Two of WWE’s brightest up and coming stars will battle it out tonight for the top prize in NXT at Spring Breakin’. Carmelo Hayes defends his NXT Championship for the first time since he defeated Bron Breakker to capture the gold at Stand & Deliver.
He takes on Grayson Waller in what very well could be the final match on Tuesday night for either competitor. The WWE Draft gets underway this Friday on SmackDown, and it would not be a shock at all if the loser of this match then graduates to the main roster.
Carmelo Hayes really is HIM. A stand out athlete from the moment he arrived in NXT, with the mic skills and confidence to back up his physical talent. Grayson Waller is equally as impressive, complete with one of the more innovative move sets you’ll see in a professional wrestling ring.
Oh yea, he can talk as well.
Cageside Seats had the good fortune of catching up with both Carmelo Hayes and Grayson Waller during the WrestleMania Press Junket. Just a day before Hayes captured the NXT Championship and week’s before tonight’s match was booked.
These are the final two interviews in our series that shines a different spotlight on the Superstars of NXT.
You can read our Q&A with Carmelo Hayes and Grayson Waller below or you can watch both interviews in their entirety in the video at top of the page.
Disclaimer: The questions themselves have been edited to provide additional information and better fit the written format.
Cageside Seats: Ok Carmelo, we’re doing a get to know your NXT Superstar Q&A here. You were born and raised in Worcester, Massachusetts. What is the best thing about growing up in Worcester, Mass?
Carmelo: The DCU Center. I mean, Mass is great. Man, because you think of there’s so much history to it, but it’s crazy. Until I lived in Orlando, I was like, why did I ever live in the cold with the snow? I’ll never move back. Sorry. You know, people from home probably thinking like... Yeah, say something nice. Nah. (laughs).
CSS: Heel turn complete.
Carmelo: Heel turn! I’ll never move back to the cold. Nah, it was great, man. If you think about Northeast and stuff like that, I mean the city of Champions in a lot of ways. We’ve always had great teams, you know what I mean? We have the Celtics, we got the Patriots, we have the Red Sox. So growing up as a sports fan, it’s been an amazing experience to be in that, you know, New England area.
CSS: You’re quite the athlete yourself. You’ve been in wrestling for such a long time, dating back to 2014, but growing up you had to be a huge multi-sport guy. Which one was your best one growing up?
Carmelo: Baseball. I was really good at baseball. You gotta remember I’m just fast. I’m smaller but I’m fast. I wasn’t like a really great hitter, but I’d get on base and I’d steal, you know what I mean? I was one of those type of guys and I played good outfield. I played good infield, you know, I was a shortstop so I had a good arm. And then I also did amateur wrestling. So I did a lot of amateur wrestling as a young kid, because I wanted to do WWE.
Funny story. Me and my buddies used to wrestle in the backyard and I had to be like eight or nine at the time. And the head wrestling coach lived down the street from me. He saw us wrestling in the backyard and said, ‘Oh, you guys are gonna get hurt.’ He said, come to the high school and we’ll train you how to amateur wrestle for free. And he trained us how to amateur wrestle at nine years old.
I ended up competing, nine, ten, eleven in tournaments. I was like not even 80 pounds, winning trophies in Massachusetts. We were one of like the first junior amateur wrestling, you know, at that age in Massachusetts.
CSS: That is insane. You mean to tell me in all the years that me and my buddy beat the Hell out of each other on a trampoline, somebody could have spotted us and said, ‘Hey, don’t kill yourselves’?
Carmelo: Yeah, it was crazy. We were doing all that type of stuff too. We wanted to do the chairs... and we were little kids and he is like, ‘What the heck are you guys doing!? Come learn how to do it the right way.’
CSS: In all fairness though, something like that did happen to me, only later in life. I’m from the Cincinnati area and Jimmy Wang Yang lived there at the time. I interviewed him one time. He calls me up after and he goes, ‘Hey, so I like you but you don’t know s*** about wrestling. Come to my gym.’ And the dude trained me for over a year.
Carmelo: Oh... I like talking to people who know because it’s a different respect. Because you understand what we put our bodies through.
CSS: 100%. Because the reason why I’m not wrestling on the Indies right now...
Carmelo: Because it sucks.
CSS: Because I f***ed up my back (laughs). I can’t do it anymore.
Carmelo: Which is why man, you see the risk. It’s not easy. Some guys, like us, we make it look easy, but it is so not easy bro.
CSS: Dude, I couldn’t even get the mental aspect of it. The footwork, playing to the crowd, selling, thank God I didn’t have to deal with a camera. Take care of your opponent. What move comes next. I never got to the point where I could call a match on the fly. I had to plan it out step-by-step. There’s a lot to it.
