Being a chosen one is seldom a guarantee for success in WWE. Just ask Austin Theory.
The current United States champion may be on the verge of a marquee match with his childhood hero John Cena at WrestleMania 39, but his stay on the main roster has been anything but straightforward, so far.
Remember the golden egg? Or that failed Money In The Bank cash-in? Or the ‘Daddy’s Not Here, Anymore’ promo Roman Reigns dropped on the 25-year-old, last summer?
At one time, the Atlanta native was a smug, selfie taking heel being given an incredibly heavy handed push, under the tutelage of Vince McMahon.
Fast forward to the present day and the push is still in effect, but it’s taken a few swift changes of direction to reach the originally planned location.
From Lackey To Lofty Heights
Austin Theory has undergone serious character development, evolving an edge to his game that was previously vacant. Whereas this time last year he felt like a lackey, now he feels like a main eventer in waiting.
A ‘Mania outing with John Cena should further cement that position.
Since taking over creative, Triple H has made Theory one of his most prominent projects. The NXT Alumnus originally appeared to be doomed. His attempted Money In The Bank cash-ins a series of failures, all more humiliating than the last.
The cash-in seemed to further humble Theory. Until the United States champion switched things up and suddenly, over the course of several stunning performance laden months, trading bangers with the likes of Seth Rollins and Bobby Lashley, he became a credible threat to everybody above him in the pecking order.
Austin Theory is now a million miles away from his time in Johnny Garagano’s ‘The Way’ in NXT.
But it was in NXT where Theory learned some of the most important lessons of his career. It was where he sat under the learning tree of two-time WWE Hall of Famer, The Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels.
A Hall of Fame Education
When speaking exclusively to SPORF recently, Theory shared the knowledge and experience that was bestowed upon him by the four time World Champion during his formative NXT run in Orlando.
“Shawn Michaels was a big help. I remember having a notebook and being in his class and writing a lot of stuff down. It’s so cool to see, especially Shawn Michaels, getting his viewpoint on things and how he would do things and how he would change them.
“With Shawn, it was about being a star and how you treat yourself during certain parts of the match and the specifics of that sort of stuff. I remember we would go in and watch our matches back, because Shawn wanted to ask like ‘what were you thinking here?’
“So I would say with him, man, it’s just cool to see, especially from somebody that’s done all the things that Shawn Michaels has done, that sort of insight into like, one of the matches I’d had at an NXT live event.”
Theory also credits Terry Taylor, Scotty 2 Hotty, Steve Corino and Norman Smiley with a lot of his development during his Florida days. But when it comes to passing on the wit and wisdom of some of the industry’s finest teachers, what advice would Theory share with the stars of tomorrow?
“I would say keep your ears open. Before you speak, make sure you know what you’re talking about and be ready to experience a lot. There’s a lot of opinions, there’s a lot of coaches, there’s a lot of classes and a lot of situations in WWE period.
“You’ve got to take every situation and every piece of advice or critique and find yourself and figure out ‘hmm, that doesn’t really work for me’ or ‘OK, that sounds pretty good’. But it’s just being able to listen. Just being open to everything.
“I like being able to learn but at the same time I know when something is or isn’t right for my character. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to listen. It’s about showing that respect.”
Working Through The Bumps
But even with all the legendary lessons in the world to learn from, none of it means anything if you don’t know how to work through the pain barrier of a gruelling WWE schedule.
And this is where Theory credits his work out regime, keeping his battered and bruised frame in one piece. Which is lucky, as this is a lad who has, in this past year, acted as a battering ram for Bobby Lashley on more than one occasion and also had some pretty chaotic encounters with Brock Lesnar.
“It’s the working out that saves me. It keeps me healthy because getting slammed and bumping around, it definitely adds up.There are times where I’m definitely feeling it and it can just be something like getting a massage or going to the Chiro and making sure I put in time for that kind of stuff. You don’t want to ignore it when you’re doing this every week.
“For me a regular day at the gym, I like to break my fitness up into body parts. So there’s a hamstring day, there’s a shoulder day, there’s a chest day.
“It’s all about that muscle-to-mind connection. So I could get on a machine and try and exercise and I’m not really feeling it. I’m not gonna sit there and just keep doing it. I like to go with whatever feels right on that day.
“A workout for me isn’t super long. I’d say the longest is like an-hour-and-a-half.
“I’m on TV every week, so there’s my motivation. I’m a WWE Superstar and I want to be at the top of my game. It’s easy for me to say, I guess. But there are those days, man, where it’s just me and I gotta do this for myself. But for those people who aren’t WWE Superstars and are looking for that motivation to get to the gym, you gotta remember that no one is gonna do it for you.
“At the end of the day it’s all on you. One of the hardest things is just showing up. Just remember, it’s just you, at the end of the day.”
And for Austin Theory, at the biggest show of the year, it’s going to be just him. Because we won’t be able to see his opponent.
Until then, though, there’s just the small matter of the Elimination Chamber. The barbaric multi-man cage match that Theory will defend his United States Title in on Saturday 18th February.
Whether or not Theory survives with his title in tact, the former EVOLVE Champion is still on course for a banner year in WWE.
Austin Theory defending his United States Title will take place at WWE Elimination Chamber, live from the Bell Center in Montreal, Quebec, will be available to stream on Saturday 18th February via the WWE Network
Featured Image Credit: WWE