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By Mike Johnson on 2020-12-23 10:45:00

Tonight's episode of WWE NXT on the USA Network has promised to feature a "Gargano Christmas."  Candice LaRae sat down with yesterday to discuss exactly what that entails and much more.  Transcript by Billy Krotchsen.

Mike Johnson: Hey everybody it's Mike Johnson.  It is Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020, which means we are about 24 hours away from WWE NXT on the USA Network and this week, a Gargano Christmas has been announced with Johnny Gargano, Indi Hartwell, Austin Theory and our guest at this time, Candice LeRae, making up the guest list. So, first of all Candice, it's good to talk to you again. I guess we'll start out with the obvious - how are you feeling and how's the arm doing?

Candice LeRae: I feel great. All things considered, I think whatever little tiny bits of me that are still a bit sore, I'll take it, because my arm - no break - it was a Christmas miracle. 

Mike Johnson: Really?

Candice LeRae: I know. It was hard to believe, I was like this is definitely broken, we went to the ER, got x-rays...even our medical team looked at it and I want to say within 24 hours I was able to pretty much use my arm and my fingers all again - obviously tender, but... (laughs)

Mike Johnson: Was there a specific moment where you knew that you had done something wrong? I mean, obviously it was your arm under the chair when Shotzi came off the ladder, but was there a moment after that where you realized, "OK, this is not working?" or "Things aren't flexing the way they're supposed to"? Especially with the fingers, most people take it for granted the amount of tiny little bones that are in your fingers until you can't pull them open and shut.

Candice LeRae: Yeah, well so, right after the impact, my ribs immediately hurt, and I'm a pretty stubborn person so I usually try to wait a second and go "Oh, I'm probably fine," and I told the referee that was in there with me, "I think the doctors need to check on me just in case," because I've never had a rib injury so that freaked me out, and I went to check my ribs myself to see how everything was, and I just completely couldn't use my arm, and I was like "Oh no." They were trying to get me to leave the cage, and I was like, "I can't leave the cage because we lose if I leave the cage, so just give me a second", and so by the time the match had ended, my ribs had started to feel better, and I could breathe normally and everything was fine, but there are so many things I can't do with my arm right now. And like you said, you take things for granted, because my poor I always tell Johnny's mom, "If anything's wrong, you'll hear from us, if something isn't wrong is when you won't, if everything's good, you're just not going to hear from us, so don't worry," and I'm like trying to text her with one hand, I'm going "This is so frustrating," I need to tell people that I'm OK but it's taking forever just to type one little letter, it's crazy.

Mike Johnson: So do we know what the nature of the injury was?

Candice LeRae: It was a deep tissue...all the cartilage and stuff just got mushed, and I mean, for days after I went up to people like, "It's not broken" and medical staff were like that's so crazy because everybody was convinced that it was broken.

Mike Johnson: Yeah that was the word backstage.

Candice LeRae: I'm trying not to cry when they're telling me it's broken because I'm like, "I want kids, I don't have time to take any time off right now, we gotta keep this show going," and there was still a part of me going, "Maybe it's not broken," because my body has endured a lot of things in my almost 18 years of doing this, maybe it's not broken, but it wasn't (laughs).

Mike Johnson: Well thankfully it wasn't anything worse but this Wednesday is going to be the Gargano Christmas on WWE NXT. When we think of the Garganos, we think of the Gargano Dinner. You and Johnny are theme park fans, you are heavy duty immersed into Disney culture - we saw that with your outfit at War Games which was inspired by Maleficent. What can we expect with the Gargano Christmas?

Candice LeRae: We went the extra mile with getting decorations, it's Indi Hartwell and Austin Theory's first Christmas with us, so we have to make sure that they know that we're big Christmas people and we want them to feel special and feel welcome to our family now. I will say - this is a teaser, I'm not going to give away any spoilers, but we did get them gifts. Padme is trying to eat all the wrapping paper. I even baked cookies - we went above and beyond...very excited about this.

Mike Johnson: Well you mentioned Padme and we know that there are huge Star Wars fans in your household. Mandalorian Season Finale thoughts?

Candice LeRae: Oh my gosh (laughs). I'm really sad that it's so far away for the next season because I feel like they gave you this closure...I'm trying to be so subtle just in case somebody is listening to this and they haven't seen it yet, so I had some closure, but there's so much more that I need to know and I need to see. I am so excited for next season already, I'm sad this one is over but I think it's no surprise, but Ahsoka Tano being there, come on, that's just amazing. 

Mike Johnson: I don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen it yet but the last 11 minutes of that season is probably the happiest I've been as a Star Wars fan since 1983 so you can read into that what you want if you haven't seen the show yet. 

Candice LeRae: I love it!

Mike Johnson: It's all I ever wanted since I was 10 years old.

Candice LeRae: Aww! I was kind of rocking my legs and trying not to hit Johnny going, "Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God," it was just so good.

Mike Johnson: We can talk for hours about it, that's how good it was. So, you've had different tandems and different tag team partners during the course of your career, but for Johnny the Austin Theory relationship is more of a mentor, let's say a Jedi Master-Padawan deal.

