Grizzled Young Veterans have gone from being one of WWE’s hidden gems and a team quietly going about their own business to arguably, and boastfully, one of the premier tandems in the company.
Following their NXT main event against Tommaso Ciampa and Timothy Thatcher, and ahead of England’s Euro 2020 game against Germany, Zack Gibson and James Drake sat down with Inside The Ropes‘ Kenny McIntosh.
We will get to the football. I hope you’ll be nice to a Scottish person here, just forewarning you, but let’s start with the wrestling. You’ve just come off of that big tag team match with Tommaso Ciampa and Timothy Thatcher, main eventing NXT. You guys have had a long journey to get here. How does it feel now to be in this prime position in NXT?
Zack Gibson: It feels like a lot of hard work paying off, basically. Both of us being wrestling for 15 years. That’s more than half of JD’s life, it’s half of my life. This is why we did it. We did it to get out here, to get to a company like NXT, within the WWE, and to just show everyone what we’ve been striving to do for all this time. To be in those spots, like the main event, in matches that have been so well received, basically, it’s everything that we set out to do and more. And we’re not going to rest on our laurels. We’re not going to stop here. That’s still just a taste of what’s to come from us.
And I guess going off the back of that, there’s not a lot of talent so far who have made the sort of full-time jump from NXT UK to the US. You guys are one of the few who have done it. I’ve got to believe that part of the reason that’s happened are those tag matches that you guys had with Moustache Mountain in Blackpool or with Flash Morgan Webster and Mark Andrews in Cardiff. When you guys were having those matches, did you know they were as special as they were going to be known by fans and the industry? And also, was there part of you that was showing what you can do so that something like this, that you’re doing today, was going to be possible?
Zack Gibson: Yeah, I think it was in the back of your head. And just naturally, I think, in any walk of life, or in any sport, you’ve got to put your best foot forward. So not necessarily doing it just for these things, but just because in Blackpool, for example, that in itself was a special event, even if it never went any further, we were all more than aware of how special that actual event in itself was going to be. You could feel it in the audience, you could feel it in the crowd that people had high expectations and a lot of anticipation for something special.
It was so easy to get caught up just in that moment. The fact that it was then picked up as a top match of the year and, you know, people talking about it and it has helped us get here – it’s almost a bonus to what it was, because any time we get put in a match in those situations, in Cardiff, there’s a huge audience, it’s a big title fight in itself. The fact that it’s helped us get it, as I say, it’s a happy bonus. But at the same time, even if all doors were closed, you still would have got the best performance from us. Just to come back to that question of, “Did we think they were going to be that special?”
I don’t know if it ever necessarily goes through your head, something like that’s going to be remembered. Maybe a little bit more now, but it goes to speak for how important and how special the TakeOver events are. I think you could go into the WWE back catalogue and just scroll through it with your eyes closed and pick any give and TakeOver on any given day, and you’ll hold up against any event anywhere in the world.
I mean, for you guys as well, after all those accolades you’ve had in the US, you come to the US, you’re basically going to be regulars in NXT in the US and then Covid happens and then you guys unfortunately obviously can’t travel. What was the whole process like of you’ve finally got this moment of you’re going to America, you’re going to be in NXT and then, at least temporarily, that’s kind of taken away from factors that nobody can really control.
James Drake:So, one of the things that we were quite lucky about was… We’ve got our heads screwed on, I guess. Before we got the opportunity to come out here and live out here, we both bought homes. So whilst this was all happening, we actually still had a base to go back to. It was surreal at first. It was one of them, because obviously, you know, if you look back at how it originally started with the lockdowns, we were told, what, three weeks? So everyone was kind of told that three week things, so we were all like, “Okay, three weeks. Maybe we’ll be back for that WrestleMania TakeOver.” And obviously, I remember being at home watching WrestleMania on TV. I think, for me, that’s when it really hit how serious it was because, in my own self-deluded mindset, wrestling is such an important thing to me. Like, I’m hearing all these things about Covid around the world and I’m like, “I hear so much stuff on the news every day, so how bad is it really? Because I haven’t seen it” and it was only when I saw WrestleMania had no-one in attendance that it really made me go, “Oh, OK, this is not going away any time soon.”
