Apollo Crews talks becoming U.S. champion, Extreme Rules and bringing back the Nation of Domination
At this time last year, Apollo Crews was in the WWE’s version of no man’s land.
After signing with WWE and joining the NXT brand in 2015, Crews was expected to become a major player for the company. But after he was called up to the main roster just a year later, things didn’t quite pan out the way people expected. He would appear every now and then to lose and the hype that surrounded him quickly began to fizzle. As the company continued adding talent, Crews looked to be an afterthought and it was possible that he’d end up being future endeavored by the WWE.
Everything changed in April when Crews turned in a fantastic performance against Aleister Black and began building momentum. In a shocking turn of events, Crews defeated Andrade on May 25 to become the United States champion and acquire his first world title during his time with the promotion.
Things appear to be on the up and up as Crews prepares to defend his title against MVP on July 19 at Extreme Rules: The Horror Show on the WWE Network. There is hope that this push will be a sustainable one, but the talented 32-year-old is aware that he has a lot of work to do in order to keep the title that he finally got his hands on.
Crews sat down with Sporting News to discuss his time in NXT, how quickly things have changed in the company, being a champion when 11 of the 15 titleholders are people of color, his honest opinion of the new United States title and the possibility of a new Nation of Domination stable in 2020.
SN: What were your expectations when you first signed with WWE and started with the NXT brand?
Apollo Crews: I feel like anybody who comes to WWE enters with the mindset where you picture yourself winning multiple titles, headlining WrestleMania and pay per views, having dream matches and becoming the ultimate superstar. But things don’t always pan out how you picture them. So, for me, I didn’t realize that my time in NXT was going to be so short. When I look back on things, I wish I got to spend a little more time figuring out who Apollo Crews was and developing my character.
When you’re being pulled to Monday Night Raw, the last thing that crosses your mind is saying that you want to stay where you’re at so you can develop. I came into NXT hot and I was in a great situation having matches with Finn Balor, Samoa Joe and Baron Corbin. But the past four years of my career have been very different. I had to keep the mindset that I had to keep hustling and believe in myself no matter how low I got.
SN: As you mentioned, you were called up pretty quickly and may not have gotten everything that you could have out of NXT. Was there any point when you thought about possibly going back to refine a few things during the time you weren’t on TV?
AC: I did have a few conversations, but not about going back to NXT full time. I had a match with Kushida a year ago in front of the crowd at Full Sail and it was amazing. I told Triple H that if there ever was a time that he needed me to come back, I’d definitely be up for it. At the time I wasn’t doing too much on SmackDown so I just wanted to be involved and help out any way I could. We never had much of a conversation about it after that. But the talent that has come through there is insane and I’d definitely love to work with some of those guys.
SN: Can you talk about where you were mentally at this time last year?
AC: Mentally, it was tough. I never thought about quitting, but staying motivated was really tough. But I’ve always had my fiancé and two kids at home. No matter what was going on with my professional career they looked at me no different. I was always still their hero. That’s so great to have because when things are going bad professionally it’s so nice to have that support system at home. How could I ever quit and tell my kids not to be a quitter in life? I wanted to show them that you can accomplish anything through hard work. I had to show them with my actions.
SN: Here you are now as the United States champion getting ready for a match at Extreme Rules: The Horror Show with MVP. How do you feel after having those tough times?
AC: One thing I’ll say is that there was genuine love that I felt. It was very nice to see that I was respected by my peers and others as well. Not a lot of people expected it because so many had given up on me. But I hadn’t given up on myself. It’s crazy how it feels when things change almost overnight. A year ago it was a completely different situation. A year is not that much time, but you fast-forward and here I am as the United States champion going into my second pay per view. At one time getting on more than one pay per view felt impossible. But now that I’m champion, I can’t get complacent. The hard work can’t stop.
SN: There’s an image going around on social media that says 11 of the 15 titleholders in NXT are people of color. That’s such a drastic change from where the WWE was a few years ago. How does it feel being one of those champions at a time when it feels that everything started to change when Kofi Kingston won the WWE Championship at WrestleMania.
AC: When Kofi won, I felt so happy for him because it couldn’t have happened to a better person. That was the motivation for me to know that it was possible. Here I am now as the United States champion who is African-American in the current racial climate. It’s so awesome. I grew up looking up to a lot of African-American wrestlers and they showed me that it was possible to make it in this business and now I’m in a situation where I can do that for somebody else. It’s important for me to be a good role model because I know there are people looking up to me. I do find a lot of joy knowing that someone is motivated by my position in life.
SN: You’re facing MVP, who was the United States champion over a decade ago, left the company, went all over the world, and is back in a prominent role. I’m assuming this match is likely something you never thought would happen.
AC: Naw (laughs)! My career is a completely different place and sometimes I have to pinch myself to see if this is real life. I watched him and Bobby Lashley for years and now here I am going face to face with him. It’s an honor and a pleasure. As much respect as I have for him, I still have to walk out that ring as United States champion. Once I get this win, it will launch me into a different level of my career.
SN: I need your honest thoughts about the new United States title.
AC: Honestly, I love it and I can’t wait to hang it up in my house. I know it’s going to take some getting used to because it’s been around since the early 2000s. The first time I saw it, I loved it. Maybe because it’s actually mine or because it’s all sparkly and shiny.
SN: Some may say that it looks like (Hip Hop group) The Diplomats world title.
AC: Oh yeah! It does look kind of like that Dipset logo!
SN: The moment you, MVP and Lashley began interacting, tremors began on social media imagining a reincarnation of the Nation of Domination. It was once a heel faction made up of Black wrestlers but it couldn’t be that in this racial climate, could it?
AC: No way. I feel like everyone would love to see something like that today. I would have to be a part of it. I wouldn’t want to be on the outside looking in at that faction. I saw everyone talking about it and it would be dope. That’s what so many people want to see. Not only myself, but I know a few guys backstage would want to be in it. Thinking about those possibilities is really cool. But it would have to be a babyface stable today.
SN: Who would you have in the Nation of Domination 2020?
AC: I’d definitely have to put me in there. You’ve gotta have MVP and Bobby Lashley. I’m going to have some extra group members with Shelton Benjamin, Ricochet and Cedric Alexander. That’s a solid group right there.
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