Perhaps one of the longest-standing members of the NXT roster in history, the former Wesley Blake was an accomplished star in the black and gold brand’s tag team division – winning the NXT Tag Team Championship in 2015 and reaching the finals of the 2019 Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. After 7 long years, Blake was finally called up to the main roster last year but a series of unfortunate events led to a stop-and-start run before his eventual release from the company in April.
Now known as Westin Blake, the former WWE star sat down with Inside The Ropes‘ own Innes McVey to discuss facing Jerry Lawler in his first match after his infamous on-air heart attack, learning from Dusty Rhodes, the formation and break-up of Blake & Murphy, Lacey Evans’ short-lived stint in The Forgotten Sons, how NXT has evolved from developmental into a fully-fledged brand, where and who he’d like to wrestle following his release and much more!
Before we dive into you in WWE, I wanted to ask about your last match before joining NXT: A six-man involving Jerry Lawler, which I believe was his first match back after he had his heart attack. Do you remember much about that match? Did you have any concerns going into it?
Yeah so that was back in 2012, I was wrestling with Dory Funk Jr at the Funking Conservatory and at that time I was very green and when I got told the news that I was going to be wrestling Jerry Lawler, a WWE Hall of Famer, a guy that’s a legend in the business, a guy who’s just been with WWE, all the stuff he did in Memphis. Just an absolute legend. The stuff he did with Andy Kaufman…
To be around a true legend of the business, it was kind of frightening, but I was also very excited to get to work with and kind of get to learn from. I remember I was super nervous going into that day just thinking, ‘Oh, what am I going to do?’ and just having this empty stomach kind of feeling going into that day. When I got there and he showed up to the arena and he started talking to me, I was sweating bullets, my hands were clammy, that type of stuff while I was getting ready for this match. But once he got into the locker room and he started talking to me and started talking to all the people in the locker room, it was just very calming.
His confidence just kind of oozed out, he had a sense of ease about him that just kind of radiated off towards me and the other performers as well. He sat there in the locker room and talked to us: Told us stories, his thoughts on the business, his life, how he got into the business and how the business has helped him so much.By the time that I was ready to go out to the ring and wrestle him, I felt like I could have wrestled him five or six years. That’s how calm he made me and just made me elevate my game in the ring and not only in the ring, but outside the ring. I remember after having that match with him, I can say he was just so nice and so well put together.
That’s when it clicked to me, ‘OK, I was in a ring with a WWE Hall of Famer. Maybe I can do this. I can pursue this and keep going and getting better and better and better.’ That night when I was driving home, I just remember thinking that’s what I want to do and that’s what I want to be down the road or in WWE or in NXT or anywhere I go. I just want when people wrestle me, there is a sense of confidence and there’s a sense of calming when I wrestle someone for the very first time or if I’ve wrestled someone that’s 10 years in or 20 years in. Just to have that confidence and just kind of have that kind of cool, calm and collected type of manner in which that it can help people along the way.
So from there, you went on to join NXT and your first big push on TV was you and Murphy teaming together. How did you two getting together as a team come about, whose idea was it?
Murphy and I, we sparked our friendship by a tryout we had in 2012 down in FCW in Tampa and we reported the first day in NXT on July 8th, 2013 when the Performance Center opened. We just sparked a kind of a friendship, he was from Australia and over in a different country and tried to make friends and we hit it off. We had the same kind of passion and drive and shared the same kind of interest. So that was the thing, we started to hit the road together, driving to towns and stuff like that.
It was probably about seven or eight months later, I was walking into work one day and Matt Bloom, who was a commentator at that time in NXT and was also doing some coaching there at the Performance Center, he’s the one that pulled me off to the side and told me, ‘Hey, I think you and Murphy should try tagging’ and I was thrilled, ‘If he wants to do it, then I’m all game.’ That night I went to promo class with Dusty Rhodes, The American Dream, and after I cut my promo, he told me to come back tomorrow and cut a promo with Buddy Murphy with no real storyline or nothing. He’s like, ‘I just want to see you two in front of the camera.’
So that’s what we did. The very next day we went and cut a promo and then that weekend, we went on and started doing live events together. When we first started doing live events, we didn’t have matching gear, of course, but we knew right away we wanted to make this work. He had white shorts at the time with the white kid pads and so I had to borrow someone’s white boots and I borrowed someone’s white trunks just so we could have that cohesiveness when we got out to the ring, so people know, ‘OK, these guys are kind of a team.’
