In part one of Eric Young's running diary of his weekend in Brooklyn, EY recalled his journey to New York, his adventures on the subway, his fantasy football gig and a new TV pilot he's working on. Most significantly, he talked about his relationship with and tribute to his mother, who passed away in the lead-up to this major moment in Young's career. This time around, we pick up the story in the immediate lead-up to EY's (and SAnitY's) match for the NXT tag team championship at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn III.
Part Two: Striking gold at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn III
This huge success that is NXT didn't happen overnight, but it has become a worldwide touring brand, selling out venues all over the world and packing more than 15,000 into Barclays Center. Not bad for a show that only airs digitally. You have to subscribe to the WWE Network to view anything that NXT puts out, except for small clips on YouTube and social media.
Almost everyone who was in the building on Saturday night has the network and then went out and bought tickets to come watch the show. I think they said they were almost sold out within 20 hours of tickets going on sale.
We were getting closer to the show, and as 7:00 rolled around, everyone backstage got rounded up into one of the dressing rooms for a meeting. It's something that NXT does pretty regularly, and I believe it's important, because for a lot of the guys and girls, this is their first exposure to crowds of this size, and it's a chance to rally the troops and get everyone focused on the magnitude of what we're about to do.
A lot of times it will be Hunter (Paul "Triple H" Levesque -- the executive vice president of talent, live events and creative for WWE) leading the meeting, but tonight it was Michael Hayes. Michael is a supercool guy, a guy I look up to because I loved the Freebirds when I was younger. He always seemed original, as part of the first team to come out to the ring to rock-and-roll music and in so many other ways.
But beyond all of that, he's a natural born leader. His words on this particular evening were somehow both relaxing and piercing; they hit home and lit a fire in the room like I've never seen. Michael P.S. Hayes is a man I would go to war for. He treated me and everyone around him with respect, and in his own old-school, crazy, southern wrestling way, he's been something of a father figure to a lot of these people in the locker room.
He's telling you because he wants you to be better and he wants the product to be better because that's still his livelihood. Michael has been in our shoes before -- all over the card, from top to bottom. His words really hit home in regards to Ric Flair, whom he's very close with and whom he visited just before flying up to Brooklyn. He dedicated TakeOver, and all of our performances to come, to Ric, and you could see him getting choked up about it, which in turn still chokes me up as I think about it now.
Ric is a guy I've worked with who I respect massively. I think he's probably one of the top-three all-around performers in the history of the wrestling business. Just like my tributes to Shawn Michaels, I have my initials on the side of my boots because of him. While he definitely wasn't out of the woods yet, getting some good news of his health starting to turn around was wonderful. I know he's still in the hospital, but things took a turn for the better, making the dedication more of a positive thing.
Then it was time to focus on our match. Johnny Gargano and Andrade Almas went out there for the opening match, and at around 8:15 we all started gathering in the Gorilla position, just beyond the curtain.
It was cool for me to look around and see the nerves everyone was feeling in that moment. Yes, I'm an older guy, having done this for 20 years, but having that experience of being in similar positions before that, I can calm myself and say, "I've done this," even if I still have to fight off a few more nerves than usual.
Just looking around that area, I saw Triple H, Michael Cole, Matt Bloom, Michael Hayes, Fit Finlay and numerous other people. They were all standing there, and it's crazy to think about that basically limitless amount of wrestling knowledge concentrated in this tiny space. I took a moment to consider it all, and for me, that jacked the pressure up even higher.
Before we knew it, we were headed to the ring by around 8:20. As the challengers, we were the first ones out, and I was the first member of the group to walk through the curtain. I stepped out, and as soon as we hit air on the other side, we could hear it, and we could feel it: this buzz.
Taking on the good guy or "babyface" role in this match was a new thing for us, but it didn't really change the way we walked to the ring or acted. It was still "us against the world," and the world was hanging on by a thread. It's all very current and ever-evolving. It's cool. Each of us has worked really hard to make it feel different and special. Every time we're out there, we're trying something new, tweaking things to make it the best it can possibly be.
The Authors of Pain and Paul Ellering made their way to the ring, and before the match even started, we were all brawling like crazy. As soon as we made contact, inside and out of the ring, the crowd came up. It was that instant feeling of "Okay, it's going to go good." We had every reason to believe it would be, because the build-up and the video and the entrances were all there. But you never know until you get out there.
