Bronson Reed is the new NXT North American champion.
The 32-year-old, whose name is Jermaine Haley, defeated Johnny Gargano in a cage match last week on NXT to win the belt. A 14-year wrestling pro, the moment marks the highest level of notoriety he has reached thus far in his career.
Growing up in Adelaide, Australia, a future in WWE appeared to be a very distant goal. But the 6-foot 330-pounder remained determined in his pursuit of excellence. His persistence paid off as he now brings a style and charisma to NXT unmatched by any of his peers.
Speaking with Sports Illustrated, Reed discussed the win against Gargano, his unique style and what comes next in his reign as North American champ.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Sports Illustrated: The end of the match had some strong attention to detail. Instead of exiting through the cage door, you climbed the ropes, then squashed Gargano with a Tsunami. How did you come up with that finishing sequence?
Bronson Reed: I wanted to become the North American champion emphatically. I didn’t need to escape the cage. That’s not what Bronson Reed does. Bronson Reed gets to the top and hits that Tsunami.
SI: The final five minutes of that match just kicked into a whole other gear. Could you feel the momentum and the electricity building?
BR: Yeah, 100%. The people that we do have there, the NXT Universe, they were very receptive to the moment. I could feel them. They started to rally behind me, and that made it even more special.
SI: Have you had a chance to watch the match? The Vic Joseph call really added to the moment.
BR: I have been able to watch it back on Peacock, and there’s a reason I thanked the broadcasters [after the match]. They’re very much our unsung heroes for what we do. They’re the ones that are able to paint the picture for the ones at home, and it adds so much to the match to have people who are great at what they do calling it.
SI: Missing the commentary, that’s always my one regret whenever I cover a show live. The broadcast in wrestling, especially when done right, can completely enhance the narrative.
BR: I agree. And you need Wade Barrett to say, “Tsunami!” You need it.
SI: We’re officially off-track, but Wade Barrett’s return to NXT, and the value he has added to the show, is such a wonderful story.
BR: 100%. I was a fan of his work before as a performer, and now I’m a big fan of his work as a broadcaster, too.
SI: Would it have meant more to win the title a few weeks ago at NXT TakeOver: Stand & Deliver? Or was it more meaningful here—especially since that TakeOver was built around world title changes both nights—since this show was built around you?
BR: Going into Stand & Deliver, I wanted to become North American champion. But things happen for a reason, and there are some things you can’t script. Last Tuesday marked the 14-year anniversary of the first time I stepped into the ring for my debut match. My wife was actually the one to remind me, so it was written in the stars that that’s the night I became North American champion.
SI: Recently, WWE has showcased a handful of talents from Australia. Quite a few—Rhea Ripley, Indi Hartwell, Buddy Murphy, Peyton Royce, Billie Kay and Toni Storm—have been champions. Do you feel as though you’re representing all of Australia, as well as people who are determined to take a different route to WWE?
BR: I pride myself on being a countryman, being someone for people. I’m so proud to be representation for people from Australia. And I’m proud to represent the journeyman. I took the hard route to get where I got, and I wouldn’t change a thing. I loved being on the independents. I loved being able to wrestle in Japan. Those things make a performer. That’s nothing against those that get here a little quicker, but for those of us with all those years on the road, it all accumulates and makes you a better professional wrestler.
SI: Walk us through that morning last Tuesday. How do you stay focused on anything else when you know, later that night, you are getting a career-defining win?
BR: It was very hard. There were butterflies. I woke up, I got ready and the whole day, that’s what was in my mind. Not only was I becoming champion, but I wanted to make the match memorable. It was very hard to keep my mind focused.
SI: It’s great that your wife was with you for the moment. I know you were the one in the ring for the match, but it’s as though you’ve accomplished this journey together.
BR: This is as much her journey as it is mine. I’ve been with my wife since I was a teenager. She’s actually seen me since before I was a wrestler, when I was this huge wrestling fan and dreamed of one day getting to WWE. That seems like a big dream, especially when you’re from a really small town in Australia. She supported me the whole way, and it meant a lot to have her there.
SI: Your hometown is Adelaide?
BR: Yes. It’s a capital city, but one of the smaller capital cities in Australia. A lot of the country sort of rags on Adelaide for being smaller and because not much happens there, but now we have two champions in WWE from Adelaide with myself and Rhea Ripley, so we’re showing them.
There were no Australians in WWE when I was growing up that were successful. When I started in 2007, I knew it was going to be a tough route. I just decided I’d be the best professional wrestler I could be, and I set Japan as a goal. I started to achieve my goal, and it’s like the floodgates suddenly opened. Australians were getting opportunities in WWE, so I made sure to focus on getting to where I wanted to be.
