A lot of people don't realize there's often two or three live events leading up to a TakeOver. It's something that the main roster guys deal with basically every week. People will see them Monday for Raw or Tuesday for Smackdown, but that's the last day of their tour. They've been gone from Thursday or Friday, performed on three shows, driven anywhere from 150 to 500 miles, worked out every day and woke up in a different city every day. But for us, in NXT, we mostly just deal with that on a quarterly basis.
This is the story of the beginning of my War Games weekend.
After playing hockey the night before, I didn't get back to my house until around 12:30 or 1 a.m. CT, and at 5 a.m., my alarm went off. I had everything laid out and ready, and quickly hopped in an Uber to head to the airport.
It was the start of a weekend that would culminate in what I believe is the biggest moment of my career so far. Twenty years in seems like a long time for this to happen, but being in the main event of a WWE pay-per-view in which we were trusted to relaunch one of the most memorable marquee matches in wrestling history in War Games was a huge responsibility.
But it also felt like it was exactly where I was supposed to be. I don't mean that in a cocky or arrogant way, especially because it took me a long time to end up where I felt I was supposed to end up. I'm cool with that because the journey of it has been more memorable, even, than the actual destination. But the destination is pretty spectacular.
So I was in this Uber by myself, it's 5:30 in the morning, and I'm thinking, 'This is the start of a weekend that will likely change my professional life.' I believed in what we had in mind and what we had set up enough to know that I was pretty sure that it was going to be a success. It was a massive task for all nine guys involved to deliver a truly memorable experience inside of the War Games cage, but I thought we were ready.
I'm always early for my flights, and this was no exception. I hate the anxiety of feeling like I'm going to be late, so I'm often pretty early -- and that tends to cut down on my sleep even more.
The first show of this tour was in Austin, Texas, for a NXT live event. As a wrestler, house shows are often the most fun that we have because we don't have the pressure of TV, hitting exact times, hitting exact things for the camera or feeling the immense pressure of advancing storylines. We're working for that audience, that night. We're sticking to the stories and we're sticking to the characters and we're sticking to where we are relative to the WWE Universe, and it's definitely the time when we have the most freedom just to entertain and tailor everything to the situation at hand.
I landed in Austin at 9:30 a.m. and I collected my checked bag -- but I already had the most important items in my carry-on. It's an unwritten rule -- you never check your wrestling stuff on your way to shows, because you can buy clothes, but you can't buy anything close to your wrestling gear. I can't buy my ring jackets or my trunks or my wrestling boots anywhere -- it's all one of a kind.
It's a similar theory when you're a champion, which was the case here. As part of the NXT tag-team champions, I carry the belt everywhere I go, and that can be irritating in a different way. Your bag goes from 30 pounds to 55 pounds, and everyone at TSA wants to look at it and take it out. They ask you a million questions. It's part of the responsibility of being a champ, though, and it's well worth it.
So, we got to the hotel after about an hour-long bus ride. I quickly got myself checked in, and once I got to the room, I organized my stuff for the day.
I got to Austin pretty early on in the day, so a bunch of us headed over to the Gold's Gym downtown, which was walking distance. Along the way we got to see a little bit of Austin, which is a very cool city, and these kinds of moments are among my favorite parts about what we do.
I've wrestled in all 50 states. I've wrestled in every province in Canada and all over the world. We rarely spend a lot of time where you can just be a tourist, but we do get to have memorable experiences wherever we go.
We got to the gym around noon, got a good workout in and headed back to the hotel to shower, change and grab our stuff. There was a little bit of time to work with, but the bus was set to leave at 4 p.m.
- SGTW (@SGTWATX) November 17, 2017
Once we got to the H-E-B Center in Austin, I slipped into my regular routine. I went straight to the dressing room, got my chair and set all of my stuff down. Once I had my space, I walked to the Gorilla Position, out through the entrance and down the ramp to ringside. No matter if it's a house show, a TV taping or a big event, that's my routine.
