Sha Samuels in NXT UK seems like a no-brainer now that it’s finally reality, but it almost didn’t happen – despite both parties agreeing a deal.
The 36-year-old has been one of Britain’s standout stars for the best part of a decade, but only officially signed with WWE in January, 2021 – over a year after failing a medical and seeing his dream move vanish at the drop of a hat.
“In 2019, I had a tryout week at the PC, then I had a dark match. And then from there, they liked what they saw and we agreed a deal. Then I came back in January 2020 to do my medical, this, that and the other, and unfortunately, I didn’t pass the medical. I wasn’t fit.”
ICW Lionheart League winner Samuels went on to say that he was given a timeframe of six months from January 2020 to heal up and then be reassessed, but we all know what happened then. Amidst a pandemic, Government ruling meant NXT UK were unable to actually host events or even run tapings – but Sha Samuels was determined not to rest on his laurels.
“So they said, ‘We’ll, give it six months until you’re healed then we’ll we’ll get in contact with you again.’ But unfortunately, COVID happened, pandemic happened, and I thought it wasn’t… Nothing was going to happen. But I decided to just work hard during lockdown, get in the best shape I could, make sure I was healthy. Then I got back in contact with them, then I came back for another week, another tryout week, and then they signed me.”
The physical transformation the 36-year-old has undergone is clear for all to see, but has been documented on his Twitter. However, the original intention wasn’t to get into incredible shape – but rather to try and inspire his own children!
“Well, because of lockdown, I had let myself go during lockdown, like I guess a lot of people have, and I was seeing my children. I was like, ‘I want to show them, you know, be kind of a role model and just get in shape and kind of motivate them to be more active.’ So that’s how it started but then it just snowballed and turned a little bit of an addiction – getting as best shape as I can. So that’s what it was. Health first! I just wanted to show my kids to be more active. And then once, once that happened and they’ll come out with me for walks and, you know, little jogs and this, that and the other, it just snowballed and it turned into an addiction, like a new hobby, because the pubs were closed so I had to do something.”
So, a very trim, rejuvenated and revitalised Sha Samuels in NXT UK… What could possibly go wrong?
“Well, I was brought into a room and they said, ‘We’re going to change your name.’ I was like, ‘OK, you know, company man, whatever you need to do, I’m happy to be here. Happy for the opportunity. I’m going to make it work.’ And they said, ‘You’re going to be called Ed Harvey.’ And my face dropped.”
Having spent over a decade building up his name and character on the independent scene, that – much like his original dream of reaching WWE – was about to erupt in flames before the very eyes of Sha Samuels…or a hesitantly-named Ed Harvey.
“To be fair, I was… It was for about a week, I was led to believe I’d be called Ed Harvey. But then I was told, ‘Nah, you’re going to, you’re going to be Sha Samuels. You’re going to make a big thing about, ‘Nah, I’m not Ed Harvey’. So that was a relief. But for a good week, I was a bit… I was a bit disheartened, to be honest, because if you want to give me a new name, I could think of a better name than Ed Harvey.”
Samuels now sees the funny side, of course – and takes pride in being the only person to publicly denounce their WWE-given name.
“Hey, at least had the guts to go, ‘No, I’m not Ed Harvey. I’m Sha Samuels.’ Who else has done that in WWE? I’m the only one who’s got the bottle to do it.”
I have officially signed with the @WWE It’s been a really long journey to get here. Full of ups,downs and loads of hard work.
But the proper hard graft starts now!!
EAST x NXT:UK pic.twitter.com/T1JEpztA8Z
— Sha Samuels (@Shasamuels) January 14, 2021
If there is one positive to take from lockdown, though, it’s that the NXT UK athletes were able to hone their skills, via Skull Sessions on Zoom with Shawn Michaels as they adapted to the new challenge of wrestling in front of no crowds – and Sha Samuels has tipped two men in particular for success.
“There’s two people I think that are working hard and maybe not getting the recognition they deserve. Kenny Williams and Saxon Huxley. I think them two are amazing. They always work hard, they put amazing effort in, and the improvement they’ve made over the last year has been phenomenal. I reckon, in the next year, especially Kenny Williams, they’re going to be breakout stars in the UK.”
However, as for the man himself, he just can’t wait to perform in front of fans again, having made such an impact as a character who thrives off of fan interaction. With fans returning to NXT UK next week, Samuels said the time without crowds will only make it much more special.
“Oh, we’re looking forward to it. I mean, having fans in the building is what this is all about. Not have fans in the building, it’s harder to perform at a higher level, but NXT UK has always been lucky to perform at a high level without fans. We’ve actually benefited without having fans, I think because it’s been concentrated just on the in-ring action. With fans back now next week, on the 14th, we can’t wait to get going!”
You can check out our full interview with Sha Samuels here!
Thanks to Sha Samuels for taking the time and to WWE United Kingdom for facilitating the chat. You can follow Sha on Twitter here, and watch Sha every week on NXT UK, which is available via the WWE Network at 8pm every Thursday, then on BT Sport every Friday.