NXT’s Keith Lee on His In-Ring Moment with Roman Reigns and His Ongoing Rivalry with Dominik Dijakovic

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NXT North American champion Keith Lee

If you haven’t noticed yet, Keith Lee is kind of a big deal.

That goes with his super-heavyweight size but also with what he can do with it in the ring. And more and more people are taking notice.

So much so that Lee was included in last November’s WWE Survivor Series with the team match involving all three brands — Raw, SmackDown, and NXT — came down to just him and Roman Reigns.

Then in January, Lee was an entrant in the 30-man Royal Rumble match where he went face-to-face with Brock Lesnar. He followed that up by defeating Roderick Strong to become the NXT North American championship.

Next up for the Texas native is a huge triple threat match on this week’s episode of NXT television — airing Wednesday night at 8 p.m. ET on USA Network — where he puts his title on the line against two other giant-sized foes in Damian Priest and Dominik Dijakovic.

Lee spoke with Between The Ropes to discuss the big opportunities he’s received recently, sharing a moment in the ring with Roman Reigns, his long, ongoing rivalry with Dijakovic and more.

BRIAN FRITZ: Is Adam Cole still flying through the air after you chucked him into the crowd last year?

KEITH LEE: (laughs) You might want to check in on him. But I think I saw him landed somewhere eventually.

BF: I thought that you might have broken the space-time continuum.

KL: Perhaps but if I ever managed to pull that off, I better get some sort of award or medal or something.

BF: Oh, absolutely. So, what’s a normal day like for you in these abnormal times?

KL: These days, it’s, uh, well, most recently, I’ve been building a new computer. And outside of that, you know, just doing what I can to make good home workouts and kind of making plans for, well, I guess, seeing how things are gonna play out with the way everything’s going right now and waiting. It’s a waiting game right now.

BF: It absolutely is. I think for everybody, we’re used to our everyday lives but for somebody in your line of work, you get used to a certain routine that can be a lot more hectic than the average person. What’s it like now having to step away from that routine and spend so much time at home?

KL: It’s a little strange but, by the same token, like I said, getting the opportunity to actually take a moment and build a new computer is very cool for me personally as that’s one of my hobbies outside of my passions. It’s a nice little change that I get to take advantage of for now but I’m still making sure to make myself available if opportunity comes to step in the ring at any given time.

BF: The last six months or so have been pretty incredible for you. You won the NXT North American championship, you were a part of Survivor Series and also in the Royal Rumble this past January. How would you describe what that period has been like for you?

KL: It’s been what I would describe it as a roller coaster. Many things that were unexpected but really cool moments and magic and opportunity. And I guess capitalizing on said opportunities and try to make the most of each moment which is kind of what I really focus on is getting everything I can out of each moment that is granted to me. Then when those opportunities strike, I, too, do my best to strike and make the most out of it.

BF: The Survivor Series match you were in came down to you and Roman Reigns and that really got the crowd excited in that moment. Did Roman give you any kind of advice afterward?

KL: No, he just … What happened afterward was very intriguing for me and highly unexpected. That match ended and obviously, there was the fist bump and all those special moments happened there. But when it was over and done with and we were both licking our wounds, he came up to me and he told me, “you’re pretty amazing”. He said, “I’d like to do this one on one sometime”. And that was probably, everything that the crowd saw was really cool, but that moment, for me, was a little more spectacular because you have one of the guys — period — that wants to step into the ring and battle with you. That’s respected and it’s hard to get that without showing that you have the right stuff.

BF: You’ve told me before that you could be very impatient after going through these kinds of experiences. Is it tougher to be patient now?

KL: I think it’s easier because of the fact that I know that when the time comes, I know who wants a piece of me already. And that in and of itself is an exciting venture to think of. I think the idea, just like excited the crowd, as a person that thrives on competition, it is something that also greatly excites me.

BF: On that note, you’ve had these big moments and it always feels like you’ve really stepped up. How do not let that moment get the better of you when those opportunities present themselves?

KL: I’m a very calm natured person. I’ve said before that I kind of pride myself on mental fortitude and part of that is not allowing opportunities and moments to overwhelm me. I’m a big proponent and a supporter of knowing that the stronger you are mentally, the more prepared you are for the majority of things in your world and you’re able to overcome them in most circumstances if you steer your mind enough.

