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Life on the road with Eric Young: Stepping into the War Games cage

Roderick Strong, Adam Cole and Eric Young began the first ever War Games match under the WWE banner. Courtesy of WWE

Editor's note: This is the second part of Eric Young's weekend at NXT TakeOver: War Games. In the moments below, the NXT superstar takes us with him as he competes in a career-altering match called War Games. To read part one, click here.

Saturday

Routine is king, so I got to it once I was up at 9:00 a.m. I got right out of bed, did some light cardio at the hotel to wake myself up and got my day rolling. I had a light breakfast, and before I knew it, it was time for us to get on the bus around 11:30. We arrived at the Toyota Center, where the Houston Rockets play, at 11:45, and like it always does, the size and scale of what's happening hit me at this moment.

As a guy who came from the independents and regional shows, I clearly remember times when I was happy and excited if 50 people showed up to an event. Now I'm on this giant tour bus, and I'm pulling into this massive arena that can hold 15,000 to 18,000 people, with more than 10,000 coming to watch us wrestle in the main event in a few hours.

The scale of it all is just staggering.

Over the course of three or four days, you have hundreds of people working to get everything just right -- the lights, sound rigs, the wrestling ring and the sets. It's a massive, massive undertaking, and that's why pulling into the building is always when it hits me. When I realize where I am, I have these moments when I pull back and say, "Man, I'm a part of this whole thing."

I'm this short, chubby kid from a tiny little town in rural Ontario surrounded by corn fields and bean fields. Here I am in Houston, Texas, about to entertain tens of thousands of people there and millions of people all over the world. It's very humbling, and it can honestly be terrifying when you really think about the scope of how massive things are.

But it fills me with pride, knowing that me and eight other men were given this massive task, this massive responsibility to do War Games justice.

In this moment, I was feeling really good, and I was excited and sure that I was going to be at my best. At 37 years old, after being in wrestling for 20 years, I can say that was probably the most excited I'd ever been for a match. It's amazing that I can still have that feeling, that energy and that excitement that gives me jitters in the pit of my chest and throughout my whole body.

TakeOver days are usually filled with a bunch of small tasks, like signing some more stuff, making sure everything is going to plan and talking to all the right people. Everyone involved in the match had to get together and set up what we were going to do, and Matt Bloom, Michael Hayes and Shawn Michaels are there to help us along. I couldn't think of a much better combination, because Michael Hayes is a supergenius when it comes to laying out ideas and structuring things in a way that will make fans enjoy it most. Then there's Matt, who's a tremendous asset to NXT and the PC, and with Shawn, and the relationship that he and I have, it only gets better.

"When I realize where I am, I have these moments when I pull back and say, 'Man, I'm a part of this whole thing.'"

Eric Young

I eventually dropped my bags and headed toward Gorilla, which is obviously a much longer trip in an arena like this than it was over the last few days. I followed all of the lights through the underbelly and eventually came up upon Gorilla, which is often elevated. It's where all of the people running the show are set up, and that's the last thing you see before you walk out into the arena.

When I stepped out to the floor of the Toyota Center for the first time, the cage was already lowered, and it was insane-looking -- everything I thought it was going to be. It was this kind of shiny, weirdly terrifying object sitting over two rings, and it's SO big. You're used to seeing one ring, and having two side-by-side in a space like this was pretty staggering. To think that I was going to be allowed to play in there in a couple of hours, it's pretty exciting.

In that moment, I felt as many nerves as I'd ever felt, but good nerves. I felt like we had a pretty good one planned for this setting. The way it was set up, the whole night was going to be a constant reminder to the crowd of what was to come, between the two rings set up and the cage hanging overhead the whole time. It set the mood nicely as fans filed in. I imagine it felt cool for wrestling fans who were in attendance to be a part of that history as well.

This is an iconic wrestling match. No matter if you watched NWA or WCW or WWE when you were growing up, War Games is its own thing. It was the culmination of the bitterest rivalries -- a way to settle the score by locking two groups of people in there and having them beat the crap out of each other until one side emerged victorious.

At my core, I'm a wrestling fan too, and I like to try to think about moments like this from the fan's perspective as well. What is that like? In 10 years I'm going to be saying I was there for the first one, and I'm guessing these fans who were in Houston will say the same. I will be written into the history books as one of the nine people who took part in the WWE's very first War Games match.

