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DAMIAN PRIEST DISCUSSES RECENT PRAISE FROM TRIPLE H, THE UNDERTAKER'S INFLUENCE, HIS BREAKOUT MATCH AGAINST FINN BALOR, FACING CAMERON GRIMES, PUSHING HIMSELF HARDER AND MORE

By Mike Johnson on 2020-06-24 11:17:00

WWE NXT star Damian Priest faces Cameron Grimes on tonight's edition of WWE NXT.  Priest sat down with PWInsider.com on Tuesday 6/23 to reflect on his recent momentum, praise for his recent performance against Finn Balor, Grimes, the future, being inspired by The Undertaker and much more.

Mike Johnson: WWE NXT returns to the USA Network this Wednesday. Scheduled on the lineup for that broadcast is Cameron Grimes facing our guest at this time, Damian Priest, who is coming off a ton of momentum following his match with Finn Balor at the most recent Takeover In Your House event. So, sir, it's good to talk to you again. I have to ask, how are you personally doing? And how is your back? Because that was a pretty hellacious moment getting knocked off the apron onto the ring steps in the bout against Finn Balor. So, are there any lingering effects? Are you're feeling okay? You healthy?

Damian Priest: Yeah, I'm good. At this point, it's reduced down to just muscle situations. So, it basically is just tightness and whatnot. It's just going to take a little bit more stretching and warming up, but I should be good to go.

Mike Johnson: So, I have to ask you, we've spoken in the past numerous times, and one of the things that you noted in a previous interview is how much you crave and you love the physicality of professional wrestling and performing. And that you like when you feel the pain. Were you happy with that? Because I think that's like way to the extreme of the physicality of pro wrestling. So, like coming out of that, is that a satisfying moment for you? Or is that an, all right, I'm good and I'm ready to survive and fight another day?

Damian Priest: That's one of those weird ones is how do you perceive that moment because it's something that negatively happened to me. But I see it as a moment of, in the words of someone like Edge Grit, where I didn't stay down, I could have just got counted out. And I knew I didn't have much left in me because I was in a lot of pain, really a lot of pain after that fall. And I knew. And I heard the referee's count. And I could have just stayed outside and taken that count out. But I don't know, just something in me, I can't just stop. I have to keep going. And I got in.  Now, granted, as soon as I felt the Coup de Grace from Finn Balor, I regretted getting back in the ring. But I'm going to take it as a positive, man. Because I proved to myself that I have no quit. And, yeah. Granted, it's a little bit more pain than I would have wished for. But like you said, I mean, it comes with the business and I enjoy physicality. Now, that's maybe a step further, a step beyond the normal physicality. But you know what? It's what we do. I welcome it. And maybe next time it's somebody else on the receiving end of that.

Mike Johnson: So, someone who may be on the receiving end of it tomorrow may possibly be Cameron Grimes. We saw this past week last week's episode. He slashed your tires allegedly. And we got to see sort of a different side of Damian Priest. You got to do more of the character-esque storyline material that we see in the WWE programming versus just in ring physicality. What was it like getting involved and kind of performing in a different way than we've become accustomed to seeing you?

Damian Priest: It's fun. I love every part of our business. And anytime the camera is on me, I'm going to take it and I'm going to enjoy it. I appreciate it. So, it's what this business is built on. It's why I became a fan when I was a kid. So, yes. I enjoy it and it's scary at the same time. My tires were flat and I was pretty mad when I saw my car like that. Because that's not a prop, that's my real vehicle. Those were real tires. So, I was pretty mad. But I'll just take that out on him tomorrow. But, yeah. No. I enjoy every aspect of what we do. So, it's like I said, if the camera is on me, that means I'm doing my job. And, the more airtime I could get, the bigger star I could become. So, I welcome it.



