He’s one of the fastest rising stars in all of WWE. He is the two-time North American Champion. He is the A-Champion. He is the Man Who Don’t Miss! And Saturday night at NXT Deadline, Carmelo Hayes has the opportunity to earn his first ever shot at Bron Breakker and his coveted NXT Championship.
Hayes will be one of five men to compete in the first ever Iron Survivor Challenge. It’s not very often that first time matches come around these days. Cageside Seats had a chance to catch up with Carmelo this week to talk this new brain child of the Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels and whether there’s any added pressure to make this match a success.
We also touched on when, where and how he developed the strong self-confidence that he exudes every Tuesday night, a potential Joe Burrow\Patrick Mahomes type rivalry with Bron Breakker, and his hopes that William Regal will soon be returning to the company.
Check out our Q&A with Carmelo Hayes or watch the entire conversation in the video below:
Cageside Seats: Anyone who has watched you perform knew from day one, promo one, match one, not only how good you are, but how much you know how good that you are. Is there a time in your career that you can pinpoint as the moment that you realized you had a chance to do some really special things in this industry?
Carmelo Hayes: “I think when I got signed [to WWE]. When I got signed it was like I knew I couldn’t fail. And I think that the thing that’s gotten me the furthest in WWE is believing in myself because, I believe when you believe in yourself, they believe in you. And I think that that goes as far back as like my first conversation with Shawn [Michaels] and pretty much telling him, ‘Hey, if you gimme the ball, I will run with it.’ Dead in his eyes. And I think that that was like, ‘Okay, well let’s see’ and then here we are today. So yeah, I know people have said like, ‘Oh you’re good’ and that, but it’s not even just, I know I’m good. I just believe in myself. You know, everyone should [believe in themselves].”
Cageside Seats: Have you always been a confident person? Where did that come from?
Carmelo Hayes: “I don’t know if you’ve ever heard this quote, but it’s pretty much saying like, confidence is when you make promises to yourself that you keep. So essentially like you don’t let yourself down.
For example, ’m gonna I’m try and keep it like simple. Like, I promised myself that I’m gonna go out today and I’m gonna go to the grocery store. I’m gonna go to the gym, I’m gonna go to the mall and I’m gonna go take a walk. And you do all of those things. Then you said you were gonna do them. And it’s like, I did that. So the confidence I think, for me personally, just comes from backing it up and doing what I say I’m gonna do, essentially. That’s it.”
Cageside Seats: It’s a big opportunity for you this weekend. You’re taking part in a first ever match in WWE. That does not happen often. What’s your mindset heading into this match? Is there any extra added pressure in the fact that, this is a first time match and you want to try make this one memorable and successful, so it sticks around?
Carmelo Hayes: “I don’t wanna say pressure. I know there’s expectations. So I think that more or less, I just wanna exceed those expectations. I don’t just want to live up to them. I want to exceed them. And there’s no doubt in my mind that we won’t.
I know a lot of people are confused as to what the rules are and it’s because it’s new and it’s different. A lot of people are like, ‘Man, how they gonna pull it off?’ But the talent in this match is crazy. You got JD McDonagh, myself, Grayson Waller, Axiom, Joe Gacy, you know, all real solid in-ring competitors. Guys like JD McDonagh and Axiom competed over in NXT UK and had great runs over there. So you have just incredible in-ring talent. So that alone, we’re going to set the bar. Going into it, I have a strategy. I’m not gonna share it here, but I do have a strategy that I think is gonna work out for me.”
Cageside Seats: Maybe you can dive into that strategy just a little bit, because I’m looking at the rules for the Iron Survivor Challenge and this is an interesting matchup to me. It’s 25 minutes. You can either start the match and have the full time to rack up as many pinfalls as possible, or you enter in last and you get 10 minutes but you’re the freshest competitor and you can come in there and start wreaking havoc on dudes who have already beaten the hell out of each other. Which spot would you prefer to be in?
Carmelo Hayes: “Probably right in the middle, because you’re right. Like if you think about it, you got that 10 minutes on that back end, I look at it as catch up because everybody else has been hustling and bustling getting those covers. If someone’s four up and you got nothing, good luck. You know what I mean? If you’re first and you’re getting your butt whooped that whole night it’s like, that’s a long night too. So all of this is out of my control. I’m just looking at it like, hey, when they call me in, they call me in. I’m just gonna do what I do.”