After that first match that we had together, we had just had a chemistry about ourselves that we were like, ‘Man, I think we have something here.’ So we went ahead and started investing ourselves and buying gear and really started diving into our tag team and our tech team dimensions and stuff like that. So I would say it was part of Matt Bloom or Dusty Rhodes or the NXT creative that helped put me and Murphy together and then once me and Murphy were together, we thrived on each other and shared each others’ passions on trying to be the best tag team that we could be.
You mentioned Dusty there and a lot of NXT talent who came through at that time talk about how much Dusty helped them develop. How influential was Dusty on you when you were at the Performance Center?
He was an absolute professional and had such an aura about him. He just brought star power and he just brought this kind of certainty where you think ‘If I can entertain him, then I know that I can entertain the masses.’ He helped me out so much. I’m forever in debt to the Rhodes family just because of what Dusty did, he instilled confidence in me.
When I first got there to NXT, cutting promos and stuff like that wasn’t my strongest forte in my opinion. It was the stuff that I really had to work on. I really had to find confidence in what I was saying and what I was trying to do. But man, after about a month of being there with him, he instilled that confidence in me of storytelling through a promo and getting layers of character and stuff like that. In a promo, it’s sometimes not what you say but how you say and just how he constructed that. It was just really mesmerizing just to watch him work, not only with me but with other NXT talent at that time, coming in with cutting promos and storytelling as well.
He did wonders for NXT at that time because I remember some promo classes, we wouldn’t cut a promo. He would just show you how TV was written out, he’d say ‘Hey, here’s an hour of TV and I’m going to show you how these segments are broken up.’ So you’re just under a great learning tree of how the business works and how they did it from a business side, how they did from the creative side. He brought all those elements together so when you were cutting a promo or you were doing a match on TV, you had these weapons or these skill sets that you were always thinking about to help elevate your game.
So you and Murphy went on to become NXT Tag Team Champions and you held the belts all the way until TakeOver Brooklyn I. With that being the first TakeOver to take place outside of Full Sail, did that feel look like a turning point for NXT in it becoming more than just a developmental brand?
Very much so, very much so. That’s one of my favorite matches in my mind and I think that was a huge turning point for NXT as a whole as a brand and also as a commodity for WWE. At that time, like you said, NXT tapings were just done strictly at Full Sail and I want to say it was the WrestleMania in San Francisco where we actually had a live event in San Francisco where it wasn’t taped or anything like that. But that was the first one where we actually drew some really good numbers, I wanna say we drew between five or six thousand fans.
Of course, we’re piggybacking off the rest of Mania weekend, but I think that started to get the wheels turning with creative like ‘Hey, I think this could be something big.’ I think we kept riding the momentum and Brooklyn I was just… I know before, for the performers the first time they were in front of a crowd like that is when they got to the main roster and they got to RAW and SmackDown. So I think that helped out, performance-wise, us because it made us more comfortable in front of a larger crowd and the lights and camera and the 15-20 thousand people yelling, screaming or booing or whatever they were doing. It was very monumental for NXT and for my career.
You and Murphy, a year after that, ended up getting broken up and the only real fallout from that was a singles match between the two that ended in a no contest. What was both of your reactions to the news that you were being broken up? Was there any other pitches about how you guys would break up on TV?
So when we first got told that we were kind of breaking up, we thought that they were just going to break up Alexa from Murphy and myself. We knew that Alexa was going to break off from us and she was going to go have her singles run and stuff like that, which we were both very happy for and very proud of her for everything that she’s accomplished and done.
Then we were just left there, we were tagging here and there, and then eventually on TV they started saying, ‘All right. Murphy, you’re wrestling so-and-so. Blake, you’re going to wrestle so-and-so in singles.’ At that time, Murphy and myself were like, ‘Wait, are you splitting us up?’ and they were just kind of like, ‘Yes and no’ – we kept getting that kind of answer. But eventually, Murphy and myself were just like ‘Let’s just pitch for us to wrestle each other.’ And so we did, We pitched us to wrestle each other in a Best of Three or Best of Five series of matches.
But they didn’t want to pull the trigger on that because they just said, ‘Hey, we want you to have separate entities and we didn’t want one partner to be above the other’ is what we are told. ‘So we’re just going to separate you both and have you both go about your own path.’ So we had that one match which, like you said, ended in a no contest with Samoa Joe coming out. But then after that, once that happened, we started getting the wheels rolling on our single stuff in which I started doing the Beautiful Blake and he went and… he’s always been a tremendous shape. He went and got himself in even better shape and went down to 205 Live. He, of course, did very well there and for that brand.