Carmelo: There’s a lot to it. Shawn Michaels always talks about. at the circus there’s a guy that spins plates. He says, okay, you learn the moves, boom, boom, boom. Okay, now you work the cameras, boom, boom, boom. Okay, now you’re selling boom, boom, boom. So you’re literally spinning all these different plates. That’s what we do. And it’s like some people can do two at a time, some people can do three, some people can have 10. The better you are.
CSS: I’m glad you brought up Shawn Michaels. At his Stand & Deliver press conference he answered my question with an interesting comment. He always knows how good of a job he’s done once talent moves on. Eventually they’ll do a podcast and they’ll be asked about Shawn Michaels and if they say positive things, he did his job right. If they say negative things, well then he screwed up somewhere on along the line. I think you’re close enough to graduation. Working with Shawn Michaels over the last few years, what has he meant to you?
Carmelo: He saw it in me before anybody. And it’s wild because I had wrestled in front of him. I hadn’t even met him at that point. We had done an in-house type of show and I remember the very first time I wrestled in front of him, he kind of said like, ‘Yeah, this kid is something.’ And then it was his idea to get me in front of Hunter. And I remember he told me that story afterwards. Like, I just wanted to get you in front of Hunter. I just wanted him to see you. And that’s when they ended up putting me in the match with Kushida for the Cruiserweight Title, which ended up being my debut. So, he’s always believed in me from day one.
And I know I can be a pain in the ass. And he respects that. I think because he knows he, at one point, was a pain in the ass. And I don’t do it in a bad way, but I’m so freaking passionate bro, about what I do and what I want to do. And I just want to do things different. And he knows that. And I’m very, very vocal about whatever it is. So, I think that’s why him and I have a close bond because he’s like, man, I can’t blame you, but I know what I’m talking about. Trust me, but I understand where you’re coming from. So that’s our relationship. And he’s been nothing but great to me.
Grayson Waller goes from an Australian classroom to the jumping through ladders
Grayson Waller: I didn’t know they let fans into these things. I thought they got professionals to do the interviews by like, congrats man. That’s exciting for you.
CSS: Yeah man, it’s big moment for me.
Grayson: Hey, it’s a big moment for me too [he said in jest and in character].
CSS: In all seriousness, I am a big fan of your work. You have some of the more innovative offensive maneuvers that I’ve seen in WWE in the last few years, including the Rolling Thunder Stunner. Now, these are moves that we’ve seen before, but you get into them in in very unique ways. Just how much work has gone into putting together this arsenal you have?
Waller: That’s a big part of what I do. I don’t wanna be like anyone else. And I think a lot of times you see people come in and they do the same moves. In wrestling, there’s only so many moves. So, my mindset was always, I don’t wanna be anyone else. Not with my moves, my entrance, anything. Some of the moves I do are quite famous. Like I do, do a Stunner. I do, do an Unprettier. I do, do an elbow drop, but I do ‘em my way. There’s no way that you can look at what I do and go, oh, he’s just like Austin. Stone Cold won’t roll through the ropes like that, like come on, you know what I mean? Same with the Unprettier. Like, no one is doing those type of things. So for me, everything I do is put into making sure that Grayson Waller is an individual and when you see me, you don’t compare me to anyone else.
CSS: Now you came out of South Wales where, if the internet is correct, you were a history teacher at one point. How do you go from being a history teacher to jumping through ladders for a living?
Waller: New South Wales. You were close. South Wales you’re going UK. New South Wales, Australia, very similar. You know, my life is wild. Like, when people find out I was a teacher, I don’t think they really believe that. You know, that’s like a different side of me. With Australian wrestling at the time, it’s not a full-time job. You know, you’re doing it for the love of it. You’re doing it to try and get eyes on you, that type of thing. I was a weekend warrior for a long time, but you gotta pay the bills at the end of the day. And yeah, big history fan, surprisingly. So that was just something I really enjoyed doing, working with the kids and things like that. But that part of my life is behind me now, lad. Now I’m jumping through ladders and all that type of stuff.
CSS: Have any of your former students reached out to you, now that they’ve seen you on television?
Waller: I’ve had a few, all supportive too. You know, especially with like teenage kids, you know they’re wild. They say some wild type of things, but they’ve always been super supportive and that type of thing. So, it’s cool having them support me on the way, back there [in Australia].
The #WWENXT Championship is on the line TOMORROW NIGHT at #NXTSpringBreakin' when @Carmelo_WWE defends his title against @GraysonWWE!— WWE NXT (@WWENXT) April 24, 2023
And you won't miss a second of the action!
8/7c on @USANetwork pic.twitter.com/kP4Y4y2IxV
Carmelo Hayes defends his newly won NXT Championship against Grayson Waller tonight. NXT Spring Breakin’ kicks-off live at 8pm ET on the USA Network, and you can follow along with the action in our live blog here.
Make sure to check our full interviews with Carmelo Hayes and Grayson Waller in the video at the top of this article. You can follow Rick Ucchino on Twitter and subscribe to the Bleav in Pro Wrestling Podcast Channel for more of his work.