Drake Maverick Talks Keeping His Dream Alive With New WWE Contract
It's arguably the most feel-good WWE moment of this COVID-19 era: Drake Maverick lost his dream job of WWE Superstar but honored his commitment by competing one last time—and won himself a new contract!
The U.K. transplant was one of several employees, both talent and behind-the-scenes, released April 15 as a cost-cutting measure. Hours after it happened, Maverick posted a tear-filled reaction video on social media. His name had been advertised as part of the NXT cruiserweight title tournament, but he decided not to pull out, instead making the most of the opportunity, taking fans on a rollercoaster ride to the finals. Even though he would ultimately lose the championship match, he impressed decision-makers so much that WWE exec Paul “Triple H” Levesque brought him back.
Next up for Maverick: joining Breezango (Fandango and Tyler Breeze) to face Legado del Fantasma (Santos Escobar, Raul Mendoza and Joaquin Wilde) during Night 2 of the Great American Bash on NXT this week. Ahead of the six-man tag, Maverick opens up about his emotional few months.
The heartfelt video you filmed to address your release went viral. Did that response help soften the blow?
Drake Maverick: That hard day was a bit of a blur. All I remember is the call from Mark Carrano [senior director of talent relations] telling me they still wanted me to do the cruiserweight tournament if I still wanted to. I looked at it as, I’m going to let the world know, here’s my situation. I’m fired right now, and I’m going to give my absolute all for this. If I don’t win, I’m probably gone. I just sat in front of the camera and let what I was feeling come. At the same time, I let people know I had these three matches. I was only aware of several people being released [at the time]: EC3, Karl Anderson, myself, and others.
After I did that promo and put it up, I went to my friend’s house for a walk. I destressed and took some phone calls from people, who were very complimentary—people I worked with across the industry telling me it was going to be okay. I think that is what’s great about the wrestling community. When something like this happens, there is a big community of people to give you a big pat on the back and remind you who you are and that you’ll be okay. I didn’t know the video had skyrocketed the way it had until that night. I think everyone felt my pain and passion for this and how much I loved this. It has been my life. I can’t tell you a time in my life where I haven’t been watching it, thinking about it, enamored with it. I take it very seriously.
It's really unprecedented in many ways to have a released performer still being featured on WWE television. What was it like to be backstage and in that state of limbo?
The most nerve-wracking was going into the first match against Jake Atlas. One, I’d never competed for NXT before. I’m coming into a new locker room. I’m also thinking to myself that there has never been someone who has been fired yet [is] continuing with the preplanned booking obligations. I’m in a very unique spot here, and I need to treat this with respect. I need to also treat the company with respect because if I do this and nothing comes of it, I’ve had three television matches. I have three television matches to advertise my services out the door, which is great.
Otherwise, everyone would remember me as 24/7 champion, general manager, guy who peed his pants on television. I had these three matches to reinvent myself on the way out. I know my abilities as a performer. I also know how I can give to a story like this and give dramatically. That’s what it’s about, the drama. It’s what draws people in. I think every step we took was just great drama. I came in every week not knowing what was going on—just getting my creative and doing it. I didn’t want to ruffle any feathers because I was on my way out, but I did want to do business again. It worked out how I wanted it to.
— DRAKE MAVERICK (@WWEMaverick) April 15, 2020
We recently saw a released Heath Slater appear unexpectedly on Raw. He hit it out of the park with his promo. Do you feel like you’ve set this new precedent?
It all depends on how you want to take it because business is business. I’ll be honest with you, if I was the company and they weren’t using me, I would have fired me. They were paying me a lot of money to get no return on me. Heath knocked it out of the park. Again, that’s a side of Heath Slater not a lot of people know. Heath Slater can do absolutely anything. He [can deliver] one of the best promos in the business if you just give him the microphone and the story. He did a hell of a job.
I’m very proud of what we did and with Heath. It’s a case of you haven't seen how good he is because he hasn’t had the opportunities. Nine times out of 10 if you did, he can make something out of nothing. I can make something out of nothing. Even Breezango can do that. We’ll knock it out of the park every time because we’re professionals and have been doing this a long time. My hat's off to Heath for a wonderful promo.
If I set a precedent for people that says “Hey, you’re not done here,” that’s great because it means more people will have opportunities going forward when they thought the door was closed.
For your "final" appearance, viewers were so invested, wanting you to win the tournament. The lines of reality were blurred—they didn't know what was going to happen. So you lost the last match...but then there was the big surprise with Triple H standing behind you. How did you celebrate that night? Is there a special place where you keep a copy of that contract?
The release paperwork from WWE is actually framed by my front door. Above it is a line that says “Dreams don’t work unless you do.” Every time I go to work, I take a look at that. It’s where I could have been and [still could] be if I don’t bust my ass. That night, honestly, I just went on like I would do normally. I sat with my wife. Mentally, I was beaten up because it had been such a long few weeks. I was also looking back on it: We really created a credible moment at a time where it’s very difficult to create such things, [during] a pandemic and without fans in the arena. Now the hard work really starts. Every day before I leave the house, I look at those release papers and go, “Today you go out there and kill it.” It’s my motivation going forward.
This next chapter comes while working against Santos Escobar. I feel like your rivalry has rejuvenated the cruiserweight division. You’re getting the chance to showcase your talents as an in-ring performer beyond just being good comic relief. That must be gratifying.
He has an incredible story himself from his time spent in Mexico. We first worked with each other in 2017 at Impact when he was Fantasma. I think there was some sort of agreement with AAA or Crash Lucha. We have been on these individual journeys. The tournament, the story, everything that was involved with it. We managed to get more out of people. We created a story arc for Jake Atlas, for Kushida, for Santos Escobar. It’s a credit to the whole team at NXT and the participants in the tournament. The little things made the division that much bigger.
I’m very excited for the match coming up with Breezango against Santos, Wilde and Raul. Raul Mendoza and Joaquin Wilde are great competitors. I’ve known Joaquin for many years from my time in Impact. I’ve seen how talented Raul Mendoza is. It’s a total contrast of styles. Going back to being the funny guy, the same can be said for Breezango. They have a personality like myself. It’s very rare you’ll see the serious side out of them. I think this can bring an amazing serious element out of those guys as well. The more we can spread the wealth, the better.
This six-man tag is happening on a Great American Bash-branded show. To a lifelong wrestling fan like yourself, does it make the match that much more important?
The Great American Bash. Sting versus Ric Flair. It’s iconic. Growing up, if you told me I would be on one of these shows, I wouldn't have believed it. I'd pinch myself. I think you’re seeing the different side of Breezango. They came out and saved me from a further beating. I’ve got more guts than brains, with a little hint of crazy. Anyone [who's] been around me [knows] I can be a little bit of a hothead. If they have seen this side of Fandango and Tyler Breeze, it was a long time ago. It will be a reminder that these two and myself are very long-tenured competitors and not all fun and games. This is going to be serious match, serious fight. This is probably going to be the show-stealing match on the Great American Bash Night 2.
NXT, Wednesdays, 8/7c, USA Network