It was frustrating at times but, at the same time, we didn’t get lost in the fact that we were just stuck at home and just, “Oh, we’re here and this is it.” It was always thinking ahead and like, “Well, at some point in the future, we’re going to be flying out.” We’re super thankful for WWE’s HR management department because they’d always reach out to see how we’re doing. And it was only just those little things to say, like, “How are you doing?” At that moment in time when you can see the product is still ticking over, still move in and people are getting opportunities and we’re sat at home, just having that quick back and forth is the light at at the end of the tunnel actually. That was saving grace. We knew it was going to happen at some point. We were always studying on the product itself and how it’s changing because obviously it’s drastically changed over the past year and a half. And then also it was the first time… I didn’t really notice this myself until about two weeks in. Before we got locked down, we were flying back and forth every week to do NXT TV and we were also dropping our stuff off at an apartment that, you know, luckily WWE helped us out with out here for the time being so we didn’t have to pay for anything there, we were very grateful for that, but we were on our last trip, so we had all of our stuff pretty much out here. But we were flying on a Tuesday, wrestling on a Wednesday, flying on a Thursday and sometimes we were wrapping up our independent schedule on a Friday and Saturday. So our weeks we were like, “Go, go, go,” we didn’t have much time at home.
And then as soon as everything kind of locked down, we’re locked down and then the UK actually went into lockdown as well. That’s when, I actually, for the first time since I was 12, didn’t wrestle at least once a week. And it was one of them where I definitely do think, luckily touch wood I’ve never been injured, so I’ve never had to have downtime. It was the first time my body went, “Oh, thank God. Thank you.” So in a weird way, it was great for my body because my body definitely needed it at some point, especially with the style of wrestling we do. And then secondly, we were always thinking ahead and watching the product, and how are we coming back and what do we want to change when we come back? And it still happens now. We don’t go, “OK, this is us, this is our act, this is GYV for ten years” because that’s when, you know, as a viewer yourself, that’s when you get bored, you know what I mean?
Zack Gibson: I was getting worried, though. I told all my friends and family that I was moving to the States to go and be a big superstar wrestler and then we got stopped by the pandemic. I started being worried that I was going to be that guy in the pub when I’m an old man telling everyone that I was this close to making it but it was out of my hands. Out of my hands. It wasn’t my fault. I was going to be on WWF television.
Than you finally get to the US in November and it’s now been about eight months, but there’s been a fire you guys have had. Not that you didn’t have it before but it feels like, while you’re not NXT Tag Team Champions yet, you wrestle like, “If there’s a pandemic tomorrow, you’ll remember us.” Am I imagining that or is that something that’s there?
Both: No, not at all.
Zack Gibson: As JD alluded to a moment ago when he said the pandemic was the first time either of us had really taken any time off. Well, if you look throughout the history of wrestling, any time a wrestler’s left to his own devices and left with his thoughts where he’s not allowed that creative outlet of actually wrestling, what tends to happen is they actually come back better. You’ll hear a lot of guys say it. Like, you can use someone like a Shawn Michaels for example. Everyone thought Shawn Michaels was incredible. He was top of the bill. He was main-eventing WrestleManias and then he had a severe back injury and he was gone for years. But then it can be argued that, when he came back from the injury, that was the best Shawn Michaels.
When you say that to any other sports fan, that doesn’t really make sense. How can someone go away with such a serious injury and come back and come back better? It’s because of the unique nature of what we do. When you’re given that time to just think and to go over some extra details, not only does it make you you work better, not only does it make you better prepared, but I think it does also light that fire underneath you where you think, “I’m not going to take it for granted anymore. I’m not going to sit on the sidelines and wait. I’m not going to rest on my laurels.”
The pandemic is proof to everyone that maybe we’re not as in control as we all thought. Maybe things can still get taken away from us so while we have anything, we might as well make the most of it. I think that’s a big thing that shines through.
Just very quickly to add to that, I think it’s also a testament to the coaches at the PC and the guys that are backstage at WWE. In NXT UK, we did have some of the coaches coming over and they’re always as helpful as they can possibly be to get involved as much as they can possibly be. But that would be for a week in a month. Whereas now we have access to these coaches at the touch of a button every single day at the PC. And it’s contagious. Their influence is contagious and they get us all fired up. They point us in the right direction. I do believe this is the best work we’ve ever done and I also believe that what’s coming next is going to be better.
