thing.

Mike Johnson: Do you ever have any clients who recognize you now and they reach out and they're surprised at the turn that life has taken you?

Karrion Kross: All the time, but they're not surprised. Most of the people that I worked with, not all of them but a few of them, I would just wind up personally enjoying each other's company. So whether I was working or not, we'd always remained in touch a little bit, and a lot of them were wrestling fans. So it's pretty cool, very surreal for me. And I guess them as well.

Interview continues on Page 2!


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