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By Mike Johnson on 2020-02-26 19:56:00

22 year old Austin Theory was a fast rising prodigy en route to being signed by World Wrestling Entertainment to the WWE NXT brand.  On Tuesday February 25th, Theory sat down to talk with about his first true chance at the spotlight on NXT TV against Tommaso Ciampa, why he intends to make the most of the opportunity, influences on his path to WWE, the praise already being thrown his way, advice for talents trying to find their way to WWE and lots more.    This interview has been edited for clarity.

Mike Johnson: Sir, you had a very interesting interaction with Ciampa last week. Thoughts on that and thoughts on the match coming up on WWE NXT?

Austin Theory: Not only just my thoughts but a lot of people's thoughts are that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I'd have to totally disagree on that. I think I was in the right place at the right time. The reason being is because Tommaso Ciampa is not just any ordinary guy. He's at the top of NXT and why not go out of my way and start something with him. Even though a lot of people say like, "Oh, what a beating that was." I mean, look where it's led me to this Wednesday, going one on one with Tommaso Ciampa.

Mike Johnson:. You've been on NXT television before, but this is the first time that you have the opportunity to be in a featured situation where you've got some exposition leading into the match. Thoughts on getting the chance to make the most of the moment, because that's kind of what you were talking about a couple of minutes ago here. You're very young, you're 22 years old and WWE has given you a big opportunity here giving you quite the platform. How do you plan to make the most out of the opportunity?

Austin Theory:  I see myself bringing a different side of Austin Theory tomorrow. I feel like I do like to show off and show off my athleticism and stuff like that, but my mindset going into this is I just want to show a different side of me. I'm not looking at this is just a match. I'm looking at it as a fight. Tommaso Ciampa, he wanted to make an example of me and you don't make an example of the future like that. So he's going to get an Austin Theory that nobody has ever seen and especially the NXT Universe hasn't seen.

Mike Johnson: So you've been wrestling for about four years originally starting out in the Georgia area, then moving on to EVOLVE and wrestling internationally, but you're still pretty young. At 22 years old, what's it like walking into the WWE Performance Center every day knowing that, hey, at this early age I'm getting paid to better myself so that I have the opportunity to do even greater things in pro wrestling. Obviously you've always had a lot of pressure put on you at a young age given the level of work that you do in the ring and the level that you've been able to accomplish, but what is it's like walking into that environment every day, knowing that you've got to put your most there in order to stay the course and continue to better yourself. What's that pressure like day to day?

Austin Theory:  Like you said, Being a fan my entire life of the WWE and always wanting to be here [was the goal]. Finally, when you're done with that independent circuit and you make it to the WWE, it's a lot of pressure, but I'm glad that a lot of the situations that I've been in even coming up on the independents, they've always put me in high stakes situations. It kind of prepared me for this. When I got here, I felt pressure, but I definitely felt comfortable at the same time. I get very excited when I know there's a big mountain to climb and I know in my own mind that I will climb that mountain. So it just excites me. Being here, it's a dream come true. I know a lot of people say that, but it truly is for me. I just know that there's so much that I want to do here and there's so much that I will do here.

Mike Johnson:  Last year you competed at WrestleMania AXXESS while you were part of EVOLVE and then just a couple of months later you are signed by WWE.   What was that moment like where you found out they're giving you the contract, pen's going to get put to paper. You're officially part of this company that you've worked so hard to become part of. Emotionally, mentally, what was that moment like when you found out all this hard work is paying off for you?

Austin Theory:My whole mindset has always been, even as it goes just in life, people obviously believe in you fully when they actually see it happen. I had a lot of doubt on the way to saying that I wanted to be in the WWE. Obviously as it's happened, there had been more people that have wanted to support me on that. But actually knowing to myself that I will be here and I was always going to be here. I always knew it, but it's just crazy when you actually get it and it's like, wow, what I said and what I stuck to and just my dedication and my passion for it, it's gotten me here and it's right in front of me. It's just the American dream, man. It's so surreal.

Mike Johnson: I'm curious, who are the guys that you studied and you emulated or wanted to take bits and pieces of as you researched and figured out who you were in the ring while you were finding yourself? Obviously you're young, you're still going to find yourself, you're going to evolve over time. But I'm curious, who are the guys that you've gravitated towards as you've researched or tried to wean bits of information from?

Austin Theory: When I started watching WWE, it was in 2006. I was eight years old and at the time the guys that were on top then were John Cena, Edge, Randy Orton, Triple H, Shawn Michaels. My biggest inspiration was John Cena. It was the way he acted and the way he presented himself helped me get through some things that I was going through growing up. It helped me with confidence and just believing in myself. John Cena was just a huge factor on my attitude and the way I am. I was really into Jeff Hardy a lot too. I was a smaller kid, so I thought I would always be small, not realizing that I would be a bigger kid, but Jeff Hardy was a big inspiration to me, and I started doing gymnastics. I think I only went to gymnastics just to learn how to do a back flip just so I could just do more athletic stuff like Jeff Hardy on the trampoline wrestling. But definitely John Cena. That was a really big inspiration for me and somebody that just really made me want to keep watching and do this for not only a dream but a living.

