Elias has spoken about his now beloved musical character nearly never came about, thanks to him being placed on the NXT fired list several times.
Following several failed attempts to reach WWE, the man who would originally be known as Elias Samson finally made it to the big time, making his NXT television debut on May 15, 2014, in a tag team loss to The Ascension.
Though there was nothing miraculous about the character or performer at the time, he wasn’t like other who were required to grow their talent on countless live events and would remain on television from the word go, even undergoing a minor name change from Sampson to Samson.
A mere extra on NXT television, which included being a Rosebud for then NXT sensation Adam Rose, Elias learnt Italian which he credited with saving his job but still found himself as enhancement talent to the bigger stars.
Now, the maestro has sat down with Lilian Garcia on her Chasing Glory Podcast to discuss how his head was on the company’s chopping block more than once, what saved him and the one person who believed in him behind the scenes:
“I’m here at my dream job. I’m on NXT, and one step closer to WWE. One thing I became very aware of when I got there was that the people who said ‘no’ at my tryout were now in charge of my job, and their minds didn’t change. Corey Graves can attest to this, but I was put on the fired list numerous times in NXT for whatever reason.
I’ll tie it in full circle. I remember being pulled aside by the head of NXT at that time. He said, ‘Hey, listen. You gotta come up with something for us. We’re going to examine you in about 30 days. And, hey, maybe you’d be better off somewhere else. Maybe not everybody is meant to be a WWE Superstar.'”
With thirty days to save his dream job, Elias went back to the drawing board to conjure up his drifter character that would be seen walking around Full Sail in the background while other talent had their matches:
“So over the next 30 days, I put together a character that I called The Judge or The Drifter at the time. [His story] was that he was a guy who walked the streets with his guitar and told stories. He was supposed to be this mysterious guy. I put together a vignette and a whole package of merchandise. I also made a packet of when he was going to debut, who he was going to feud with, you name it, it was in that packet.
So, the 30 days came up, and I presented it to them. They said, ‘Ok. This is good.’ So, he [the head of NXT] said, ‘Let’s meet in the conference room at 2 o’clock and talk about this some more.’ I thought the pressure was off. So, he brought me into this round table room – and I have never told this story – and everyone was there. We had him, Dusty Rhodes, and a bunch of other coaches like Norman Smiley, they were all sitting there.”
While daunted at the prospect of so many legends and decision-makers around one table, Elias described how the meeting turned into a game-changing moment for his entire career:
“He [head of NXT] said, ‘We all looked through you’re packet, and it’s really good,’ and he shoves it to the side and asks, ‘What else ya got?’ I’m like, ‘What? I spent the last 30 days, night in and night out making sure that this was great.’ He agreed it was good, but he wanted to know what else I had.
He goes, ‘Here’s the deal: When I turn the lights off and back on again, you’re going to give me something new.’ He turns the lights off. And when he turns the lights back on, I started yelling at everyone in Italian. I go through every single person, and I’m up in everyone’s faces. When I go back to sit down, Dusty Rhodes goes, ‘Holy s–t!’ Nick Dinsmore said, ‘I got goosebumps.’ And he [head of NXT] said, ‘There it is.’
Many won’t remember Elias’ Italian gimmick, arguably for good reason, but it was his Drifter persona that caught the imagination of the WWE faithful and Elias was soon promoted to WWE’s main roster.
In recent weeks, the artist has been paired with Jaxson Ryker on both Main Event and Raw as he looks to change up the gimmick after suffering an electrocution during his Symphony of Destruction Match against Jeff Hardy.
Credit for the interview: Chasing Glory Podcast
h/t for the transcription: Wrestling Inc.