The reason I do that is because I want to get acquainted with the building and the space. If we're out in the middle of a space, that's one thing, but often with these shows in small rock halls, we're on a stage rather than in the center. That changes how you put matches together, and how you react to a crowd.
It's also a pretty cool feeling to see everything come together from nothing. Most of us enjoy seeing the building when it's empty, when it's all set up, when the lights come on and the ring's up, but the venue is still empty. It's very cool.
Once I got a feel for the building, I headed to catering to get a small meal before working on some details of what we were going to do that night. We were told we were in a six-man tag with the Undisputed Era, so then we got to work figuring out some details of what we thought we were going to do. They were saying that it would be a pretty good-size show with 1,500 to 1,600 pre-sold tickets. That's a good-sized crowd, and the building isn't very big, so that was exciting going into it, and that was before knowing you're going to have a good match already because you're going to work with three guys who are pros.
Tagging with Killian Dain and Alexander Wolfe is great, too. You're never too worried about injury or anything like that while working with them. We all knew the crowd was going to be lively because Austin is a very cool city, and Texas is a great wrestling state with a lot of tradition.
There was still a lot more to get done before the show even began. During the day, you get pulled in a couple directions. We had a bunch of posters and stuff to sign, and there was also a meet-and-greet with a group of VIPs, and a few other odds and ends to take care of.
Once those things were completed, it was time to get ready for the actual match -- stretching, warming up and working on the details of how the match would play out. Then it was show time.
You have to go out there and give it your all, of course, because you want to make sure the people who paid for tickets get their money's worth. At the same time, you also have this little voice in the back of your head reminding you that you have to do whatever you can to go into the big TakeOver match on Saturday with a clean bill of health.
"With my ego, I've always wanted to work for the WWE and wrestle on Raw and Smackdown, on pay-per-views like Survivor Series, Royal Rumble and WrestleMania. I still want to end up there, and I will end up there if I have anything to say about it. Heck, my wallet also wants that to happen, too, but in my soul, as a wrestler, having everything that I've ever wanted when I'm in that ring, my soul wants to stay in NXT forever."
That's the reality of wrestling, but there's only so much you can do. You can get hurt doing any of it, and that's the truth. It's a dangerous thing. We are as careful as possible, but there's still a lot of contact, a lot of physicality and a lot of athleticism in play. One wrong step can be a real detriment -- it often ends up that the silliest things end up being the biggest problem.
And that's what happened in Austin.
We were doing this thing where we went to grab all three members of Undisputed Era on the floor to ram them into each other, and when it happened Bobby Fish and Adam Cole somehow collided at a bad angle.
Fish busted his nose and started bleeding from his face. Cole got this giant gash on his head.
With the WWE's strict no-blood policy, Cole's cut was bad enough that he had to go to the back to get it looked at while we were in the match. We had to do what we could in the interim, waiting for Cole to come back out. Meanwhile, he's getting his wound closed with staples.
If anyone ever questioned it, Adam Cole is a tough dude, no doubt. He's a smaller guy compared to some of the people in that NXT locker room, but he's the real deal. We definitely look at wrestling the same way, too.
- Eric Young (@TheEricYoung) November 17, 2017
Cole came back out to finish the match, and despite this bad moment, the match ended up being great. We got a great crowd reaction, and that's a good feeling to have when you're building up to a big show.
Obviously it was kind of a bummer that those guys got hurt, and while it was pretty superficial, Cole ended up with eight staples in his head. That also meant he needed to be careful not to exacerbate things over the next couple days, which was a tough task as his match the next night, in San Antonio, was for the NXT title against Drew McIntyre, with Shawn Michaels as the guest referee.
After the show was over we headed back on the bus to the hotel. It couldn't have felt better than being able to go straight to bed because I was working on about three hours of sleep all day.
