NXT has a new North American Champion these days, and his name is Leon Ruff. Ruff has faced some of WWE and NXT's biggest stars over the course of his short tenure with the company, and now he's a Champion after defeating Johnny Gargano on last week's NXT. Ruff will have a rematch against Gargano on tonight's NXT, but before that happens ComicBook.com had a chance to talk to Ruff about his Championship win, the classic belt falling moment, a WrestleMania dream match, and more.
First though we had to start with the moment where Damian Priest lifted his arm and the title fell down to his feet, and we wanted to know if it was planned or if it just happened accidentally.
"No, it was planned. I remember Triple H came up with it and we did it in rehearsal," Ruff said. "And when I did it, everyone started laughing. Everyone enjoyed it, so it was like 'Yeah, we've got to do it'. I enjoyed it. I was excited. I knew it was coming and I was like 'Oh man, I can't wait for this. I cannot wait', because I knew my mom and everybody that I know was watching. They know how goofy I am, and I just couldn't wait for them to see that goofy moment."
Ruff has actually had matches on every brand in WWE, including Raw, SmackDown, NXT, Main Event, and 205 Live, and it gives him some unique perspective that not everyone else gets.
"It definitely does because when I was online before I became a wrestler and I would see people post stats and post stuff that you wouldn't know unless you went back and crunched the numbers, I hadn't realized that I'm pretty sure I'm still the only one to do that this year. It was proof that if you work hard, there's no telling where you can go, and always just be ready to take any opportunity that comes your way," Ruff said.
Ruff's first matchup against Aleister Black was just supposed to be a one and done appearance, but Ruff made sure to leave an impression even in the small time he had available, and that's led to so many bigger things.
"So that whole process was 'Hey, you're coming, you're doing a match, we need you to do this for Aleister' and it's not like that was it, but I felt 'Okay, I have maybe a minute. I'm taking this Black Mass and then I was just thinking to myself 'Well, I'm doing all this for them and for Aleister, what am I going to do for myself to make me more recognizable? To make me stand out more'. The way that I thought was to just try to add something to this, try to add a little something else to the match, if that makes sense," Ruff said. "I always say there are no small roles, only small actors. Even though it was just one kick, I just tried to make the most out of it."
That work paid off, and fans have quickly noticed just how great a seller Ruff is in the ring, an underrated artform in wrestling that stars like Shawn Michaels and Dolph Ziggler have mastered to great effect.
"Yeah. I feel like the reason why I'm so good at selling is that a lot of guys are afraid to look silly or they're afraid to look vulnerable or weak or look stupid in a match when they're on TV. So they try to take a hit the toughest way they know how if that makes sense," Ruff said. "But to me, anytime that I would see any MMA fighter, any fight, and I would see somebody get knocked out and go viral, it would be because the guy who fell didn't look right, he fell nasty, it didn't look clean. I would hear everyone talk about Ricky 'The Dragon' Steamboat. They would talk about him and talk about Ric Flair, and their selling how it was an art form, and then growing up watching Ziggler sell. I was like 'Wow, I want to look like that because that looks real. It looks entertaining. It looks like something that I can do'".
Ruff happens to be working alongside the love of his life Aja Smith in NXT, though when she joined the black and gold brand as a referee Ruff hadn't been signed yet. To head off to try and make you dream work without something secured is a frightening proposition, but Ruff had some advice to share for those who find themselves in a similar situation.
"I'm really glad that you asked me that question. It was definitely difficult. For those people that don't know, I didn't have a job coming down here," Ruff said. "I moved down with my girlfriend Aja, because she got a job and I was trying to make wrestling take off because that's all I had at the time. So when I would take all these matches, I did it because I told myself 'Well, I'm down here to get signed. So I need to do something to make ends meet, to help bring money into the household'. It was very scary. It was the first time that I lived on my own and I'm trying to be the man of the house, but I'm not bringing in any money. So not only am I'm trying to take whatever match they give me, but I want to make sure I do the best I can so they keep bringing me back, so I can keep making more money."
"The advice I wanted to give people is it's never going to be time," Ruff said. "You're never going to have that set dollar amount to make your dreams happen. You just got to go and you've got to do it. As scary as it may sound, you'll always find a way. I didn't have any money coming down here. All I knew was I had Evolve, though there was no guarantee of me getting extra work when I moved down here. I knew that 'Well, if I keep doing right with that, eventually, I'll get signed'. It was scary, but I knew that there was no waiting I could do to prepare me for what I was going to encounter, had I did it then or later."
Now that he's North American Champion, the sky is the limit, so we had to ask what a dream WrestleMania match would look like and who it would be against.
"Oh man. If it was my dream scenario, honestly, I would get really selfish and put myself in like a fatal four-way or something. If I could, I would love to have a WrestleMania match with Cesaro," Ruff said. "I'm a huge, huge fan of Cesaro. I would throw Dolph Ziggler in there because I've been a huge Dolph Ziggler fan too. It's funny. He doesn't follow me on Instagram, but if he ever does, he's going to see a message that I sent him when I was a fan and that's going to be a weird moment (laughs). When he was doing the denim jackets, I made one, and I sent him a picture of it because they came to Atlanta. Would definitely like to wrestle Dolph Ziggler on TV."
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Ruff recently got his first WWE Topps card, and it was a pretty surreal moment for him, especially because it wasn't long ago that he was setting up displays with other people's cards in the spotlight.
"It is pretty surreal," Ruff said. "I have a story for everything, but the job that I had right before I left to come to Orlando, I was just working at a warehouse and we had to set up those Topps cards, and I would just spend hours looking through them and setting them up. Then guys would come up to me that wanted to buy them. They would tell me who the guys on the cards were, they would tell me 'Oh, this is the rare' whatever card it was or this card plays whatever sport. Now I have one. All that working with them. And then now I have one."
It's only a matter of time before Ruff gets his own toy, and while he would love both an action figure and a Funko POP down the line, if he had to choose one he knows what it would be.
"Man, I would rather have a Leon Ruff action figure, because I know that there are a lot of kids who cannot afford to have multiple kinds of toys. Because I had one Max Steel doll. Then I started getting wrestling action figures, and of course, I would only get my favorites. It would be like Matt Hardy or I would get Paul London and then I would just choose those as my action figures. They went from wrestler, to saving the world, to doing all that other stuff. So I would definitely have an action figure so kids can play with them and use them in more than one way than just wrestling and just a statue.0comments
I mean, that's a great answer, so here is hoping Mattel gets that Leon Ruff figure done ASAP.
You can check out the match between Ruff and Gargano on tonight's NXT, which kicks off at 8 PM EST on USA Network. As always you can follow all of our NXT coverage right here on ComicBook.com and you talk all things NXT with me on Twitter @MattAguilarCB!