Justin Gabriel talks Nexus angle and Aftermath, if Daniel Bryan's firing affected it, Angle ending
I recently spoke to former WWE star PJ Black, f.k.a. Justin Gabriel. Black will be in action at Legacy Wrestling's debut on June 6th at In The Net Sports Complex in Hershey, PA. The show will also feature top indy stars Hania, Kimber Lee, Shane Strickland, Adam Page, AR Fox, Gran Akuma and The Juicy Product. You can get more details about the show here.
In part one of the interview below, the Nexus angle, if there was any backlash from established talent after the Nexus angle, if Daniel Bryan's firing affected the angle, working with Bret Hart, getting his WWE start, NXT and more. Make sure to check back next week for the second and final part of the interview where Black discussed appearing on Total Divas as a heel, not being used by WWE the past few years, appearing as Adam Rose's bunny, ideas he had for the bunny, being announced for the Royal Rumble this year and why he quit the week before the PPV, Triple H one day taking over WWE, signing with Global Force Wrestling and more.
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How has everything been since leaving WWE?
"It's been great because I can pick my days. If I need a day off, I don't have to work"
Your dad was also a pro wrestler, so you grew up in the business, right?
"Yes sir, he was also a promoter. My grandad was also a boxer."
So what was the wrestling scene in South Africa like growing up?
"It was pretty big in the 70s and 80s. I grew up during going to these venues watching [Hulk] Hogan and Andre the Giant. A lot of people didn't know there were venues to watch. There was no internet or cameras back then, so this stuff wasn't documented. It was quite awesome. In the mid 90's it was still pretty big, but not as big. When my father died, wrestling pretty much died too, so I tried to find work in other countries. I started in the UK and figured I'd find my way to the U.S."
From there you ended up in the WWE. How did they discover you?
"I went to the UK and ended up in college. I needed to get an education in case this wrestling thing didn't work out. I started working on the weekends, got my degree, tried to get signed and it just didn't happen. After 5 years of living there, I had to move out of the country. I moved back to South Africa, worked one or two shows a month, which wasn't much at all. I was sending WWE promos and promo pictures every week trying to get hired. After about three years, I went to Florida for a tryout camp and Steve Kiern saw something in me and gave me a shot. It went from there."
You were a part of the first season of NXT. What were you told about that show heading in?
"It was going to be different, like a real reality show. Like a house, and everything. Every week, it changed. Even the day before the show nobody knew what it was going to be about. I don't know what happened in the creative offices, but nobody knew what happened. To this day, a lot of people didn't know that nothing was scripted. I don't know if we screwed that show up so bad that everything is now scripted or what. Some of the matches were guidelines, but everything pretty much got changed on the spot. It was a cool learning experience."
What was that like, expecting a reality show, then getting put in the ring?
"It was pretty cool. Some of those guys had been around for years in developmental and the indy circuit. I'd been in developmental for a decent amount of time and wrestling for like 12 years, which not a lot of people knew. We were considered rookie in the WWE Universe. We didn't know what to expect, but I think it turned out pretty good."
We've heard various accounts from season 1 of NXT because of the challenges and things like that. How would you describe your experience?
"There were a few cool things. Heath Slater is one of those guys who would put things in your mind and say "hey, I heard there was a hot dog eating contest today." The next days he's like "I heard there's going to be a bench press competition," so we're popping up, and nothing ever happened."
So was Heath ever right about the competitions?
"Not one time!" (Laughs)
The first season led to the Nexus angle, you all found out at the last minute, right?
"Yep, it was kind of last minute. We got pulled into Vince's office that day and he was like 'this is what I want you to do.' We were so nervous because we thought we f-cked up the TV show so bad that now he was going to have us do this and f-ck us over somehow, or something was going to happen. We were like 'are you sure you want this to happen?' and he said 'Yes, just tear everything up, break everything. Kick everyone, I'll apologize later. I'll pay for it.' We're still a bit wary, but everything hit and it was a bit surreal. One of the coolest things I've ever done in wrestling."
