Fandango on WWE NXT: ‘It’s made me fall back in love with wrestling’

WWE NXT Tag Title Belt
WWE NXT Tag Title Belt /

WWE NXT star Fandango chats with Daily DDT about how returning to the black-and-gold brand reignited his love for wrestling, what it means to him to be a part of the 2021 Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, advice for newcomers to the main roster, and more.

This week’s episode of WWE NXT will see the kickoff of the 2021 Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, including Breezango vs. Undisputed Era’s Adam Cole and Roderick Strong in first-round action.

Although Undisputed Era previously won the cup in 2018, Breezango has never received the chance to even compete for it. An injury kept Fandango on the shelf for the first half of 2020 and caused him and Tyler Breeze to miss that year’s installment.

Fandango vows to rebound this year, starting with a win over the multi-time NXT Tag Team champions this Wednesday night on USA Network. The former ballroom dancer admits that he has long been a fan of Cole and has wanted to work with him for a while now, whereas he’s already familiar with Strong from their time spent on the northeast independent wrestling scene together.

“Breeze and I have been fans of them, so you kind of watch their stuff over the years and you get a feel for their move-set,” he told Daily DDT in an exclusive interview conducted on Tuesday. “I’ve been watching Roddy’s matches back over the last week and he brings it. He’s got a tough style, which I like, and it’s hard-hitting. We’ve been paying attention to them and obviously, they’ve been in the tag team title picture. We’re really looking forward to it.”

Fandango remembers Dusty Rhodes and his original run in NXT

In addition to Undisputed Era, Fandango is excited to mix it up with Grizzled Young Veterans again in the Dusty Classic. The two teams met a few weeks back in a match that was won by the former NXT UK Tag Team Champions.

On the subject of The American Dream, Fandango recalled his time learning from him during his developmental days in Florida Championship Wrestling, calling him an “absolute genius” whose best attribute was being able to read his pupils and knowing how to connect with the various personalities and egos.

“I’ve been thinking about Dusty a lot this week and he really went to bat for me a lot,” he said. “He believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. I was a young kid at the time, 23 or 24, down in Florida Championship Wrestling with Steve Keirn. I was getting called up to do live events in 2007 or 2008, I was fresh into the company. I was a young kid, and on the indies, you didn’t cut a lot of promos. You go out and wrestle because you’re not TV-driven on the independent scene. Dusty pulled me into his office and said, ‘When we’re doing promo day, you can’t mess this up. You can’t mess this up, kid.'”

Fandango added that the WWE Hall of Famer had a way of building everyone’s confidence up and that he touched everyone on today’s WWE roster in some form or fashion. After missing the cup last year due to an injury, it means a lot to him to be involved this year alongside Breeze.

Shortly following his FCW stint, Fandango made his WWE TV debut as Johnny Curtis on NXT in late 2010, back when the black-and-gold brand was still a competition-style show. He wound up winning Season 4 in March 2011, which ultimately earned him a spot on the SmackDown roster.

The former NXT Tag Team champion took the time to reflect on his original run in NXT and how cool it’s been to be a part of its evolution over the last decade: “We started off in 2010 with it being a reality show and going to TV every week and thinking, ‘Oh, man, what do we got this week? Is it a hot dog eating contest or is it an obstacle course?’ Now, 10 years later with NXT being the third brand, I’m proud of the locker room. These guys have made me step my game up and it reminds me of when I first got into wrestling. It’s a wrestling-based show and I’m excited to get there every week and really step my game up. The talent there is unbelievable. It’s really cool to see the evolution over the last 10 years from a reality show where you’re doing obstacle courses to just a really good wrestling show.”

Would advice would Fandango give to newcomers on the WWE main roster?

Fandango’s NXT Season 4 victory was supposed to lead him to getting a tag team title opportunity with his pro, R-Truth, but Truth’s heel turn in the spring of 2011 caused those plans to be scrapped. He instead tried out a new gimmick that summer on SmackDown that also eventually abandoned.

After spinning his wheels throughout much of 2012 (and getting that long-awaited tag title shot with Michael McGillicutty against Team Hell No on an episode of NXT), he re-debuted on the main roster as eccentric ballroom dancer Fandango and immediately made an impact by targeting Chris Jericho, who he beat in his in-ring debut at WrestleMania 29.

On the next night’s Raw, Fandango’s catchy entrance music got over huge with the audience and seemed to cement him as a star. Unfortunately, that marked the peak of his popularity and he was relegated to an undercard role on the roster from there.

When asked if he’d change anything about his arrival on the main roster and if it was too much too soon, Fandango stressed that while he tries not to harp on what’s already happened, he advises all up-and-comers to keep growing so that they can remain relevant longer.

“I try not to live in the past a lot and I try not to dwell on it too much because I’m so excited about the future,” he revealed. “My advice to any young guys that come up and get a big push out of the gate: be prepared when they don’t have something for you. Be ready to pitch new ideas and something else to evolve into. Be ready for the next thing. Don’t bank on your one big push. Keep evolving your character, keep evolving your promos. That’s one thing I would tell 2013 me.”

