WWE star and new NXT North American champion Leon Ruff recently spoke to Sports Illustrated to hype this evening's edition of NXT on USA, and his rematch against former champion Johnny Gargano. Highlights are below.
On finding out he was winning the NXT N.A. title:
I first heard in the morning, right before training, and I was very nervous. I texted Coach [Matt] Bloom and asked him what was really going on. And he said, “You don’t know what’s going on? You have a match today against Johnny Gargano, and you’re going over.” That was around 10:30 in the morning.
How he was initially nervous but felt ready for the moment:
I’m already always nervous. I want to give everyone that’s watching a great show because they’re spending their time watching. And last week, there was just no way for me to calm my nerves. I was pacing back and forth and then there was more pacing. My girlfriend [NXT referee Aja Smith] helped calm me down, but then she had to go to work, and I got nervous all over again. Then I thought about where I came from. I thought back to when I was a little kid and I dreamed about becoming a wrestler, about when I was working a dead-end job where I didn’t want to be, the times when I’d tell myself I could be a superstar if I put in the effort. I thought about all the days I spent training, all the nights spent sleeping in airports, all that time sleeping in the car to make different shows. That helped me realize that I worked for this and I was ready for this moment.
On the comparisons to the Razor Ramon and the 1-2-3 Kid upset:
I started watching wrestling after that, during the Ruthless Aggression era, but yes, I had the pleasure of watching that 1-2-3 Kid match. I think I felt during my match how he felt in his match. We both had such small openings in our matches, and those were the moments we had to take.
What gave him belief that his dreams could become reality:
When I was growing up, I had a big imagination. I never felt anything was impossible. Then I grew up, and I asked myself, “How am I going to wrestle if I have to work and pay bills? Unfortunately, somebody I knew was killed while working on a factory machine at work. It was terrible. And it really hit me how they had to fill the job and take new applications. That was the moment where I said, when it comes to wrestling, that I really needed to try. I took a big step when my trainer, AR Fox, pulled me aside after a few months and said I could make it. He told me that if I came to training and worked hard, he believed I could make it, and that meant a lot to me.
EVOLVE's 10th anniversary special airing on the WWE Network:
That was so special because it gave more people an opportunity to watch me wrestle. My family in Detroit usually couldn’t see me wrestle, and my family in Florida couldn’t always, either. But that EVOLVE show, my whole family got to watch. And it was on the WWE Network, which meant so many people got to see us wrestle, too. For a kid who dreamed about performing in front of a lot of people, that’s the first time I felt that I did.
How he celebrated after winning the title:
I spent most of the night on the phone with my family. We were online watching the match over and over, and I was taking it all in with family and sharing the moment with them. And my girlfriend, Aja, is such a big piece of my success, too. She loves me so much that it makes me want to be a better person. Without her, I was losing confidence in myself. She came and reminded me who I am, and she gave me that fresh breath I needed. She’s helped me get where I am.