WWE may have discontinued publication of its titular magazine, but its electronic empire and digital domain continue growing at an exponential rate. Its pro wrestling kingdom is expansive, powerful, and time-tested, earning billions of dollars annually in ticket sales, merchandise, licensing, and subscription services. You might say it is the pantheon of sports entertainment—bigger than baseball, more prosperous than football, and just as lucrative as the NBA.
For proof of WWE’s increasing audience one need look no further than its signature television / internet channel—The WWE Network—which celebrated its first anniversary this month (check the links below for local listings or internet / mobile access).
Or consider WWE’s spectacular junior division.
Based in the sunshine state of Florida, NXT tests tomorrow’s WWE superstars by pitting up-and-coming pugilists against one another in a veritable gauntlet of grudge matches and title fights whose physicality and showmanship parallel those of its paternal wrestling organization. More than just a minor league, NXT provides proving grounds for the “rock star” wrestlers of the future: These are the guys (and girls) whose names and faces will soon decorate your kids’ T-shirts, lunchboxes, and linens.
WWE bad-boy Triple-H does the booking for NXT on behalf of CEO Vince McMahon. NXT: ArRIVAL was the WWE Network’s first live broadcast in February 2014.
Some of yesterday’s familiar wrestling giants have retired (Hulk Hogan, Jake “The Snake” Roberts), moved on to movies or Minnesota government (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Jesse “The Body” Ventura), or—sadly—have passed on since the ‘70s and ‘80s (Andre the Giant, Randy “Macho Man” Savage, The Ultimate Warrior). But the demand for well-executed chokeholds, leg-locks, and suplexes by muscle-bound heroes (“faces”) and villains (“heels”) has never been higher: Quicken Loans Arena was packed to the rafters when Monday Night RAW arrived in 2014 and WWE: TLC barreled into town in January 2015.
We just learned Ohio’s inaugural NXT event has already sold out, mere days after announcement…and less than twelve hours following our exclusive chat with one of the superstars scheduled to appear.
On Friday, March 6, at Cleveland Agora, NXT Live! will unleash hours of WWE-caliber wrestling action upon hundreds of North Coast diehards who just can’t get enough RAW, Smackdown, and Fastlane on the road to Wrestlemania 31 (March 29 at Levi Stadium in Santa Clara, California).
We spoke with NXT great Adrian Neville yesterday by phone to discuss the upcoming card in Cleveland—and his already-illustrious wrestling career.
A native of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in England, Neville always dreamed of wrestling as a child, and he excelled at other athletic activities in order to make himself ring-ready. Barely out of his teens, “The Jumping Georgie” made his wrestling debut in 2004. He back-flipped and hand-sprung his way through the PWG (Pro Wrestling Guerilla) in America in and the Dragon Gate league in Japan under the pseudonyms Jungle PAC and PAC, earning a reputation as a formidable foe. What Neville lacked in height (5’10) and weight, he compensated for in strength, speed, and agility—drawing the attention of duly impressed WWE scouts in 2012.
He’s been with NXT ever since.
The bouncing Brit has grappled with members of the “Shield” (Dean Ambrose) and the Wyatt Family (Luke Harper and Erick Rowan), and gone toe-to-toe with Oliver Grey and William Regal. Defeating Bo Dallas in a ferocious ladder match, Neville would retain the NXT championship for nine months before losing the belt to current champ Kevin Owens in December.
Now Neville’s on a quest to win it back, and his journey begins in—of all places—Cleveland.
CLEVELAND EXAMINER: Hello, Mr. Neville! How are you?
ADRIAN NEVILLE: I’m fine, how are you doing, Pete?
EXAMINER: May I ask where you’re calling in from? Are you down in Florida?
ADRIAN NEVILLE: Yes, I’m currently in Orlando, Florida.
EXAMINER: So you’re at NXT headquarters, where they do all the development and training.
ADRIAN NEVILLE: Yes, sir. The Performance Center is in Orlando. That’s correct.
EXAMINER: I see the next big event is in Jacksonville. This weekend, is it?
ADRIAN NEVILLE: Well, every weekend we do all over the state of Florida, from Jacksonville down to Tampa. So every Friday and Saturday night we’ll be doing shows in Florida. Obviously, we’ll be doing our first show out-of-state in Cleveland, Ohio on March 6th. So we’re excited about that.