Mike Johnson: So, after TakeOver took place, Paul Levesque did his traditional post show media scrum with members of the media, this time over the telephone. And he was asked about your match with Balor. And he said, he felt that was the first time where you were in the moment, as opposed to trying to think about being in the moment. And he praised you. And he felt this was sort of the moment where you rose to the occasion. And it was a turning point for you.  Hearing that, would you agree with that assessment? And what were your thoughts coming out of that match? Because it did feel like you had ascended and this was like, when one day they do the best of Damian Priest on the WWE Network, this'll be one of those cornerstone matches that'll be included in that collection. So, like coming out of that and hearing that response from Paul Levesque, like what was your thoughts on that assessment? And how did you feel coming out of that in terms of how you're positioned in NXT and how comfortable you were?

Damian Priest: First of all, like it's Triple H. Right? Like he's the man. I mean, I watched him. I idolized him. I mean, I'm still a fan of Triple H. So, sometimes I forget like he's very much my boss and leader of our brand. But he's still the game. You know what I mean? Like I look across at him sometimes when he's having meetings or whatever, and I'm looking at him like, man, that's a bad ass right there. So, take all of that, all his positions in the company and everything he has accomplished, and that guy praises you. He takes the time to say your name and make sure everybody knows that he's speaking of you in a positive way, I don't even know how to describe that. I mean, I was taken aback. I was humbled. I was honored. It was all the positives you could think of.   But now, it's like, well, if he's speaking to me that way, I've really got to step my game up now, even more so than I usually do. Because I don't want to prove him wrong. And, after he put his stamp on me, I don't want to embarrass him or make people think that he was wrong. So, I am honored. But, yeah. It's a lot of pressure now thinking about it.  And, as far as the performance, yeah, I agree with him where that was the first time I think I felt comfortable in the moment, where I wasn't trying to be somebody for anybody else other than myself. And I think that's what I've been missing. And I think that's why I haven't really hit my stride up until now. Because, although I had good performances and I've had my moments, they weren't as meaningful because I was still trying to figure it out, so to speak. And I think now I really truly know my goal and purpose here. And I feel it. And I know it. And I think I'm just going to build on that.

Mike Johnson: So, in your mind, hearing that praise and knowing that you've kind of hit that moment of comfort, is there a fear of becoming complacent or being too comfortable? Or does this now become a bigger pressure to maintain or even become become better, become more comfortable, become more in the moment than you've already been? Because pro wrestling for performers has always been like this weird balance of mental drive and physical drive. And, when you kind of have it perfectly, that's usually when talents take off. When you know you've kind of hit that moment, is there ever a fear of complacency?

Damian Priest: I mean, you know me. That's definitely not a fear. If anything, this is an extra bit of motivation that I didn't need, but I'll take it. Where now it's I'm even more motivated. Like I'll just play back some audio of that or watch back that match. And the first thing I want to do is train, and study, and do things to keep improving. It's exciting. So, to me it's more exciting. And that's what I felt out of that. The complacency thing, I've been there done that. And then, I would never go back to being that person. For me, it's moving forward and becoming better than I was the day before.

Mike Johnson: Well, one of the things you're going to be tasked with on NXT this week is competing against Cameron Grimes, who we're starting to see find his own comfort level in terms of how he speaks and his character on screen. What can fans expect from the match with Cameron on Wednesday night?

Damian Priest: I'm going to break his stupid face. Cameron Grimes, he's very annoying. And I'm going to make sure everybody knows how annoying he is to me. But the match should be basically what you expect. It's going to be hard hitting. It's going to be basically two studs right now trying to find their place and make a name themselves. But I really do believe I'm a step ahead of him right now. And I ultimately, like I said before, I know where I need to go now. And Cameron Grimes is just another step in this long line of steps that I got to take. So, he's just the next one. He's not the first, but he is the next.



Mike Johnson: So, we saw the final episode of Undertaker - The Last Ride air this past Sunday on the WWE Network. Obviously, there is a lot in you that pays homage to The Undertaker. And he's obviously inspired you in different ways. Thoughts on the announcement that he's going to perhaps step away for a long time, perhaps forever, given that he's obviously been such an iconic force in terms of inspiring you? And, obviously, in the back of your mind, had to be, that's the dream match, Damian Priest against Undertaker at WrestleMania in front of 100,000 people. Thoughts on his influence on your career and his decision to take a step away?

