WWE Hall of Famer Shawn Michael, one of the major players behind the scenes at NXT, took time for a little Q&A exclusively with The Post’s Joseph Staszewski ahead of the promotion’s loaded show Wednesday night (8 p.m., USA Network). Finn Bálor will defend his NXT championship against Adam Cole and Io Shirai puts her women’s title on the line against Toni Storm.
(Edited for clarity and length)
Q: What do you expect from Finn Bálor and Adam Cole this time around?
A: I expect from them to deliver what they always deliver on, which is an incredible match. I think it’s going to be epic as it always is. You are talking about two of the best, most complete athletes, professional wrestlers, sports entertainers to me in the world and especially here in NXT. They never fall short of being anything but spectacular and I’m a big fan of both guys. I will say it’s already a foregone conclusion that it will be a fantastic match. The million-dollar question is who walks out with the championship.”
Q: Why was this the right time to pull the trigger on the Undefeated Era breakup and a potential Adam Cole-Kyle O’Reilly feud?
A: Those are things you don’t honestly ever really know if the timing is right. One of the things I always really enjoyed and been fascinated by in this business is you don’t sort of pre-plan. You sort of see where things are going. You feel the atmosphere, like this feels like the time to do this. A lot of things certainly in my own career, personally was just sort of happenstance or circumstance that the availability or the option came through and we reacted on them and it seemed to work out really well. That’s what I think all of this was. This was sort of a spur-of-the-moment thing. You just know after you do it that the timing was perfect. I think sometimes that’s the crazy thing, that’s the only way you can come up with perfect timing is to not know what the perfect timing is from the start.
Q: What has it meant to have Finn Bálor in NXT right now?
A: Finn was such a complete athlete and wrestler, performer as it was. He just came here and had the ability to grow and evolve in all the ways he’s wanted to and be allowed and have the freedom to do that. It’s something that we try to encourage all our superstars to do. I don’t think anyone grasped the level at which Finn would do it.
I said it last week, and it was one of those things that I just wanted to say I’m just saying this between you and me. Of all the years I’ve been retired people have asked, this so and so, this dream match. And they’d all be wonderful opportunities. I look at him I think to myself, my goodness, he’s a guy that I could see myself wanting to… I could pick Finn out of a crowd and go, my goodness, he’s a young man that I feel like you could go out there and still do at a ripe old age and it would still be fantastic because he’s just got such a perfect balance of far more of enough of a 2021 sort of style, but so grounded and so foundationally strong in being able to take his time, tell stories, psychology.
Q: So we can pencil that in for a WrestleMania in a couple of years?
A: (Laughs) No, No, No. That’s why I always worry about saying that stuff. It looks like that’s someone you think to yourself, gosh even I could do that at 55.
Q: How have you seen Io Shirai evolve and grow as a talent and what do you expect from her match with Toni?
A: I think there were times with Io that, look I would argue that she sort of came in the door as a bad guy, but over time you just respect her so much, the ability that she has that it’s absolutely impossible to dislike her and one of the things I always found fascinating about her (is) when you see her on camera and one moment she can look like the sweetest young lady you’ve ever seen and then five seconds later she can look intimidating and quite frankly really scary. That’s an amazing ability to do in such a short amount of time, but she pulls it off and it’s credible when she does it.
I have watched Toni since her time in the UK way back from the first Mae Young Classic and then getting to work hand and hand with Toni over in the UK. Toni is just one of those people you knew it from the first time you saw her. I don’t think there’s anybody that’s seen Toni Storm that didn’t look at her and go that young lady’s gonna be star one day. It was simply just a matter of time with Toni Storm where she could get on a global stage and show the world just how talented she is and that’s clearly what happened in a very short time in NXT.
Q: There is talk of NXT moving to a different night. Do you think having its own night could help grow the brand and let it stretch its wings more?
A: It’s always clearly easier when your sort of destination programming, so to speak. Nothing would change certainly for us. We still try to put the best show out there that we can. Clearly, I know that’s everybody’s goal. I think it would only be fair to say everyone knows that when you are not competing against another similar show that it makes it a little bit easier. It allows people to enjoy that. And then you think about the follow from Raw the next night. So, clearly, it certainly wouldn’t hurt.
Q: There has also been talk about the potential of NXT women’s tag team titles. With the depth that you have in the division right now, do think that’s something that could be a good idea or needed to really highlight the talent you have?
A: Is it needed? I don’t know if those things are ever needed. To your point, we certainly have the depth. I know it sometimes sounds a bit cliché, everyone knows NXT we have the absolute greatest, No. 1 women’s division on the planet. There’s not even another feasible argument to make. We have the most talented young ladies within NXT.
Look I think it’s certainly something we can begin to think about or begin to talk about. I do believe the depth is there. Look every time you do that it could always be challenging. I think that’s something we enjoy here. I do know that from a creative standpoint we enjoy challenges. I know our talent does. But I would be comfortable saying I think we certainly have the depth for it. Those are all decisions that are all sort of above me at this point. I’d certainly back it.
Q: With what Johnny Gargano’s doing as a heel now, do you see any little bits of you there with his timing, delivery and almost impish delight?
A: For sure. There are times where Johnny is doing exactly what we used to do. We used to do a lot of stuff to entertain one another and what we all thought was funny. I’d have a hard time not believing that Johnny is a lot of times out there trying to make Hunter and I laugh in the back and he does it every time. He and Candice (LeRae) and entire Way with (Austin) Theory and Ind (Hartwell). We were just commenting on it last week. That has been such an awesome package. I think it’s done wonders for the depth and the range not only for Johnny and Candice, everyone knew how talented they were, but for Indi and Theory. You’ve just seen a whole other side of them. Collectively, The Way is one of the best teams or factions. They’ve got a chance to become one of those ones you will remember forever.
Q: Did Cameron Grimes really hit it on the stock market and whose idea was it to turn him into this quasi Million Dollar Man?
A: My understanding is that’s a part of his real life. He’s almost like JBL. John was very much into stocks and the market, learning how to make money with our money. It’s my understanding that Grimes has been interested in for quite some time. While he happened to be off, he happened to have more time to learn that and to do it and of course, that was the inspiration for sort of everything that’s happening now.
Q: As someone who is known for Super Kicks, what’s your take on the use of leg slaps by wrestlers?
A: Clearly I look back and I go, OK I did it. I just did one. I’m always of the cloth, I can remember when I started people telling me too fast, too much, too this and there’s a balance there. They were right in some respects and at the same time, the business also evolves and changes. Football isn’t played the same. Basketball isn’t played the same, so I don’t know. I’m somebody that embraces those changes. I feel like somewhere in the middle and balance is so important. I appreciate the style of today. I appreciate the athleticism of the performers of today. Are they perfect? No. But neither were we.
Q: When you started in NXT, did you think you would be here this long as deep in and as hands on as you have been here?
A: Absolutely not. Yeah, no way (laughs). We joke that Hunter talks about it all the time. He tells people all I needed to do. He came in the door talking I’m just gonna stick my big toe in the water, I don’t want any responsibility. I’m just gonna come in and do my little thing and go about my business. He knew it would only be a matter of time before I was so entrenched in it and engrossed by it that I’d be all in. That’s exactly what happened. From the UK brand to NXT here. I am passionately and personally involved.
It’s a very big part of my life. I sincerely feel like it’s my purpose. I have a wonderful family that understands that who supports me in that. I wouldn’t change it for anything.
Q: It’s something you can see yourself doing for a long time?
A: Like I’ve been saying with the WWE for 35 years now, when they get tired of my they’ll let me know. Unless they do I’m gonna keep showing up.