EXAMINER: Right—this is a first-time thing for us in Ohio. We’ve had WWE roll through town a couple times over the last year with RAW and LIVE. But it’ll be great seeing you and the NXT stars up close in a smaller venue.
ADRIAN NEVILLE: Absolutely. As a group we’re really excited about this, and we’re looking to expand the brand as much as we can. So this step in Cleveland is the first step to promoting NXT nationwide.
EXAMINER: You were NXT champ for a long time running, but you lost the title over the holidays. I’m sure you’re on track to reclaim the belt, but what else is on your agenda, so to speak? What’s your current status?
ADRIAN NEVILLE: Yes! Unfortunately I lost the NXT championship at the end of last year, so I’ve been in limbo a little bit. I’ve got a little personal grievance with Kevin Owens. The previous time we fought, he actually power-bombed me on the apron, and I had to leave the arena on a stretcher that night. So it’s safe to say Kevin Owens isn’t my favorite individual right now. His behavior in general is something I don’t respect; he’s been taking out people left and right. He took out my friend Sami Zayn a little while back, so I guess my focus right now would be getting some kind of retribution on Kevin Owens!
EXAMINER: You also have some extensive tag-team work, and some running rivalries.
ADRIAN NEVILLE: I was the first-even NXT tag-team champion with Oliver of the British Ambition. We lost the belt, and I teamed with Bo Dallas for a small period—Oliver got injured, so Bo took his place, and Bo and I were champions for a while. Then I lost the tag-team championship, and won them back with Corey Graves, who is now an announcer for NXT. At the point when I was chasing the belt, Bo Dallas was champion. So Bo was the guy I eventually won the championship from. Then I went into defending the championship against the likes of Brodus Clay, Titus ONeal, Tyson Kidd….until unfortunately I lost it last December to Sami Zayn.
EXAMINER: You’ve been in the business for over ten years now; you were barely out of your teens when you started. How’d you become involved in the sport?
ADRIAN NEVILLE: Yes, I’ve been a fan from a young age. I think I was about five when I started becoming enamored with wrestling. It was always what I wanted to do. I’m from Newcastle, which is a small city in the northeast of England. So for the longest time it didn’t really seem a possibility that I could pursue my dream. But when I was about seven I found this school in Newcastle, where I began training and learning the basics of professional wrestling. I gained a reputation around the U.K. and I traveled up and down the country for about a year. And I started getting promotions in Europe and America, and ended up in Japan for about five years. That’s where I wrestled for the most part, before signing with WWE.
EXAMINER: I think there’s a bit of misunderstanding—or perhaps naivety—on the part of American WWE fans. We tend to forget just how popular wrestling is all around the world. Maybe we think of it as an American pastime simply because WWF was based here, WCW was here, WWE is here…. But you did a lot of work in Japan when you were coming up, and they had several wrestling organizations there.
ADRIAN NEVILLE: Yes. And wrestling was huge in England for the longest time. The single British style. Obviously it’s huge in Mexico, and huge in Germany and Japan. It’s a world-wide thing. All across the world. Because I think America is the most publicized, and WWE is the biggest company in the world that promotes professional wrestling, I think that’s why a lot of people think of the America product when they think of pro wrestling, because that’s the most widely available.
EXAMINER: After Japan, you relocated to the States and signed with WWE in 2012 or so, yes?
ADRIAN NEVILLE: That’s right. I reported to Tampa, Florida at the time. It was October 2012.
EXAMINER: So who are some of Adrian Neville’s wrestling heroes? Do you have any favorite legends, or guys who inspired you growing up?
ADRIAN NEVILLE: My all-time favorite is Dynamite Kid. Obviously, he’s British, so I could relate to him a bit. But them in general—the British Bulldogs—those are guys who are very much role models to me. Especially Dynamite; I’ve tried to model a lot of my wrestling style around how he was, how he was explosive. He was strong. He’d certainly be a role model. But outside of dynamite, I was always into the Japanese junior style. Guys like Tiger Mask…those guys. They were certainly the guys I watched.
EXAMINER: For folks unawares, could you describe some of your signature moves and finishers?
ADRIAN NEVILLE: Well, my nickname is the “Man that Gravity Forgot.” My move set is very acrobatic. So a lot of my moves are high-risk. They’re acrobatic. My most famous I would say is the red arrow, which is my finishing move. It’s a technique I’ve innovated. It’s a shooting-star, but it’s mixed with a 360 shooting corkscrew. So it’s a 360 degree corkscrew shooting star press. So that’s very much my weapon, what I use to finish matches. You touched on the imploding 450 splash, which I call the flaming star press. That’s kind of my super go-to if you will, in a really big match situation. That’s also a big one I have. It’s a lot like a 450 splash, but different because you face outwards when you begin and explode inwards.