When Akam and Rezar slid in, Killian Dain and Alexander Wolfe started trading back and forth, and the people roared. It was loud -- like really, really loud. It was exciting and relieving at the same time to know that the people were into it and that from there all we had to do was our jobs and follow the plan. I switched places with Killian, and the rest was perfect.
Everything went great. The spot with Dain and Nikki Cross, the table bit, the whole finishing sequence I thought was right. In my mind, it was literally as good as it could possibly have been with the time we were given and the structure we had to follow with AOP, our story and their story combined. I was really proud of everybody. Everyone was very happy with it.
I was especially happy for Alexander Wolfe. In a group in wrestling, the truth is, you're only as strong as your weakest link. In SAnitY, we don't have a weak link in this group -- Nikki, Killian and Alexander, these are three ultra-talented people. I couldn't ask for three more professional people, and on top of that, they're great human beings.
But while I had had some big moments -- my match with Samoa Joe and some other big things; Killian was at WrestleMania and had a few big singles matches; and Nikki had a couple of shots at the NXT women's title -- Alexander still hadn't had that chance at a big moment. The whole group of us in that match, Matt Bloom, the agent, included, we wanted it to be a moment for him.
There was no doubt in my mind that Takeover: Brooklyn III was his moment. He stepped it up in a huge way with some of those spots he was involved in, and winning the titles automatically put Alexander in a completely different light. When it came to those big moments, he executed, better than I thought was even possible.
The best part about it was that the crowd came along for the ride. That, to me, is like the ultimate drug in pro wrestling, when you lay something out during the day, you nail it, and the crowd absolutely eats it up.
We got to the end of the match, we hit our finish, the bell rang and all of a sudden we're NXT tag team champions. We didn't get to celebrate long, with the attack from Bobby Fish and Kyle O'Reilly, but the moment continued once we walked backstage.
After the match, we walked through the curtain holding those titles and saw a group of people there to greet us and assure us that it was a job well done. The first area was the most important to me, at the Gorilla position, where Hunter, my boss, was standing. For almost every show we've done, he'll usually get up and be the first person you see when you come through the curtain, which is a very cool thing and a very respectful thing for him to do. It's not something that he has to do, but he does it because he's been in my position. He's been in my shoes.
You never want him to be disappointed, and luckily I don't think I've had that happen yet. I've done pretty good, but I have seen him disappointed and mad before, because this is his baby. This is his thing that he's created, and he's got a vision for everything.
The second area is where all the guys were. It's almost everyone -- a lot of the people who are on deck, or the people who are there who already worked, or the people who aren't working. The viewing area is usually just outside the Gorilla position, and when we came through, people were clapping and congratulating us. It made me very emotional. To me, it's the ultimate compliment, having your peers respect what you've done.
The biggest thing is for the fans to have enjoyed it, because that's why we're all doing it. That's what makes and breaks what we do -- the fans' approval and their like or their dislike of whatever it is that we're doing. But for me, the biggest compliment is hearing my peers saying, "Man, that was great. This was great or that was great. This looked awesome, or that looked awesome." That's a huge deal.
It's really cool, that sense of family and togetherness a pro wrestling roster has. It never fails to amaze me how close you can be with these people. A lot of times it's people who are completely different than you, people who, outside of wrestling, you don't have a lot in common with. A lot of the people that you work with fall into that category, but there's this bond, this kind of weird, unspoken bond that doesn't need to be taught, and you all become very close despite all of your differences. It's a respect forged because of the way we're all putting our lives in that other person's hands, night in and night out.
A lot of these people I've only known for less than a year, and still, some of them are friends, people that I will be friends with for the rest of my life.
After winning a title, especially in the WWE, you get whisked away pretty quickly. We had to do pictures with the belts so that they could put those up right away. We had to take all different kinds of group shots, so it took a long time. We did all four of us, then just me and Wolfe. Then I did single shots, and he did his single shots. Then we did one with Nikki in it. Then we did ones with Nikki out of it. And then we did ones with Killian in, one without him. It's a process, especially because we were coming off of this 20-minute match and we were all just pouring sweat.
It's part of the responsibility of being a champion, being pulled in a lot of directions during the day. It all happened pretty quickly -- Wolfe had two or three interviews right after with German media, because he's the first German champion ever in the WWE, which was a very cool thing for him. He's a guy who's been working really hard, like really, really hard. He's a good guy who I'm very close with, so it was cool to see him win his first big one and to be a part of that. I think it's kind of a bigger deal than I even understand, for him and for the country of Germany.