Cageside Seats: The stakes for this match couldn’t be much higher. A shot at the NXT Championship. That is guaranteed, but there’s also the potential of a one-on-one match with Bron Breakker. Now since you guys both broke out on the scene in NXT 2.0, you have been linked with one another as the top two breakout stars on the brand. When do eventually meet one-on-one, do you get the sense that this might be the start of a really great rivalry?
Carmelo Hayes: “Yeah. And it’s wild because on the very first day here that we signed, Bron and I were very cool. Very tight early on, before we were even both on TV and we didn’t know our paths were gonna be so similar. And it was just so ironic that him and I were so close early on. Obviously, I win the [North American] title and he wins the [NXT] title. I’m the A-Champion, but he’s the A-Champion and it will come back around.
That’s the match I want, you know what I mean? If anyone’s gonna beat Bron Breakker, I think I’m the one to do it. I respect Apollo. I know he’s against Bron Breakker on Saturday at Deadline. Best of luck to you, but I don’t know. Bron’s a great champion and he’s been very impactful in NXT 2.0 and then NXT, you know, so I think I’m the one to do it.”
Cageside Seats: The last time you guys, at least on television anyway, were in the same match together, was WarGames last year. What’d you think about WarGames being moved to Survivor Series this year?
Carmelo Hayes: “It was cool. I thought it was really cool. I wish we could have done it in front of more people, just because we killed ourselves. I thought it was cool and it was in my hometown too, so I was like, man, I wish I could have been there. But I’ll get another opportunity at it. It’s not a match that you really want to be in, but I got to do it once. If we gotta do it again, I’ll do it. In front of more people.”
Cageside Seats: That may require a move on your end, with that match kind of making the transition onto the “main roster”. And on that note, it seems like any time that there is any kind of surprise element these days on Raw or SmackDown, everybody wants to point at Carmelo Hayes. This seems like this is something you’ve been having some fun with as of late.
Carmelo Hayes: “Sometimes yeah (laughs). Sometimes I play along, like with the Hit Row thing. I mean, I don’t know. It’s cool that people really do see me in that regard. People are anticipating me and expecting me and that means a lot to me for real. It really does. But I’m focused on what I’m doing here in NXT right now. But then again, who knows man, like this is WWE. They could call me tomorrow for whatever. So you know, it could be me. But as far as like personally, right now, I’m just so focused on what I need to be doing in NXT that I try not to entertain those ideas too much.
Cageside Seats: You did work a match on Main Event recently. So obviously there’s gonna be that kind of speculation. You know they’re [WWE Management] are looking at you. Is it hard to put that out of your mind and focus on what you’re doing in NXT at all?
Carmelo Hayes: “Well after I lost the title, it was like, okay, this must mean I’m... you know what I mean? To myself. To myself. Nobody has said anything, but I’m like, oh yeah, maybe this is it. But I actually even reassured Shawn. I said, ‘Hey, I just want you to know, like my head and my heart and everything is here in NXT.’
Because every day, like Melo to the main roster. Everyone wants it. And I want it to, but you know, there’s things I wanna accomplish here. We talked about the match with Bron Breakker. I don’t think I would be okay if I went to the main roster and I didn’t get to compete for that NXT Title. So there’s a lot of those type of things. Like, let me have that moment before I say bye to NXT.”
Cageside Seats: Before we wrap up, I did want to ask you about one person who has been in the news a lot lately. Somebody who used to be in NXT and now there are reports that sometime next year he’s going to be back with WWE. What would getting to work with William Regal once again mean for you?
Carmelo Hayes: “I learned a lot from Regal. I learned a lot. He was actually a pivotal person to get me into WWE. He was one of the guys that vouched for me to get to WWE because he had an eye on me in the indies in a lot of ways and he could spot talent. So yeah, if it’s true, if he is really coming back, I’m super excited. We’d love to have him back here. I think a lot of the newer people here will benefit from having him here, because he’s a wealth of knowledge. That guy knows so much and he’s so freaking passionate about this. He will help you. If you want help, he will help you and he will go above and beyond to help you. So yeah, I hope he does end up coming back. That’d be awesome.”
Make sure to check out our full conversation with Carmelo Hayes in the video above. You can follow Rick Ucchino on Twitter and subscribe to the Bleav in Pro Wrestling Podcast Channel for more of his work.