After that, you went on to form The Forgotten Sons with Cutler and Ryker. I believe for the first couple of house shows, Lacey Evans was also part of that group. Where did the idea of her being in The Forgotten Sons come from?
I think that was a pitch from creative. I think they just wanted to see how it would look and because at that time, of course, SAnitY was there. So they were just trying to say, ‘This would be a perfect match-up to have The Forgotten Sons with Lacey Evans against SAnitY with Nikki Cross and Wolfe and Damo.’ It was just a pitch on a live event to see if they liked the look and stuff like that, but I think they had other plans for Lacey Evans at that time. So that just got put on the backburner.
But yeah, with Steve and myself with the Forgotten Sons, it was a very cool moment in our career. Just because me and him, ever since we’ve got to NXT, we had a brotherhood. We bonded really well. It wasn’t long after we started riding the car rides together that we formed a real kinship with each other. So it was just nice to be in The Forgotten Sons because that was something that Steve and myself we pitched us as a tag team coming in together. It was nice because they actually went with it and they went with our kind of ideas.
Of course, they put their little spin on it with some stuff. So we were kind of going Sons of Anarchy vibe when we first started out and it wasn’t until several months later when creative, I want to say it was probably Steve Corino, got the gears turning with creative to put Ryker with us and once Ryker with us, that’s when the ball started rolling for The Forgotten Sons.
Once you, Ryker & Cutler got together, eventually you ended up leaving NXT at the start of 2020. With the brand developing from being developmental into a fully-fledged brand, how did the atmosphere and people’s attitudes change from when you arrived compared to when you left?
When I first arrived in NXT in 2013, it was very much a developmental brand where people were trying to build characters, we were trying to get fresh faces out there in front of the crowd. The goal of NXT was to get you up to the main roster, however they saw fit when you were deemed ready. So through the years when it’s just started becoming a brand that really started taking off, they always had the developmental part because, of course, they’re always bringing in stars and they’re always bringing in athletes from different athletics and ventures and stuff like that. They’ve always had that little development part.
But then they started bringing big-time talents from the independent circuit. Of course, you have people like Kevin Owens and Finn Balor and and Shinsuke and Samoa Joe, where you had these bigger names coming from other companies, which really elevated the brand of NXT. That’s when NXT started taking on a life of its own and it was very interesting and very fun to be a part of.
Now NXT is just a full-on brand that’s on USA Network now so they’re right up there with RAW and SmackDown. It’s one of those things where when I first started, we were filming out of Faul Sail every two to three months and now you have a weekly TV show shooting live two hours every week and that just shows you the transformation. It just shows you how much we evolved with NXT and how everything has grown so big.
How was it debuting on the main roster just as the pandemic started? Was it intimidating coming in with the uncertainty of fans not being there and shows being in the Performance Center?
Not so much intimidating. It’s one of those things that you really had to have confidence in yourself when you start wrestling in front of no fans just because when you wrestle in front of fans, you get a reaction whether something’s working or not and whether the match is going good or whether the match is going bad. So when you lose that part of your performance, that’s when you really had to have your competency. Really, you have to rely on not only yourself, but your tag partner and the people that you’re in the ring with as well.
I was very fortunate enough with Steve and myself that we had some incredible people to work with. Once we got up there, there was like The Lucha House Party, Miz & Morrison and, of course, the New Day who have been up there for quite some time. They were the veterans of… Whatever their confidence levels were at, we had to raise ours up as well. When we started putting matches together with those certain types of people, it helps elevate you in that situation.
One more question before I let you go: Obviously, you’ve since been released from WWE and you’ve got your 90-day no-compete clause. Is there anyone in particular on your bucket list that you want to face or any particular places you want to compete in once that expires?
Man, there’s so much talent out there right now. That’s the one thing that I’m very happy and grateful for, is that there is just so much talent out there that I can’t wait to wrestle, singles and tag. The opportunities for me coming up with all these different things that can happen. You look at any type of roster out there now with AEW, IMPACT, Ring of Honor, you got MLW, you got New Japan, you got Noah.
There is just a long list of people that I would love to work for all those places at any time because I believe their talent and their rosters are just filled to the brim with people that I would love to get in the ring with. I would just love to be in front of different crowds and different styles just to help myself elevate my game and hopefully, I can bring a certain worth and quality to the company that I go to.