Tonight NXT North American Champion Keith Lee is looking to even the score after last week's brutal ambush from Damian Priest. That encounter left Lee with a bruised larynx, but he's not going to let that stop him from making an example of Priest in the ring. Despite not being 100%, Lee still took some time to chat with ComicBook.com all about the match tonight, though we also covered things like his recent Netflix film Main Event, getting his first action figure, wrestling without a crowd, and what he's learned since coming to NXT. First though we have to talk about his big match against Priest, and if someone who would stoop to hitting someone in the throat with a nightstick is even deserving of being a Champion.
"Personally at this point, I don't really, it's not more so a concern of whether it's deserving or not," Lee said. "My thing is that he is deserving of an ass whooping and so that's what I intend to give him. Obviously you can hear it in my voice. Obviously I'm not a hundred percent but I'm making the most of the scenario."
Lee's always had people trying to take him down, but that target on his back increased tenfold when he became North American Champion. Despite the increased attention, Lee is thriving, and it's the kind of competition he thrives on.
"I think that that is the best place to be because nothing keeps you on your toes as competition does," Lee said. "The purpose of me wanting to get to this spot is to have the highest level of competition that I can acquire and the end of the day it is, as they say, iron sharpens iron. So those competitions and people willing to do whatever it takes to get an opportunity. Those things I feel like they helped me grow both as a person, as a competitor, as an athlete, and as a champion as well."
Lee arrived in NXT in 2018, and though he also thrived in the independent scene prior to joining WWE, he's learned quite a bit since entering the black and gold brand.
"I think that I've been most surprised by the amount that I've learned since joining and how beneficial it's been mentally," Lee said. "I knew that it would be beneficial physically, but from a business standpoint and from a psychological standpoint, there's been a lot of growth in myself since I've joined. I think that mentally speaking, that I take things a little more seriously than I typically would, especially going into tomorrow. That is something that I'm definitely more hungry for, I guess you could say."
Like Raw and SmackDown, NXT is also going with no audience for their matches due to the coronavirus pandemic, and that's something that takes some getting used to, both for fans and for the superstars in the ring.
"So for me personally, the crowd offers a certain level of adrenaline before things even start and that's something that I miss," Lee said. "Like I miss it like crazy, but I feel like that's also something that somewhat sharpens me because now I have to rely on just myself. Means I have to grow a little more as a competitor and as an athlete to do what I can to adjust to each moment as opposed to having that, I like to call it a cushion because the audience, I don't know if they really know how much they mean to me specifically, but what they provide is something that is very uplifting and makes it a little easier to adjust to each circumstance."
Lee recently had the chance to star in his first film as well, Netflix's The Main Event, which he starred in alongside superstars Kofi Kingston, The Miz, and Sheamus. It was an amazing experience for Lee, and one he was honored to be a part of.
"So for me, I wish I could really express with my voice how exciting that was for me," Lee said. "That experience was something just completely unexpected and I had no idea exactly how awesome it was going to be, but I learned very quickly and I loved every second of that experience and I'm hoping for sure that I have more of those experiences because it was magical. Everything from working with guys I've never worked with before to meeting new people, to experiencing where we filmed, and the director, producers, the makeup people. It's just such an amazing team of people that come together to make it happen, and I was just grateful and honored to be a part of it, to be honest."
While Lee is very much focused on his work in the ring, he wouldn't be opposed to joining another film project down the road. That said, it isn't just another case of catching the movie bug.
"I wouldn't call it a bug per se," Lee said. "I would say that that was something that ignited more so a passion, and that's something that I 100% would like to experience again, trying some different style films and different roles, things of that sort. I think that it could be quite magical, and to be honest, there were a lot of people who found it hard to believe that was my first time on film and that sounds like it is a good thing. If there's an opportunity to do it and learn some new things and who knows what happens, but I'm very interested in furthering for sure."
Lee can also add action figure to his resume now, as he has not one but two action figures, and as you can imagine, it's a bit surreal.
"So for me specifically, it's easily one of the most unreal things that I've experienced, and yes, Mattel was kind enough to send me a box of both those styles because there's what's called a regular edition and also what they call a face variant edition," Lee said. "So they sent me both, which then I was able to gift my family with one and friends as well. So that was a really cool thing. It's still really weird though. And even afterward, coming now, and I've had it out for a while and seeing so many people tag me in their posts and their Instagram stories and things of that sort, it's still extremely odd to me, but I'm grateful nonetheless and I try to make the most out of each scenario."
We imagine it's the first of many figures, including one with his North American Championship if all goes to plan tonight. You can catch Lee taking on Damian Priest on tonight's NXT on USA Network at 7 pm CT, and as always you can hit me up on Twitter @MattAguilarCB for all things NXT!