- WWE (@WWE) August 20, 2017
After we got through all of this insanity, I was feeling really proud. I was already excited to face the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead of us. Maybe that's what my experienced brain does -- takes me out of the moment before I can get too happy or overwhelmed. I'm already thinking ahead to working with ReDRagon, working more with AOP and what TVs will look like moving forward. But that part is just as exciting. I feel like if you're not excited about that, you don't have a pulse. I got back to my locker, probably about an hour and a half later, by the time all was said and done. At that point, I think, Bobby Roode and Drew McIntyre were getting the main event underway in the ring.
I looked in my locker and I saw my strange, almost obnoxious polka dot shirt that I had worn for my mother. It hit me hard. All the compliments from the guys and stuff were great, made me really proud, but when I saw this symbol, I knew that she was there, she was happy and proud.
It took me all the way back to the beginning of my career. My mom was someone who had wanted me to go to school first, but I didn't want to do it. I insisted on going into wrestling right away, and she said that I could do it, I could do whatever I wanted to do, as long as I gave it everything I had. From day one, starting in training school in late 1997, early '98, I can say without a doubt I poured everything, absolutely everything, into making this part of my life. I'm proud, but it saddens me that she wasn't there to enjoy it. But I know in spirit she was there. I'm not a religious person, but I believe in spirit and soul and stuff like that, and I feel like she was there.
I also got a really cool text from my wife that said, in all capital letters, "I'M SO PROUD OF YOU!!!!!" And there were five exclamation marks, "BECAUSE MOM WAS DEFINITELY THERE WITH YOU. LOVE YOU SO MUCH."
Having people like that in your life, it means so much. The second I got back to my phone, I probably had 75 text messages from different people, but she was one of the first ones. I knew she was watching. It's amazing to have people in your life who are proud of you, no matter what you do, but when they were there for me in such a big way at this huge moment in my life and career, it was incredible.
I've lived a crazy, amazing life, with huge ups and downs, sacrificed more than I would like to remember or admit, for love, passion and a desire to be the best pro wrestler that I could possibly be. I can tell you that very few things top the feeling I had by the end of this trip. Fans came not knowing what to expect, and this group of us took them on a ride that left them happy and, I hope, validated.
I hope this made Hunter and everyone at WWE feel validated in putting me in this position and giving me an opportunity to shine.
There was one final moment I had that kind of brought reality crashing back down on me.
"As I was taking off my gear, a guy asked, 'How does it feel?' I kind of shook my head in approval and said, 'Good. Kind of just coming down from the match, and I've won titles before so this definitely isn't my first.' He said it again, this time with more feeling. 'Dude, how does it feel to be a WWE NXT champion?' Then it hit me."
It's definitely not the end of the road, but it was definitely closing a circle of life accomplishment for me. Being a champion in the WWE is what I dreamed of when I was 5. Through all of those years of my career, my goals changed and mutated, but 5-year-old me wanted to be a champion in the WWE, and on that Saturday night, at 9:30 or 10 o'clock that night, I did it. It took me a lifetime, over 20 years in wrestling, but I did it.
I sat there for a moment processing that realization, that my name will have a place in WWE history forever. They can't take that away. Even if I disappeared tomorrow -- and I certainly don't have any intentions of that happening, but if I did -- then my name would always be a part of a WWE title's history. Say what you want about NXT, that it's the "third brand," but it's massive.
It floored me. Part of the delay, I think, is my experience and knowing in the end that these titles are, more or less, just props. Professionally, that's how I look at them. It's not something that I won, per se, in competition, but it means a lot. This was about a massive, worldwide billion-dollar company investing just a little bit of itself in me, as one-half of a championship duo in arguably wrestling's hottest product in NXT. I'm a big part of what's going on here, and even after 20 years, I can't wait.
This is all I've ever really wanted to do. My ideas of what I wanted to do changed a bunch when I was a kid, even as a teenager, but at the core of who I am, pro wrestling is all I've really wanted to do, and I'm doing it. Not only am I doing it, I'm doing it at the highest level, and I'm respected and put into a position that says you're one of the best in the world -- and it doesn't get any better than that.