NXT: Roderick Strong finds comfort in the unknown ahead of Strap match with Dexter Lumis

Roderick Strong defended his NXT North American Championship against Keith Lee and Dominik Dijakovic on the Oct. 23, 2019 edition of WWE NXT. Photo: WWE.com
Roderick Strong defended his NXT North American Championship against Keith Lee and Dominik Dijakovic on the Oct. 23, 2019 edition of WWE NXT. Photo: WWE.com /

Ahead of his upcoming Strap match with Dexter Lumis on NXT, Roderick Strong chats with Daily DDT about Undisputed Era, conquering new challenges, his favorite moments and matches so far, and more.

From conquering the independent wrestling scene to achieving success in WWE NXT, there isn’t much Roderick Strong hasn’t done, except for competing in a Strap match.

He’ll have his chance to (literally) put Dexter Lumis in his place on Wednesday’s Great American Bash-themed episode of NXT, with the caveat being that they’ll be bound by a single strap the entire time.

There’s no reason to think Strong won’t overcome this latest obstacle. Short of winning the NXT Championship, he’s virtually done everything there is to do in his four years with the black-and-gold brand and faced (and beaten) every top talent put in front of him.

As one of NXT’s hardest-hitting grapplers, the former North American champion may not be out of his element come his encounter with Lumis after all. Then again, with an opponent as unique as Lumis and a stipulation as rare as the Strap match, even Strong himself is stumped as far as what his preparation process should entail.

“I don’t think you necessarily can prepare, obviously you’ve seen him do a great job at that, getting in my head and putting me in a predicament to expose a vulnerable state of mind I usually don’t have to show,” Strong told Daily DDT in an interview over the phone. “I’m trying to go in there and do it. I’m weird like that because I like to organically make as much of me and my opponent as I can. Obviously, I’ll look over a few [Strap matches] that I’ve been told about, but I’d just like to go in there and see what I can create. It’s going to be a painful, painful experience, but it will be a fun painful one.”

Before joining NXT in late 2016, Strong was known as a wrestler’s wrestler, having scoured the entire independent scene and winning titles everywhere he went. He battled the illustrious likes of Daniel Bryan, CM Punk, Seth Rollins, Samoa Joe and Austin Aries long before they went to WWE and was widely known as Mr. ROH at one point.

He revealed to Corey Graves on an episode of After the Bell last year that he signed with WWE in the nick of time because of how he had grown bored of staying in the same place for over a decade. Upon making the jump, there were no guarantees that he’d thrive at the WWE level because of how promos and the entertainment side had never been his (no pun intended) strong suit before.

Then again, whenever he was afforded the opportunity to show off his personality in PWG and Ring of Honor, specifically as a heel, he shined. He hoped he would one day get that same chance while with WWE and he eventually did alongside Undisputed Era.

“I didn’t necessarily know what I was going to do when I came to NXT,” Strong admitted. “It wasn’t one of those things where I had a great relationship with anybody. They were trying to figure me out and I was trying to tell them who I was and we were trying to see what would fit best. It’s funny because when I knew those guys were coming, they didn’t know they were going to be a group, I didn’t know they were going to be a group until they were, and immediately as they showed up on the scene, everybody started putting my name with them.

“It was one of those things where before I came, my best work I personally feel was being a heel in PWG and near the end of my Ring of Honor run. It’s something that is far more natural for me. Once I started to see what these guys were doing and there was no certainty that was going to happen, like me joining them, when they made the decision and told us, it was like, ‘Yeah, it makes sense.’ It was that platform where I can show what I do best and be a jerk and beat people up. It was definitely something that was necessary, but it wasn’t a certain thing. When it finally happened, it made me extremely happy.”

Bobby Fish was the first former Ring of Honor alum to pop up on NXT TV after Strong in July 2017 followed by Kyle O’Reilly in August. Adam Cole completed the trifecta with his debut at TakeOver: Brooklyn III, which was where Undisputed Era (sans Strong) officially formed.

It wasn’t until TakeOver: New Orleans over WrestleMania weekend in 2018 that Cole, Fish and O’Reilly recruited Strong into their ranks. He considers that and his huge Survivor Series over AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura last November to be his top two moments in WWE so far.

