You had those moments two nights in a row with WrestleMania one night and then the huge Raw the next. Which one was personally more important to you? Which one do you think is going to have a bigger impact on your career?
'Mania was definitely more important to me. The night after 'Mania might have more of a pivotal impact on my career in terms of crowd and interaction and connecting with them. The day after 'Mania [in 2012] for Daniel Bryan really was huge. You can write story lines where you try to help guys get over, but sometimes, it's those weird things that you never expect. Steve Austin's cutting a promo with Michael Hayes and says, '3:16.' You don't bank on that one promo. 'This is going to be the promo that's going to make me millions of dollars and get me over.' It's the organic things that kind of just happen. I would say the Monday Night Raw after 'Mania was just one of those organic things. Right place, right time, right crowd. The stars aligned for me that night. It was a good night business-wise.
It was such a big thing that this character was going to make his in-ring debut at WrestleMania. What was the dominating feeling for you: excitement, nervousness, sheer terror of what to expect?
It's funny. No matter how many people you put out there, there's still that 20 by 20 ring that you're about to go and perform in. I've been wrestling for 13, 14 years, so I'm pretty at home and comfortable in the ring. The hardest part for me was I was more nervous [about] the whole dance routine with all the girls and stuff like that. Obviously, I've been dancing for a while, but I didn't want to mess that up too much.
When the Fandango character was first pitched to you, what terms was it pitched under? After a few weeks, a few months getting used to it, did it turn out to be what you expected or what was pitched to you in the first place?
Initially, Vince [McMahon] had an idea of a male stripper. We kind of did that in a few dark matches as simply Johnny Curtis. It was like a Dirty Dancing, kind of Swayze deal. I think they saw it and realized real quick that it's a little risky. It was Fandango a little more sexy, a little not quite PG. Vince had an idea to do the ballroom thing, and I embraced it, man. Thing is, if you can play a hard character, a real complicated character like this or the Undertaker — anything that's really far out there — I think you can make money with it if you really embrace it, you know what I'm saying? If you just go into it not really into it, people are going to see right through it and see just a guy playing a character [and] not really into it. I'm like, 'This is an opportunity I've been waiting for for 13, 14 years. I either gotta really embrace this thing or just go back to working for EWA in Maine making 50 bucks a night.'
Or Applebee's, and I'm not doing that, bro. [Laughs]
What kind of ideas do you have for the character? A friend floated me the idea of you having an all-entertainment faction with 3MB. Do you have any ambitions or ideas in mind for the character at this point besides what you're doing right now with Chris Jericho?
Initially, when you get a little hot character started — I remember when [Ken] Kennedy started — you get that initial buzz. With wrestling, people only remember last week or two weeks ago. Their memory is really short-term. You've got to stay fresh, you've got to stay always evolving. If you go out there with the same gear, the same look, the same promo, the same kind of shtick every night, people are going to get stale with it because it's entertainment, man. You go the movies and you don't want to see Johnny Depp [in] the same movie over and over again. For me, I would like to add a little more dimension to the character in terms of being more aggressive, more of a butt kicker in the ring, not just a flamboyant, light on his feet kind of thing. Maybe put a little bit more wrestling into the character down the road, whether it's going for the Intercontinental Title with Wade Barrett or having some good matches with the Miz or something like that, [I'm into] definitely evolving more into a wrestler while keeping the character.
How about crucial inspirations for the character? Was there anybody in pop culture or you know in real-life or some wrestler that's come before that's shaped the mold for Fandango?
Yeah. I watched a lot of old Shawn Michaels stuff from the early '90s right after him and Marty [Jannetty] broke up and just the ridiculous outfits that that guy wore.
He had a pseudo-stripper thing going on, too.
Yeah. I look at him and I'm like, 'Man, I just want to punch that guy in the face, but at the same time, he's pretty cool and he's awesome in the ring.' You want to really hate the guy because he's saying he's really good and he gets the girls, and it's all true, which makes you hate him even more. I took a little bit of Shawn, [Rick] Martel, guys like Adrian Adonis. You can't totally mimic one guy — then you're just a rip-off — but you can steal mannerisms from guys that you look up to and watched over the years. The good thing about being a wrestling fan and growing up a wrestling fan is subliminally, you do things that you watched your whole life. It's a lot harder for some guys that haven't really watched the product that get into the business 'cause in the back of their head, they're not strutting to the ring like Shawn Michaels because they never really watched him before when they were younger. That's not a knock on them; I'm just saying that these are the kind of things that I'm thinking about. 'Wow, I've always wanted to be like some of these guys that were my heroes growing up. Now, it's a chance to go out in front of 87,000 people and be that cocky guy.'
Tell me a bit about you personally. What do you in your downtime? What are you a big fan of? What are your hobbies? And who do you travel with on the road?
When I first went on NXT, I was like 250 pounds and I wasn't really into lifting weights. I mean, I was, but that was more casual. Over the last probably year since I've been pitched this idea to do this character, I've been really toning in it [and] been training a lot more at the gym, eating right. It became one of the passions for me: nutrition, cardio, really preserving my body for a career 'cause you got to take care of your body and prevent injuries with our road schedule and how many matches we're doing a week. That's kind of growing up and maturing, too: starting to realize you've got to invest in your body. As generic as it sounds, [I'm into] the gym and stuff like that.
When I'm home, man, I'm only home a day or two. I just like to chill, and I'm a big movie guy. Red Sox fan, Bruins, stuff like that. Who do I travel with on the road? [Pauses] I travel with a bunch of different people. Jinder Mahal, I travel with him, and [Curt] Hawkins. I like Hawkins. I drive with McGillicu — well, Curtis Axel. Axel and I were a tag team, and we started tagging together over the past summer. We were just younger guys coming off the NXT show, and then the NXT show kind of ended, and we were in no man's land kind of floating. I think Triple H or [William] Regal saw us tag one time just randomly and they liked the way we looked together. They started tagging us on house shows and live events. Arn Anderson helped us out a lot. I really feel like [Michael] McGillicutty and Curtis tagging broke us through that stagnant no man's land of getting a look. That's what got me in a position where they had enough faith in me to pitch that [Fandango] idea to me, and obviously, they liked [Joe] Hennig enough to keep him around and give him this huge push that he's getting right now over the last week. So yeah, Hennig is a real close friend of mine. I've got all the respect in the world for him. I think he's one of the best performers and best athletes and in-ring workers we got on the whole roster. He just needs a good opportunity to show it off.
June 3, doors 6:30 p.m., XL Center, One Civic Center Plaza, Hartford, xlcenter.com, $15-$95.