As I tried to will myself to sleep, I laid in bed and thought about how great it was to be able to work in NXT. It's everything you want as a professional in this business. There are all of these young, hungry, talented people just trying to be the best, every single night, and that is very motivating. At 37, that's a blessing for sure.
With my ego, I've always wanted to work for the WWE and wrestle on Raw and Smackdown, on pay-per-views like Survivor Series, Royal Rumble and WrestleMania. I still want to end up there, and I will end up there if I have anything to say about it. Heck, my wallet also wants that to happen, too, but in my soul, as a wrestler, having everything that I've ever wanted when I'm in that ring, my soul wants to stay in NXT forever.
I finally fell asleep around 1 a.m. with an alarm set for 8 a.m. One night down, and two big nights to go.
I woke up in the morning, grabbed a light breakfast, worked out and hopped on the bus at noon. For Friday's show, we were headed to San Antonio. Around 4 p.m. we arrived in the building, and to balance things out prior to TakeOver: War Games, we were in a six-man tag against Roddy and AOP.
The crowd was packed at this venue called the Aztec, which was another really cool rock hall with a unique setup. There was an extended stage, with the ring up there, which put three-quarters of the crowd on the far side opposite the stage, with more people up in the balcony. It's a very interesting layout, and those kinds of setups are always cool, because it feels like they're on top of you.
Triple H was there, shooting some of the stuff for TV. He flew into Texas early to be there and just oversee things, check out the building and talk with us. We said hello to one another and took a minute to catch up, because we don't get to do that sort of thing a lot. Not that we're super close or anything, but he always makes time to have a conversation and ask how things are going or whatever.
- wwe person (@person_wwe) November 18, 2017
He asked me if I got his message, and I had. While he was in India promoting the shows that they have there in December, he was standing in a lobby with a bunch of TVs on, and my fishing show is playing on one of them, only it was dubbed over in Punjabi. He said he sat there and watched it for 10 minutes before he had to go, but we agreed that it was very interesting to see the show airing all over the world, and very cool for me personally to have something reach that far.
Once I got through my routine, I geared up to do the show that night, but in the back of my mind, everything was getting pretty real. In less than 24 hours, at this point, we were going to make history. It was going to be my first TakeOver main event, and we collectively take a lot of pride in setting the tone for the entire weekend of shows that follows.
Back in the moment, we had our match against the Authors of Pain and Roddy, and the San Antonio crowd was amazing. To be honest, I've been working a long time and I would say that that crowd that night was one of the best wrestling crowds that I ever worked in front of.
That sort of crowd reaction just gives you this energy, and we fed off of that. All wrestlers do, and guys and girls who say that it doesn't matter are definitely lying. When a crowd is into what you're doing, it makes you get even more into it. It all circles back and forth, because in order to get that kind of reaction, you have to be into what you're doing -- that draws the reaction from the crowd and it keeps going around. We had a really hard hitting match with AOP and Roddy, and it put us all in a good place to set the tone for the next day.
We hopped on the bus and got ready to take off for Houston, which was a four- or five-hour drive from San Antonio. It took a while to get out of the building, because it always takes some time for whoever goes on last to shower and get changed. We got out of there, got out of the city and onto the highway. By the time we got to Houston it was about 2 a.m.
When I got there, my wife was already in the room asleep, having flown in from Nashville. That was also a very cool thing for me, having the ability to have someone I care about that much with me for this big moment. The WWE is very gracious with tickets and accessibility for us to bring our loved ones, and while it's certainly not a system to be abused, it's nice to know they take the time to care for our families and making sure these moments are shared in person.
As much as I wanted to go to sleep, I had a couple things working against me: I had to clean my gear, I was still jacked up after having a really good match, and the excitement of the match still to come on Saturday was starting to weigh pretty heavily on me.
It took me a while to fall asleep, probably until about 3:30 or 4 a.m. ... and my alarm was set for 9.
Editor's note: Part 2 of EY's weekend can be found here