Damian Priest: Man, I mean, selfishly of course I want him to wrestle until he literally can't, till they have to say, hey, you can't. Medically, you can't. I mean, the ultimate you cannot work here anymore. But realistically, what more can we ask of him? He's given everything to us in the sense of this business. There's nothing he needs to prove. And, as far as helping others, there's other ways.  I, of course, would love to be able to work with him. And I would want to continue seeing him. But, at this point, I don't expect anything more from him. What he's given me is enough for me to be proud that he was my inspiration. He's the reason why I chose this business for a living. That's what he means to me.  I was just looking at a picture from 21 years ago when I met him in a mall in New York. And I was a kid. And now, because of the network and this picture is floating around of me shaking his hand this year. So, it was 21 years difference. And it's the coolest thing in the world to me that I've gotten to be around him and I can pick his brain. And it just blows my mind.   So, for me, if he's done, he deserves it. I don't think anybody in the history of this business has ever deserved more just in the sense of I've never heard him be not the Undertaker. I've never seen him not be The Undertaker. There's never been an issue of, does he believe? Or, up until now, there's never been any negative for somebody named the undertaker. And now, in the negative is that fear of, can he still go? But it's coming from him. And I think this is the perfect time for him to make his own decision. I don't think it's up to anybody else, no matter what we want. For me, there's nothing more I can say about him. He's been my inspiration and my idol for so long that I have plenty of footage I can continue to watch. And I still do. So, for me, if he calls it quits now, I would be okay with it.

Mike Johnson: The match with Finn Balor was held in, let's say, the empty arena environment. Obviously, you've done TV numerous times in WWE. Things have changed. But what was it like working that In Your Youse show with that unique environment compared to TakeOvers from the past? Like, how is that energy level different?

Damian Priest: Well, number one, in your house was such a big deal for me growing up as a wrestling fan. That's basically my childhood. So, every paper view I would watch and I'd make my parents order. Or at times I had that black box that a lot of people used to have to watch the pay per views.

Mike Johnson: [coughs] Kayfabe, sir, [coughs]

Damian Priest: Yeah. [Laughs] So, I just remember all the cool sets. And then, when they started giving them nicknames. I'm such a fan of the in your house thing. And I was upset when they took it away. So, bringing it back and then being that it's booked NXT. And then, when I was asked to be a part of it, I mean, that was awesome. So, just the idea alone. Of course, would I have wished that there could have been 20 plus thousand fans? That would have made it the ultimate experience. But, to be honest, I felt as though it was in front of 20,000 people. Because my head, when I turned around and I saw my name on fire and the house in flames, that to me was so cool that I almost just walked out there. I was like, I'm done. I had my moment!   Because those things, I think a lot of people don't understand what they mean to us. And little things like that, like the nostalgia of being a part of it and knowing that that's history, bringing that back after so many years and it was an NXT, and it was only a handful of matches, not everybody. And forget the company, not everybody in the brand could be a part of it. It's special to be a part of it. I'm extremely grateful. And I don't take that for granted because that will never happen again. They could have another in your house, but that was the first return one. And I was honored to be a part of it.

Mike Johnson: And now you get to be part of the time capsule of the history of that event forever. 

Damian Priest: Forever, which is crazy!  Yeah. There you go. That's what is my whole reasoning is just for my name. Right? And here's something that my name is going to live on. So, yeah. I'm certainly grateful. And being there with someone Finn Balor doesn't hurt either. The guy is a mega star in this business. And he is somebody who is going to live on to be one of the biggest stars ever in this business. And I got to share the ring with him at this historic event. So, during unprecedented times, wild life.

