Tye Dillinger's Long, Strange Journey to WWE's Main Roster - Rolling Stone
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Tye Dillinger’s Long, Strange Journey to WWE’s Main Roster

“I was always confident in my abilities, but in the grand world of sports entertainment, you need to deliver across the board,” superstar says

Tye DillingerTye Dillinger


There are few guarantees when you go to a wrestling show. Each one is unique, in different locations and different types of audiences. Over the past year though, there’s been at least one guarantee. There’s been one person that you will certainly hear referenced, even if he’s not in the building. You can hear it though the pervasive “ten” chants that have spread through the entire world of wrestling. Everyone has Tye Dillinger on their tongues.

It wasn’t always that way though. Tye Dillinger’s path has been unlike just about anyone before him. He spent two long stints in WWE developmental. The first lasted from 2006 to 2009, and included time in Ohio Valley Wrestling and Florida Championship Wrestling, two of WWE’s feeder systems before NXT. He was briefly called up, as Gavin Spears, to WWE’s version of ECW, before being released in 2009. He didn’t give up on his WWE dream though, and after time jumping around independents, he found his way back to the WWE in 2013. This time things were different, as NXT had started up. It seemed like things were going his way as they partnered him with another rising talent in Jason Jordan, but that team did not quite work out the way they had hoped. In the wake of that, Dillinger searched for that perfect character to fit his personality and, thus, “The Perfect Ten” was born.

Finally, after 15 years in wrestling, nearly seven spent in the WWE system, and countless “ten” chants later, Dillinger was finally called up to the main roster during Wrestlemania week, after several months that included being in the Royal Rumble and getting to feud with the man who trained him. Rolling Stone had a chance to talk to Dillinger about what the debut moment was finally like, the Perfect Ten character, his journey to this point and who he wants to face now that he’s finally made the main roster.

What was that Tuesday night like, to get to walk out in front of the crowd, knowing you were finally a part of the Smackdown roster?
Incredible probably isn’t a word that does it justice. Wonderful isn’t a work that’ll do it justice. It’s tough to find those kind of words. I did a couple of interviews right after my Smackdown debut and I had trouble then finding the words. It was just a culmination of hours, months, years, put into this industry. Everything, the ups and downs, all culminating into one beautiful moment. I’m lucky I got to do in in whats become my home base in Florida. In Orlando, in front of those people, in that moment, I can’t see it being any better than that.

Did that make it even more special to you, not just that it was during Wrestlemania week, but that it was in Orlando?
Full Sail [University] is right there in Orlando, and they’ve gotten to see me, and the Perfect Ten character, from the ground up. They’ve seen the very beginning of this guy, and they’ve seen it go from one side of the spectrum to a much bigger side of the spectrum. To have it there in that moment from the very beginning to that debut in the Amway Center really felt like a full circle thing. I hope it felt the same way to them, because they were as big a part of it as anything else.

As we found out this week on NXT, that wasn’t your only big moment that week. The next day you got to come back to NXT and finish out that part of your journey with a huge win over Eric Young.
To finish my time there inside of a steel cage with a guy like Eric Young, what a moment. It was very unexpected. You have a four month long battle come to an end on our home turf at Full Sail University. I have a lot of history with Eric Young, he actually trained me in the very beginning of my career. We go back a very long way. To have that kind of moment in Full Sail, in front of that crowd, with that guy, bringing everything to an end, was a very bittersweet moment for me.

We’ve mentioned your journey a few times, and it’s been one that’s unlike pretty much anyone else’s to this point. Was there any point that the frustration with that journey became overwhelming?
In the beginning, there was a great deal of frustration. Developmental was so different at the time. Now, I don’t even consider NXT a developmental system. It’s its own brand. So many guys were able to develop a following while in NXT. Look at guys like Finn Balor, or Kevin Owens, or even Seth Rollins in the early days. Look at the Royal Rumble. I came out at the  number 10 spot, and there was a great reaction. That’s just a testament to how far NXT has come in a very short amount of time. My first time around in WWE, there wasn’t the WWE Network. We weren’t as big. It was much harder to crack through and get to the audience. There was much more of a competitive nature. It was just really hard to break through that glass ceiling. Now, we’re worldwide. NXT is worldwide. It’s still competitive to get to the WWE of course, but with that following, we want to put on a great product no matter where we are. There’s such a big difference between then and now. I wake up and thank myself every day that I was given a second opportunity.

You had a few “false starts” along the way. Obviously it had to be disappointing to be part of WWE’s ECW and then have that taken away, but looking back, was that something that actually helped you in the long run
Looking at it now, I can absolutely say yes. Who knows what would have happened if I had stayed around my first time in WWE. Let’s say I had been called up for good on ECW like you spoke of. What would have happened? Would I have become a Perfect Ten? Probably not. Would I have found my niche and have the audience reacting to me the way they are now? Who knows. It’s easy now to look back and say that I need all those ups and downs. It’s very hard when you are in those difficult positions to look at it and say that this is just the hard part, and that everything will get better. I believe that if you stay positive and you keep your nose to the ground and you keep working hard for every inch that eventually will pay off and something will roll your way. But it’s also very hard to do that when things seem very dim. Anything worth chasing takes time though, not just in the entertainment business, but in life in general. That’s one thing that the world of sports entertainment has taught me. So, to go back to your question, I don’t think I’d be the man today, and I’m very proud of the man I am today, if I hadn’t gone through those moments.