BF: People might not know your story in that you’ve experienced plenty of ups and downs in your career, sleeping in your car and making lots of sacrifices to get to the point that you are now. How much has that affected your approach to these opportunities you’re finally getting?

KL: I feel like those moments, those experiences, those specific things, each and every one of them has been something that has shaped me and prepped me at a different rate than some. It comes for some. It’s there, it’s not something they have to work for but a person that has struggled and been through some seriously rough experiences, I feel like you have to gain a certain level of mental fortitude but, by the same token, it’s also just grit, guts. Will power is probably the word I’m looking for actually, to overcome those things and become something more.

BF: We’re going to see you in a triple threat match this week on NXT television against Dominic Dijakovic and Damien Priest. You have this long story rivalry with Dijakovic, and, to me, it feels like the long rivalry that Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn have had in their career and they’ve talked about how they think it probably will never end. Do you see something similar between yourself and Dijakovic to what Owens and Zayn have?

KL: I think that there are similarities Yes. And I think that that goes for several generations. From the independents to WWF and WCW, from Eddie Guerrero — Rey Mysterio to Chris Benoit — Kurt Angle. All of these types of rivalries where the two people just elevate each other because of how severe the actual battles are create something special, a magic. There’s nothing like true blue competition anywhere. It will cultivate spectacular battles.

BF: There are a lot of moving parts in a triple threat match and especially in this one in that there are three really big guys that are a part of this match including yourself. Do you like these kinds of matches and what is the key to making them work?

KL: Well, we spoke about loving competition and needless to say, a triple threat is one of the most severe levels of it. So yes, I like the fact that there’s unpredictability, I like the fact that I’ll have to work that much harder. And that’s hard for some to grasp. But I like being put on the hotspot. I like being tested, I like to be pushed and I know that those two, in particular, have everything that they need to push me further. And the further they push me, the better I become, Whether you lose or win, you have some sort of growth.

BF: You’re obviously not going to have a crowd like so many other WWE matches as of late considering everything that’s going on. What do you have to rely on in a match where you don’t have that crowd to feed off of to make sure that everything is clicking and connecting with an audience that’s not there live in the building?

KL: Focus. Focus and intensity. Realizing that there’s not going to be that additional level of adrenaline to push you where you need to go. I always reach back to this but mental fortitude is one of the ways that you can overcome that and I’m hoping that my mind stands out in the circumstance.

BF: This is going to be a very unique match a unique atmosphere. What other kinds of matches do you remember throughout your career that have been different and stand out?

KL: When you think about it and you look at this circumstance, it kind of harkens back to back when Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt had a battle at the compound. There’s no crowd there. It’s just the atmosphere itself. And I think that is something you can think of when you think of this. The competition is there, the intensity is there, the battle is there, the crowd is not but it doesn’t change the fact that we are battling to win.

BF: We’ve got WrestleMania coming this weekend as well and, for the first time, it will take place over two nights. What in particular are you looking forward to seeing at WrestleMania?

KL: That’s difficult to say. I’m really looking forward to Charlotte versus Rhea actually. I’m excited to see what kind of competition occurs in that battle because those who have been going after each other for months at this point. So you know it’s gonna get a little brutal and both of those very tough ladies like to bring it in the ring so I think it’ll be very interesting.

BF: Last thing: what kind of computer are you building?

KL: Ooh, all right. So this new rig has a z390 gaming X motherboard. It’s got about 64 gigs of RAM. It’s got an i9 9900K series Intel processor and it has a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 video card, the version that does not require a power supply connector and a sound card that supports 7.1 surround sound and an almost 40 inch Alienware monitor. It is a beast.

BF: That’s a serious rig. What’s your game of choice?

KL: I kind of bounce around. I own every console, of course, but if I’m playing PC, most likely I’m playing World of Warcraft, currently classic just because it’s what my friend’s play. That is my location when I have some free time.

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Brian Fritz

Brian Fritz is the owner and editor-in-chief of Between The Ropes. He has also covered wrestling and MMA for The Orlando Sentinel, AOL Fanhouse, and Sporting News. You can email Brian at btrfritz@gmail.com.

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