To cap an incredible year for wrestling on both sides of the Pond, our King Of The Ring, Andy Spoors, caught up with NXT UK star Eddie Dennis.
Rushonrock: It’s been a long tough year for everyone involved but what sort of positives can you take from 2020?
Eddie Dennis: There’s always personal positives I think that you can take from a year. It’s been a challenging year. We spent a lot of time at home but the flipside of that is you spend a lot of time with your friends and your family, right? So, I feel like anytime you go through a hardship of any kind, you can come out the other side more appreciative of things. I appreciate being able to go out and spend some time with my fiancée on a walk far more than I ever did before because now it seems like a treat for want of a better word. From a professional perspective, the way that the WWE as a company has pivoted is absolutely unreal to me. I mean obviously with our brand because we are based in the UK, there were different restrictions and it’s an Atlantic Ocean apart from the offices so it was a little bit trickier.
Rushonrock: How do you think wrestling coped?
ED: The fact that in the United States they didn’t miss a single week of weekly episodic television is mind blowing to me. The fact Raw, SmackDown and NXT ran throughout the duration without ever taking a break is unbelievable. They pivoted and put on that two-night WrestleMania, which I thoroughly enjoyed sitting at home watching! Then obviously to cap off the year they worked out something with BT Sport, where we could return in a safe and professional capacity to put something on which looks a little different to what they put on over in the states. Raw and SmackDown have been in the Amway centre, NXT in the Capital Wrestling Center, then obviously our setup in BT Sport is absolutely terrific. I might be being biased here but I think that we’ve got a really unique look. I think that it complements the fact that we’ve got a unique style within the wrestling ring. It sounds a little different, it feels different. And not just to the other products that WWE is providing, but to all professional wrestling products that are out there right now. I feel like we’ve got our own little niche and I think from the reception that I hear a lot of people really appreciate that. So, I think it’s a definite positive the way that everyone’s managed to pivot and make it work and not be beaten by this if you like.
Rushonrock: Certainly, to us the BT Sport Arena appears to match the NXT UK brand. Do you think matches like Walter vs Ilja Dragunov were in some ways elevated by the presentation?
ED: This whole era of no fans has evolved the industry somewhat. The first evolution that we really saw was probably a push for the theatrical stuff. It had been done before with the Ultimate Deletion but really the theatrical stuff took a step forward and I think we saw that at WrestleMania with the Boneyard Match. To me that was just phenomenal television. The next step in the evolution of pro wrestling without an audience was probably something like Walter and Dragunov, which would have been electric. I’m not saying for a second that match wouldn’t have been electric in front of a live audience. Of course it would have been. But the level of physicality that you can feel and experience when two gentlemen like that are going at it, in the style that they go in at it is almost enhanced in an empty arena setting. You can hear the noise of flesh on flesh so much clearer. You can see and feel the physicality and the violence in a way that maybe gets a little bit lost when there’s 20,000 people losing their minds. It can distract you from the physicality that’s going on, so it feels closer, it feels more intimate.
Rushonrock: You had a match against Trent Seven at Blackpool Takeover 2 and then a phenomenal rematch in a Steel Corner Street Fight in York. After that, the entire world seemed to unravel, do you feel like it’s been another stop start year for you?
ED: Yeah, I picked up an injury in 2018. Picked up an injury in 2019. Had surgery in both those years but 2020 started off real good with the match at Takeover. I came up short in the in the rematch in York but from a personal perspective it was a showcase for the two of us.
Not to be featured on television until September for reasons entirely outside of our control was a little frustrating. But I really like the position that I’m in with the brand right now and I’m thoroughly enjoying my work with The Hunt (Wild Boar and Primate). Boar, I’ve known for over a decade and Primate has an absolute world of potential. He really hasn’t been wrestling that long in comparison to a lot of our roster and he’s just an explosive physical specimen. If you ever have the chance to work out with him at a CrossFit, the numbers that he pulls up are mindboggling frankly. I’m really enjoying that role with those two gentlemen and just looking forward to seeing where we can go as we head into 2021. We came off a big victory on Thursday night against Mark Andrews and Flash Morgan Webster, so I think that makes us pretty close to number one contenders, but we’ll have to see what Johnny and Sid think about that. Moving into 2021, I see only good things on the horizon for Eddie Dennis and The Hunt.
Rushonrock: On that note, you seem to have moved into that sort of managerial side of things. Do you think managers in wrestling is a bit of a dying art?
ED: It’s certainly used less than it was in the early 90s when you think of your Bobby the Brains, your Mouth of the Souths and your Mr Fujis. We don’t have that many people in managerial capacities at the moment but to say that it’s a dying art does a disservice to someone like Paul Heyman, who is arguably the best to ever do it and he’s doing it right now. As much as Paul E Dangerously was terrifically entertaining, I feel like the character that Paul Heyman is portraying on SmackDown right now with Roman Reigns, might be as great as the advocate for Brock Lesnar. This might be the best Paul Heyman we’ve ever seen. I don’t think it’s a dying art, I think it’s a bit of a lost art as it’s not been used an awful lot in the last 10 years. But if I can play even a small part in bringing it back to the forefront of wrestling, I’m all for that because I think it’s a good device. In a world where you see cornerman in sports like MMA, I think it makes perfect sense that professional athletes performing in a professional wrestling setting would have someone at ringside to offer them a little bit of advice when the going gets tough. It’s a very natural organic role to fill and yeah, I think it’s perfect for me.