It's one of the most memorable moments in the modern era, if not the most.
"Especially in the age we live in where storylines are recycled. It's very hard to come up with original storylines."
What was it like going back to the locker room after it happened?
"It was pretty surreal. People I've never spoken to in my life, everybody was like 'that is awesome.' For the next three months, people were coming up and saying it was the coolest thing they'd ever seen. This was fans, people working behind the scenes for 20-30 years. People don't realize some of those people have been around for twenty or thirty years, camera men o so long and would say 'I've seen a lot, and that was the coolest thing ever.' It made us feel great."
Was there any backlash as well? You all just got there and were a part of this great angle.
"I'm pretty sure there was. They never lashed out publicly or towards us. We stuck together and are still really close. We wouldn't have let anybody bully us. I'm sure people had hard feelings towards us and didn't like us beating them up or taking their spots or taking over every angle. We never really cared. They gave us the ball and we were going to run with it."
I don't think it would have really worked without new faces involved.
"Exactly. We were kind of stuck together, too. One day we were like "let's push this angle a little further, let's make this real life," so we went to the office one day and said "we don't want to be in developmental anymore, we're not coming back anymore." That's something a lot of people don't know, we just kind of stopped going. We still had to go to NXT, but as a group we were done. It could have been a good thing, it could have been a bad thing, but in the end it worked out for us."
Daniel Bryan was fired during that angle. Was there any concern with the group with how that would affect the angle?
"There was. We were given carte blanche to do anything we wanted, and now this guy has gone too far? Oh shoot, maybe we should hold back too. Don't tell us to go all out, and then all this happened. We thought something else happened. It couldn't just be the tie or the spitting (in Cena's face). We kind of held back for a while. We were in the dark for a while. At SummerSlam, we didn't know that was going to be him coming back, for real. Then we were like 'oh okay, that's why they did that.'"
How do you feel about how the angle played out? It seemed like they needed to give you all more wins individually to build you up.
"Yeah, totally. We should have got over. I don't know what you read online or what you hear, but there was a back and forth between Jericho and Cena about what should happen. We should have changed the finish, but being rookies we didn't want to be pushy. We all knew we should have changed it. Everything from that point went downhill. It should have ran for at least a year and put more of an emphasis on some of the characters. I don't know what happened. I don't know if the powers that-be got bored or if someone got in their ear or what."
Did you all find out the day of SummerSlam you all weren't going over, or is that something you knew going in?
"That's something we found out a couple of hours before. You try to work stuff out and a lot of guys will try to get stuff changed. We were new, so we knew we had to it. We didn't have the balls to do it. A guy stood up for us and said we should, and the guy who was adamant about not doing it got his way. A few weeks later he stood up and said we were right, and that he should have done that."
It seemed like it would have put more heat on the angle for the guy who shot it down.
"Exactly, it would have been good for everybody. He's probably one of the best in the business and that is where he is, but that one day he made a wrong call. Nobody's perfect, especially in this business. But you can't change it now."
What was it like having Bret Hart in that match?
"He was one of my favorites growing up, and we get to work an angle with him. It was awesome. We did a bunch of live events that didn't air, including the Garden. How many people can say they worked with Bret Hart at Madison Square Garden? It was a dream come true. Hanging out and talking to him, and hearing him talk about traveling the world, he just loved it. A lot of times you grow up idolizing someone, 99 percent of the time you grow up and meet them and it's a disappointment, Bret wasn't like that."
Make sure to check back next week for the second and final part of my interview with Black where he discussed appearing on Total Divas as a heel, not being used by WWE the past few years, appearing as Adam Rose's bunny, ideas he had for the bunny, being announced for the Royal Rumble this year and why he quit the week before the PPV, Triple H one day taking over WWE, signing with Global Force Wrestling and more.
You can check out Black in action at Legacy Wrestling's debut on June 6th at In The Net Sports Complex in Hershey, PA. You can get more details or purchase tickets by clicking here. You can follow Black on Twitter @Justin__Gabriel and get information about his upcoming shows at PJBlack.com.