Keith Lee Prepares to Bring Fight to Karrion Kross at WWE NXT 'TakeOver: XXX'

Keith Lee
Q&A
WWE

Keith Lee has been a dominant force in WWE. His momentum rolled into a victory over Adam Cole at the Great American Bash in July for the NXT championship. Fans basked in his glory as he ended the record-breaking reign of the Undisputed Era leader while also holding the North American title. It was a milestone win Lee dedicated to his trainer “Killer” Tim Brooks, who had recently passed. And so began the “Limitless” era. But winning the gold is one thing and  keeping it is another. 

Coming up at NXT TakeOver XXX is a unique test in the unhinged Karrion Kross. He, along with the devious Scarlett, has been playing mind games ahead of this anticipated battle. On an episode of NXT, the mystifying duo were responsible for a fireball to Lee's eyes during the contact signing. Ahead of the showdown, we caught up with the imposing champ to talk about moving to the top of the mountain and bringing out a new side of his personality. 

Keith Lee

WWE

There was a video released of you working out with WWE champion Drew McIntyre. I thought that was pretty cool, seeing you together preparing for your respective defenses this weekend. 

Keith Lee: For me, it was a test of how I responded to brighter lights because I’ve struggled with light and sensitivity to it. That was most of what it was about. We shared some stories. It was just two guys having a good time and training. That’s all it really was. 

Both of you have had runs in Evolve. The promotion’s library is among the independent promotions currently available on the WWE Network. What is the feedback you’ve gotten? 

I haven’t had a chance to look at it myself. I have seen a lot of interest and excitement from people. I’m really happy people are able to enjoy that. I hope more people take the time to check it out and get the idea of what growth was like for me before getting to WWE. Coming out of my shell, trying new things. 

Is there one match you’d recommend fans check out from that period of your career? 

I would probably recommend anything that was basically me versus Matt Riddle or [Donovan] Dijak. Even my match versus Ricochet. I think it was in Orlando when WrestleMania was there. 

You’ve been able to show a different side thanks to the feud with Karrion Kross. Your promos, too, have a little more intensity behind them. What have you been channeling to get that out? 

It’s nothing new, my man. It’s someone who pissed me off, and now I’m mad. It’s really simple. There are a lot of guys on this roster I respect. Even some of the ones I don’t like. Adam Cole, I respect him. As an athlete I respect what he can do in a wrestling ring. Dijak has a tendency to lose his cool, really vicious and aggressive. I respect him because of what he represents in the wrestling ring.

Now we have a guy who apparently has paid off our sound guy, light guy and some of our production team to get our stuff tampered with and to try and intimidate me or call me out. I invite him to the ring, and he doesn’t show up. He talks a game but doesn’t walk it. He claims he wants me, but he will fight everyone but me. He is full of crap. He is a chosen guy who is here. While he has proven himself capable and wins matches, he is a dude who is false. He is not real. I don’t like that. What he represents isn’t for competition. He isn't representing NXT. I’m not impressed. I’m upset. This is just a guy who pissed me off, and now I’m mad. 

As far as that fireball, tell me what that was like. We don’t see it very often on WWE TV. 

Apparently we have a fire mage in WWE now. I thought I had trained myself with a fire resistance of nine, but they cast 13, and it sucked. I’ve been wearing glasses virtually everywhere that I’ve gone for the past week or so. It’s weird. I want to meet the guy face-to-face, but these are the actions that are taken. It may be cool for some and a meme for some. If you want to laugh at my pain, good on you. Just understand that I’m not going to have a competition with the guy. It is a fight. I’m going to beat the hell out of  him. That’s just the way it goes. 

What has been the biggest challenge moving to the top of the brand? 

Aside from getting hit in the face with a fireball, it’s not to say there has been a challenge. Taking the championship was the challenge. Representing a championship I can do in any place. I can do it anywhere, and I can make a championship anywhere I am because that’s what I do. However, in this circumstance it was more about what to do with these championships. Originally, I had ideas of people I wanted to fight and put it on the line. At the end of the day, the most challenging thing has been getting face-to-face with this dude because he does everything in his power to avoid it. 

Keith Lee

WWE

Another match on the card people are especially excited about is Adam Cole vs. Pat McAfee. How well do you think the NFL star will do? 

No idea. My respect for Adam Cole is through the roof. I know he can fight. I know he is a competitor. I know he’ll bring it. It’s hard for me to see an unseasoned person showing up in NXT and beating the guy I beat for that championship. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around that. I wish him all the luck because the guy has the cojones to make something happen. He is going to need some serious help. I don’t know. Someone is probably going to get kicked in the face a lot. 

Whether it was against Johnny Gargano or now against Karrion Kross, you’re getting the chance to work with your girlfriend, Mia Yim. What’s it like taking the offscreen couple on screen? 

It has been really weird. I feel like her and I work really well together just because of how well we know each other. It’s kind of easy, but maybe too easy. Maybe it made us a little arrogant and too confident. I understand how tough she is and the type of athlete she is. But it can also make us a  little careless, which is what led to me causing us to get beat [clears throat and laughs].

NXT TakeOver

WWE

With this being the 30th TakeOver, do you have a favorite match or moment? 

One of my favorites was against Dijak from TakeOver: Portland because it was my first time in Portland and my first championship defense of the North American championship. I think it was my first TakeOver singles match as well. So a lot of firsts. It was me also representing a former coach of mine who had passed away to cancer. Not wrestling related but football related. It had a major impact on me. 

What do you think of the legacy of these shows and what they’ve become? Does headlining this one feel more special? 

I don’t know if it matters more because it is 30. The thing that is cool about it is to know TakeOver has happened so many times and to know I’m on number 30 itself. Just to see where NXT has come from. The growth of NXT. A lot of people were angry because I relinquished the North American championship. They don’t understand how much I love NXT. It was something I watched before I even thought about coming to WWE. Seeing where it has been to what it has grown into. It’s a damn fairytale. It’s so cool to watch what has happened to it. Now to be a part of it and part of its growth, you can’t beat that. 

WWE NXT, Wednesdays, 8/7c, USA Network

NXT Takeover, 7/6c, August 22, WWE Network