You talk about things rolling your way. Is the Perfect Ten gimmick the thing that finally rolled your way
Absolutely. When I first thought up the whole concept, I had no idea it would become what it is today. You see on Smackdown Live, or on RAW, there’s ten chants. I get sent clips on a daily basis of ten chants at various independent shows and I’m not just talking about America or Canada, I’m talking overseas. It blows my mind. That’s the beauty of our audience. Once they gravitate towards something and grasp onto something, they can take it to heights never thought possible. I surely didn’t think it would get to the point that it is now. I’m a firm believer that not many people thought it would get to this point. The beautiful thing about our audience is that if they like something they’re going to let you know, and if they don’t like something, they’re going to let you know. When I first threw out this Perfect Ten character and dipped my toes in the water with it, it started to catch on. Not at first right away, but when it did, the ball really got rolling.

I think what helped when this character come around is that the crowd saw my confidence turn up. They saw how much I was enjoying myself and actually let out a part of me that I didn’t show a lot of people. In the ring, I was fundamentally sound. I can work matches, and do what was needed. But I didn’t have the connection I was looking for with the audience, and they didn’t have it with me. So we were at a standstill. It was just that one little tweak that just changed everything. It turned up the heat to a level that I didn’t see coming. I was always confident in my abilities, but in the grand world of sports entertainment, you need to deliver across the board. And while I was delivering in the ring, and I thought I was delivering on the microphone, I wasn’t hitting every point. So I showed them the Perfect Ten, and things started clicking. Things started hitting, and I started to get more opportunities, and I took advantage of those opportunities.

When you started doing the Perfect Ten gimmick, especially coming off of the tag team with Jason Jordan, did you view it as a “make or break” situation for you?
You said it perfectly. At that point in my career and that point in NXT, I was very confident when I was teamed with Jason Jordan. I was very confident in that tag team. But as good as we were in the ring and as good as our promos may have been, we didn’t have that hook. Ultimately that’s why it didn’t work out. When Chad Gable came around, that’s what was missing. But for me, when I threw out the idea of the Perfect Ten, I had gone through a few different ideas I had been trying, which were a few different sides of my personality, and nothing felt right. When I threw this out, something felt right about it, and once I started doing it in live events around Florida, something felt really right about it. I remember thinking to myself at one point a few months in, if this doesn’t work, I don’t what will. I don’t know if I’ll be able to find something else. This is probably as close to my personality as its going to be. You nailed it right on the head. Look back now, if they had said that they didn’t think this was going to work or I gave up on this too early, I don’t know what I could have offered after that.

Now that it has worked for you, and you’re up on Smackdown Live, what are you most looking forward to?
I’ve been around long enough to know that the work never stops. If you’re fortunate enough to get on the main roster, the work starts all over. I spent a lot of time on NXT with the Perfect Ten character and getting him to where he is now. Now that I’m on Smackdown Live, we have a broader audience. We have, perhaps, a new audience. The work starts all over for me. I fully intend on starting from the bottom up. But, at the same time, I want to make some waves, and I want to make some waves quick. There are a lot of talented guy that I want to mix it up with that I’ve never had the opportunity with. Hopefully the broader audience will get a kick out of some of the things that I do, and will become just as loyal as the NXT audience who has been following me for the past years. The goal stays the same, and that’s just to get all the way to the very top. That has never changed, and I’m ready.

You said there are some guys you want to mix it up with early. Backlash is just a few weeks away, on May 21. If I gave you option of anyone on the Smackdown roster to get in the ring with at that show, who would be on your list?
I’ve been thinking about this, and I have a top four, in no particular order. One guy I had on the list actually just got shipped over to Raw, and he was at the top of my list, and that’s The Miz. Miz is one guy I’d like to work with, because I think we could do some pretty incredible things. At the moment though, on Smackdown, in no particular order: Tyler Breeze, Dolph Ziggler, Randy Orton and AJ Styles. Ziggler I’ve known for years. We used to work together way way back in the FCW days. Tyler Breeze is an incredible talent. I worked with him a little bit in NXT, but not to the level where I had hoped. That guy is severely underrated as a talent. AJ Styles and Randy Orotn, I’ve never worked with them before. I don’t need to give you any of their accolades, the world knows them already. Those two right now are the best at what we do in this industry. They’re the top of the top.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen some guys make the transition from NXT to the main roster seamlessly. We’ve seen others have trouble making their transition, whether it’s something they did, or something that was out of their hands. What’s your mindset to make sure that you’re hitting the ground running on Smackdown Live?
Everybody is different. Everybody’s path is different.
Like you said, some guys make the jump seamlessly. For some people, it takes a
long time. I don’t worry about anyone else’s path. I don’t worry about who’s
jumping quickly. I’ve seen a lot of guys come through NXT and I’ve seen a lot
of guys go up before me. I’ve had people ask if that makes me mad. No.
Everyone’s path is different. Mine is as well. I don’t worry about AJ is doing,
or Randy, or John Cena. I worry about what I am doing, to make sure that I’m on
the best possible path for myself. Now, I take all the advice I can get. I
watch how they conduct themselves, or what they do in the ring. I study as best
as I can to be prepared. At the end of the day, I know what I’m capable of, I
know what I need to do, and all I need to worry about is me. If I worry about
who is ahead of me, or what’s going on around me, then I’ll become bitter and
this isn’t going to be fun anymore. I grew up loving this as a kid. It really
is the greatest job in the world, so I’m not going to put myself through that
negativity. I’m going to work hard, and at the end of the day the chips are
going to fall as they may. 

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