In this exclusive interview with Daily DDT, Damian Priest discusses finding his footing in WWE NXT, idolizing The Undertaker, his favorite opponents since signing with the brand in 2018, and more.
Few stars on WWE NXT have seen their stock skyrocket recently quite like Damian Priest.
The former Punishment Martinez signed with WWE in late 2018 before being rechristened as Damian Priest on NXT TV in June 2019. He then embarked on an undefeated streak and stacked up several victories over the likes of Keith Lee and Pete Dunne in addition to representing the black-and-gold brand at Survivor Series that November.
From nearly capturing the NXT North American Championship to stealing the show with Finn Balor at TakeOver: In Your House, Priest has impressed the masses with the roll he’s been on in the last few months alone. Tonight on NXT, he’ll have the chance to further that momentum when he battles Cameron Grimes for the first time ever in singles competition.
Priest recognizes that he and Grimes are in a similar boat: They’re both relatively new to the NXT scene and want to build a legacy for themselves. However, only one person can emerge victorious in their upcoming encounter and Priest is adamant that it will be him.
“As much as I admire his will to make a name for himself and want to succeed in this business and in this company, it’s not going to come at my expense, obviously,” Priest told Daily DDT in an interview over the phone. “It’s my duty to be better than him. Of all the time we spent on the independents, we never even met. We never shared a locker room. We’ve been around the same circle of people for many years, but never crossed paths.”
Priest is riding high after a sensational showing against Finn Balor at TakeOver earlier this month. Not only was it arguably the match of the night, it was also the biggest bout of his wrestling journey up to this point.
Although he fell short of victory, he feels he walked away with respect from fans and officials alike. Triple H’s praise for his performance in particular from after TakeOver went off the air stands out to him as being the ultimate endorsement.
“Guys like Triple H making some comments about me is pretty cool to me, a guy that I grew up watching is now basically putting his reputation on the line by giving his opinion of me and it’s a positive one and that’s pretty rad to me,” he said. “It definitely was a plus as far as overall. Do I wish I would have won the match? Yes, but ultimately, I proved that I can. I think I know how to pull that extra trigger to win a match or in that type of match with him.”
Fans may have noticed that it was following his war with Balor that Priest seemed to subtly start transitioning from heel to babyface. He’s worked as a villain for practically his entire career so far, so the slight change in character in recent weeks has been a refreshing change of pace.
That said, Priest doesn’t think of himself as being either. His intent has never been to sway the audience one way or the other but rather to target people he feels he can benefit from beating. If that means being cheered by the crowd, then so be it.
“After TakeOver: In Your House, I do have a new respect for the feeling that I’m trying to get or I’m trying to feel. It’s because of the way I was perceived after that match and it was with a loss,” he said. “Maybe it’s just so much as showing that I have heart and that I have no quit in me because that’s really what got most of the attention. Maybe that swayed me and the perception of what I need to do, but ultimately, it’s the same goal. It’s me doing enough and doing whatever I can to make sure my name stands the test of time.”
In addition to The Prince, Keith Lee and Pete Dunne are two more individuals Priest has had magic in the ring with during his stint in NXT. Grimes may soon join that list, but there’s many more viewers aren’t aware of because the matches didn’t happen on TV.
Regardless of who it is, Priest believes that it’s virtually impossible to take a wrong turn in NXT because of how the talent on the roster is limitless. Everybody being as good as they are is the reason why they’re there in the first place.
“Every opponent is going to bring out something else in you and something you didn’t know that you had and something you didn’t know they had,” he said. “It’s always a great formula for success, especially in this business.
“My first battle with Pete Dunne was one of my favorites and that one I did win (laughs). That’s definitely a good one. Up until that point, I faced Keith Lee and beat him in my first main event match, but he wasn’t where he is now. Pete Dunne was already a former champion, having held the United Kingdom Championship for forever. No one holds a championship that long nowadays, so going two years is incredible. Being able to defeat him in my first high-profile match is an important one for me.”
When you watch Priest in the ring, it’s pretty apparent that he draws inspiration from the world of mixed martial arts, especially when it comes to his scintillating strikes. What fans may not know is that, before breaking into wrestling, he trained at his father’s MMA school and physical competition was all he knew.
In fact, he’s gone on the record in the past in revealing that his dad once fought Chuck Norris during an MMA tournament. He’s always had a major influence on Priest and set the bar fairly high in regards to his own achievements.