“Joining Undisputed Era has been my top moment because it was such a momentum swing for me career-wise. It filled me with emotion,” Strong said. “I rolled to the floor after I won at Survivor Series and there’s this moment where I get overwhelmed and I start crying. I try not to weep, obviously, just because it is such a big stage. Everybody talks about how hard they work, but I worked hard to be in a position where not a lot of people thought I would be in. It was overwhelming. It’s my number two. Joining Undisputed Era and then that. It’s big. It’s something I’ll never forget and I’m thankful for the opportunity to create a memory like that.”

It was smooth sailing for the group from there, at least until their one rough patch in the spring of 2019. That was following their various losses at the onset of the year, including Adam Cole’s failure to become NXT Champion at TakeOver: New York.

Tension was teased specifically between Strong and Cole in the month of May before Cole wound up winning the NXT Championship at TakeOver: XXV. All hints of dissension within Undisputed Era and any possible plans of Strong branching off on his own were abruptly dropped at that point.

Strong agrees that it would have been way too soon for Undisputed Era to go their separate ways, as there was and still so much left for them to do together.

“If it were to have ended at that point, we definitely would have that it had been too soon and I think they understand that,” Strong said. “There’s so much entertaining stuff we still have left to do, there’s so much leg left on this. We always joke that anything short of forever would be too soon. You always really wonder because a lot of that isn’t in your control and you have to just trust the process and your bosses which we do fully, so we just go with it.”

Some of Undisputed Era’s best work has come in the last few months alone and it hasn’t been in the ring, either. Rather, it’s been in the several skits they’ve filmed for NXT television featuring Strong going to therapy sessions and O’Reilly serving as the therapist.

This type of material isn’t new to fans who have been paying attention to the social media accounts of the faction over the past year or so. Strong discussed how they often exchange ideas among themselves about doing stuff like that and the current circumstances with no fans being in the building have provided them with the opportunity to finally bring those skits to life.

“The therapy thing was something I tossed out there because I thought it’d be fun,” Strong said. “Just the characters’ interactions. It’s shown a different side of me. It’s just so, so fun and with us being able to do something like that and getting the reaction that it did opens the door for us to do more stuff like that. It’s fun, man. With those guys, it’s always fun and it’s so easy. Everything is just so easy.

“We’ve been together collectively for over two years, but them over three years and we’re just scratching the surface and there’s so much fun stuff we’re going to be able to do. That’s what’s very unique with us as a group is that we go in there, put on the best match of the night and make you laugh or entertain you in a different manner. It doesn’t matter. That’s the common goal among all us is just to have fun.”

Strong would have been remiss to not mention how much he, Cole and Fish miss having O’Reilly around and how his absence has certainly been felt in recent months. Although he’s been quarantined safely at home during this time, he has still opted to appear in some of their segments filmed outside of the arena.

While there is no concrete timetable on when fans can look forward to seeing O’Reilly back in the ring, Strong feels he’s been able to contribute in equally rewarding ways during his time away.

“We all miss Kyle. When we teamed for that period of time that Bobby [Fish] was out, Kyle and I got extremely close,” Strong said. “He’s an integral part of us, the fearsome foursome. We’re all good individually and any combination of three is good, but it’s never better than when the four of us are together. It’s funny because when it comes to the therapy thing, I said, ‘Kyle has got to be the therapist.’ The way it all worked out with me not knowing it was him was fantastic. He’s just so good at all that stuff. He’s amazing. Any way we can find to get him on screen, we have.

“Hopefully soon [that he’ll be back]. WWE has been extremely cautious with making sure everyone is as safe as they possibly can be and looking out for someone like Kyle because he’s diabetic and being extra, extra, extra safe with him and we appreciate that as his friends and I know he really appreciates it. I think we’ll be seeing him sooner than later.”

The four of them have almost always been inseparable, dating back to their time on the independent scene. It’s what made their respective wrestling journeys so meaningful and their time together that much more enjoyable.