Candice LeRae: Yeah! I like that.

Mike Johnson: What's it like having your own proteges to work with and add to your own luster as characters and personalities?

Candice LeRae: It's been so fun for me because I love getting to work with young talent so much. I think it's a very underrated thing...I just remember when I started and every time I learned something new - the know, they're just so passionate about this, just like Johnny and I when we first started, so as we see them learn new things and get to try something for the first time, it's fun to kinda play with this new dynamic and I'm so excited for what their future holds  because their potential is insanely endless. They're so gifted, so talented. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think we'd get to have a Christmas special and here we are. I'm just so excited for all the possibilities that come out of this. 

Mike Johnson: Is there any chance of Dok Hendrix showing us as Santa Claus on NXT?

Candice LeRae: You have no idea how many times we've tried to talk Dok Hendrix into coming because obviously he's a very cherished person in our household, and yet, I don't know...maybe it'll be the real Christmas miracle - that Dok Hendrix will show up. That's what everybody wants, that's what we want.

Mike Johnson: Sooner or later it might happen, you never know.

Candice LeRae: It needs to! The more we try, the more we try together, that's not just me and Johnny and Indi and Austin, that's everybody, the more we all try together let's see if we can bring it to reality. Let's bring it to life.

Mike Johnson: So I want to flash back to War Games. That was such a physically brutal match - thoughts on that match, there were two War Games matches on that show, each were excellent but they were each laid out in such a different fashion. Thoughts on the NXT Women's Division laying it all out there like they did that evening.

Candice LeRae: I feel so fortunate to be in the locker room in this time in my life. The women here are so good - I could have never hoped for a better locker room of girls and every single one of them, they look different...different personalities, what they bring to the table, we have so many possibilities and so much potential to do all these fun things. I feel like we could have had 100 different versions of that match and I think every single one of them would have been just as exciting. These girls are so awesome, and they're so passionate, driven, they work's so unreal to be a part of this locker room right now, it really is. It really makes me step up my game.

Mike Johnson: And when you add in the NXT UK locker room, it's ridiculous. I was curious, in your estimation, how much do the two locker rooms look at each other and watch what's going on the other's show as a way to step up their game. You look at Jinny and Piper Niven and Kay Lee Ray and the other women that are there, the locker rooms are just so stacked with talent. Do you watch the NXT UK show and go, "My God, I gotta step up because these girls are going to overshadow us?"

Candice LeRae: Of course. I feel like it's the best kind of competition. For example, Io is on a certain level, so we're like, "We gotta keep up with Io, so what do we have to do to get to that level?" So we're always pushing ourselves and pushing each other, and it's not in a way where we're going, "We wish ill on this person." If I'm watching Kay Lee Ray, I'm watching her and I'm competing with her and I'm going, "What can I do to be on Kay Lee's level?" They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks but I kinda have to, I really have to. All these girls are 10 years younger than me and they're competing at such a level that's just beyond what I ever imagined it would be and I'm so happy that at almost 18 years I've been doing this I'm having to find new ways to keep myself on that level.

Mike Johnson: Johnny's talked a lot about working with Shawn Michaels, is there someone that you've found at the Performance Center or in the NXT brand that has become the Qui-Gon to your Obi0Wan? Is there someone that you lean on in terms of creativity and feedback?

Candice LeRae: Absolutely because when I started wrestling in southern California, I was very aware of Sara Del Ray. Sara was the level I had to try and be on - she was untouchable. She was the top of women on the independents...independent wrestlers in general. I wanted to be at that status. So when I finally started WWE and NXT I was so nervous because I'm going, this is Sara Del Ray. Even though she's my coach now, she's my producer now, to me I'm going, she's on another level. I honestly feel that when I get to talk to Sara and go over ideas, try to better myself and improve myself, I feel like she helps me so much. She makes my wrestling brain as good of a brain as it could ever be. I can't say enough nice things about her, honestly.

Mike Johnson: One last question - if there's one thing you want to pop up under your Christmas tree tomorrow on NXT as we celebrate the Gargano Christmas, what would it be?

Candice LeRae: I mean, I would say the NXT Women's Championship because it's rightfully mine and I don't have it, but I mean if I can't have that I just don't know. I don't think anything else is good enough. 

Mike Johnson: And here I thought you were going to say a PS5.

Candice LeRae: Johnny already has one of those. We don't need that. (laughs)

Mike Johnson: Well happy gaming then. 

Candice LeRae: Thank you!

Mike Johnson: I want to thank you for sitting down and talking to us. I know we've had you on a couple of times in the last year, I appreciate all that time. I look forward to when we get to do it again in 2021.

Candice LeRae: Yeah next time it'll be 2021, that's crazy.

Mike Johnson: I know. We wish you nothing but the best and we invite everyone to check out WWE NXT this Wednesday night at 8 PM with the Gargano Christmas. Until next time, I'm Mike Johnson. Candice - thank you as always.

Candice LeRae: Thank you so much.

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