A myriad of injuries also played a part in his stalled momentum on Raw and SmackDown. Before taking time off in the first half of 2020 to undergo surgery, he suffered a torn labrum back in 2018 that sidelined him for over a year.

Despite his long layoff, retirement never once crossed his mind.

“Unfortunately, I’ve been setting up rings since I was 15 and have been wrestling since 1999, so I’m not really qualified to do a hell of a lot else besides be in the sports-entertainment business,” Fandango laughed. “I don’t think I’m going to retire for a few more years and I definitely didn’t think I was going to retire in 2018 after my labrum surgery. I’m still in great shape now and going to NXT has really sparked my love for the wrestling business again. The competition, the time to go out there and really have a good wrestling match… It’s made me fall back in love with wrestling.”

Fandango on returning to NXT and his goals going forward

Needless to say, returning to NXT was the best career move Fandango could have made upon his return from injury in 2019.

Breeze was the first to go back to the brand in Fandango’s absence in May 2019. He unsuccessfully challenged for the NXT North American Championship at TakeOver: XXV before finally reuniting with Fandango that summer.

Fandango revealed that he actually requested to return to NXT because that was where he felt Breezango would be able to show what they were truly capable of as both characters and wrestlers.

“I’m actually the one who asked to go to NXT,” he said. “I wanted to go there and I wanted to go back and team with Breeze. I think there was more left in the tank with both of us as Breezango and I knew going to NXT we’d get more time to go and show people what we can do in the ring. I think the Fashion Files on SmackDown was a good way for us to showcase our personalities and our abilities to cut promos and do backstage skits, which was great.

“It’s cool to have such a diverse body of work, being able to show people you can be entertaining and do goofy stuff and be a good character, but I knew going to NXT would allow us to show that we can actually go in the ring,” he continued. “As I look at a complete professional wrestler, I look at their full body of work over their career. You can check off the boxes: comedy, the promos, and I think going to NXT has shown that we can both really go in the ring which means a lot to me because I take pride in that.”

Winning this year’s Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic obviously leads his list of current goals, but beyond that, he has his sights set on becoming a two-time tag team champion in the near future. He teased branching back off into singles competition at some point as well.

“I think we’d like to get another shot at the tag team titles,” he said. “A nice, long run and have a good series of matches with Undisputed Era, Oney [Lorcan] and [Danny] Burch, and Grizzled Young Veterans. It’s such a stacked tag team division in NXT. That’s our goal together, and who knows? One day down the road, there could be one last singles run for this grizzled young vet. Old ‘Dango is going to come out and do his “best of” tour like KISS and Aerosmith. I think we have a little left in the tank, Breeze and I. If there’s a singles run down the road, I wouldn’t mind doing that as well.”

Fandango’s favorite matches and entrances

Winning the NXT Tag Team Championship with Breeze from Imperium in August is among Fandango’s favorite matches he’s had in WWE, along with when he battled Randy Orton on an episode of Raw in 2013 and took the former world champion to the limit.

“I remember having a match with Randy Orton, maybe in the summer of 2013,” he recalled. “That was the first time we’d ever wrestled. Just being in the ring with him, man, it’s art. It’s cool to be there and experience someone of that caliber of talent. The guy is the best of our generation. I could definitely feel when we were in there the chemistry. I’d love to be able to get in there with him again. In NXT, it’s definitely winning the tag team titles. It was a really emotional moment for both of us because of all the injuries and how long we’ve been tagging over the last five years. Lot of ups and downs, more downs than ups, but it meant a lot to us and we worked really hard to get there.”

Even more memorable than their matches are Breezeango’s various entrances, which have seen them dress up as everything from police officers to astronauts. They even mocked Imperium before one of their in-ring encounters late last year and nailed the impersonation.

As entertaining as their walkouts have been so far, Fandango promises that the best is yet to come. In fact, he hopes to parody every iconic entrance in WWE history before long, a la Charlie Haas in 2008 or Dolph Ziggler in 2017.

Above all else, enjoying what they’re doing will always remain Breezango’s top priority.

“There was a guy back in in Power Pro Wrestling back in the late ’90s, which was kind of a feeder system for WWE at the time,” he said. “He did every talent’s entrance, so I always thought it’d be a cool idea to come out as DX one week and John Cena. Even your opponent, like when we wrestled Imperium. We dressed as them to get under their skin. We did a Halloween show last year and it was my favorite entrance of all-time. I was dressed as a banana and Breeze was dressed as a pickle. We’re in the Gorilla getting ready to go through the curtain and looking at each other. I’m 36-years-old at the time and Breeze is 32, 33 and I’m like, ‘What the hell?’ [Laughs] They’re paying us to do this. Whenever we take ourselves too seriously with what they’re doing, I think back to that moment. It’s just fun, man, and we’re getting paid to have fun.”

Don’t miss Breezango in action against Undisputed Era this Wednesday on WWE NXT at 8/7c on USA Network.