James Drake: I do think there’s a sort of real push as well, personally, in the sense that we’ve moved out in this pandemic, we’ve not been able to see friends and family since November last year, and obviously, it’s great. “Congratulations, you’re on NXT TV.” For me personally, it’s kind of like, “Well, what’s worse – not getting here or getting here and then getting so relaxed and lazy that you just fall through the cracks?” And that’s purely because, “Oh, well, I’ve made it,” sort of thing and that’s something I put pressure on myself with all the time.
Like, if I’m leaving my family, if I’m leaving my friends and, you know, essentially I’m uprooting my life to another country for a reason, any reason, it has to be worth it. That has to be something that I put forward because as Zack said, the coaches are so passionate and they will always help but it’s really up to us how we take our information in and apply it.
Zack Gibson: You can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it a good wrestler.
I do, unfortunately, need to ask you about football. I’d rather not at that point in time. Scotland obviously celebrated the 0-0 draw with England like they’d won the World Cup. I wasn’t part of that. Obviously, there was no swearing, any of that going on. But what did you guys think when Scotland and England played, and England weren’t able to beat Scotland and Scotland were celebrating like they’d won the world?
James Drake: Funny.
Zack Gibson: If there’s one thing I’m used to, it’s fans from within the UK overreacting to things at my expense. I’m more than used to it. It’s weird being over here ’cause there’s a little bit of a disconnect. You know, I watched the game outside Gator’s Bar on Lake Baldwin absolutely sweating my box off because it was boiling hot and I had to sit outside because I had my dog with me and I’m watching it at 3pm or something like that in a big sports bar where absolutely nobody else was watching it. They were all watching basketball or all the other sports around the different screens. I had to request it several times. So we don’t necessarily see the feedback as much as you would if we were actually still over in the UK. Instead, we just get some side glances from people that don’t understand that what we’re watching’s football, not their hand-egg rip-off.
It just is what it is. I think it’s one of the things that’s so unique about about football culture. That’s what makes the UK wrestling fans so unique as well. That comes through with the NXT UK product. It’s such a big part of football just ripping into each other, having a laugh at each other’s expense. If you took that away from football, then it would be as fun as it is.
Liverpool, obviously very near and dear to your heart. Where do you think Liverpool are going to place next season and why?
Zack Gibson: I’d like to think we’re going to place right back up top again.
You know, this was the one of the more difficult seasons in recent memory due to all of the injuries that came in and the high expectations coming off the back of our best season that we’ve had in 30-odd years. A lot of fans were very unhappy midway through the season when things were slipping and cracks were appearing, but with hindsight being 20-20, when you can now take that step back and look back on it, I think it’s difficult to say that that was a bad season given everything that happened, given all of the high profile injuries that we had to work around, all of these extra things happened and we still managed to finish strong. Still managed to qualify for all of the major competitions. If we can do that with all of these setbacks, then a full-health team coming in 100 percent, I think we’re going to be just as unstoppable as we were two years ago. That’s the hope anyway. And that’s what we’re still going to believe as we go into next season.
Last quick-fire thing for both of you. England vs Germany in the Euros. Give me a score prediction.
James Drake: It has to be England. Come on! Imagine if I went, “Germany.”
Zack Gibson: I’m predicting a win for England. I mean, obviously, I’m predicting and hoping for a win for England.
James Drake: It’s hoping, yeah.
Zack Gibson: But I can see it happening. I think the young team are all very optimistic about their chances. I think that Germany’s probably the most difficult fixture that we’re going to face on this side of the bracket. If we can get through Germany, then things are looking quite good for our chances all in but I can also see it being 1-0. Something about this team just doesn’t scream dominant performances, 3-0, 4-0.. I don’t know if that’s happening. I can see another 1-0 victory but they’re keeping some clean sheets, they’re playing strong at the back so hopefully, hopefully we can keep this little run of squeezing out some marginal victories. I’ll take it. If that’s all we get, I’ll take it.
You can watch Grizzled Young Veterans in action on WWE NXT every Tuesday night live on the USA Network in the USA, or via BT Sport in the UK.