Strong explains that he was in ROH well ahead of Cole and O’Reilly, and through helping them as much as he could, they became close. He had also known Fish since 2003 and eventually played a part in him wrestling in Japan and later ROH.

“Just to see where they came from and where they’re at now was amazing from that point-of-view,” Strong said. “And then we’ve gotten to join each other on the rest of this journey so far makes it a million times better. We know each other so well. We know the struggles that we’ve had. We know all the highs and the lows and the ups and the downs and we’ve always kind of been there for each other one way or another. It’s made the ride very, very fun. You know you always have someone to count on.”

Undisputed Era, and specifically Strong, were fortunate that NXT was already well on his way to becoming not only an undeniable third brand for WWE but also the best brand the company has to offer. Before Strong, NXT had boasted a ton of notable names including Sami Zayn, Neville, Finn Balor, Kevin Owens, Shinsuke Nakamura and Samoa Joe, among others.

No matter how much the players may change, Strong says, the momentum stays the same. It’s a testament to the talent Triple H is constantly bringing in and the brand’s ability to make it a flawless transition.

“There’s little segments of change and it seems like things are dropping off, but it’s not really. It’s just gaining more momentum,” Strong said. “It’s really pushed the people who didn’t have as much experience to step up their game and show that NXT is the best brand in WWE and in the professional wrestling world. It’s amazing and really motivating. I’ve been around wrestling for almost 25 years and I’m still as hungry as when I first started because you’re around people that want the absolute best for the company.”

The Messiah of the Backbreaker was no exception to that. After making an immediate impact upon his arrival on NXT, he mixed it up with a number of exceptional athletes and had terrific matches with all of them.

One encounter of his fans may forget about was three years ago at TakeOver: San Antonio against Andrade. The two arguably stole the show that night, though that can be said about most matchups Strong has had during his lengthy stint on the black-and-gold brand.

“I thought my TakeOver match with Andrade…I really, really enjoyed that one,” Strong said. “There’s a bunch. For me, it’s all about the ones that come with special moments. Like, the stuff with Bobby Roode was really big to me because me and Bobby work really differently and the fact we gelled so well and we had a story, something different than I had ever done. I got to do something with that story, telling my life story, which is something I had wanted to do for years and he was the perfect person to mock and make fun of me for that. My stuff with Bobby is probably the stuff I hold in the highest regard just because there was so much behind it and it was something that meant a lot to me. But yeah, the list goes on.

“There’s been a lot of amazing guys I’ve had the opportunity to work with. I loved working with Eric Young. Andrade is amazing. That’s someone I really, really, really want to wrestle again. I think we’ve had maybe one or two singles matches. We really haven’t had the opportunity to work together too much and I thought we had great chemistry and he’s a good athlete, so you can do anything. I always loved working with Drew [McIntyre]. He’s so big, so to me, that’s the big challenge. He’s a mountain of a man, so I try to beat the ever living snot out of him and he does the same back to me and it’s fun. There’s a lot of them.”

Even as a seasoned veteran at this stage of his career, Strong remains willing to take on new challenges and go outside of his comfort zone. That’s why his recent rivalry with Dexter Lumis and everything that has stemmed from it has been such a breath of fresh air for him.

There’s no telling what kind of chaos will ensue when he and Lumis go head-to-head one final time at The Great American Bash, but he’s ready to make the most of it either way.

“As a performer, just in general, it’s nice to do something different. It’s not something I’ve ever had to do in my career,” Strong said about his upcoming Strap match. “It’s a very unique experience and part of the reason why I came to WWE because you get put in positions you normally wouldn’t be put in if you’re out in the indies or even in Ring of Honor. The challenge is fantastic to make it something that the people enjoy and I can enjoy and build this whole thing together with someone that I wouldn’t normally work with. It’s been a unique experience and a very fun one.”

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Even with another win on Wednesday night, Strong may not be tied to NXT for much longer depending on whether Cole can emerge from next week’s continuation of The Great American Bash still the NXT champion. No matter where they go from here, fans can always expect nothing short of greatness whenever Undisputed Era is around.

Catch Roderick Strong’s Strap match against Dexter Lumis this Wednesday on NXT: The Great American Bash at 8/7c, only on USA Network.