Prince Pretty. Breezus. The King of Cuteville. The Gorgeous One. The Sultan of Selfies. Tyler Breeze already had more nicknames than Shaquille O’Neal, but now, the NXT stalwart can add another one to the list: WWE Superstar.
After five years in WWE’s developmental system, Breeze finally got the call-up late last month, debuting on SmackDown with selfie stick aloft and Summer Rae in tow. And though his first feud – with Dolph Ziggler – seems practically preordained, the path to WWE hasn’t been easy for Breeze. He started as Mike Dalton in Florida Championship Wrestling, then the developmental organization for WWE. He was successful there, but his character never really caught on, and as the company moved to the Performance Center in Orlando, something had to change. Thus, the egotistical model Tyler Breeze was born, and he’s been a constant presence in NXT ever since. He was there during the Hulu days, wrestled at NXT’s very first live WWE Network special and has played a role in nearly every TakeOver to date. He can even be seen in the Network’s brand-new Breaking Ground, which gives fans a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to make a Superstar.
Now, as he prepares to take the next step in his career, Rolling Stone spoke with Breeze (no doubt calling in from one of his many seasonal residences) about making the leap from NXT, why his character works so well and whether he’ll continue to do Tyler on his terms.
So, first things first: How did that main roster debut feel?
It was pretty cool. It was definitely a milestone for me. I’ve hit a lot of milestones, going from FCW to NXT, having that little taste of Raw and SmackDown doing those dark matches, all the NXT TakeOvers. I’ve been able to do a lot along the way. I think that at this point, one of the good things about NXT is that it prepares you for moments like this. We’ve had that match on Raw before, so it’s not the first time you’ve been there. You’re totally prepared for this. You get some slight jitters, but you’ll always have that. You’re just ready.
How did you find out you were getting called up to the main roster?
I had heard some rumblings that they were looking to bring up someone. When you look at the roster of NXT, you kind of gauge yourself and figure out where you fit in, and I figured I’d be a possibility. Finally, I had a meeting with Triple H, and he said that I was given the green light, and we were going to start moving on it. We weren’t sure of all the details, but I knew it was happening. The next thing I know, I was sitting there, ready to go.
They’ve paired you up with Summer Rae, and it certainly seems like you guys have good chemistry already. Whose idea was that, and did the decision surprise you at all?
It was a bit of a surprise to me. I know there had been a couple of ideas that had been thrown around. As the Tyler Breeze character, I had been on my own for the past few couple years. I had gotten used to that. But I’m always open to new ideas, new challenges and new opportunities. I know Summer because we were in FCW and NXT together. She’s been successful up on the main roster, and it definitely doesn’t hurt to be paired with someone who has been successful. We’re just taking it day-by-day.
In the past, we’ve seen NXT call-ups have their characters tinkered with before arriving on the main roster. Were you at all concerned that they would do that with Tyler Breeze?
No, not really. Given the time that I had been Tyler Breeze, and the reactions I had been getting, I really wasn’t too concerned. Now, there are so many great minds here, and if someone tosses an idea to me and we want to add it in, then I can make it work. But if there’s one thing about the character that I know, it’s that I have confidence in it. I can do something that other people can’t; anything that they want me to try, I can go out there and make it work. I’m really not too concerned with any changes that may be made. It will always come out entertaining as far as I’m concerned.
You were Mike Dalton in FCW, but soon after moving to NXT, you became Tyler Breeze. How did you create the character?
There are a few key players in it. Basically, it was one of those things where I was doing Mike Dalton for a while and it just wasn’t catching on. There wasn’t really anything for people to sink their teeth into – I was just kind of the faceless guy that was on the card. Finally it gets to a point where you’re either marketable or you’re not, and Mike Dalton just wasn’t marketable. So I had to come up with something that was marketable. I had the conversation about needing to come up with something else, and I immediately called Xavier Woods. I told him, “I don’t really know what to do, I need your help.” He said, “Let’s come up with 5 or 10 different characters and a bunch of different things at every end of the spectrum. We’ll have new names, we’ll have personalities for them, we’ll come up with bios for them. We’ll create videos and we’ll keep pitching until they like something.”
I came up with five characters right off the bat. There was a snowboarder, there was a darker version of what I was doing and then one of them was Tyler Breeze. At the time, he was a little bit different, but along the same lines of who he is today. We went over to Xavier’s house, and we started making videos. We actually had a lot of fun making the Tyler Breeze one, more than any of the others. We didn’t know if they would like it, but we really liked it. We ended up pitching it, and Dusty [Rhodes] was the first one to get back to me. He said, “Hey, there might be something to this model. Let’s have a talk.” From there, it just kind of snowballed and everyone started jumping on board. It was a totally different look from what I was doing. It was a totally different interview style from what I was doing. Everything about it was different. It was a fresh start that everyone was on board with, and a couple years later, here we are.
