- Tyler Breeze sat down with Justin Barrasso to discuss his return to NXT and his lessons learned from his time on the main WWE roster.
Tyler Breeze is back in NXT, and he is set to challenge Velveteen Dream for the North American championship at this Saturday’s TakeOver: XXV.
Sitting beside by his two dogs—rescues pit-mix Tigger and Australian cattle dog Kanga—the 31-year-old Breeze (Mattias Clement) spoke with Sports Illustrated about his return to NXT.
Breeze touched on lessons learned from his time on the main WWE roster, shared some of his prior career frustrations, as well as laid out his goals in NXT, beginning this Saturday against Dream.
Justin Barrasso: You were an integral piece in the build of NXT. Your original run, which took place from 2013 to 2015, included a match at the first-ever NXT TakeOver in May of 2014, defeating Sami Zayn.
What gave you the inspiration to return to NXT?
Tyler Breeze: I’m making a lateral move. It’s because of utilization. If you look at our roster on Raw and SmackDown, there are a ton of talented people. Even with five hours of TV a week, not everyone is going to get on television.
This happens with a lot of people. Look at Shinsuke Nakamura, for example. People say, ‘Shinsuke should be on TV every week.’ But to get him on, you’re taking off somebody else. And then people say, ‘Well hey, it’s awesome we have Shinsuke, but we want more AJ.’ As much as you want to put everybody on the roster on every show, then you’d get a bunch of three- or four-minute matches, which people don’t want to see, either. You can’t fit everyone on there.
There are people in the Performance Center still learning, whether it’s creating a persona like the Velveteen Dream or Tyler Breeze, and you need to get the practice and get the reps. In terms of what we built in 2014 and 2015, NXT is now very much on the same playing field as Raw and SmackDown in terms of viewership, match quality and the Performance Center. I have something to offer NXT, and they want to utilize it.
Barrasso: Your ascension to stardom was building after you were paired with Fandango in the Fashion Police. Unfortunately, he endured a left labrum tear in his shoulder and has been out of action since July of 2018. How did his injury impact your career?
Breeze: Dango’s been hurt for about a year now, and that derailed a lot of stuff. I’ve really been doing nothing for a year.
For me, the past four years has gone by very, very quickly. You don’t even realize it when you’re on the go all the time and you’re traveling and working. With Dango getting injured, I took a step back and said, ‘I’m still young. I’m healthy. What am I going to do from here?’
There is not a lot of real estate on Raw or SmackDown, but NXT is very fond to me. I was there at the very first taping when we tested out Full Sail to see if we’d even be able to use it, I was at the very first TakeOver. I was a part of every stepping stone along the way. Now we find ourselves here at TakeOver XXV, and it’s crazy to me that we’re at 25. I saw TakeOver coming up, I had something to offer, and I would have been a fool to turn down something like this.
I need to perform. I need to get fulfillment from what I do. Luckily, we have platforms all over, whether it’s social media, Raw, SmackDown or NXT. There are ways to be proactive, or you can sit behind if you’re OK with that. Personally, I’m not OK with that.
Barrasso: What makes the Velveteen Dream the right opponent for you?
Breeze: As soon as the Velveteen Dream started hitting his groove, this became a match I dreamed about. And the fact that we’re actually making it happen is pretty cool. It’s raising a lot of questions and a debate between older NXT fans and newer NXT fans. The newer fans know me as the guy from the Fashion Police; they don’t know my previous work. So I get to show this new, revitalized side of myself, and the people who remember me in NXT know this is going to be cool. There is a lot of fulfillment coming from this match and this opportunity.
Barrasso: You were dynamic during your first run in NXT, but your work is so much more polished now. You have also enhanced your presence in the ring, especially with subtleties and nuances like selling. The deceiving part is you look the same, as if you didn’t age. But what is different about your total ensemble now as opposed to then?
Breeze: I was in my mid-20s then. I’ve grown up a lot since then. I’ve traveled the world on Raw and SmackDown.
If you watched the video package that aired on Wednesday night, Velveteen Dream says something like, ‘Tyler Breeze couldn’t hack it on Raw and SmackDown.’ To be honest, I’d be a little disappointed if he didn’t touch on that. It’s so glaringly obvious. It’s reality.
The past four years, I have been there [on the main roster], and I haven’t been utilized, in some people’s eyes, to my full potential. It’s very easy to say, ‘You can’t hack it, you’re not good enough, you don’t still have it.’ Those are the easy jabs I was expecting. But that’s great for him because it takes the focus away from the fact that Dream has never had a chance to do that. He’s never been a part of a WrestleMania; I’ve been a part of four. He’s never been a part of Raw or SmackDown; I’ve been on there for four years. Those shots are easy, but they won’t knock me off my game. I’ve been wrestling for 12 years, and I remember when I was like that.
People have asked, ‘Does Breeze still have it?’ I never lost it. I’ve just been utilizing a different set of skills with “The Fashion Files.” Tyson Kidd brings this up to me all the time. When they used to flash that “Fashion Files” graphic up on the screen, people used to clap like they were at a play. Tyson said he’d never seen anything like that. That lasted for eight months. I explored a whole other side. It’s never easy to make people laugh, but me and Dango had a hell of a time. And that experience made me a more complete performer.
Barrasso: You had an entertaining match with Jushin Thunder Liger at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn in August of 2015. At the time of the match, Liger was 50 and you were 27. Clearly the age gap is immensely different with Dream, as you are 31 and he is 23, but can this match show how you are a resource for younger talent?
Breeze: Let’s look at that from a numbers standpoint. NXT airs their content on Wednesday. Then they put it up on YouTube. They normally get about 60,000-70,000 views. When they put myself and Velveteen’s segment online, they got over 600,000 views. That’s a big increase.
When I wrestled Liger, that was a big deal. But he was so used to it. This moment will be so big for Dream, but I’ve walked out in front of over 100,000 people. I’m used to this. Dream is ready for it, but he’s not used to it.
Barrasso: Your ambition has not wavered during your time off television. You just started a wrestling school with Shawn Spears (formerly Tye Dillinger), and you now have the opportunity to recreate magic in NXT. Losing Fandango to injury was a setback, but are you happy with the current direction of your career?
Breeze: I’ll be honest—the past year has not been very fulfilling for me. But I stepped back and reassessed where I am. I’m very much looking forward to everything I do, including stepping in the ring.
The wrestling school, that’s part of my goals. I get a huge fulfillment out of teaching people how to do this properly and safely. And we’ll see what happens when Dango gets back.
The whole goal for me is no negativity. It’s so easy to be negative about everything–how you’re used, how you’re not used, comparing yourself to other people. But I got all the negativity out of my life. I’m back to enjoying what I do.
Barrasso: What can people expect from you at TakeOver XXV?
Breeze: You’ll get your money’s worth. NXT has a reputation for delivering every single time. If you have seen a TakeOver, you know you can’t miss it. It’s going to be can’t-miss, top-notch, and Tyler Breeze will make sure that happens.
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.