The nine of us planned on setting a high bar. We planned on doing it exactly the way it's supposed to be done, respecting what War Games is and was, while making sure it represented what wrestling is now. We can't do it the way they used to do it, because wrestling has changed, but not having a roof made the possibilities for something crazy much greater. Having been in a bunch of different kinds of cage matches, when there's a roof and you're stuck inside, it does limit you. Having no lid, it creates all kinds of possibilities. It's just the evolution of wrestling.

I took a moment to sit down in one of the chairs at ringside, watching people come and go. I try to have moments like that where I take it all in and feel the moment and the energy. As a guy who's watched wrestling his whole life, I tried to remember where I came from and who I am, rather than being caught in the moment of it. Like I said, sometimes we're so focused on where we're trying to get and forget to fully take it in. I'm trying to have a match that people will talk about forever, and if we were going to pull off something like that, I wanted to soak it in. Win or lose, I wanted that match to be remembered.

And it was still early in the day. I was sitting there, thinking about being part of a pay-per-view-level main event for a company I dreamed of working for practically my whole life. This is probably my biggest accomplishment professionally to date, and it's still only 12:08 in the afternoon. I knew that night was going to be special, because I was going to make damn sure of it.

They told us that Arn Anderson and Dustin Rhodes were going to be at ringside for our match, which was also really cool because Dustin and Arn have been in a pile of War Games matches. Arn Anderson is the guy I can remember. I think he started almost every single War Games for the better part of an era.

I've always loved Arn Anderson, I've always looked up to him. Arn was always the guy who was relied upon to carry through some of the hardest parts of the match. He's a pro's pro. He always was, and he still is today. I'm thinking how cool it is that he's going to be there. Then there's Dustin. He was a big part in some of the War Games matches, but his dad, Dusty, was a massive part of the first few War Games matches. With everything that Dusty did in the NWA and WCW, to everything he did to help build NXT, Dustin being there helps everything come full circle as War Games comes back.

And it became our responsibility to do it justice.

"I'm trying to have a match that people will talk about forever, and if we were going to pull off something like that, I wanted to soak it in. Win or lose, I wanted that match to be remembered."

Eric Young

These are guys who bled for this. They set the bar and they made War Games into something truly special -- Arn and Dustin are two people who are directly responsible for it becoming such a huge event.

The rest of the day was a bit of a blur, but I took in some of the moments. And then we got to the match itself.

The entrance itself was kind of odd, because we've been doing that as a group for over a year. As much as I love being with SAnitY, walking down the aisle toward that cage by myself was pretty exhilarating. Dain and Wolfe being put into the shark cage and then the smoke kind of clearing, and it's just me. With all of the adrenaline pumping, I don't know what I yelled, but I know that I yelled, and everyone I could see in the crowd was going crazy.

And I was the first person in. The first person to step inside of a War Games cage in almost two decades. That alone was a huge honor and a huge opportunity -- that the company decided that this thing is going to go 40 minutes-plus and that I'm going to be the one that's in there to start the whole thing off. In no way am I comparing myself to Arn Anderson, because I'm not Arn Anderson. I'm me, and he's Arn, but being in that position, that was a very, very gratifying feeling.

Cole and Roddy got in, and for a moment, we were just standing there. We wanted to convey that we were feeling this moment just as much as they were. We were all thinking it, like, "Holy s---, it's War Games. I'm standing in the middle of two cages, two rings, and we're about to go to war."

None of us were in any hurry to do that, and the fans felt it too -- they started chanting, "This is awesome" before we ever touched.

Being a person who had some experience in big matches, even though it might not have been this big, I knew that was going to happen. The biggest point I made was to make sure that we didn't rush into anything before we had to. Just standing there, we got them to react. They were going to be feeling the same way that we were, and it was kind of like this energy dump before the match even started.

Those are some of the coolest moments in wrestling, and you earn that with everything you do leading up to the match. Between the TV shots we did leading up to that TakeOver, all of the promos, matches and moments, and then you build on top of it with this double cage and double ring sitting in front of everyone.