One thing that I find impressive is that you’re able to make your character entertaining while still remaining credible as a performer. Has that been a challenge?
That’s really a key part in doing characters like this. Any character that comes to WWE needs to have layers. You can’t just be a surface character, or you’re going to get stale really quick. What I’ve done with Tyler Breeze is make sure that what you see initially from him makes you feel one way – you either love it or hate it. But once you start listening to what I’m saying, you start getting into the next layer. Then when it comes to the wrestling part, yeah you can run away from people to play mind games, but Tyler Breeze is also very much able to beat someone up. He can pose a threat. He can get the job done when the time comes. It’s a lot of themes put into one, basically, but I think I’ve found a good balance, and people get it.
You were down in Florida for a while, and you’ve seen FCW change to NXT, grow from a ‘developmental promotion’ into a phenomenon. What was it like to witness it all firsthand?
It’s been crazy. It’s really been less about developmental and more about NXT as a separate brand. When I was in FCW, it was so different, it was night and day. We were on our own little island, nobody really knew anybody. We had TV tapings, but they were only on a local television channel, nobody really watched it. Once we made that merge over to NXT, there were so many more eyes on us. Now, we do a show like Brooklyn, and there are 15,000 people there to watch NXT. I really don’t call it a developmental at all. It’s now something that’s standing on its own two legs, and it’s something that people want to see and want to be a part of.
I’ve gotten to be on the ground floor for a lot of things. I was on the pilot episode of NXT. I got to be a part of that. I was part of Arrival, the first big show we did. I was part of all the TakeOvers. I was part of the show in Brooklyn, we did a show in San Jose around WrestleMania that drew 5,000 people. We were successful there. Now, we’re moving on to London, which is another huge undertaking but tickets are selling extremely well and we’re excited for that. There have been a lot of firsts that I’ve gotten to be a part of. Even now, being part of the main roster, debuting on SmackDown, that’s not something that happens a lot. Most people, when they debut, they do it on Raw. I got to do something kind of different. It’s very cool to be part of all these opportunities.
You mentioned Brooklyn – what was it like to wrestle Jushin Liger?
It was awesome. That’s another thing that was a first. Nobody in WWE has ever worked with him on a WWE stage. So the fact that I was the first one to do that, and the only one to do that, is a huge honor. He’s a huge star, and it was fun to be the guy on the other side of the ring with him. He was a pleasure to work with, and I’d do that any day of the week.
One of the most notable things about NXT over the past year has been the influx of well-known talent from the independent circuit and around the world. But when they came in, a lot of them got over at your expense. Did you feel like you had been relegated to a gatekeeper role?
People see it in different ways. Some people see it as me being bumped aside and shuffling down the card. I didn’t really view it that way at all. The guys coming in, I either knew, or got to know very quickly. I also got the chance and the opportunity to work with all of them. These guys, they’re not just coming in from scratch, they’ve been wrestling for 10-plus years. To top it off, all of them are really cool guys too. As soon as they come in, the fact that either I get paired with them, or I get to work with them later, I didn’t see it as getting pushed down the card. I saw it as another opportunity to work with someone good and steal the show in another capacity. Whether there’s an NXT title there or not, the match would be one that people wanted to see. I loved working with Hideo and Finn. Me and Owens did some stuff, Zayn, Neville. All these guys that they’re bringing in, it’s not a bad thing, it’s not a jealousy thing. We wanted to make the roster something where people wanted to see every match on the card. The NXT title is where you want to be, but if you’re working with those talents, it’s going to be a match that people are looking forward to, and will buy tickets to see. There was no jealousy whatsoever. It’s just cool to see that everyone is doing well and having fun.
Some NXT talents – like Finn Bálor – have said they’d like to stay in NXT, as opposed to moving up to the main roster. Before your call-up, did you feel that way?
I’m always excited for every step along the way. My time in NXT was definitely fun though. If anything ever pops up and they want me back there, like for this U.K. tour coming up, I’m always on board to do anything with NXT, just because I’ve had so much fun with it. I’ve been almost like a pillar of NXT in terms of being there the whole time and now I’m moving on. It would be a cool thing if they brought me back for a few shows here and there, and I’d definitely be up for it.
You’re moving right into a program with Dolph Ziggler. What can we expect from your first feud on the main roster?
There are lots of possibilities when a guy debuts. As soon as I found out that I was going to be with Dolph, I let out a sigh of relief, because I knew that me and him are going to have good chemistry, and have matches that people are going to want to see. It’s definitely going to give a good first impression of what Tyler Breeze can do on the main roster. I’m looking forward to everything that we’re about to do. He’s a good guy to be across the ring from.
What do you think the future holds for Tyler Breeze?
Right now, I’m thinking the future looks pretty bright. Even just the initial things that we’ve done, I don’t see any momentum stopping any time soon. I’m just excited for everything that’s coming my way.