Courtesy of WWE
Roderick Strong's rise in the WWE seems a sudden success, but the truth is that this mat technician has been working around the world for 20 years. As the reigning NXT North American champion, Strong needs a lot of experience to get past the mighty Keith Lee on Wednesday evening.
Together with Adam Cole, Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly, Strong joined the NXT faction The Undisputed Era in 2018 and is now an integral part of the most decorated pro-wrestling group. Together, the UE holds all male titles available on NXT. The native Tampa native's winning resume was expanded in the Survivor series last November when Strong brought bragging rights to the NXT brand when he defeated SmackDowns Shinsuke Nakamura and Raws AJ Styles in an exciting encounter.
For a man who first appeared on SmackDown 15 years ago as part of a "Hometown Hero" challenge against legendary Kurt Angle, the path to athletic entertainment was winding. Muscle & Fitness sat down with the 36-year-old pro wrestling veteran as he considered his journey to NXT, his thoughts on getting into the Royal Rumble 2020, his attitude to health and fitness, and his plan to stick to his title.
Your game with Keith Lee on Wednesday night is eagerly awaited. How do you prepare for a big guy who weighs over 300 kg but can also do cruiser-weight maneuvers?
I just always stay ready. Keith is a very special athlete. It is as sporty as possible. He is so strong and so big, but he has never been in such a situation. It's live on the USA Network, the biggest match of his career. The lights are the brightest. Is the pressure too big (for him)? I dont know. Does he have the gas tank? We struggled before, but this is a situation where everything that means the most is at stake. I prepare myself mentally and physically for this to be the most difficult game of my life.
One of your mentors was another agile, great guy, the legendary Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart. What did you learn from wrestling with bigger boys?
I was 12 when I started wrestling. I was super young and everyone was taller than me. I was constantly beaten up. I had to work for every single thing I got in a match and that's why I'm as aggressive as I am.
This month has been 15 years since you first appeared on SmackDown and challenged Kurt Angle. Do you have any memories of that day?
I remember that day at a discount. I remember all the interactions I had with Kurt. It really seems like it was yesterday, which I find very funny because it's been so long.
I was super, super nervous but excited. It was a great opportunity for me and I am confident that I can do my job whatever is required of me and I think I did (my job) that night. It was nice to dip my toes in this world, you know, WWE and the ability to do it with an absolute legend like Kurt Angle made it so much better. I wish I had a chance to work with Kurt more competitively before he retired, but I will never forget that.
At this point, it's fair to call you a professional wrestling veteran and someone the younger boys and girls will look up to. Fans enjoy a time when there is more wrestling on TV than ever before. But how important is it for wrestlers to refine their character and in-ring skills before performing in front of a global audience?
Oh, I think it's huge and it's different for everyone. Adam (Cole) had an idea of his character, probably before he wrestled or even trained just because he's such a guy and someone like me, for the longest time I've only defined myself through my in-ring work. So I was obsessed with getting as good as possible in the ring. I harp more than anything else on the basics. A good foundation is extremely important for any sport you practice. Focus on it and the rest will come. Everything will develop on its own as it should, it may not be as fast as you want it to be, but that doesn't mean it won't happen.
The roof was almost blown up when you and the rest of the undisputed era surfaced at NXT TakeOver: Blackpool II. What do you think of the crowd reaction?
Everyone talks about how great the audience is in the UK, but I really enjoy it there. It is something different. We are not exposed as often (UK viewers), so they make special moments even more special. I pumped so much Frikkin that I just ripped off my shirt and dog tags, threw them everywhere, and behaved like a madman. There was just so much energy. It was wonderful. It was something we talked about for days and what we are likely to talk about forever.
It just really matters. Obviously, the Undisputed Era is taking advantage of the opportunities, so I want it to be with all of us. We are a package deal.
In the course of your career, you were well positioned to take every opportunity, not least to remain in constant shape. Can you explain your attitude towards health and fitness to us?
I think maybe 7 years ago I started taking it a little more seriously. I have a good buddy (MMA trainer) Josh Rafferty and I have embraced the mentality that I train for the sport. When I found out how to train like an athlete, it made a big difference. Now I train, be it with weights or do different martial arts, just everything to keep myself in the best shape that I can.
I'm active five or six days a week and then, depending on the type of game ahead, I might go to training camp and really focus on & # 39; Hey, ok, I just need to get a little stronger, so I'm getting heavier lift than I normally do. I try to stay in shape so I don't have to go without the diet to get ready.
How do you approach nutrition?
I fast with interruptions. I tried around 2011 and then again 2 years ago and it's been something I've held on to ever since. Sometimes I fast for 16-20 hours.
How do you prefer to train when the schedule allows?
I used to be just an athlete, but now I like to go outdoors. Somewhere. I like to train outside. I also set up a gym in my garage and in the garden. My wife (former MMA star, NXT superstar Marina Shafir) loves to train. We use kick pads, we hold on. I like to find out different things I can do to keep myself in top shape. I really fell in love with grasping and it helped me a lot to learn more about it. I've been wrestling for so long and you're always learning.
You definitely seem ready for Keith Lee! What comes after
On Wednesday night I'm going to drop someone's torso, Keith Lee, in what I think is a masterly feat. I will, like every time I go out there, show that there is nobody better than me. And after that, anyone who wants it can get it. 2019 was just a small taste of the undisputed time. In 2020 we have NXT on our back even more, the number one of today's wrestling show worldwide.
Roderick Strong plans to shock the system when he defends the North American championship this Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET on USA Network.