Rushonrock: You’ve said previously about the big influence from Shawn Michaels on NXT UK backstage, how has that changed during the current restrictions? Has it changed or has anyone else stepped up into that position instead?
ED: The ‘voice of God’? So, Mr Michaels is actually still watching, he just can’t be there in person. He is still a huge driving force for the brand and for the creative direction of where we’re going. We’ll get a ‘voice of God’ coming over the tannoy in the arena, where Shawn will put his two cents in because he’s watching it live and he’s able to do that. It really is a prime example of globalisation and how wonderful the internet makes it to be able to do things like this. It’s crazy, but we can essentially be produced by people who are thousands of miles away over the Atlantic Ocean and you can still make it work! So, Shawn is still heavily involved. There are people on the ground here who are based in the United Kingdom too like Johnny Moss who have stepped up with regards to their positions as producers for talent. But we have a mix now so that there are people on the ground where we are based in the United Kingdom but we also still have some of those people over in the US involved in helping us put together the television show.
Rushonrock: Away from wrestling, we noticed on your Twitter account you sometimes slip in some of your music tastes. What’s on your playlist moment?
ED: Oh wow, I’ve actually just come back from the gym and I’m trying to think of what I’m listening to. It’s not going to come across awfully rock and roll I’m afraid but there’s a singer songwriter called Beans On Toast who just dropped a new album. Strongly recommend that, I think it’s wonderful. Frank Turner and NOFX just a couple of months ago did a collaboration that felt a little bit like the old BYO Split Series for fans of punk rock music. Back in the day Rancid and NOFX did a famous one where they covered one another’s songs for a few of the tracks and then released a couple of original songs on the record as well. I haven’t seen anything like it in a little while so I’m really enjoying that. The most recent I really enjoyed was the new Creeper record, I think that came out during 2020 at some point, but certainly still on heavy rotation on my on my iPod when I’m working out. The new I Am The Avalanche record called Dive too. Vinny the lead singer is a personal favourite of mine. I remember watching them play at the electric ballroom and getting goosebumps, because I performed the night before as a professional wrestler so that was pretty cool.
Rushonrock: We’ve seen a bit of a renaissance of old school rock music being used in WWE like AC/DC, Metallica and recently WarGames used Black Sabbath as well. What do you think the crossover appeal is between rock and wrestling?
ED: Amazing right? So cool to hear Sabbath at WarGames — that was wicked! I suppose that the 18-30 demographic matches it quite well. When you think about bands like AC/DC and Sabbath, there is always going to be a bit of a crossover with nostalgia within professional wrestling and within the music industry as well. I think that plays a big part and I suppose professional wrestling has just been tied with rock music since as long as I can remember. Why we tied with rock music as opposed to hip-hop music or anything else, I don’t really have a great answer for it, but we have been for whatever reason. Everyone can remember Limp Bizkit, Rollin’ and The Undertaker riding to the ring as only he could. Or Lemmy, god rest his soul with The Game right? Him and Triple H tied us together forever and I think that NXT using things like Sabbath certainly has something to do with Triple H’s taste in music. That’s probably got a little bit to do with it right there, but yeah we are linked for whatever reason and it’s a great connection because I love both.
Rushonrock: I mean you get the odd Flo Rida track included for WrestleMania…
ED: You do get the odd Flo Rida track played at Wrestlemania! You also quite often get a beautiful songstress performing America The Beautiful too…
Rushonrock: Looking ahead to 2021. Hopefully we will get the Takeover Dublin event that’s been on the cards for a while now, what would you like to be doing at Takeover? What would be your ideal main event or match that you can be involved in?
ED: Beating Walter for the WWE NXT UK Championship obviously! I would love to be involved with my close friends The Wild Boar and Primate in some kind of six-man match against Flash, Mark and someone else who they decide to bring into even the odds. That would be great, other than that obviously any kind of marquee singles match I would be all for. I have wrestled Walter on the independent scene on a few occasions and technically speaking, I was actually the one who dethroned him for the Progress Wrestling Heavyweight Championship, so I do have a track record of taking titles off of Walter. You heard it here first. Although those chops…I’ve got two pectoral tears on my right back and left back so if he could steer clear of chopping, that would be much appreciated. I might need to get that written into my contract when I do eventually have my championship match as well to chop some and I feel like chops banned would make a big difference between me and him!
Rushonrock: Well yeah quite possibly but I wouldn’t fancy taking the chops in the back either to be honest…
ED: So, chops completely gone would be good. All open hand strikes banned. In fact, no striking. In fact, let’s not have any striking or grappling. In fact, I’m going to challenge him to a game of chess because I actually think that’s where I have the edge…upstairs.