We're set up for success, there's no doubt, but then the bell rang, and once we started going, we had to deliver. That first moment, that calm before we got into the physicality of it, I will remember that forever.

Even though people talked about some of the handcuffs we had to deal with -- including the strict no-blood policy -- we went after it. And despite everything we were trying to do, there ended up being plenty of blood. Wolfe ended up with 12 staples in his head, and I don't know if everyone fully understood what was going on in the moment, but he was having his head stapled during the match by the doctor. Wolfe cracked his own head open on the table, got his head stapled and showed an incredible amount of grit, personality and charisma. He's a tough, tough, super-talented guy.

That night could mean a whole lot for Wolfe's career, and down the road, that's big equity for him. You heard it in the arena, but fans watching at home didn't get to see it. After the broadcast was over -- everyone was cheering his name as Dain and I carried him out. When people remember this match and the big moments, Wolfe's toughness and fighting through all that is going to be one of the biggest.

When I look back at the match itself, there are eight other guys that I'm happy to have shared it all with. To see Wolfe and Dain continue to step up and have these huge moments, it makes me incredibly proud. When we were put into a group, I felt a lot of responsibility in helping everyone out, and I feel like we've continued to increase our stock with every match -- especially this one.

Lying there in the ring after Roddy suplexed Cole off the top, with everyone down on the ground, everyone was just screaming. It was literally just madness. We were just lying there. We weren't doing anything but lying there, and the chants were just getting louder. At that moment, it seemed that we'd done everything we had to do, and this crescendo was the payoff to months of hard work from everyone involved.

SAnitY didn't come out on the winning end of the match, but the three of us definitely came out of that match better than we walked in. Even if there was a physical toll.

We all proved that when we're given the opportunity and put into a place to deliver, we deliver more than what's expected. Everyone did it that night, and I felt it throughout the match. The next time War Games happens, it will be compared to this. And whoever is in it will have a lot to live up to.

One of the coolest moments of all was walking backstage after the match, and there's Hunter and Michael Hayes, Shawn Michaels, Matt Bloom and a bunch of the other coaches. Pat Patterson's there, and Michael Cole's there. These are guys who, in the end, decide whether it was good or not -- and they're all standing there clapping. Doing a match like that, it gives you this adrenaline rush, but that moment afterward hits you in a much different, but also very meaningful, way.

When you set something in motion and then it goes off the way you intended it to be, that feeling can't be duplicated.

Having these people that you looked up to, idolized and in some ways even feared, clapping and shaking your hand -- it doesn't get better than that professionally. That's the mountaintop, the absolute top of what wrestling is, as far as an accomplishment goes. Titles are incredible, but no matter what you're doing, having the people who you work for, who pay your salary, be standing and shaking their head and they can't believe how good it was -- that's the ultimate.

Triple H had said something to me during the day that really kind of hit me and added to the pressure of the match in the best of ways, because I feel like when I'm under pressure, I'm better, because I'm laser-focused. He said he believed that this was one of the strongest TakeOvers on paper, and that we had this unique opportunity to relaunch a franchise with our match. I think match to match, bell to bell, I think we all proved it on this card.

I can't predict the future, but this could now be something that could become a yearly thing. Wrestling fans all over the world will look forward to Takeovers at this time of year and knowing that a War Games match is coming. If that's the case, it's incredible that were able to make history like that.

I was part of wrestling history that night. It was amazing. At the end of the show, there's always a postshow meeting, where Hunter points out things that were good, and the things that were bad or that need to be worked on. During the meeting, he has this way of putting things in perspective, boiling it down to the bullet points. He congratulated us on launching a new brand, relaunching War Games and setting the bar. Coming from the boss who's done everything, even now I'm getting goosebumps thinking about those words.

Then, on top of it all, Dustin said that he knew that Dusty was looking down and smiling from ear to ear. This War Games was something that he helped create, and he said that we did it justice. To be a guy who's been around wrestling, a second-generation guy and Dusty's son, through and through, it's amazing that I'm a part of it all now. The nine of us will always be attached to War Games, and the 10-year-old wrestling fan in me is smiling ear to ear.

To me, this was one of the best and most rewarding weekends of my entire professional career. And I can't wait to see what's next.