“I wasn’t even born yet, but it’s not just him telling me,” he said. “When I was younger, I spoke to other martial artists who were around in that era and were present. It was basically a tournament with a few exhibition fights. He was one of them. It was Chuck Norris against my father. It wasn’t about winning or losing, it was just an exhibition fight. It was kind of that he got to spar with him and that [Norris] became someone well known.”
Along with Priest’s father, The Undertaker was another inspiration for him growing up. The Phenom was his favorite and was the main reason why The Archer of Infamy decided to pursue a pro wrestling career.
Priest was spotted shaking Undertaker’s hand on the fifth and final episode of the Undertaker: The Last Ride documentary that aired over the weekend. It was a moment that meant more to Priest than most may ever realize because of how he grew up idolizing The Deadman.
Priest recalls not knowing what the meeting at the Performance Center was about going into it (jokingly thinking he was in trouble), but upon seeing ‘Taker walk into the room, he was speechless. It turned out to be a seminar with Undertaker giving NXT’s resident “big man” wrestlers a few pointers based off his own experience.
“I think I kept my cool for the most part, but that was outstanding,” he said. “I got to pick his brain and I got to ask him some of the questions. Most of them were more private talk for me and he gave me some personal and life advice outside of just wrestling. He got to watch one of my matches and critique it and that to me was so cool that he was willing to do that.
“I’m pretty sure he watched one of the matches with Lee and Dijakovic. He praised it, but he picked it apart as well. He didn’t just tell us what we wanted to hear, he told us wanted we needed to hear about creative longevity and not going out there and doing everything in the book every time. It’s so cool to hear that from someone like him. You can hear it from others, but when that guy’s telling you something, it holds more weight for some reason. One of the highlights of my career was just talking to him.”
On paper, Undertaker and Priest have plenty in common, including their brooding personas and distinct size advantage. As a result, it would be easy for Priest to follow in his footsteps and do a similar character (much like he was previously in Ring of Honor).
Instead, as The Archer of Infamy, he’s more interested in establishing an identity of his own. The nickname hasn’t been fully fleshed out on TV yet, but Priest explains that it has to do with how the bow and arrow has been around since the beginning of time and can be seen in virtually any post-apocalyptic movie.
If the bow and arrow can stand the test of time, so can he.
“No matter where you look, archery is a thing. I want to live in infamy, I want my name to be known. That’s where Archer of Infamy comes from,” he said. “It’s the idea of something that lives on longer than it really should. There’s other weapons that are better, but for whatever reason, that one does. That’s where I derive that from and it’s something I’m a fan of. It’s basically something that felt right for me. That is the purpose of Archer of Infamy. It’s not that I’m an actual archer, it’s what it symbolizes and what it stands for.
“That’s what I want my name to be. I want it to be more, I want it to be known. That’s whole point of the Archer of Infamy thing. I don’t want to live forever, I don’t want to be a vampire (laughs). I just want to do so much that my name lives on. Someone like The Undertaker or Triple H or Bruce Lee or Muhammad Ali. Their names live on and on forever. That’s kind of what I want my name to be and that’s basically who Damian Priest is.”
Priest added that he feels like he’s finally hitting his stride and showing the world who he really is. The TakeOver classic was Balor marked a turning point for his character and convinced him to stop pretending to be someone he isn’t.
He’s had help from coaches at the Performance Center, specifically Shawn Michaels, who have urged him to be the person he normally is behind the cameras. Now that he feels more comfortable than he ever has before, sky is the limit for what he can accomplish.
“This is who I am. There’s no mistaking it,” he said. “Once people are around me enough, they’re like, ‘Wow, you’re really not pretending’ and that’s the biggest difference. In my mind, I always thought that when I’m on camera, I have to transform and I’ve always been that way. I’ve been a fan of that way, too. But I’ve had Shawn Michaels, which is wild to say that I talk to him regularly, come up to me and say, ‘I like the person you are.
“People like who you are. You’re cool. Just do that. Be you out there. Don’t pretend.’ That’s really helped me get out of my shell. I don’t have to pretend and have a wrestling voice. That’s definitely helped me. Him, Triple H and the rest of the coaches and producers at the Performance Center, convincing me to just be me.”
If he can fend off Grimes on NXT, Priest will surely be setting his sights on an even bigger prize before long. Whether that’s a rematch with Balor or another piece of gold remains to be seen, but either way, fans should expect to see him continue to break out as a top-tier talent in the weeks and months to come.
Catch Damian Priest in action tonight on WWE NXT, airing on USA Network at 8/7c.