Mike Johnson: So, NXT is going to make history in just a couple of weeks. We're going to see the NXT champion, Adam Cole, face whoever wins the Triple Threat match on Wednesday night. The winner, at that point, will be the reigning and defending North American champion. Thoughts on the potential of the winner of that?  Obviously, you're on a trajectory where, at some point, you're going to be getting some championship opportunities. Keith Lee versus Damian Priest seems like a dream match fans still want to see.  On paper, Damian Priest against Johnny Gargano sounds like fun.  We just saw you and Balor tear the house down.  Damian Priest against Adam Cole. If you have your druthers and you can pick one that you can challenge for one of these championships, like in your mind, who do you want to see come out of that battlefield for you to face down the line?

Damian Priest: Man, you're making the hard questions today. So, obviously like you said, any one of those match-ups would work for me. But I think, only because of the history, and we're one in one, I think we need that tiebreaker. It has to be Keith Lee. In my first main event match, I defeated him. And then, my first opportunity, at a singles match for a championship, he defeated me. So, I feel like, well, it's inevitable. We're going to have to have that rubber match. Might as well be for another championship, maybe multiple championships. So, that would be my go to.  But that's not to say that I think any less of Johnny, Cole, or Balor again. Which I would love to get in the ring to prove I can beat him. Because I really think at In Your House I proved that I was just there. Now, it's just a matter of pulling that extra trigger. And I think that's where those comments that Triple H was making about me, that I found myself, now I know what I need to do. And I think I'm right there. So, any one of those matches works for me. But, if I had to pick one, it would be Keith only because of that. I need to prove it.

Mike Johnson: Obviously, you're a New York guy. So, am I. I'm here in New York city. We're still pretty much shut down. What has been your go to to keep yourself sane? Obviously, you've been able to compete. You've been able to train. You've been able to perform as part of NXT. But what's been your go to to kind of keep yourself mentally on the upside and to keep yourself going as the world is in this crazy vortex? And what's your advice to people who are still trapped in that vortex who are looking for an out, beyond watching WWE? Like what have you been doing and what do you advise other people to do?

Damian Priest: I push myself. Basically, I challenge and test myself as far as what are the things that I enjoy doing or what do I lack enjoyment in, but I should be better, and focus on those things. You know I struggled years ago with weight, and being in shape, and health. So, I just took it a step further and kind of, as best I could, made a little home gym. And now, I exercise more. Dieting has become a different factor for me, as far as, because I'm only home now, now I have more time to cook and do things of that nature and learn. Where I'll actually read up recipes and try it and see. So, it's basically try something different. Try something new. Try something that you've struggled with and see if you could actually be better at it. And, if you don't, then try something else.  But the more you keep active within your obviously confined space, the better you stay mentally. Because the worst thing you could do is sit and do nothing. I think that's when we really drive ourselves crazy. I think, when this first happened, I think most of us did that. We kind of just sat and waited, thinking this would be over quickly. And then, kept on waiting and kept on waiting. And then, slowly people started getting stir crazy because you have that need to do something.  So, basically, give yourself an out. Give yourself something else to do. As the world now seems to be we're in the moment where hopefully things can start going back to some type of normalcy, I think it's better to already have changed your life. Because there's going to be a new normal anyway, once things return. So, at least you're better prepared. It's because you've made the effort to change with the time.

Mike Johnson: Well, everyone is going to get to see you perhaps change Cameron Grimes' face tomorrow.

Damian Priest: Yes. [Laughs]

Mike Johnson:  Thanks for sitting down and talking to us. Everyone listening, if you're not already, you can follow Damian Priest on Twitter @ArcherOfInfamy. And so, Mr. Paragon of Punishment, if you've got any final words for everybody before we get out of here, I just want to give you that opportunity. And, of course, say thank you again for giving us time. And I appreciate it. And I look forward to talking to you down the line.

Damian Priest: My pleasure.   Everyone, strong and stay New York strong.

Mike Johnson: WWE NXT this Wednesday 8:00 P.M., Damian Priest against Cameron Grimes and a lot more. We'll have full coverage here on the site. Damian, thank you again, sir.

Damian Priest: Thank you Mike.

 

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