WWE has a new “Mr. Money in the Bank,” and it is Heavy Machinery’s Otis.
And yes. He is equally surprised as WWE fans by this development.
“I found out and was like, ‘What?’” said Otis. “When the briefcase got into my hands, that’s when it felt real. I remember watching the first ‘Money in the Bank’ match at WrestleMania, and it blows my mind that I woke up right next to it this morning.”
This year’s Money in the Bank ladder match was the first of its kind, taped in advance at WWE headquarters in Stamford, Conn., taking place throughout the office building, and ending on the roof. Otis was surrounded in the match by some top stars, including Daniel Bryan, AJ Styles and Rey Mysterio.
“Those guys are all-pro, and it was so much fun working with them,” said Otis. “I loved Daniel Bryan kicking me right in the chest. Once we all got together, the ideas were flowing.”
Whether it was brawling, providing comic relief, or starting a food fight, Otis made the most of his on-screen time. But it appeared he was only part of the ensemble, there to help enhance the work of whomever emerged victorious, which is why it was so surprising when viewers saw the briefcase fall into his hands.
“I’ve heard I’m just a big man comedy wrestler,” said Otis. “I’ll admit it, I’m always the loud one in the room. But when it’s time for business, it’s time for business. Can I be in the main event? Let’s do it. If I sink, then that’s on me. I love wrestling, and I’m going to show people that I can do it.”
Otis is 28-year-old Nikola Bogojevic. A former amateur wrestler from Minnesota, he was in the business for a year before signing with WWE in 2016. He built some notoriety in NXT as part of the Heavy Machinery tag team with Tucker Knight, but his career reached new levels of popularity once he entered into a storyline with Mandy Rose in December.
One of the lasting takeaways from this year’s WrestleMania was the moment between Otis and Mandy, and members of WWE’s creative team were impressed by the way their work resonated with the audience.
“We’re building off that momentum,” said Otis. “Working with Mandy is amazing. She’s humble and generous. She’s great backstage, too. Once she gets going and starts laughing, I start laughing. That’s when Dolph starts laughing, and then Sonya starts popping. It’s been so much fun, and I’ve been blessed to work with Tucky and now Mandy. With them, it just flows on camera.”
Wrestling is operating in a new realm with empty arena matches, making this an opportune time to find innovative ways to connect with the fan base. This was on display in a more cinematic-based Money in the Bank ladder match, as well as with a surprise winner in Otis.
“I worked with Aleister Black in NXT, but it was my first time working with a lot of those guys,” said Otis. “The last couple scenes we filmed were in the weight room, and AJ was so scared to have that bar dropped on him. I kept telling him, ‘Don’t worry, I’m as strong as an ox,’ but I hope I didn’t get him too bad in the sternum.
“I don’t know if many people know this, but I’m scared of heights. I like my feet in the ring. Maybe the second rope, but no top rope for me. Being all the way up on the roof was tough, but the response on social media and from my friends and family about the match has been awesome.”
One of the most memorable scenes involved a food fight that was ignited once Otis drilled a plate of potato and pasta salad into the face of Paul Heyman.
“Paul was all for it,” said Otis. “I was looking around that table and said, ‘What should I toss at you?’ There was that big, massive plate with the pastas and sandwiches, and I said, ‘Sorry, sir, about your suit.’ And you can’t not throw it hard when you throw something like that, so I brought it.”
Heyman was an early influence in Otis’s development dating back to his time in NXT.
“I first met Paul at a promo class at NXT, and there is something about the way he motivates,” said Otis. “I remember when he first talked to Heavy Machinery. I was so pumped up I wanted to run through a wall. He’s that motivating.”
Otis brings new life into the main-event picture. In a scripted world, his work feels unpredictable. He brings a unique charisma and personality to WWE, relating to fans in a different manner than larger-than-life figures like Drew McIntyre and Braun Strowman. The muscular Otis is 5’10” and built more like a round mound of ground and pound.
“We’re all short and stocky on my mom’s side,” he explained. “My mom was raised by my great grandmother, who is our connection to wrestling. She was a big Greek woman—5’5, 285 pounds—and wrestled in carnivals back in the day. She passed away before I was born so I never had the chance to meet her, but my mother always tells me how proud she would be of me. I was really proud to represent my family this week, especially since Sunday was Mother’s Day and last Thursday was my mom’s birthday.”
The future remains unwritten for Otis. Can he capitalize upon his Money in the Bank momentum for a run with the Universal title? Or will his main event run be fleeting, joining a list of talent who failed to attain top tier stardom? Instead of offering a prediction about what comes next, he chose to thank the people who helped him create his magic thus far.
“I wouldn’t be here right now if it wasn’t for the support I’ve had,” said Otis. “I’m super blessed with my friends and family, I’m grateful for every coach I had in amateur wrestling, and thankful for my old bosses. I just talked to one who I worked for at a bar in college, and I’m so proud to show him what I’m doing.
“Walking into airports and feeling the love from WWE fans, it’s amazing. I couldn’t believe how people were responding at our shows, and I had no idea I would be so beloved. When we wrestled in Paris, they were chanting ‘O-teese!’ I had to ask Tucky what they were saying, and he said, ‘They’re saying your name!’ This has all been crazy. I’m having a great time, enjoying life, working out, and eating good to keep my power belly. I’m super grateful, and can’t thank the universe enough.”
As for when he will cash-in his Money in the Bank contract, Otis laughed that he is ready to do it right away.
“You never know when I’m going to cash-in, but I’m not one to wait,” said Otis. “I think it’s going to be sooner than later.”