Mike Johnson: There's already been talk I've heard from fans people saying, almost pre-destined, this guy is going to be WWE Champion one day, which is a massive compliment, but it's also so early in your run.  When you hear things like, "This guy is definitely going to main event WrestleMania one day." Do you feel that pressure or do you take it as a compliment? So many things can happen. Who knows what the trajectory of anybody's career is going to be. But when you're that young and people look at you and say, "That's the guy. He's going to be in that position one day." What's your reaction to that?  How do you absorb that?

Austin Theory: I really do appreciate it. Obviously when somebody's saying something good about me, it's great. When they're not saying something good about me, it sucks. But honestly I put those just in the same kind of thing. They're opinions of people and everybody's entitled to their opinion. But I try not to say that, "Oh, other people think I'll be great so I can kind of relax and I'll get there because people know what's going to happen." I try to just always tell myself like, "You're starting over. You're still learning. You have to improve in a lot of areas." Honestly, probably when I'm done wrestling I'll still learn more about it. I just feel like once I get into my head that I've already got it all and I'm great, I can't improve anymore. I think that's a big mistake that could happen.   To me, same thing with being signed to WWE. I told myself at a very young age that I would be here one day and I would do whatever I had to do to get here. And I did, and it feels good. Like when I got the contract, it was very surreal and an enjoyable moment. But I just keep moving. I know when people say that about WrestleMania and stuff, that's definitely a goal and it's a dream of mine to main event at WrestleMania. I know that I will do that, but I'm not going to hold back on my work ethic or my mindset or my passion for this just because I already know what's going to happen. I'm still going to give it everything that I have because I feel as soon as I let off the gas a little bit, the car has going to slow down and I'm not going to get to the destination.

Mike Johnson:   Right. You don't want to be complacent either. That's the sort of pressure that's self imposed by a lot of performers. For fans who might not have had the chance to see you really go all out yet, the match with Tommaso Ciampa is going to be really their first chance to see you in a featured contest. You've wrestled Roderick Strong and some others on NXT TV, but this is a different situation. What can you tell fans about what they should expect from Austin Theory against Tommaso Ciampa and what to expect from the match?

Austin Theory: The biggest takeaway is people are undoubtedly going to know exactly what the future holds for NXT, and they're going to see exactly why everything that everybody says about me, like you said, about the one day being a WWE champion, one day main event WrestleMania. Tomorrow you're going to see exactly why that's true. I'm going to bring it. I'm going to show each and every person in the entire NXT universe why Austin Theory can go all day.

Mike Johnson: Well, this time period also begins the push to WrestleMania weekend, which would be Takeover in Tampa Bay. If you get your pick of who you'd like to wrestle on a Takeover show in Tampa this coming April, who's the dream opponent?

Austin Theory: I mean I feel like a lot of people would say it's a match that involves championship gold because that's always good and that's always a fun WrestleMania weekend. But honestly I don't think I have a specific person in mind. I think right now, man, it's so hard to look at that because I like to put my all into what's right now and right now it's Tommaso Ciampa. So if you ask me about WrestleMania weekend, I would just say Tommaso Ciampa just because I can't wait to get my hands on him since last week.

Mike Johnson: As we get out of here, first of all, I thank you for your time. You've had a very fast rise to prominence being able to get to NXT TV at 22 years old. What would your advice be to those who are still out there in the independent scene and still trying to find their way to get a contention for an NXT deal or to get to a NXT tryout at a Performance Center. What is your advice to the stars that are trying to get there now who want to be in the position that you've been fortunate enough to find yourself in?

Austin Theory: I've heard this growing up a lot, and sometimes it just seems like it's still just a motivational thing to say, but it's so true. It seems like it just becomes very, very obvious more and more every day. But it's just believing in yourself. I mean, I'm sure you've heard it and a lot of people have heard this, but if you don't believe in yourself then nobody will. You've got to just be willing to know that you can bet on yourself and you know that there's no... You've covered every base that you can to get yourself to the dance and that you're willing to give it everything that you got, every sacrifice. If you need to do this, if you need to be here, you got to sacrifice this money, whatever it is. Family. It's hard. These are like real life decisions that could make a huge impact in a good way or a bad way,  but But honestly, to get here you're just going to have to be willing to really risk it all. A thing that's so crazy to me is how people will sit there and they'll fail at something they don't want to be doing, but they won't take the risk and fail at something they want to be doing. I don't understand that. I think if you want it and there's something that you aspire so much to have the life, you only have one of these, so you've got to give it your all and not worry about anybody's opinion or what they think of you. If you want to be in the WWE, you've just got to give it everything you've got.   Obviously all day you're surrounded by probably 99% of people that are negative. It's easy to get in that comfortable attitude where you don't want to go after anything and it's okay to not train this day or work on this one day. That's just how it is. But you've got to be that 1% that just says, "You know what? I want to be here. I'm going to do what it takes, and that's my dream." That's just the mindset I've always had.

Austin Theory vs. Tommaso Ciampa will air tonight on WWE NXT on the USA Network.  Theory can be followed on Twitter @AustinTheory1.

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