Sitting in his New Orleans hotel room, not far from the ongoing chaos on Bourbon Street, Jeffrey Sciullo—known best as WWE star Elias—had yet to learn his fate for WrestleMania 34, which was only hours away.
Midnight had already passed, officially making it the morning of WWE’s signature event. It would be hours before the sun would rise or the decadence of Bourbon Street would calm, but at this particular moment, on April 8, 2018, Elias eagerly awaited word on his role at his first-ever WrestleMania. A few weeks prior, Vince McMahon pulled Elias aside and said, “I’ve got an idea for you. I can’t tell you about it yet, but it’s going to be good.”
“I remember getting goosebumps when Vince said that to me,” Elias says. “He stressed that he couldn’t tell anyone yet. But I hadn’t heard anything for weeks, and now it’s the night before WrestleMania. I thought maybe I’d end up in the battle royale.”
Suddenly, as the clock approached 1 a.m., the phone lit up. The number calling had that familiar Stamford, Conn., area code, which made Elias reach for his cellphone.
“It was one of our talent relations guys,” Elias says. “He said, ‘We need you to come to the arena right now.’ And I said, ‘Really? Right now?’ And I was told there was a car waiting outside the hotel for me.”
Elias first broke into wrestling a decade prior in 2008, so he knew that always being ready was a necessity to thrive in the industry. He hopped in the waiting car and found himself at the WrestleMania rehearsal.
The viewing audience soon learned what Elias had discovered in that moment, which was that his role was to stand in John Cena’s way before the eventual Cena-Undertaker showdown. A note that the general public was not privy to was that a prolonged storyline featuring Cena, Elias and the Undertaker was also a possibility.
Elias was laid out with an Attitude Adjustment by Cena at WrestleMania 34. The following year at WrestleMania 35 marked Cena’s turn to cause a disturbance, cutting off an Elias concert at MetLife Stadium and once again laying him out. A similar scene occurred the following night on Raw with the Undertaker. There were more in-depth plans for Elias with Cena and Taker, but that was eventually interrupted with new plans that included Bill Goldberg and “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt.
“New Orleans, I’m in the mix with John and the Undertaker,” Elias says. “The next year, I’m in there with John and the Undertaker again—John at WrestleMania, the Undertaker the night next on Raw. I was supposed to go on and face the Undertaker at the show in Saudi Arabia. That never ended up happening because of Goldberg, but that was supposed to be my match.
“The year after was supposed to be myself against John Cena at WrestleMania in a three-year running story. Things obviously changed and that didn’t end up happening.”
Whether plans change or stick to the original story, Elias, the 32-year-old from Pittsburgh, has brought value to WWE programming. He returned last Monday on Raw to attack Jeff Hardy, continuing a storyline that began in May when it appeared an inebriated Hardy hit Elias with his car.
“There is a lot to this story,” Elias says. “I know people love Jeff Hardy. I grew up loving him, too. His wrestling ability and longevity, it’s amazing. But if there are people out there that think Elias, who was the man hit by a car, doesn’t know who was driving it, you’re in the wrong.”
The real reason for Elias’s prolonged television absence was his recovery from a torn pectoral muscle. He now feels confident to return to wrestling, but the injury was the source of a considerable amount of pain during his recovery.
“I don’t know if my chest will ever look the same that it was, but I feel strong,” Elias says. “When this happened, it sounded like a piece of paper getting ripped in half. But my strength is back. I’ve been training in the ring; I feel good and I’m ready.”
The time off allowed for a chance to fully immerse himself in his music. Elias’s newest album, Universal Truth, will be available on Oct. 26.
“I searched my soul during my down time, seeking truth, and that’s why I entitled the album Universal Truth,” Elias says. “It is different from the album I put out in 2018. That was very character-driven, and I loved that album, but this is different. It’s spiritual, it’s energy, it’s rock and roll. The lyrics are deep and meaningful. You’re going to feel the energy when you listen.
“With wrestling and music, I’m a bit of a madman when it comes to creativity. I always want more, I always want to tell the deepest, most real story we possibly can. And I want to blend my wrestling with my music. I’m grateful for all my opportunities in WWE, and I think they’re happy that I always want more.”
A fateful promo on Raw alongside Kevin Owens two years ago in Seattle provided a perfect snapshot of what Elias brings to WWE. When Elias dropped an insult about the city’s loss of the SuperSonics, the crowd erupted in a prolonged stretch of anger, and Elias showed his mastery of the moment by allowing the fans to voice their displeasure before further capitalizing upon his insult.
“I had no idea how hard that line would hit that city,” Elias says. “I had an idea they’d be upset, but I didn’t realize it would fire them up the way it did. The reaction, sustained anger and booing, it was incredible.”
One of the most striking parts of the scene is the manner in which Elias responded to the crowd’s fury.
“I put my hands on my guitar and my pick in my mouth and thought, ‘This is for them; let them let their anger out,’” Elias says. “Every week on Raw, I was firing up those crowds, but Seattle went above and beyond. The only comparison I’ve heard is the Raw after WrestleMania 33 when Roman Reigns beat the Undertaker, and there was a long, sustained boo. But that was following the main event of WrestleMania opening the next night of Raw. This was an Elias concert in the middle of Raw in October. That speaks to the power of Elias and the groundwork that’s been laid.
“When I got to the back, Paul Heyman was sitting there and clapping for me. He shook my hand, and I’ll leave the expletives out of it, but Paul said to me, ‘That is how you do it.’”
A program with the beloved Jeff Hardy now presents a new opportunity for Elias. Depending on the level of its success, it is not out of the question to ask whether a healthy Elias can elevate himself into the main event picture.
“This story is going to be fun,” Elias says. “I grew up a huge wrestling fan, and I love when stories make sense and fans can connect the dots in their own mind as to why things are happening, along with some mystery and reveal.
“I know exactly what is ahead of me, and I’m ready for it. I’m willing to put all my effort into my story. I’m ready for Jeff Hardy, and I’ll be ready for big stories with guys like Drew McIntyre and A.J. Styles. Jeff can be a stepping stone right to that main event picture.”
Making the most of every opportunity has been a staple thus far in Elias’s career. Though there have been shifts between heel and babyface, he is ready to re-establish his character now that he is back to being a weekly presence on television. He had the time off to chart out his return and plans to capitalize upon new opportunities on Raw, including the release of his new album.
“What can I do to make sure people remember me?” Elias says. “That’s become my mantra. There are so many ways you can go with the Elias character.
“Whether it’s someone on the active roster or a legend like John Cena, people know that I’m going to make it entertaining.”