Apollo Crews has become a man of vision. And I’m not just talking about the foresight of pain he’s been able to demonstrate with Grayson Waller in recent weeks. The former United States and Intercontinental Champion now sees a clear path forward to a much brighter future for himself.
Heading into 2022, Crews was on the heels of his most successful run in WWE. His Nigerian royalty persona was heavily featured on television during the ThunderDome era and it led him a WrestleMania victory and lengthy run with the IC Title. But as WWE hit the road once again and the crowds came back, Crews found himself in a familiar position - one of uncertainty.
Cageside Seats had a chance to catch up with Crews ahead of NXT Halloween Havoc this weekend. Apollo said he appreciated the chance to dive deep into his Nigerian heritage, but it was a role that definitely took him out of his comfort zone.
“The character, it was great for me. I was doing something completely different. I never thought I’d be doing something along those lines, but for me, I was like, this is what I have to do. I’m gonna jump into it and I’m gonna give it everything that I have, and do it to the best of my ability.”
Crews was fully committed to the role. He lived it on screen and off, knowing the only way he was going to pull it off would be to give it the absolute maximum effort. But after dropping the Intercontinental Championship to Shinsuke Nakamura on an episode of SmackDown in August of last year, Apollo saw a shift in his booking. As the weeks fell off the calendar, his opportunities for meaningful stories and TV time started to dry up.
“Everything just kind of stopped, you know? And this kind of happened to me before in my career, where something would happen and then it would kind of stop for one reason or another. And I just wanted to do more. I wanted to be a part of more. And I thought maybe if I could go back to NXT and kind of recreate myself and essentially almost start over, I figured that would be something good for me personally and professionally as well.”
Fast forward to this past June and Apollo stunned the WWE Universe when he stepped up to NXT Champion Bron Breakker. And it was obvious from the get-go that this was a much different Apollo Crews. The spear was gone. Commander Azeez was no where to be seen. And the accent, a distant memory.
“I’ve been very blessed with the opportunity. You know, I really enjoyed what I did with the heel character and being able to represent Nigeria, even though... the accent was one thing, you know what I mean? It is what it is. But that is a part of who I am. You know, those are my roots, and I wanted to represent that. I was glad that I got to do that. And not that it’s not part of who I am anymore, but we’re just taking a different approach.”
Unlike other main roster veterans who have shown up for a spell on Tuesday nights, Crews is locked in for the long haul, but his soul focus at this time is his match with Grayson Waller at Halloween Havoc.
Saturday night will be a special night for Apollo as it marks his return to Premium Live Events. You’d have to go all the way back to WrestleMania 37, when he defeated Big E in the Nigerian Drum Fight, to see Apollo Crews wrestle anybody one-on-one during anything other than free television.
“The fact that it’s been that long, it’s pretty sad, I think. I feel like with my talent and commitment and the things that I can do, I don’t feel like I should go that long without being on any kind of premium live TV.”
The only other time Crews saw action outside of Raw, SmackDown, NXT or a house show since then, was at Survivor Series last year. He was one of the 25 participants in The Rock 25th Anniversary Battle Royal, which was won by Omos.
By the way, if you forgot about Apollo’s appearance in that match (or the match in general), don’t feel bad. It even slipped his own mind during our conversation with him.
What makes that unfortunate stretch for Crews even more difficult to fathom, was that it came during the height of his biggest push on the main roster. He never once had the opportunity to defend the Intercontinental Championship at a Premium Live Event, a streak that continued for the IC Title well beyond Apollo’s reign.
It’s hard to believe, but it took 510 days, four title changes, and a complete overhaul in company leadership before the Intercontinental Championship made its way back onto Peacock at Clash at the Castle.
Ever since Triple H took over as the Chief Content Officer for WWE, there has been a much bigger focus on the company’s secondary titles. One of the many changes over the last few months that has brought joy to Apollo Crews.
“It’s nice to see what’s going on with that (the Intercontinental Championship). It’s great to watch that getting the respect that it deserves.” Apollo said. “It’s such a prestigious title and seeing those guys, Gunther and Sheamus, go back and forth is fantastic as well.”
As we’ve all witnessed, change can be a good thing. And that especially rings true for Apollo. Much like his character on-screen, Crews had the ability to see that making the move back to NXT would be the best thing for his career. What he might not have predicted, is what the move would do for himself from a mental standpoint.
After eight years on board the WWE creative rollercoaster, Crews admittedly found himself in a bit of a rut. It’s a story we’ve heard from so many others in his position, but his love for pro wrestling in general, had fizzled.
“I feel like having this run back down in NXT and going back to the basics, if you wanna say, it’s brought back my passion as well. And it brought the fan back out in me, you know? For a while there I kind of like stopped watching wrestling and I’d just kind of go to work and do my job and come home and be with the kids. And now it’s like, okay, I have that passion again. Almost like I’m chasing that dream again,” Apollo said. “It’s a nice feeling because sometimes you chase the dream and you reach it, and then it’s like, okay, where do I go from here? And then you get complacent.”
The flame inside Apollo Crews is once again burning bright and he finds himself now on a path of purpose. And it’s one that may ultimately see him accomplish those goals he’s been chasing since he signed with WWE in 2014.
As was made evident on his first night back, Crews showed up looking to earn a shot at the Title that eluded him during his first run on the Black and Gold Brand.
Once he’s done with Grayson Waller at Halloween Havoc, Apollo will set his sights on the NXT Championship once again - no matter who walks out with it on Saturday. But he’s got some stiff competition and he knows it. The depth of the talent pool in NXT these days has definitely caught the eye of Apollo since his return.
“I can give props where props are due. Grayson Waller is a very talented individual. Carmelo Hayes is another one. We already saw Solo (Sikoa) get called up, you know, one of the guys that I was looking forward to doing some more work with. I mean he’s on his way to becoming a Superstar. Already is, you know, next is gonna be megastar for him. Wes Lee, who’s been around for a while, but gets to showcase his skill this weekend too in the ladder match. Lots of talent. The Creed Brothers, you know, some good guys down there. Damien Kemp, you know, there’s a lot of talent, lot of young guys.
And not just the fact that they’re there, but they’re hungry as well, and they’re willing to learn. They wanna learn, they wanna succeed and they want to do well. They wanna take over this business, if you want to say that. You know what I mean? So it’s good to see, because you can feel the passion just by speaking to some of them. You know when it’s not upfront. You can feel that they want this and that they’re hungry and ready.”
Check out our full conversation with Apollo Crews in the video above and and check him out in action this Saturday at NXT Halloween Havoc as he battles Grayson Waller. What sort of twisted fate will Chucky’s wheel of doom hand down to both competitors? We’ll all find out together Saturday night, coverage starts at 8pm ET\7pm CT on Peacock.