SI: Especially considering you are so far from home, what did it mean to have your wife in the ring with you in the ring as you celebrated the title win? Was that your idea?
BR: I made sure she was there to watch. It meant a lot to have her there, and it’s the first time in over a year she’s come to a live event. Right before the show was about to begin, I said to Triple H, “Hey, my wife’s going to be here.” I thought we could embrace outside the ring after the match. Triple H said to bring her into the ring, and I was very grateful for that.
It was very real. We didn’t script it, and I didn’t script breaking down in the ring. My wife had actually asked me if I’d break down in the ring and cry, and I said, “No way! I’ll be holding the title up and it will look really cool.” And then I cried. So there are some things you can’t plan.
SI: When WWE returns to Australia, who would you like for an opponent at the show?
BR: I can’t wait to return to my homeland and wrestle on the big stage in front of fans, family, and performers. I’d be down for an intergender tag match where I get to tag with Rhea Ripley. That’s something we both want to do, and maybe it will happen in the future.
SI: Reflecting on your journey, what is the most meaningful lesson you have learned in your 14 years in pro wrestling?
BR: Often, we’re so focused on the dark side of the ring, but there are so many positives, too. I’ve found a new sense of positivity. If you are negative, the more negative things are going to happen. The more I embrace the positive, having fun, the better things come to me. Positivity breeds positivity. Things seem to be working, and I’m very grateful for that.
I’ll never forget when I first started, my coach said to me, “Pro wrestling owes you nothing.” I’ve always had that in the back of my head. Even if for some reason I wasn’t able to get to WWE, I was still able to make all these friends and have these crazy moments that I’ll remember forever.
SI: You were recently discussing the Rob Van Dam–Bam Bam Bigelow match where RVD won the TV title in ECW.
BR: I love that match. Bam Bam was incredible.
SI: You have worn gear inspired by the legends before, like when you had a great tribute to Bam Bam at TakeOver XXX. Was it Earthquake who you choose to honor this past week?
BR: For me, I think representation is a big thing. I’ve always been a bigger person, even as a kid. I was a chubby kid. That could be hard at school. Seeing someone like Bam Bam Bigelow, throwing his jacket at Salt-N-Pepa [at WrestleMania XI], he was the man. That was inspiring for me. Another inspiration for me was Dusty Rhodes. He made it cool to be whatever you wanted to be. That’s what I want to do. And I want to do more inspirational-type throwback gear. This one in the cage match wasn’t supposed to be Earthquake or Typhoon. I am a very big fan of the Natural Disasters. I actually have their Hasbro [action figures] sitting in front of me. That was a gear I had on the indies, so it’s a throwback to that, and it’s the colors of the home promotion where I grow up. But it was the same colors as the Natural Disasters, which I also love.
SI: When I think of Earthquake, I always think back to his match against Hercules at WrestleMania VI. You could feel the intensity in every step he took. John Tenta was just perfect as that character.
BR: John Tenta was an incredible performer. I hit the Earthquake on Johnny Gargano at one point in the match, and I hope people enjoy those throwbacks. One day, I’ll do the blue Earthquake gear with the yellow going through.
SI: The whole presentation as “Colossal” Bronson Reed is working so well. The music fits, as does the gear, the personality and the presence. And big men hold a special lore in pro wrestling. You mix power moves with high-flying, which is especially captivating to watch when someone with your size flies so gracefully. From the evolution as Jonah Rock to Bronson Reed, how did you develop your style?
BR: I was always a bigger kid. When I started, I was probably 50 pounds lighter. I really wanted to get bigger, so I got into power lifting, and I did get bigger, but I made sure I could still do things like jump off the top rope and do a moonsault. That’s a balance I needed to keep. I think hybrid athletes, like myself or Keith Lee, are something special to see.
SI: In the back of your mind, were you already planning out your championship photo pose with Triple H?
BR: The finger-point photo has become iconic. It’s definitely something I wanted to have happen when I joined NXT, and it’s surreal that it’s happened.
SI: What comes next for you as champion? How do you add value to the title?
BR: I am such a different performer, so I hope I bring something to the championship that others haven’t. Also, earlier we mentioned the Rob Van Dam run with the ECW [World] Television title—that’s what I am looking to accomplish. Not so much the lengthiness of his run, though that would be incredible, but he elevated that championship to be almost the main title. That’s how I want people to see the North American championship. If this title is being defended on the same night as the NXT title, I hope people want to see this title defended more. That’s what I want to do for this belt.
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Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.