Keith Lee made history back at July's The Great American Bash when he defeated Adam Cole to become the first man to hold both the NXT and NXT North American Championships at the same time. But less than two months later he was gone from the roster, moving over to Monday Night Raw to work with stars like Randy Orton, Drew McIntyre and Braun Strowman. Lee relinquished the North American title shortly after beating Cole, then dropped the NXT title to Karrion Kross at NXT TakeOver XXX (who then had to drop it three days later due to injury). Lee reflected on his departure from the Black and Gold Brand in an interview with Sports Illustrated this week, going so far as to say he felt he "abandoned" the brand.
"As monumental as it's been to go to the main roster, I'm not sure it was so important to end that [NXT championship reign] as abruptly as it happened," Lee said. "I watch NXT, and obviously I have some friends there, and one that I'm fairly close to is Mr. Damian Priest, and I watch often to see how he's doing. Kross went down in our match, then to have Finn [Bálor] as the new champion and he hurts his jaw, it's hard. I like those guys, and I feel like I abandoned them. It's difficult to think about. I'm proud of everything I've done, and I've hung with the top guys from Raw and some of them from SmackDown, but it's been difficult to see the injuries.
"I don't know what would have happened if I had stayed a little bit longer," Lee said. "At the end of the day, we're not always in control of our journey, and that's just how it goes. The main roster wanted me, and that's where I ended up. All I can do right now is root those guys on and be there for them in whatever capacity I can be, while still focusing on what I'm doing."
Lee helped Team Raw sweep Team SmackDown in the Men's Survivor Series Elimination Tag Team Match earlier this month and competed for the No. 1 contender spot for the WWE Championship earlier this week.
NXT returns to pay-per-view this Sunday with NXT TakeOver: WarGames XXX. Check out the lineup for the show below:
- The Undisputed Era vs. Pat McAfee, Pete Dunne, Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch (WarGames Match)
- Team Shotzi (Shotzi Blackheart, Ember Moon, Rhea Ripley, Io Shirai) vs. Team Candice (Candice LeRae, Dakota Kai Raquel Gonzalez and Toni Storm) (WarGames Match)
- NXT North American Championship: Leon Ruff vs. Johnny Gargano vs. Damian Priest
- Dexter Lumis vs. Cameron Grimes (Strap Match)
- Tommaso Ciampa vs. Dexter Lumis