EXAMINER: So I take it you’re not afraid of heights, what with all that climbing and leaping.
ADRIAN NEVILLE: No, sir, no! I try to manage my fear as best I can [laughs]!
EXAMINER: Could you discuss health and fitness for a moment? What kind of advice would you share with younger fans when it comes to diet, nutrition, exercise, and sleep?
ADRIAN NEVILLE: Conditioning and fitness are critical to what we do. I did a lot of sports over the years and I’ve been an active person over the years. I competed in a few sports at a high level. But I find nothing as physically demanding as what we do in the ring. It’s a mix of everything—of acrobatics, strength, conditioning, stamina. So it’s important to…. Personally, I’m in the gym five or six times a week, without fail, working on my conditioning and performance. We compete here at WWE at the highest level, so it’s important to be at a pinnacle state of fitness and be at your very best. And besides everything else, it’s important to remember that what we do can be dangerous. So if you’re flagging late in a match, you can cause injury to yourself or someone else if you’re not in shape. It’s simply required for what we do.
EXAMINER: You anticipated my next question there: While it’s obvious you have to be strong and fast to take out your opponent, you’ve also got to be in good shape just to minimize your chances of getting hurt—or at worst, to mitigate any injuries you might suffer.
ADRIAN NEVILLE: Exactly!
EXAMINER: You don’t know who you’ll be taking on in Cleveland yet, do you? Isn’t it contingent upon what happens with matches taking place over the next week?
ADRIAN NEVILLE: Yeah, that’s it. We don’t know right now. It depends on this upcoming weekend, and what the matchmakers have for us. So we’ll find out a few days beforehand. But regardless, it’s going to be a phenomenal card. All the top stars are going to be there, all the ones you see week-in and out: Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, and Finn Balor…as well as Divas, like Charlotte and Alexa Bliss. It’s going to be a great event for everyone who goes!
Watch the 2015 WWE NXT introduction trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=crbRl4wl4A8
EXAMINER: I’m principally a music journalist, so I’d like to ask if you have any favorite bands—perhaps favorite tunes you listen to while working out, or maybe a theme song?
ADRIAN NEVILLE: Favorite band? My number-one favorite of all time is a band called The Specials. They’re out of Coventry, England. They were big in this musical movement, which was kind of a mix of punk and ska. They’re my favorite. I like a lot of that style, the ska. I like original Jamaican ska from the Sixties. A lot of the Trojan Records stuff. But I like anything with soul and passion behind it. I’m very kind of open-minded when it comes to music.
EXAMINER: My ten-year old son plays the WWE 2K15 videogame on his X-Box, and he tells me you’re featured on there with the NXT roster. Have you had a chance to play this? What’s it like to see yourself interpreted as a video game character?
ADRIAN NEVILLE: It’s really, really weird! Growing up I was a huge video game fan, as well as a wrestling fan and sports fan. I played a bunch of video games, a lot of the WWE and WCW games growing up. Never in a million years did I imagine I’d be part of one! So the first time I played it, it was very bizarre. It was kind of…in a weird way, it was creepy. The technology has come so far. You see these images of yourself onscreen, and they’re so lifelike. The graphics…. If you take a glance, it’s like you’re watching Monday night RAW or Smackdown. So to see such a lifelike representation of you on the screen, yeah, it’s a little strange! You have to wonder what the next step is going to be. The next step will probably be where you just can’t tell the difference at all!
EXAMINER: Well, Adrian, thanks so much for spending some time with us. We look forward to seeing you with NXT in Cleveland next weekend.
ADRIAN NEVILLE: That’s right. Friday, March 6th at The Agora!
EXAMINER: And please bring some of that nice warm Florida weather with you! We could use some!
ADRIAN NEVILLE: I’ll try my best! And thank you!
WWE Presents NXT Live! Friday, March 6, 2015 at Cleveland Agora (5000 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland OH). Doors at 6:30pm.
This event is currently sold out, but tickets are still available for WWE: Live in Youngtown, Ohio on March 8, 2015 and WWE: Money in the Bank in Columbus, Ohio on June 14, 2014. Visit WWE at the links below for tickets and program schedules / broadcast dates and times.