Damien Priest on Winning WWE NXT North American Championship: 'I Just Wanted to Celebrate Like a Rock Star'
NXT TakeOver: XXX was a night of celebration for Damian Priest as the high-flying big man captured the vacant North American championship. His ladder match win marked the first taste of WWE gold for the “Archer of Infamy.”
And what better way to enjoy his big win than with a sip of champagne and a dip into a nearby hot tub? Priest is indeed living his best life. One could even argue that the brand may be entering a new era, adding in the recent developments of Keith Lee moving to Raw and Karrion Kross becoming NXT champion.
"When you look at who was on a poster even a year ago, the people on it keep changing," Priest says. "I think that’s cool because it makes us all work harder. You don’t want to get dropped out of your spot, but you also want to be moving up the ladder."
Confidence is at an all-time high for the superstar. Priest adds: "You push yourself to the max and always try to outdo yourself, but there is someone also doing the exact same thing. I love that type of competition. I’m going to keep pushing myself. I’m going to continue what I do, which is to be better than I was yesterday every single day. [And] make sure [that] I keep entertaining and putting out performances worthy of me being the North American champion and employed by WWE."
Below, Priest talks about his journey and how he's enjoying his biggest success in WWE so far.
The photo of you in the hot tub has been making the rounds on social media. What was that all about?
Damian Priest: I had a contingency celebration plan in place just in case. I mentioned it to Hunter [Paul Levesque, Triple H]. They had one on standby. Luckily, everything worked out the way I wanted it to. The crew set me up something outside. That was real, me celebrating. There is this imagery I have of a rock star jumping in a pool with their clothes on, just getting off the stage. It was basically what I did. I got off this huge stage where I had just won a major championship in this company. I just wanted to celebrate like a rock star. It’s a moment I’ll cherish forever.
Did you plan to have a Triple H photobomb?
Not at all. He was cool with me having that setup. He was like, 'hey, let’s take a picture.' That’s usually what he does with the new champions. And I was like, 'let’s do it here.' He thought it would be cool. I thought it was pretty neat and unique to me.
It’s great to see you have this moment knowing how many years you’ve worked towards it. What did winning the title mean to you?
It means everything. This is what we’re here for. I wanted to do something to solidify myself as someone of importance in this business. This is the first step. This is the first major moment for me. I’m still on cloud nine. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted. I’ve wanted success. I’ve wanted the attention. It’s just rewarding when you achieve it. I’m appreciating and enjoying it. I’m going to hold on to this for as long as I can.
How do you feel you’ve evolved as a performer in WWE? I get a sense now that you’re coming into your own and able to verbalize more on TV.
It came from a piece of advice I got from Triple H, which is basically just to be you. Shawn Michaels has been adamant about that too. Both of them have been on me for months. They [were telling me], 'this guy, we speak to in the back and we see at the PC [Performance Center] and at shows and on the road, give us that guy.” For so many years I was asked to be a certain type of presentator. I was always cool with that because I always liked the idea of trying to be cool.
You never look at yourself in a certain way. You see how others perceive you. I would always pretend to be something else. I think at first I was still pretending to be a version of what I thought people wanted me to be. I was still pretending. Now, I feel there is none of that. I’m living in the moment. So far, it has been so far, so good. I can feel I’ve excelled because of that. It’s crazy to think if I had just been myself from the get-go, who knows. I give credit to Shawn and Hunter for pushing me to just be myself and not worry about anything else.
I know you've also been influenced by the Undertaker. What did you make of The Last Ride? And what do you think about the comparisons people make between the two of you?
I’m in the business and a fan because of Undertaker. Any time I get compared to him or spoken about in the same conversation, it’s an honor for me. Being around him and seeing that documentary, it’s proof when you feel something, you know. He was portraying this character. He was also still portraying who he was. That wasn’t pretending for him. He was being real, and that worked for him.
I’m being real to myself. That’s why it’s working. Getting the curtain pulled and seeing his life, hearing about his experiences—it’s reassuring that it’s OK to have these feelings too. If the Undertaker went through this, I can too. He came to the Performance Center after that doc one more time. I actually got to spend more time in the ring with him, which was really cool. I haven’t seen him since, but at least I got to spend a little bit of time with him and pick his brain. He also helped me progress who I am and enjoy this prime I’m having in NXT.
You won the North American championship in a ladder match where you and the other participants were doing these crazy, high-flying moves. What is your mindset when it comes to doing these high-risk maneuvers at 6-foot-6?
The one thing that is awesome about being here is I’ve never been told [not to] do something. It has always been, do you, but do it in the smartest way possible. Make sure you’re getting the most out of everything you do. That is true in any sport or combat sports environment. Your performance and competitiveness has to make sense. That’s why you train and prepare. It’s finding that balance. Almost on a daily basis, I ask questions and [ask] for my peers to critique me and tell me how to be better. The day before TakeOver, I had about an hour-long conversation with Edge about ladder matches.
This was my first-ever ladder match. I was the only one in that match who had never been in a ladder match. I sat with Shawn, Hunter and talked to Edge for an hour just asking a million questions [about] what to expect, how to react, how can I move. They reassured me about certain things that might appear common sense, but are easy to forget when you’re in the moment. You have to make sure what you’re doing makes sense. You can’t just do it for the sake of it because that’s how injuries and mistakes happen. Those are the things that help me. I have a game plan. I know I can do things that guys my size tend not to, but I do it when it makes sense.
You have such a unique look and presence. Where does that inspiration for your look and for the “Archer of Infamy” come from?
It has to do with feeling. I love feeling things. When you see my presentation, it has a lot to do with musical performances combined with imagery that I love. The idea of the “Archer of Infamy” comes from the fact that archery has been around since the beginning of time. In any book of the past, hunting and war, when you think about one of the first weapons ever, it’s a bow. That has lasted and stood the test of time. That’s what I want my name to do. I like the idea of what it represents. I’m also a huge fan of archery. I thought about including it because it’s real to me. I’ll see something in a TV show or comic book or movie, I take things from anywhere that I like and make it my own.
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